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I haven’t been able to stop thinking of Mary this Advent. What is my relationship to Mary? That is what I keep wondering about.
When I was a Roman Catholic there were pictures of Mary throughout the churches I attended. One church I went to was even called St. Mary’s. When I left the Roman Catholic Church, when I was 12, I stopped seeing images of Mary as much. Protestants usually don’t know how to have a relationship with Mary. She shows up Advent IV and then we don’t talk about her much throughout the year.
Our Pub Theology was on Mary last week. I called it Mary, Manger, and Giving Birth to God Today. We read Luke 1 and discussed what it means to give birth to the reign of God in our midst. Some said Mary was just a conduit of God. Some said Mary wasn’t that important, but it was who she was giving birth to that was important. Another said that Mary must be the most holy, pure person ever. I didn’t resonate with those thoughts, but I valued that we were talking about Mary and who she is to us. I then shared some pictures of Mary. Here are some of my favorites:
Here’s why I ask What is my relationship to Mary? Is she one of the greatest feminist icons in Christian Scripture or is this a woman whose agency was disrespected by God? Did Mary have a choice in God’s call through the messenger Gabriel? That is the question that I struggle with every year. In my Metro Ministers meeting, Dr. Daniel Meeter expressed that God waited for Mary’s response and that of course Mary had a choice in the manner. That was nourishing to hear one of my colleagues express this sentiment, but I don’t think everyone thinks that.
If she did have a choice then Mary is one of the most incredible disciples and feminist icons. Dr. Mark Allan Powell says:
Looking at the Bible, we see another image. The evangelist Luke does not exalt Mary as a goddess, or as a mother, or even as a woman. He thinks she has a more important role, as the ideal Christian. In the Third Gospel, Mary becomes the model for Christian discipleship, the person who all people, men and women alike should emulate, especially if they wish to follow her son.
I am part of a clergy group in NYC that meets monthly. We call ourselves “Kick Ass Lady Pastors” (because we’re all ladies, and we’re all pastors, and we’re all, well, pretty kick-ass). It’s an ecumenical group of women who are doing creative, Jesus-y ministry in New York. This past week I hosted our group and brought out my craft box to make feminist ornaments. My friend, Pastor Emily Scott at St. Lydia’s in Brooklyn, said:
My feminist icon is Mary. The virgin Mary, to be precise. And I wanted to make a little shrine with Mary and my favorite line from the Magnificat, the song Mary sings in the Gospel of Luke. But I ran into a problem. As I looked through all the pictures of Mary. I couldn’t find a picture that was, well, kick-ass enough. I wanted a Mary who looked powerful.
Emily preached an incredible sermon on Mary at her dinner church that I encourage you to read here. She also made a powerful Mary shrine at our party last week. Check it out:
Yes! I exclaim, when I look at Emily’s shrine. That’s the Mary that excites me to be a disciple of Jesus. The Mary who sings “You have brought down the powerful from their thrones.” The Magnificat is a song of praise that is about some kick ass reordering in the way of life as the reign of God comes to us in human flesh. This is the Mary that excites me! (Mary would totally be welcome to be part of our Kick Ass Lady Pastor group, please let her know that, God).
So, my friends, who is Mary to you? Are there images that capture your imagination? Please link them in the comments. I would like to know what your relationship to Mary is when you read Scripture.
From rainy New York City, to wherever you find yourself reading this post, I wish you a Merry Christmas as we welcome the one who brings down the powerful and exalts the humble.