Blessed Are You Among Women – Rev. Alaina Kailyn Cobb

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

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TW – extensive discussion of rape in Biblical context, transphobia

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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. 

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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.

Mary and the “After”-life… – Rev. Melissa Gonzalez

Mary grieving the death of Jesus – the pieta – is has been a common subject in art for well over 1000 years. However, rarely do we wonder about what happened to Mary post resurrection (there is little to no information about this in Scripture) nor how her pain might have still affected even after her son had risen again. Posing some of these questions in most eloquent form for us, the first week of Easter, is Rev. Melissa Gonzalez – Pastor-Developer of Tapestry, a multicultural ministry outside of Minneapolis.

Francisco Herrera, Interim Editor


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Three years ago I was asked to preach as one of seven pastors at a Tre Ore Good Friday service in Minneapolis. During three hours we each preached about one of the Seven Last Words, as Jesus’ last words on the cross are known. I chose “Mother, behold your son. Behold your mother.”

I recounted that day how I imagined Mary pondering Jesus’ birth, and how she felt as she watched her beloved oldest son grow up. I imagined it must be how we watch children grow up, ours and others. How they can be precocious like Jesus when his parents were upset he stayed behind at the temple without telling them. How Jesus scolded his mother for sticking her nose in when there was no good wine. And how she would have loved him just as he was.

Then when his ministry began to have an impact, she would have been proud, but then as Jesus became more renowned and popular. and he became the subject of intense fear and hatred, how she must have begun fearing for him. Even in her worst moments, though, she could have never imagined the cruelty of Jesus’ betrayal by a friend, the gross injustices in court, or the physical and spiritual pain that Jesus suffered that Mary would have felt to the very core of her being.

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I preached about how Mary would have laid at the foot of the cross and felt so alone. And how Jesus saw his mother’s pain and suffering and made sure she was not alone, that her beloved community was there to care for her. And in that, I caught a glimpse of the importance of beloved community.

But as far as I can remember, I left the story there at that time, as in my mind I’m sure I was already reaching forward to the resurrection. I left Mary’s story there at the foot of the cross, probably with some vague understanding that since Jesus was raised from the dead, there Mary’s story ended.

But you see, I was missing something that I didn’t even realize was missing until this week, this holy week, this week just after what would have been my beloved older son Chris’s 24th birthday. This week that is approaching the two year Sadiversary of my own beloved son’s death. I had looked in that sermon at Mary’s BEFORE-life. I hadn’t even considered Mary’s AFTER-life.

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“Monument to a Grieving Mother” – one of a series of such sculptures in countries of the former USSR commemorating grieving mothers who had lost children during World War II. This one is in the Smolensk region of Russia.

My older son Chris was lost in the Mississippi River on April 25, 2017. His body was recovered May 4, 2017. (I’ve written extensively about my son’s death on my personal blog here). This was the dividing line between my own before and after. And in this after, I have been so immersed in my own grief that I have only briefly begun to think about Mary. Mary, mother of Jesus. Mary, bereaved mother.

Soon after Chris’s death, I was preaching about John 3. In my “after” I rarely write sermons, so while I prepare for them, I never know what will come out of my mouth. That day, I recited John 3:16 from memory:” For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” and I gasped.Through my tears it became clearer to me what the love of God the Father was for his son and what He had lost. I still didn’t think about Mary.

Until this week. The last time we were together as a family was on Easter, April 16, 2017. Last year Easter Sunday fell on Chris’s birthday, April 1st. This year Easter falls in the in-between, the days of mourning coupled with the day that brings with it the promise of the Resurrection.

So this week I began to ponder Mary in her “after”-life. I imagine her cradled in John’s arms, not wanting to get out of bed to face another day. I imagine Mary walking dazedly through her mornings when time became relevant and irrelevant at the same time, where Jesus’ death would have felt to her like yesterday and forever-ago no matter how much time had passed. I wonder what the changes would have been within her that would have made her unrecognizable to herself and to those around her. I wonder if she could still pray to the Father to whom Jesus had cried out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) or if she relied upon her beloved community to pray for her, just as I had to do for so long.

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“Monument to a Grieving Mother” – Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

I wonder if her friends told her she should “get over it” and “move on” and “heal” and “be happy because her son was in a better place” and “everything happens for a reason” and “God had a plan.” And sure, God has plans, but not for death. God’s plans are for light and life and love and hope and peace. And “Mary, if you were really faithful and believed God’s promises, then you wouldn’t cry anymore. You would be happy because Jesus is with his Father in heaven.”

Would Mary ponder all of these things in her heart and hold her tongue?

And I wonder how Mary responded when people inevitably told her how strong and courageous she was. I wonder if she responded as I do. “No. The death of my oldest son has brought me to my knees. I lie prostrate at the foot of the cross.” I wonder if she felt in the deep marrows of her bones that the love of God and the support and prayers of her beloved community were the only things holding her together, the only things that allowed her to stand, the only things that allowed her to speak in loving memory of her son, the only things that brought her any kind of peace.

The last time we hear Mary mentioned by name in the Bible is sometime around the Ascension of Jesus into heaven and the Pentecost. We read that Mary was with the disciples and Jesus’ brothers constantly devoting herself to prayer. I wonder if she was there when her beloved son ascended into heaven. I like to think she was. I like to think God granted her that tender mercy.

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The Pentecost – El Greco

And I like to think she was at the Pentecost. I like to think that the Holy Spirit rested on Mary as a tongue of fire so that this mother who certainly still grieved the death of her beloved son would be comforted with the Spirit and moved to share the good news of her son, of his birth and life and cruel death, but most importantly, the resurrection. Because it is in Jesus Christ’s resurrection that all who grieve death will find the promises of new life. New life that is only in Christ.

Blessed be the memory of Mary, this grieving mom who was given hope and who, I am sure, spoke her son’s name any time she could so that she might remember him. and we might remember him. May we, too, even in our grief, speak Jesus’ name so that all who grieve in this ravaged world might know that death does not have the last word.


On April 25, 2017, 22-year-old Chris Stanley was lost in the Mississippi River. He was planning to bike from Minneapolis to the Gulf of Mexico. In 2019, Melissa (Melnick) Gonzalez, 52-year-old mom, pastor, and non-biker took this 1500 mile journey by bike with the support of friends, family, and strangers. Melissa blogged, preached, and video-logged while training and completing the journey. She now speaks and preaches about: grief. cycling, and most importantly, about love, hope, light, and life.

Read more: Tapestry Web Page and Facebook: Fueled by Love: In Memory of Chris Stanley.

Mary, Do You Know La Malinche? – Sarah Degner Riveros

Linda Thomas at CTS eventMary, the mother of Jesus, is hands-down one of the most fascinating people in all history. Praised and doubted, her integrity questioned not only in her own life time (Matthew 1:19) but also in ours, Christmas is the time of year when the Church ponders her the most. However,  in a special pre-Christmas post, Sarah Degner Riveros shares with us levels of tragedy and depth that one too easily misses in the story of Mary – a depth that many would rather be ignored. Read, comment, and share friends.

Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”


TW: virginity, rape, oppression


The last time I spoke in church was to read the Scriptures on Christmas Eve.

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by Dom George Saget, Senegal.

I was 20 years old. It was a service of Lessons and Carols. I was invited to read the part about going to Bethlehem to register with Mary, who was expecting a child, and the baby being born and laid in a manger, and the angels of the Lord appearing, and the shepherds being amazed. But when I got to the line “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart,” my angry heart froze, my voice cracked and I started to lose it. There I was, the pastor’s kid, home from college on Christmas Eve, honored to have been chosen to read in a congregation where mostly male elders read the lessons, with hundreds of worshipers staring at me to finish the story of Jesus and his Mother.

My throat swelled up and my voice was tight. And I kept reading the lesson, but my voice was squeaky.

After church at dinner, my family asked me what happened. I looked up, and I choked again. I couldn’t talk about it. At the dinner table. At Christmas dinner. I’d just come home from a year in Spain where I’d experienced three sexual assaults, one in my dorm in Madrid; one in my apartment in Barcelona, and one in a parking garage, along with two punches to the head, and three forcible rapes, and two pregnancies and losses. I learned Spanish from some excellent teachers, I traveled around Europe, I experienced cultural immersion–but I paid for it with the bodily harm I endured. So I was still kind of angry. Angry at the men. Angry at sleep. Angry at the system. Angry at not having the words. Angry at patriarchy. Angry at what I could and couldn’t do. Angry at my body. Angry at God.

These memories and feelings emerged after reading a courageous article in the Washington Post by Rev. Ruth Everhart, exploring the relationship that the author has with the Virgin Mary’s cultural image as she grapples with the emotional aftermath of being raped at gunpoint. For me, reading her story brings up a lot of big feelings, and since I can’t afford counseling because of a high deductible, I’m writing so that I can get these feelings out and get some sleep. That was a difficult Christmas when I was 20, and for some reason this year, I keep flashing back to it.

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“Mary Consoling Eve.” Sister Grace Remington, Order of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance.

For vulnerable bodies, there a high price to pay for being educated – take Eve who paid the price for the knowledge of good from evil.  Sometimes there isn’t much choice in the matter – just ask Malintzin aka La Malinche, who, around 1519, was sold into slavery and used her Mayan and Nahuatl along with Spanish, serving as Hernán Cortés’ concubine and translator to broker colonization.

La Malinche embodied a bicultural identity that comes with the curse of never quite fitting in while belonging to everyone.  Sometimes La Malinche symbolizes the Mother of the Mexican people, yet she is still blamed for betraying her people in the conquest of the Americas.  But I’m sure the loss she actually felt was that of her own freedom.  Did she know how their compounded traumas would play out over a lifetime and through history?

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16th century pictographic deptictions of Hernan de Cortes and Malintzin (standing female with the checkered robe/garment).

Mary, Eve, Malintzin, did you know?

That Christmas, having just returned from Spain and completed a Spanish major, I wanted God to redeem Spanish for me so that I could get a job, use my degree, and do something useful in the world. I prayed for that opportunity. That same Christmas break, I took the GRE and finished my applications for graduate schools to study Spanish literature. I also graduated from college, skipped commencement, and had an interview for my first full-time salaried job. In fact, that very day that I last read the Scripture in church, that same Christmas Eve afternoon, my dad’s friend stopped by the house to ask me if I wanted to work for his law firm in downtown Chicago. So it was kind of an emotional day since I was nervous about work and needed a job. He offered an interview at a civil rights law firm specializing in employment discrimination.

I got the job and spent 9 months answering phones in a class action sexual harassment case against some financial firms that had discriminated against women. Those companies had enabled wealthy men in power to do some very yucky things to women’s bodies, women’s ears, and women’s professional lives. I took the train downtown every day and took notes as women who were vice-presidents and financial advisers, who had fought hard for their careers, called in to detail their experiences with misogyny in the financial firms that are the crown of our nation’s capitalism.

But after 9 months of mostly taking a break from Spanish, I hadn’t given up on the humanities, nor on European and Spanish culture, so I moved to NYC and eventually wrote my dissertation about the Virgin Mary in the Middle Ages. I examined portrayals of parents and children and the Virgin Mary in the text and images of the Cantigas de Santa María by Alfonso X (King of Castile-Leon from 1252-1284). Alfonso gathered stories about the Virgin Mary to create an illustrated collection of songs in her honor. Her Holy Mother image in those medieval songs is the portrait of a loving advocate and defender of the people.

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Illustrations from Cantigas de Santa Maria.

The Mary painted in the Cantigas wasn’t demure–she more like a badass community organizer, a pro bono human rights lawyer, a Jewish mother, a vigilante peacekeeper for orphan’s and widow’s rights. Santa María exhibited agency as she defended the weak by casting spells and slaying evildoers. She filled in during choir practices for a pregnant nun to cover for her as she hid her pregnancy, and she raised the baby for her. She went after the devil with the broom, she gave a skin disease to a guy who had slapped his mom, and she threw a child abuser into the fire. The 427 miracle songs are divided up like a rosary, with a formulaic song of praise punctuating every 10 stories. But the stories themselves are transgressive and earthshatteringly feminist, — or at least that’s how they seemed to a Lutheran rape survivor who had been raised in 1990s Texas purity culture.

Like Ruth Everhart, I have approached marriage and motherhood as acts of faith and as ways to redeem my experiences and to get back my trust in God who created the heavens and the earth and who formed me in the womb, and who let horrendous things happen to my body. I am in no emotional shape to be called into the ministry, but I admire her courage and willingness to serve, and to be open in speaking truth to the rape culture we have created.

It’s hard to write and to talk about virginity, sexual violence and gender-based abuse, especially as internet trolls prowl around like roaring lions. Like that 20-year-old me, my voice still cracks when I speak of these things. I continue to treasure up a lot of things and ponder them in my heart, but sometimes my heart feels like a chasm, the murky depths of the abyss, or heavy like a stone. To be honest, after the things that I have lived and seen, I like to keep it that way.

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Syrian women and children interned in Hungary.

But sometimes during Advent, when I see Mary tilting her sweet head toward that tiny baby, I start to cry. And now, this Advent, I am back in the same emotional place.

The pregnancies I lost would have been 19 year old college kids this year, the same age that I was when I was raped, and my heart holds space for them, even as I hold myself together for my children and my students.And when I see how we treat refugees, and pregnant teenagers, and babies born in poverty, the rage still chokes me and I scream at God to rend the heavens and come down to earth. 

Rend the heavens and come down and God sends us angels disguised as refugees who knock at our door seeking a warm shelter for the night. Rape survivors know like no one else that staying alive requires learning again how to trust strangers, and how to believe and be believed by family and friends.

God rends the heavens and shows up late at night in homeless shelters, on busses in the city, on rape crisis hotlines, in nursing homes, on street corners, in prison cells–in places where virginity isn’t touted or even mentioned. God hangs out in places that the mighty and powerful have forgotten.

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Children in New Mexico enacting the Mexican-Catholic Christmas tradition “Las Posadas” – where children enact the night that Mary and Joseph sought shelter before Jesus’ birth.

God enters the world through the open hearts of the poor when, amid terror and evil, we trust each other, we lean on each other, and we hold sacred space in our hearts for God to still be present when it all hurts.


12592758_10153921169827792_5301104737539609375_n.jpgSarah Degner Riveros lives with her family in Minnesota where she writes, mothers children, raises chickens, and teaches Spanish.