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Monday, August 24, 2009

What to Do With Mary?

I don't know what to do with the Virgin Mary.

I know, a lot of people, especially my fellow Protestant Christians, consider Mary a non-issue. Why think about Mary when we already have Jesus? And, in a way, they are correct. We have direct access to faith, love, prayer, and the throne of grace through Jesus Christ.

That really isn't the point.

The Virgin Mary is unique in human history, the woman chosen - and who humbly accepted - to carry God the Son in her womb. The Bible teaches that she is to be revered and that she is "blessed" among women. The Third Ecumenical Council (431) signified Mary's importance by affirming that she the "Theotokos" - the Bearer of God, or, more personally, the Mother of God. [This is not a title of elevation of Mary, but a statement of fact: the eternal Son of God is truly, fully divine and has no 'beginning', but the fact that He came to earth in the flesh indicates that He truly has a human mother, hence the title Mother of God.]

I don't have an issue with that. But some do, Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants.

Protestants throw the baby out with the bath-water. They tend to avoid Mary except when they buy the religious stamps for Christmas cards from the Post Office. Very little is ever said of her outside the context of the Christmas story. (It should be noted that this skittishness about her is a late development among Protestants. Martin Luther and other Lutheran reformers and the Wesleys and other Anglican reformers were comfortable with Mary as Theotokos and didn't shy away from her at all.)

The Catholic issues go to the other extreme, and some even go so far as to refer to Mary as a "co-redemptrix" with Jesus Christ: her suffering was akin to that of Christ. The Church of Rome has added all sorts of titles and honorifics, doctrines and adulation to the humble Nazarene maiden.

The Orthodox seem the most balanced to me, but even they sometimes seem to go beyond the Biblical parameters to honor, bless, and commemorate Mary at times.

So I'm still perplexed. What do I do with Mary?

This is important to me because Mary is far too integrated into the Gospel story to be ignored. The Nativity accounts are just the beginning. Those years between the return to Nazareth (from Egypt) and finding Jesus in the Temple, Mary was the most important human in His life. She nursed Him, changed Him, dressed Him, kissed His 'owies', fed His friends, and made sure He had a normal human childhood.

She truly was the God-bearer, in her womb and in her arms.

After the Temple event, when He was twelve, Mary helped Her Son make it through adolescence. After His Bar Mitzvah, when Jesus would have been apprentice to his step-father Joseph (or another relative in the carpentry trade), Mary would have kept His supper warm until He got home, made sure He had breakfast, kept His clothes clean.

The whole while, Mary would have been "pondering these things in her heart," as St. Luke so poetically puts it.

Mary is one of the most visible women in the New Testament, and she appears a number of times in Jesus Christ's ministry years. Because of this, she comes across the pages of my own life - if I intend to live a life centered in the Gospels.

But how far across my life should she go? The Dormition Fast has just recently ended and the end of the octave (of the Dormition) was Sunday, so Mary has been on my mind a lot recently. I want to give her all the honor she's due. I want to follow her example as the first person to accept Jesus Christ.

But my Protestant mindset gets in the way. I know "Mother of God" is theologically correct, but it has a hard time coming off my tongue. I know that she's alive in Heaven (as are all who fall asleep in the Lord) and because of that she is with the Heavenly Host praying for our lost world, but I have a very hard time asking her to pray for me, personally.

The Orthodox Prayer goes like this: Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos, Mary, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, for thou hast borne the Savior of the world.

I don't have any problem with this prayer at all (it's all Bible - see Luke 1), except for the part that involves actually 'saying' it.

I certainly don't have a problem honoring women of far less stature. St. Clare inspires me. Margaret Fell's prison work in 17th century England is absolutely commendable. Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Nation, the suffragettes, and other pioneers brought women into first-rate citizenship. Margaret Thatcher, Indira Ghandi, Golda Meir, and Queen Elizabeth have demonstrated that women are world leaders.

And none of them bore God the Son as His mother. The cumulative accomplishments of these women pale beside the acheivement of faith that Mary had.

It's a pickle. What do you do with Mary? What should I do?

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