It sits on my nightstand, a gift from my sweet mentor and a reminder of what I learned bigger this year: Why Mary Matters.
Because before, well … Mary, she was for the ones with the beads and crucifixes and stained glass; we Protest-ers, we shrugged her off like so much holy water, maybe even the tiniest bit afraid. We bundled all things we thought were extra and excessive and threw them all right out our proverbial windows, and Mary went with them.
The conundrum of what to do with Mary has been at the back of my mind for years, probably beginning at my first reading of Little Women, as I imagined Amy kneeling in her makeshift prayer closet (the original War Room?) hanging prayer beads the housekeeper had given her (“not sure of their suitability for Protestant prayers”) and gazing at her own picture of the Blessed Mother …
“Esther fitted up the closet with a little table, placed a footstool before it, and over it a picture taken from one of the shut-up rooms. She thought it was of no great value, but, being appropriate, she borrowed it, well knowing that Madame would never know it, nor care if she did. It was, however, a very valuable copy of one of the famous pictures of the world, and Amy’s beauty-loving eyes were never tired of looking up at the sweet face of the Divine Mother, while her tender thoughts of her own were busy at her heart…”
This year, advent brought a reading of Elizabeth Foss’s Living the Liturgy as an Advent devotional, and Mary became even dearer to my heart as I pondered her part in the story more than ever before. And then I ran across this picture.
Beautiful, isn’t it? It was painted by Sister Grace Remington and is called, Mary Consoles Eve.
Do you see why? Look closely. Eve, with mourning in her eyes, still holding the forbidden fruit with it’s tell-tale bite turned toward her heart, the serpent wrapped around her leg. Mary, heavy with the Child Eve is reaching out to, drawing her close with hope in her eyes–and the snake’s head underfoot.
Sometimes, when we throw out the holy water, we throw out an awful lot of important truths right along with it.
Christianity sometimes gets a “bad rap” as being negative toward women. When we are fooled by such a notion, not having thought it through, we show we’ve missed it: we’ve missed Mary and the truth she’s meant to tell us about the heart of God … how He has honored women in such a profound way.
Eve, she takes the first bite. And woman is cursed to be ruled over by men. But look how God is redeeming? He rescues the nation through Deborah, then Esther. Jesus’ geneaology includes Rahab, a foreign prostitute who dared believe in God, and Ruth, a widowed foreigner who exercised faithfulness to a bitter mother-in-law; Tamar, a woman tricked who turns to trickery to become impregnated by her father-in-law, Bathsheba, pressed into adultery, whose righteous husband was murdered by a king after God’s own heart.
And then it happens, the biggest turnaround of all: Mary, a young virgin, betrothed, is approached by an angel.
And the first person to hear of the coming of Jesus is a teenage GIRL.
And Jesus? He’s never heard that Judeo-Christianity is supposed to suppress women, apparently, because He does nothing but lift them up. He teaches the Samaritan woman, alone at the well. Sends the Pharisees packing by writing in the dirt when they bring a woman to him for censure. Rebukes the disapproving dinner crowd whispering at the woman weeping at his feet with a broken jar of perfume.
And then. Then, after the women have wept at the cross and return three days later, He does the unthinkable:
The first person to see Him after His death? Another woman. Another Mary. And once again, a woman carries the gospel message–this time, in it’s conclusive state:
He has risen.
And somehow, in the wonder of the whole story, so have we.
Next time someone tells you Christianity pushes women down, you can tell them they must not know the story very well.
Mary, she responded to God with submission. With obedience. With a desire to do as the Creator of the universe would have her do. She said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word” Luke 1:38. And that’s how we came to see the fulfillment of the Promise hidden in the curse on the serpent: “And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.”
She reversed Eve’s mistake, her foot on the serpent’s head, not caught in his trap, and through that obedience she cooperated with God the Father through God the Spirit to bring God the Son into the world. The story is impossible without her. God designed it to be impossible without her–do you see?
Lift up your heads, mamas. You’re not a second class citizen, not God’s second choice. You’re an intrinsic, imperative part of creation and redemption, from the beginning of the world to its fantastic hinge. And in your role as Conductress of the symphony of life in your own home, you continue to bring the life of God to the world.
Sounds pretty important to me.