Today being the Feast of the Annunciation I attended Divine Liturgy.
I ducked out early. Don’t tell my priest.
It had little to do with the Liturgy and more to do with the fact that sneaking away while my 13 year old babysits on a “(home)school” day always gives me pause. As I drove away though I did feel some real loss. I wondered if I will ever get used to the services, the standing up, the fluid motion from Greek to English to Greek again, the many many many words and the few few few congregational songs. Then I worried because that’s what I do. I worried specifically that I’m hoping for too much. I’m hoping that familiarity will breed connection, mystery, deepening and widening of my soul. I need this. I know it.
It’s impossible to imagine it when I rush home from Liturgy, still rich with it’s scent, and am greeted with the wild hoard I’m raising. I’m so deeply steeped in the quotidian, the deeper and wider places in my soul run for cover when the barometric pressure of my household rises…and it’s always rising.
This brings me to Mary and her feast day.
I remember when I found out I was pregnant the first time. We “tried” for a baby for about 6 months. I got, let us say, a little obsessive about the whole thing. I wanted to do it right, I wanted to do it well. I tracked my cycles, all symptoms, all ‘action.’ When I finally got that second line in the pregnancy test I was over the moon but not totally surprised. It was a confirmation of what I had hoped and expected already.
Mary didn’t get a couple of lines on a stick she’d just peed on. She didn’t get physical symptoms indicating she was pregnant. She didn’t even have the advantage of counting days between cycles. She got an angel at her door. I thought, as I listened at Liturgy, at how cool it was to get an Angel at her door. How memorable THAT must have been…and how necessary, in fact.
It’s probably not an accident that I had a conversation with someone earlier in the week about Mary. I was told by this person that she understood that the early church began to deify and honor Mary because they thought it would bring in Pagans…satisfy the desire for people to have a “goddess” to go with their “god.”
To this, I bring outrage to the table.
My response, I think, was more reserved that the anger that bubbled up in me. I hope it didn’t creep out too much. I aim for grace and love. I said only, “I’m no religious scholar but as I understand it, that statement is complete hogwash.” or something of that ilk.
It’s entirely possible that someone will correct me one day and show me some ancient document, a virtual “wiki leaks” of the early church, supporting this idea that to honor the mother of Jesus was merely political, calculated and false.
You know why I bring outrage to the table?
Because I’m a mother.
Now, granted, I’m the mother of 4 rather obvious mortals…loud and certifiable mortals at that, not the mother of the Messiah. I believe and I think I’m right that mothers endure much, foster much, instill much. Sadly, many of us as mothers do a poor job…I’ll admit that. Some of us do a downright shitty job. It’s entirely possible that Mary had shitty days too. Lord, I hope so. It helps me to think that maybe Jesus colored on the walls sometimes or that as a child He was really loud and often Mary got a headache from it all.
Here’s the thing though. Mary wasn’t only the mother of a baby, mother of a small boy, mother of a young man, mother of an grown adult…she was the mother of God. Theotokos, “God-bearer.” She was the mother of the One who came to save us from our selves. The announcement from the Angel wasn’t “Hey, guess what, you’re pregnant with the son of God, suck it up and deal with it.” It was this:
“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
and then this:
“The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”
It’s not so much Gabriel’s announcement but rather, Mary’s announcement which seals the deal as far as I’m concerned:
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”
It isn’t that God merely chose her but that she ALSO accepted. He called, she answered. She HAD to know that this was a risky business. I often wonder while Jesus was a boy if she had glimpses of what might lie ahead for Him, as we all do when we think ahead in our child’s life. When Miles is really out of control I worry, I wonder, “what will he be like when he’s older? what will he suffer? what will he accomplish.” Imagine what that must have felt like for Mary. That’s a lot of pressure, I wager.
And so…outrage comes because mothers aren’t elevated and honored because of some political or social agenda (no matter WHAT holiday Hallmark invents.) They are elevated and honored because ours is a difficult and often thankless job, we have only on the job training, most of us are self taught. We do our best, we hope. We want the best for our children, we hope.
Mary is elevated and honored above all women, above ALL mothers because the child she brought into the world was the One who came to free us from death….free us from DEATH, people. This woman said “yes” to God in a time when being knocked up before marriage wasn’t just inconvenient or embarrassing. She said “yes” to bearing a son who she knew would be, one day, more than a carpenter.
We honor Mary because she said “yes” to God and that “yes” saved us all.