“It’s not that I hate the Virgin Mary, I just don’t think she deserves so much attention…,”
I think we’ve all had that moment: you are standing in a public place and you hear a snippet of conversation from the people walking by that grabs your attention away from whatever it is you were doing. Sometimes it’s just a fragment of a sentence, an incomplete thought, that leaves you hanging, waiting for a resolution that will never come. Or perhaps, it’s something that seemed as if it were intended for you but was not: the verbal equivalent of waving back to the stranger who you see enthusiastically gesturing at someone immediately behind you in a crowd.
And then there are those moments when you overhear a complete thought, and you know that it was not intended for you, but the concept expressed is so strange that you must restrain yourself from turning to the speaker and saying, “What!?”
The young woman behind the counter was waiting for me to order my sandwich, and I was trying to do just that, while at the same time wondering why a group of Catholic school girls standing behind me in line were talking about “hating the Virgin Mary”. Suddenly, I couldn’t remember if I had decided on the Bacon Turkey or the Italian Combo.
Mother of God?
When I talk about Christianity in this blog, it is usually done from a perspective of “fight for your right to be different from them”. On the whole, I try to leave discussions of biblical mythology to others who are more vested in the topic. It is not that I don’t find their stories and perspectives interesting. It is simply that I learned long ago that the lessons of the biblical narrative do not resonate with me. Having spent much of my youth examining them with an ever more critical eye, I find that my spiritual path has taken me in other directions. Aside from a few “universal truths” that all faiths may share, I see little of value to me in Christian teachings.
In fact, the most appealing elements of the Christian mythology would appear to be the ones that Christians take the greatest pains to ignore and obfuscate.
Take the case of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
On the one hand, the Catholic church has, over the centuries, taken a page from their Roman forefathers, and transformed her into something of a goddess. She is set apart from other women through the miracles of the Immaculate Conception (which marks her as sinless), the Perpetual Virginity (meaning she remained pure in body, even after childbirth), and her bodily Assumption into Heaven at the end of her life. None of these things are attested to in the Christian scriptures. They simply exist as “church tradition”, handed down through the centuries.
This is a Marian Shrine built overlooking Valencia Island, near the town of Portmagee, County Kerry, Ireland. The shrine was built over the Tobairin Holy Well which, like scores of other Holy Wells scattered throughout Ireland, would previously have been dedicated to a local goddess.
On the other hand, there are the Protestant churches that all but ignore her existence. She was, they contend, but a vessel used to deliver their savior into the world. Beyond that, she is a figure of little importance to them. Her veneration is seen as a distraction from the mission of Christ. Only God, through Christ, is worthy of reverence in their eyes.
But why? Why are such extreme and contrary emotions (passionate love and scornful disregard) directed at a single young woman, who may or may not have given birth to a demigod?
Perhaps it is because Mary represents a fundamental truth that certain people are desperate to keep hidden, even if they themselves are not entirely conscious of it.
One of the great miracles of Jesus is purported to have been his ability to raise one from the dead. Indeed, it is the core belief upon which the Christian religion is founded, that he himself returned to life after three days in the grave. Yet, nowhere does the Bible say that Jesus is able to actually create life. He is shown healing the sick and wounded. He may recall the spirits of those who have passed back into the bodies from which they fled, but that’s just moving energy and consciousness from one place to another. Throughout the gospels, nothing new is ever created by Jesus of Nazareth.
Any act of true creation needs a woman.
The Hebrew God ‘may’ have sent his son to pay, in blood, for the sins of his fallen people, but he was only able to do so through the agency of a mortal woman.
Try as they might to either dress her up as some specially created paragon of holy virtue, or dismiss her as a distraction from the more showy miracles which involve walking on water or replicating loaves and fishes, the simple truth is that the deliverance of mankind could only be accomplished through the power of a mortal woman.
They may call their god “The Father” but what is a father without a mother?
The power of creation requires a father and a mother, male and female principals, which in combination, produce a third.
Some may wish to argue at this point, that the first books of the Bible describe the creation of the universe by their God, alone, without a goddess anywhere to be seen. And if the literalist view of ancient scripture is what appeals to you, you will get no argument from me. Although I might enquire as to why you think the feminine plural pronoun is used so often in the untranslated Hebrew.
A discussion for another day perhaps.
Getting back to my point. I would contend that we lowly humans are, in many ways, as powerful as the gods themselves. The miracle of creation is but one of the more obvious forces at our command.
And that’s just the thing about Mary that drives certain folks to such lengths as to either ignore her altogether or elevate her to a status beyond that of mere mortal.
If a regular thirteen-year-old girl from the 1st century equivalent of a 3rd World country, can do something that their supreme deity cannot do…, well it seems like the whole enterprise is on a pretty rickety foundation. And shoring up that foundation, keeping the faithful distracted and their own coffers flush – that’s gotta be a full time job even without all those uppity women creating life everywhere you look.
So lets shame them and put them down. Let’s tell them that all of their worth is contained in their unbroken hymen and lacking that, they are mere vessels awaiting a mans seed. Let us make childbirth and motherhood into commodities, to be regulated and controlled by men.
Above all, let us ignore the example of Mary, and look down our noses upon those sinful wenches who conceive out of wedlock.
There is a special kind of irony in listening to a group of Catholic school girls complain that the ‘Virgin Mary’ steals too much attention away from their Christ.
You’re quite correct girls. She wasn’t a goddess. She wasn’t sinless, or forever virgin, and was almost certainly not bodily transported into whatever realm your god may reside in.
She was a young woman, just like you.
Perhaps she was chosen by a god, as others had been before her. Or perhaps not.
Either way, she had a power envied by politicians and priests for generations beyond count. She, like you, held within her the most powerful force known to man: the power to give life.
A little something to think about on Mother’s Day.
Send your mom a card and thank her for the miracle.