Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mary and Me

I chose for my ordination day the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, officially Mary’s day, but this year, 1988, my day too. I had chosen my day hoping it would fit the bishop’s calendar which takes precedence over all other calendars on earth, or so it seems. I was lucky.

Mary was a woman like me, a mother of children like me. One of her children was Jesus who, according to biblical accounts of his growing up, was more difficult to raise than any and all of my four, the same four who through no fault other than their tender existence, had been the chief reason for my rejections in the ordination process. To sexism, misogyny, gynephobia and other labels, add mother-ism, the irrational fear that your own or someone else’s mother, if given enough liberty, might just take over the world.

The Church exalted Mary, raised her Motherhood to near-divine status, surrounded her with stars and crowns and haloes and called her blessed. Blessed by divine touch she was, however in time the patriarchy of religious tradition and biblical interpretation neutered her and turned her into a virgin, for which there is no clear prophetic substantiation and whose politics of control wasn’t even subtle. They stole her sexuality, her femininity, her courage and stamina, and her alliance with God’s politics. It’s no accident that the biblical mandate for justice, the Magnificat we hear read and sung at Christmas time, is placed on the lips of the woman Mary whom God chose to be a prophet— as well as quite a mother. However, the more heavenly Mary became, the more her influence spread and the more difficult it was for earthly girls, women and certainly mothers to find a place for their humanity in church and culture.

Thought not immune from this disorder, I had grown up Protestant, untaught, so when I went to a Mass with my college roommate and spotted a woman up front—a statue and bad art, yes, but unmistakably female, I had strained to get a better look. Virginity didn’t matter as much to me as it had in high school and motherhood was a distant goal, so I’d fallen in love with Mary and with the liberating idea her prominent presence represented. I could be up front too.

I quickly identified with Mary because God had asked her to do a hard thing—be an unwed pregnant young girl risking shame and even death for the sake of God’s big new project. It happens all the time in the bible, written as if God said and presto it happened. But I knew better. I knew how to read between the lines. I knew these ancient men and women were real, their stories my story, their experience archetypal, their bodies as vulnerable as mine. I knew because I knew how God could be; I knew because I never forgot my own childhood spiritual experience.

Angel Gabriel or no Angel Gabriel, I had trusted my own annunciation and call to priesthood, which fortunately did not make me pregnant.