[ Editor’s Note: This review is one among many regarding Gifts of the Visitation here at Patheos; read more here. ]
Although I’ve never been a Catholic, there are certain things about the faith that have appealed to me over the years. The solemn sense of ritual and ceremony, the Mystery at the heart of the faith, and, most especially, the Marys. Mary the mother particularly appeals to me in her goddess-like guise as one of the many faces of the Queen of Heaven, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I never thought of her life before her elevation to the face of the divine feminine for many Catholics (and other Christians) around the world.
I love digging into the history behind mythology, but until I picked up Gifts of the Visitation by Denise Bossert, I’d never really paid Mary the woman much attention. In it, Bossert explores a series of nine character traits that both Mary and her cousin, Elizabeth (the mother of John the Baptist) embodied during their pregnancies. These nine spiritual gifts can speak to people of any faith, but what really struck me about the text was the way Bossert seems to have connected with the young Mary.
What must it have been like, as a very young, unmarried woman in a rule-driven desert society, to not only accept the challenge of carrying a divine child, but to do so without fear of any cultural retributions she might face? Bossert has considered this question at length, and it forms much of the backdrop of the gifts she discusses in this book; spontaneity, courage, joy, readiness, humility, adventure, hospitality, wonder and awe, and thanksgiving. As Bossert points out, Mary was practically a child herself when her role in the Biblical story began, and the laws of her culture (not to mention the emotions of her family and her betrothed) might have led her into some tense (if not outright dangerous) situations as her pregnancy started to show.
My respect for Mary has grown tremendously after reading this text, and I feel that the Mary I’ve always acknowledged as another of the many archetypal faces of the Goddess has grown flesh and blood for me now; she’s more than a woman who took on the guise of Queen of Heaven. Like the other strong matriarchs, maidens, and crones within the pages of the Old and New Testament, Mary is relatable and human when you dig beneath the surface of the myth.