Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Always Stay, Mary

In the past years, I have developed somewhat of a fascination with Mary, the mother of Jesus.  It began while I was reading Anne Rice's Christ the Lord, Out of Egypt.  A fictional account of Christ's childhood, the book is narrated by the young Messiah.  The book raises thought-provoking questions:  what happens when a "human" child has the power of God?  At what point did he begin to grasp his destiny?   But throughout the book, it was Mary I found myself thinking of as I would turn off my bedside lamp and reflect on what I had read. 

How was she treated by her family and peers when she became pregnant? 

What was it like to shoulder such responsibility, to be the mother of the Savior?

How much did she tell him about her pregnancy?  His birth? His father? The prophesies of old? 

How did it change her relationship with Joseph?  Did he have secret doubts?  Resentment?  Was he afraid to touch the vessel that carried the Christ?

It wasn't very long after reading the book that I conceived my own child and became the mother to a sweet baby girl.  Having a little one of my own has changed the way I perceive and react to a great many things:  women who miscarry, parents who lose children, children who are abused.  These are things that have always saddened or angered me, but now I experience a different degree of heartache than before.   I am also now acutely aware of how physically and emotionally exhausting motherhood can be, even in the best of times.   I constantly question decisions I've made as a mother, praying I haven't somehow damaged my child.  On a daily basis, I experience an entirely new level of worry and anxiety as I simultaneously  try to keep my daughter safe and allow her to grow and explore new experiences.  I lie awake at night, contemplating everything from her own individual future to the future of our society and how she will be affected.   And it's all because I'm completely in love with this little person, in love in a way I cannot begin to put into words.

Which brings me back to Mary.  I have to imagine that she struggled with her own anxiety throughout the pregnancy and during her son's childhood.  Did she lie awake at night worrying when she didn't feel him kick for awhile?  Would she sit beside him as he slept and watch his little chest rise and fall as he slept?  Did her heart quicken as she saw him climbing trees with other boys?   Did she scold him for neglecting his chores?  I mean, how does one go about disciplining the Son of God?   Did she struggle with favoritism for Jesus over his half-brothers?  Was she more protective?  More tender? 

But more than even those challenges, I think Mary faced a very significant struggle.  This son that she carried, that she birthed, that she loved--did she ever feel he was actually hers?   One might assume she'd feel proud and blessed that her son was the Messiah, that she was "highly favored" and chosen as his earthly (and only) mother.  But I can't help but wonder if it was bittersweet.  I look at my daughter and imagine the life I hope she'll have, a life full of learning and love and adventure and fulfillment.  I think about my grown up daughter and the relationship I want to have with her.  I wonder if she'll marry, if she'll have children of her own.   As Mary looked at her son, did she fully realize that his future was already planned?  That there would be no weddings, no grandchildren?  At what point did she understand that she would bury her child and not the other way around?  
The lives of our children are never certain.  It doesn't matter how well we parent or how much we love them, in the end, it is mostly out of our control.  They may live long lives, lives that make us proud or lives that cause us pain.  Or, as Mary did, we may find ourselves burying the man who was once our little boy.    

This woman was chosen to carry the Son of God.  She raised him, watched him grow into a man.  She followed him, believed in Him.  She accepted that she was not as important as his ministry.  She watched him die, stood quietly as he gave her another son. 
And then... what?
The majority of her life had revolved around  the miraculous birth that produced a miraculous man.  I can't imagine what it would be like to physically stand in the presence of God in human form, to hear him speak, to watch him heal.  But I also wonder if in her heart she sometimes wished--perhaps just for a moment--that they could be a normal family.  Did she secretly long for her first-born to need her, instead of the other way around?  By the time her son left this world, I have to believe she was weary--and a bit lost.  Her questions about his life, his destiny, had been answered.  She no longer had to wonder, Will this be the day I see him last?  That I touch him last?   What did she do at this point?  Was there a sense of relief?  Or was the hole left in her heart overwhelming?  Did she begin a new stage in life, a more mundane existence?   Was it unfulfilling?  Or a welcome change?
Some consider Mary a saint.  Others see her as a woman whom God loved but who was ultimately just a vessel.  Regardless of one's theological beliefs, it's not difficult to identify with and admire this beautiful woman.  As a mother, I find her remarkable.  I am inspired by her faith and her courage and her strength, even if I can only base it on my assumptions.  She was human, a woman like me. 

A woman like me. 
There's a song I love by Patty Griffin entitled "Mary."   Some listeners may only interpret the song literally, about Mary, Mother of Christ.  If I'm not mistaken, Ms. Griffin wrote the song for her own grandmother, presumably because the two women shared a common past.  It's a beautiful song, both musically and lyrically, and describes so many strong, sacrificial women who have influenced and enriched the lives of those around them while putting their own needs second.

Lyrics and Music by Patty Griffin

Mary, you're covered in roses, you're covered in ashes
You're covered in rain
You're covered in babies, you're covered in slashes
You're covered in wilderness, you're covered in stains
You cast aside the sheet, you cast aside the shroud
Of another man, who served the world proud
You greet another son, you lose another one
On some sunny day and always stay,

Jesus says, "Mother, I couldn't stay another day longer"
Flies right by me, leaves a kiss upon her face
While the angels sing his praises in a blaze of glory
Mary stays behind and starts cleaning up the place

Mary, she moves behind me
She leaves her fingerprints everywhere
Every time the snow drifts, every time the sand shifts
Even when the night lifts, she's always there

Jesus says, "Mother, I couldn't stay another day longer"
Flies right by me, leaves a kiss upon her face
While the angels sing his praises in a blaze of glory
Mary stays behind and starts cleaning up the place

Mary, you're covered in roses, you're covered in ruin
You're covered in secrets
You're covered in treetops, you're covered in birds
Who can sing a million songs without any words
You cast aside the sheets, you cast aside the shroud
Of another man, who served the world proud
You greet another son, you lose another one

on some sunny day and always stay...


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