In the Eastern Christian churches today, the 15th of August, is marked as the Dormition of the Theotokos. In the Roman calendar today is called the feast of the Assumption of Mary. In the Anglican calendar this day is traditionally marked as the “falling asleep of the blessed virgin Mary,” although there are more than a few Anglicans who hold to some view of physical assumption for our lady.
I like to think of it as the festival of the assumptions of Mary. We have so many assumptions about her, after all…
She is one of the few biblical characters who by tradition, does not die. She’s also collapsed in many imaginations with other divine female figures. There are other layers to her, as well. A very complicated lady, she.
My reflections about her are refracted through the lens of someone at the margins of the Christian tradition (my confession is to have a physiology of faith, with a Buddhist brain, a Christian heart and a humanist stomach: all resolved rather messily for me as an ordained minister within the Unitarian Universalist Association). With all that I have many and thoroughly mixed feelings about Mary.
On the one hand I have difficulties with separating her from the commonality of our humanity. It is such an important point. What little we know as “factual,” is heart wrenchingly human. Her child becomes a disciple of a prophet and after his teacher’s death he becomes a prophet. A man calling out the rich and the powerful, offering succor to the poor, and calling everyone to a mysterious kingdom that is in part here, and in part somewhere else. And she witnesses is brutal execution in the wake of a year of his preaching. That woman, the mother of that man.
And then whispers, faint, unprovable, of a rising from the dead. And from there, stories. A small collection of a man’s sayings. Another small collection of miracles. Another layer of who both he and she might be.
And then a weaving and a reweaving and a weaving again of those stories, each enriched. Refractions of refractions.
And she, Mary is swept into this. She carries all these layers of story, some powerful archetypes. Images. This layered Mary touches my life, and many lives.
She becomes the mother. Perhaps best written The Mother. Something rich. A person we can call on. Our mother.
I’m absolutely taken with the fact that some iconic images of her appear indistinguishable from icons of Quanyin, who occupies some cross over places in Buddhist and East Asian hearts.
Mary! Guanyin! Hear our prayer…
And, one more layer to her mystery. There is something about the liberation theological take on Mary that I find myself particularly thinking of today. Here, again, my interest is less in her death, real or imaginal, and more in what she stands for now, today among the poor and oppressed, the people her son seemed particularly to love.
And the theologies that have woven out of the hymn she is said to have sung when she was informed by that dark angel of a forthcoming birth. (Story, story, legend, myth, truth beyond truths…)
Is rendered into English as
- My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
- my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
- for He has looked with favor on His humble servant.
- From this day all generations will call me blessed,
- the Almighty has done great things for me,
- and holy is His Name.
- He has mercy on those who fear Him
- in every generation.
- He has shown the strength of his arm,
- He has scattered the proud in their conceit.
- He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
- and has lifted up the humble.
- He has filled the hungry with good things,
- and the rich He has sent away empty.
- He has come to the help of His servant Israel
- for He has remembered his promise of mercy,
- the promise He made to our fathers,
- to Abraham and his children for ever.
Me, I cannot think of Mary the divine carried into heaven without thinking of the girl confronted by an angel and her response. A story. Piled deep with other stories before and since.
A story. Assumptions piled high. Piled deep. Carried into dreams and from dreams to awakening.
I dream of what this awakening might mean for us, you and me, if we were to take it, as they say, not literally, but seriously.