St. Mary’s Catholic Parish is right across the street from the congregation I serve. It is a busy street that divides us and so it is not often that I have reason to cross it to be in conversation with our neighbors. And yet, this fall I couldn’t help myself. For you see, as I parked my car one afternoon I looked up to see someone refurbishing their statue of Mary.
Truthfully, I hadn’t much noticed “Mary” before. For one thing, if you are directly across the street from her she is hidden behind a large tree. No doubt the one who planted that tree did not fully anticipate its growth. For another, over the years her color had faded. While that tree may protect her from the sun, it cannot fully shield her from the ravages of wind and rain and snow.
And so it was that one afternoon I walked across the street to visit with the woman who was working hard to make Mary ‘new.’ The artist’s name is Gloria. She told me that at one time work such as this was her livelihood, but she is mostly retired now. She lives ninety minutes away, but she has a friend in this parish and so was asked to do them this favor. “This Mary is precious to them, I know,” is what she said to me. And so for several weeks on sunny days this fall, Gloria could be seen putting layers of paint on this statue which has graced the church yard for longer than most can remember.
It was not quite finished on the day I took the photograph above. And perhaps it is a little hard to tell in the shade, but maybe you get a sense of what I do when I pause to look at her now. For what I see is this: Gloria gave the statue texture. Oh, we know it is just a statue, of course. It is but a symbol of the young girl whose song is ours to sing again today. Even so, this piece of religious art which is mine to glance at almost every day reminds me of her centrality to the story which is ours to celebrate in these days. And the new textures which jump out at me speak of the nuances of the experience which must have been Mary’s.
And yet, this is what comes to mind first. As lovely as it is and in spite of the imagination of many artists’, the actual Mary would not have worn blue. Dye such as this would have been impossible to come by for one of her presumed stature and status in that time and place. Most likely, Mary’s garb was flaxen-wool colored. As I understand it, the traditional blue got added centuries later in order to visually depict Mary’s ‘royal status.’
And so it is that perhaps we have added texture or layers to our understanding of who Mary was
which would not have existed 2,000 plus years ago. And in so doing, perhaps we have lost sight of the texture which was already there. Indeed, consider Mary with me again:
- This young woman whose first response to the angel’s greeting was understandably confusion.
- This one whom the angel urged not to be afraid.
- This Mary who heard the angel’s promise and invitation and apparently had the presence of mind and heart to simply recognize it and receive it.
- This young woman who could not, would not stay alone with her news, but went as quickly as she could to her cousin, Elizabeth, whom the angel named as also unexpectedly and seemingly impossibly having life growing within her.
- And yes, this one who, in the tradition of Hannah’s Song, speaks words of depth and wisdom and promise and realized hope the likes of which the world then and now so very desperately needs to hear and witness and experience for themselves, for ourselves, again and again and yet again.
In actuality, we know so little of Mary, of course. And while it is so that her openness to God’s startling, life altering will for her life is remarkable, I do wonder sometimes if in our marveling at what we do know of Mary, we somehow fail to comprehend the angel calling us to the same, in all of our layers and textures. No, of course, perhaps it is unlikely that Jesus will come again in the same way he did so long ago. But is it possible, still, that he might come — and that you and I might somehow be bearers of him to the world? As Mary did, so might we be called to do as well?
And yes, perhaps it starts like it did with an artist named Gloria who used her best talent to portray the first Mary for all the world (or at least those of us who pass by) to see. Perhaps our ‘bearing’ Jesus into the world once more can begin as we go deep into Mary’s story and wonder at what it means and how it looked then and when and where it was and might still be received. But don’t you think as we do so faithfully and well that this might be so for us as well? That as we take in Mary’s story in all of its complexity and hope, with its textures and layers, that we might recognize her in us and us in her? And that we might see anew that God intends to use us, too, to bring a message of hope to the world?
To be those who carry Jesus into the world over and over again?
Indeed, I can’t believe that Mary quite knew what she was saying yes to, when she said,
“Here am I, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
Oh, I can’t help but wonder what might come to be if you and I, too, would simply listen for the Angel’s Invitation. Indeed, even while we cannot fully know what will follow, what might it look like if we simply respond with open hearts?
Like Mary did.
- What do you know of Mary’s story? How does this inform how you hear today’s Gospel?
- Do you have a favorite artistic rendering of Mary? What do you see when you when you experience it?
- Do you think the Angel’s Invitation is meant for you and me as well? Why or why not?
- What would it mean for you to receive that Invitation with an open heart?
- Indeed, what would it look like for you, your family, and/or your congregation to carry Jesus into the world this year?