Queen of Hearts: I review “Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea”

for Commonweal:

The most beautiful portrayal of Marian devotion I’ve seen in literature came unexpectedly in New York Times columnist David Carr’s 2009 addiction memoir, The Night of the Gun: A Reporter Investigates the Darkest Story of His Life—His Own. Carr, finally drug-free and sober, had been been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma; the treatments left him too weak to move, and he resorted to giving his three-year-old daughter Meagan cash for the pizza guy so they could eat.

“Keep the change,” I’d hear her say per my instructions to some stunned guy who probably took the story back to the shop. On nights when I was too tired to tuck them in, I would lie there and hear her tell [her sister] Erin it was time to say prayers before bed.

“Lovely lady, dressed in blue, teach me how to pray…”

Mary has had so many titles, from the lyrical “Star of the Sea” to the martial “Exterminatrix of Heresies.” There’s a Mary for every mood. Mary champions the oppressed and heralds the overturning of the social order (“He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly”). She guides philosophy and, by her intercessory prayers, undoes the impossible knots of our lives.

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