Who is Mary

19 Nov

I tried on my Mary costume today and yes, there will be a live camel. I haven’t seen a camel since I was actually in Israel… But in all seriousness, as I think about playing Mary for a day, I can’t help but ponder, “Who was she?” Who was Mary beyond a virgin, and beyond a mother? Who was the real historical woman who spread her legs in a bed of straw and delivered the son of Man to the world?

As theologian Elizabeth A. Johnson writes, “The simplest feminist analysis makes clear that in the case of actual women in all their historical concreteness, the categories of virgin and mother come nowhere near summing up the totality of what is possible for women’s self-realization.” So who was Mary in her full dimension?

In church sermons, Mary is often talked about as having far more gumption than we sometimes realize or give her credit for. The Magnificat then is cited, yet too often this portrayal becomes eclipsed by the more well known passive image of her quietly participating in salvation. In fact, after her initial grand entrance in Luke’s gospel, I am ashamed to say that Mary basically recedes into the backdrop of my mind. Rarely do I give her any further thought. But since trying on my robe and head mantel, I feel her beginning to come to life within me. And I wonder when she began to feel Jesus coming to life within her.

Okay. So I have no lines. I’ll simply be part of a living picture tableau. However, I am welcome to improvise and to answer any questions about the baby Jesus. I’m sure there will be some little boy or girl who will ask me something like whether it was cold out that night, or if it was fun to ride on the camel. Did Mary ride on a camel or a donkey? Or did she walk all the way to Bethlehem – beit lechem – house of bread. Did she and Joseph quarrel? Did she cry? Did her water break and did she have labor pains?

But there are bigger questions. What was it like to be approached by an angel? And what was it like to raise a child like Jesus? And when they crucified him did she collapse with grief or did she scream with rage? Did she echo her son’s words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and tear out her hair? Or did she curl up in the fetus position and hope to die herself? Or did the Holy Spirit envelop her gently telling her everything would be okay?

I don’t know.

When I put on my head mantel and looked in the mirror, I noticed that because the material covers the lines in my forehead that have formed over time, I look young. Because I am little in stature and because my body hasn’t really changed since I was a teen, I can imagine being her age again. Mary must have only been twelve or thirteen; sixteen at the most. But how old did she feel on the inside? What was her degree of spiritual and emotional maturity? And what kinds of lines formed in her face later on?

Yes, acting requires that we use figments of our imagination, but it also helps us seek truth. It opens us to Mystery and sometimes even shows us glimpses of it – heaven here on earth.

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