Last Sunday I heard Irma Fast Dueck, a Canadian Mennonite University professor give a lecture about Mary, the mother of Jesus. Irma had created a display of some of the artistic images of Mary she has collected over the years- carvings, icons, paintings, statues and a humorous gift from her son- a print maker that creates an image of Mary on your piece of toast.
Irma said her fascination with Mary began when she was in high school and heard a speaker say that Biblical scholars believe Mary was probably twelve or thirteen years old when she gave birth to Jesus. Irma talked to us about the audacity of God’s choice for the mother of Christ- an unmarried girl from a poor family, a teen perhaps struggling with acne and the angst of adolescence.
Irma gave us a brief overview of the role Mary has played in the history of the Christian Church. Mary’s popularity and importance has waxed and waned as theologians and religious leaders have struggled with whether or not she should be worshiped. They have raised questions about her virginity, her possible role as an intermediary with the divine, her family background and the manner of her death.
I too have had a long fascination with Mary. As a teenager it could have been because her name was a part of my name, but later when I was well into my own role as a mother, Canadian songstress Rita MacNeil got me thinking about Mary again when she released her Christmas ballad Mother Mary. Some lines from the song struck such a chord with me.
“And Mary you’ve seen hard times
And all that you’ve been through
You’ve given so much as a mother
Mary we’ll remember you.”
Rita’s lyrics made me consider what an important role Mary had played in her son’s life and I studied the brief glimpses we have of her in the gospels. I admired the way she continued to raise her son with hope even after Simeon told her on her first temple visit with Jesus that the experience of mothering him would be “like a sword that will pierce your soul.”
When her child was a toddler she became a refugee because powerful people wanted to kill her son. Jesus was twelve when she experienced the heart stopping fear of losing him in a crowded city. Once Jesus was an adult she must have worried because he wasn’t married or steadily employed and spent his time with rebel fighters, lepers, adulterers, dishonest government officials and people who were demon possessed. Mary knew people gossiped about her son and said he was mentally unstable. Some wanted to kill him. Once when Mary tried to see Jesus he ignored her and said, “Who is my mother?”
Yet Mary had faith in her son. She was the one who convinced him to perform his first miracle at the Cana wedding. She had utter confidence in him. And when he was dying on the cross she was standing right there. Jesus was so moved by his mother’s loyalty that his last act was to ask his best friend to look after her.
Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but it should also be a time when we celebrate the love and faith of the woman who gave birth to him and mothered him.
Irma Fast Dueck ended her talk with a beautiful quote from Thomas Merton describing Mary.
“and God was a child curled up who slept in her and her whole being was embraced in him whom she embraced”
Other posts about Mary………