As Advent ends and Christmas begins, We Talk, We Listen is going to be presenting a series of reflections on Mary – the mother of Jesus. Mary receives short schrift in most Protestant communities, and yet our faith would be impossible without her. Madena Sophia, a student at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN, starts the series – reminding the reader that in her day, Mary was likely seen as scandalous or questionable and how depicting her as a paragon of virtue disrepsects the fullness of her power. Read, comment, and share
Francisco Herrera, PhD student, Interim Blog Editor
I remember the first time a preacher included teaching about context in the sermon, I was in my 30s. I remember that for the first time, the people and the stories became vividly real and not just caricatures. It also helped me to see the Mary’s and Martha’s and Hagar’s in my life and context.
When we read Biblical text, do we do so as though we are entering into a fictional existence in a far-off place with fictional characters playing a role for our entertainment or do we allow the text to shift our eyes to our own surroundings and to the people and situations around us? Do we make super heroes of these characters because we “know how the story ended?”
Growing up and into adulthood, the only teaching and preaching I had heard about Job was about patience and faith and the victory of a life redeemed.
Until I began to study Job for myself, I didn’t know that Job didn’t just skip and whistle his way through his trauma. No, Job didn’t do the spiritual bypassing that negated his trauma, his loss, his depression, his despair, his suicidal ideation. No, Job shook his fist at God in agony. Job asked questions.
Job cursed the day he was born.
It is easy for us to look at this allegory without allowing ourselves to really sit in the grief and what it might have been like to live that existence. You see, we know how that story ends, so we rest in the comfortable victory without allowing ourselves to find the sacred and holy that was found in the “dark night of the soul.”
What does this have to do with Mary, you might ask? We do the same thing with other ministry leaders of history. We make heroes out of them. We create a perfected ideal of who they were. We recreate them to look like, sound like, act like, and think like us. We are so far removed from their reality that we don’t see them for who they really were and because we don’t see them for who they really were, we can’t see them walking amongst us today.
Have you seen Mary?
I asked people through a Facebook post to tell me what came to mind when they thought of Mary. I asked that people not spend too much time, I wasn’t looking for an essay. I just wanted the first words or images that came to mind when people thought of Mary, mother of Jesus…according the Christian tradition, the mother of the savior of the world – and here’s what they said:
“You have filled the hungry with all good things and left the wealthy no part”
Mary did you really know?
Trusting and believing
Young and scared
Peaceful, in spite of her “unacceptable” condition
Wisdom; chosen to uniquely suffer; change agent
My mother and abuela, raising and protecting a family from poverty,
Young, courageous, connected (relationship with Elizabeth)
The Holy Spirit and the 4 th member of the trinity*
Willing participant in an unknown plan
Confused about her biological makeup…
A big heart
Please take a moment to reflect on these words.
Take a deep inhale…and exhale…now, sit in the stillness for a bit as you think of Mary and these words. What comes to mind for you now? What images do you see? Who do you see? Jot down what you hear, see, and feel.
Mary was a poor, Jewish teenager from Galilee. Mary had agency and a choice as to whether or not she wished to participate. If you have ever been seduced by the spirit, it is difficult to think that her body was simply used as a receptacle as opposed to a willing participant. Mary was a radical, teenage, badass Black woman. She could have said, “no” to an ask that was beyond conceivable to most…still is. I wonder if she had a flood of realization once she had said, “yes.”
What did it really mean for the everyday living of her life? Everyday, the sideways looks she must have gotten. The mumbles she must have heard. The people that walked away and betrayed her, the ones that didn’t believe her. The ones that didn’t value her because they didn’t value the body the message was coming in.
Behold Mary’s words in the Magnificat:
My soul magnifies the Lord
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
Because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid;
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;
Because He who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is His name;
And His mercy is from generation to generation
on those who fear Him.
He has shown might with His arm,
He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and has exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has given help to Israel, his servant, mindful of His mercy
Even as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever.
When I read this and think of Mary, not the Westernized version of Mary, but the real and raw Blackity Blackness of Mary, I think of a 15 year old Sudanese girl I heard speak at an event at George Floyd Square this Summer. She spoke with a similar fire of wisdom far beyond her years. The confidence she had as she paced and spoke words that make her a target for attack.
She said, “yes.”
Have you seen Mary?
Maybe you have seen a Black pregnant teenager in your church or community. Maybe you might even know of a Black pregnant teenager who can’t identify who impregnated her. What words do you use to describe her? What words or images do you think of when you see her? Have you observed the reality of her life? What does that look like?
Did you think Mary would have a life like that?
Have you seen Mary?
Have you seen the mothers of the unarmed Black people who keep getting murdered in the streets and in their homes and out for jogs and in other ways enjoying God’s creation? Have you seen their grief on the news? Have you seen them cry out to God? How about the mothers of the prophets who are slain? The activists, the organizers? The Freddy Hamptons and the Dr. Kings and all of those whose names are not as well known. When you see these mothers, what words and images come to mind? Do you use the same words to define these Black mothers? These Marys? Have you observed their lives in grief and has that observation led you to think of Mary’s grief at the state sanctioned murder of her son, Jesus.
As Christians, we talk all the time about whether or not we are seeing Jesus in others. Might I call us to also begin to see the Marys who live amongst us.
Have you seen Mary?
Madena is a budding Womanist Theologian who has completed 3 years of theological work at Luther Seminary. This Fall, Madena was Endorsed by the SE Iowa Synod of the ELCA, however she has decided to leave the ELCA Candidacy process to pursue ministry outside of the institutional church. Madena has a passion for all things Spirit related and is a dedicated prayer warrior, intercessor, and healer. Madena has facilitated racial healing workshops for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Bodies of Culture), facilitating work to unlearn the myths of white body supremacy, and is currently developing an online ministry entitled “Living Inverted: Following Jesus’ Lead.”