While on retreat two summers ago I came upon a garden with a small, white porcelain statue of Mary holding a dove close to her breasts. An image familiar to many of us, Mary was portrayed as holy, pure and submissive. She was nothing like me.
I felt compelled to draw Mary. My sketch came easily, except I couldn’t capture the simple curved-line of her downcast eyes. After several attempts, I was led to draw her eyes wide-open looking directly at me.
When I returned to this image the next morning I heard “Get me out of this statue!” Here was an invitation to reconsider Mary. Who was Mary? Who is she for us now?
Mary of Galilee was a first century woman – young, poor, unwed and pregnant. We can speculate Mary was a devout Jew with dark features whose education was probably limited to learning Hebrew Scriptures. Given the culture of her times, Mary may have been subjected to violence and poverty, which would have shaped her daily life. Like other women, she probably had few resources to change a society dominated by oppressive political and religious leaders.
In this climate of unrest, Mary gives her life completely to God. Despite her fears, she consciously chooses to be an instrument in God’s plan. I imagine Mary does not consult anyone – not the high priest, the local rabbi, her father or even Joseph. She is utterly attentive to her inner promptings and follows this wisdom. Spirit-Sophia, present from the beginning of time, fills Mary with a new creation, the long awaited Messiah.
Pregnant and alone, Mary travels a long, hot, dusty road to be with her cousin, Elizabeth. Mary as an unwed mother and Elizabeth barren well into her aging, they both knew the stark alienation of being shunned by people in their village. Their reunion is a homecoming filled with acceptance.
Mary and Elizabeth, two women of faith, co-creators in God’s unfolding plan for transformation, witness one another and share their wisdom. The life within Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy in response to Mary’s Jesus-Sophia presence. This ordinary sacramental encounter ushers in Mary’s song of liberation, the Magnificat, a prayer first spoken by Hannah as found in the Old Testament.
“My soul magnifies the Divine.” Mary praises God’s liberating action in her life, celebrates her goodness. She also reverses the conventional wisdom of her Jewish tradition. Only the wealthy and those in good health are believed to be blessed by God. Instead, Mary proclaims God is in the lives of those who are exploited, on the margins of society. She offers hope for her people, for us.
Mighty and merciful, Mary, as non-violent prophet, shines light on places of barrenness. She proclaims there is no place in God’s plan for domination and destruction through violence and poverty. Her son, Jesus will live and die for this vision of freedom.
Who is Mary for us now? Her life is a testimony of God with us in our struggle. She invites us to bring new life wherever God is exiled – when any person is silenced, violated, or excluded because of gender, race, or sexual orientation; when our earth is destroyed because of greed.
Mary, we hear a song of liberation in us. Like you, we listen prayerfully to the promptings of Spirit-Sophia guiding us to use our gifts for positive change. We sunder the legacy of religious shame along with the charge that we are “too much” or “not enough.” Then, in our homes, workplaces and churches, we speak out, act against, and pray in solidarity with those who are cast aside and oppressed.
Alive in the goodness of our bodies and with hearts aflame for justice, we refuse to be oppressed. We are creative, faithful and joyful in our quest, not driven by fear or compulsive overdoing. We celebrate Eucharist and sustain one another in prayer, love and justice-making within our inclusive faith-community.
Across the world and in our communities we are making a difference. Girls three to 16 sue the government of Kenya for failing to protect them from men who believe rape cures their HIV Aids. Aboriginal women in Canada protest rape of their land and murder of their sisters. Roman Catholic Womenpriests end rape of the soul, break an unjust canon law preventing their sacred right to be priests.
All these efforts and ours form a fatal crack in the rigid structures of unjust systems. Barrenness gives way to fecundity.
Mary was never in a statue. She is flesh, blood, and bone, one who knows our joys and sorrows. With eyes wide-open, we see Mary as she truly is – prophet, sister and friend with us now. An apostle for justice, a contemplative in action, Mary is strong, resilient and liberates. She is womb of compassionate love where Divine Mystery leaps and is birthed into being. God is within her and in us.
Barbara J. Billey, ARCWP Candidate Nov 29, 2013