What does Mary and mother mean to you when when society doesn’t even see you as a woman – though you are? Sanctuary‘s founding pastor, Rev. Alaina Kailyn Cobb, shares her thoughts about Mary, love, sexual assault and consent, and how Mary’s love for Jesus fills her with wonder and awe – submitted as we near the night of our saviours birth. Read, comment, and share.
Francisco Herrera – PhD student, Interim Editor
TW – extensive discussion of rape in Biblical context, transphobia
I have no womb.
I am barren.
Let’s establish that from the beginning.
In part because of this I have what I think is an understandably difficult relationship with Mary. I have often found depictions of her saccharine and unrelatable. I’ve written poetry about it. I have talked to friends about it. I find the Christmas season’s focus on birth and pregnancy narratives, at times, emotionally unbearable. I’m the woman who simply cannot attend every advent service because I find the salt in the wound particularly astringent this time of year.
Mary is a trying subject for me.
I say that because I want it to be clear that I am not writing this out of some personal need to elevate her. And while I find this season difficult neither do I wish to demean her because of my own struggles. Rather I am writing this out of concern for a woman that I feel has been wronged. I am writing this as a woman who also knows what it feels like to be stripped of her agency, whose grace has been seen as insufficient, who has been made into something other than what I am by a church that does not know what to do with me.
And most assuredly… I am writing this as a woman who has also survived rape.
The idea that Jesus came about as the result of the rape of Mary is not new. In fact I’m certain those arguments began before he was born. Even in modern theological circles the idea itself is not rare, it’s just not often discussed or at the very least not often discussed to my personal satisfaction. Because while most theologians get caught up in how this complicates their Christology, no one seems to notice the woman at the center of this. She is relegated to a footnote in the discussion, just another rape victim. Just another woman stripped of her humanity.
And despite my best efforts to avoid her, that is not what I have come to see.
To me, even in my seasonal bitterness, I cannot help but be shaken by the revolutionary holy strength of Mary. Even in my barrenness, I cannot help but be in awe of the joyous rebellion of daring to believe in the divinity of a child conceived in violence. And if I can see it so clearly then why are those discussions missing?
Even Luke’s shoehorned consent cannot cover up the risks forced upon Mary, so why are we not talking about it? Why do we ignore what must have been a maelstrom of emotional turmoil? Why are we not talking about what all of this must have been like for a first century woman?
When we ignore Mary, when we remove her agency in the middle of her own story, when we ignore the pain and fear and frustration and shame that must have been heaped upon her, we miss the actual miracle at the heart of Christmas: a young woman dejected and victimized, with every reason to hate the cause and constant reminder of her struggle that was growing inside her, instead called him divine.
Called him blessed.
Called him the future savior of the world.
She dared to dream that this curse was her blessing and in so doing blessed the whole of creation.
If we believe in a God of love, then how is this not a more fitting narrative? Does it not make more sense? Is it not so much more in line with the character of the God revealed in Christ?
We can talk about power dynamics, we can talk about Mary’s supposed age, we can talk about tainted consent, about patriarchal structures of oppression, there are so many angles to consider. But the question I come back to, is which reveals more about the character of God and what fits the story of Jesus elsewhere? Is it condescending to be with us through a virgin birth in an immaculate conception or is it a young woman deciding to love a child forced upon her so deeply and with such holy fury that he grew into a man possessed of that love?
And furthermore what would have become of Jesus born of Mary’s Uterus if she had not dreamed of loving him? If she had not transmuted the rage and hatred deep within her body into love, into the water of life he floated in?
I do not believe we would be having this discussion.
But she did.
And so I, a lifelong Protestant who has always had a problem with Mary, have found myself with very high mariology indeed.
Precisely because I believe in her rape.
It’s through that understanding I find myself calling her Mary the Mother of God because she birthed love long before she birthed the Christ. I see her easily as Mary Most Holy for she took the sins of this world upon her body and used it to feed her child. I gladly adore Mary Queen of Heaven still bearing the scars of the conception of God in her vagina, smiling upon a son who would perform the miracles she taught him? When I lose the one dimensional “vessel” that patriarchs have always sought to condense us down to and I look upon Mary truly full of Grace; How can I look away?
So yes, I have a complicated relationship with Mary. I still can’t stomach the Mary we sing about, the one we put on christmas cards and rosaries. But the one who limped home carrying the pain of a world that had no place for her? The one who cried herself to sleep and begged God that her period would come? The one who birthed God in her heart? That woman will always have a place in my own heart.
She knows what heartache feels like, and she knows how to make it into something that can heal the world.
Rev. Alaina K. Cobb is is a mother, minister, theologian, activist, poet, trans woman, anarchist, mystic, anti-fascist and Interfaith Pastor and Director of Sanctuary – a collaborative effort between queer and trans activists, ministers, and organizers to provide a space of healing, education, and resistance. Raised in fundamentalist Pentecostalism, as a young girl she began a lifelong obsession with theology in her quest to understand who she was and how her transness and bisexuality fit into her faith – and since transitioning, realizing the startling lack of pastoral care and affirming faith resources for her community, she pursued ordination as a way to serve those who could never feel safe within the bounds of the traditional church. Co-Chair of the Leadership Council of the Progressive Christian Alliance and Founder of the Transgender Crisis Ministry Network.