I saw her again the other day.
Mary, the Mother of God.
She was on the side of a building in downtown Steubenville, and I stopped to take a picture.
It used to be the prettiest building, a pastel Victorian house like the ones my beloved grandfather used to make dollhouse copies of in his wood shop. The whole outside was aqua colored brick with white trim. I think it was a bookshop inside. There was a white carving of an angel in the front yard and that mural of La Guadalupana on the wall. I don’t know how long the building stood empty after that, but one night a few years ago it went up in flames. Since then it’s been another Steubenville derelict, three crumbling walls and a caved in foundation, surrounded with fencing and DANGER DO NOT ENTER NO TRESPASSING signs.
I’ve seen it so many times.
This time I noticed the Mother of God, trespassing behind the fence, the plastic that was supposed to protect her image warped and melted from the flame, and stared at her for a long time.
We don’t get along, she and I.
At least, I haven’t been able to conjure up affection for her lately.
Growing up in the Charismatic Renewal, it’s hard to find any affection for such a terrifying figure. I was given to understand that queer people like me disgust her so much that she and Jesus are going to break the whole world. Most everyone who’s abused me has been fervently devoted to Mary. And then everything that happened in Steubenville, and everything that’s happened this year. She scares me. Every time I catch sight of her I feel like I’m going to get into trouble. I feel like I felt when beautiful Julia and I were hiding in the brush at recess, and got caught by the yard teachers and forced out into the open with the bullies again.
What do you say to the Mother of God?
What do you say to a queen that you’re pretty sure doesn’t like you?
What do you do when the person most fervently loved by most of the people who hate you appears behind a chain link fence, and you can’t look away?
Should I cry? What if she likes that I’m crying? What if she smiles or turns away?
Should I yell at her and demand justice? What if she yells back or slaps me?
Should I tell her every nasty and insulting blasphemous thing that comes to mind when I have a flashback and cry by myself?
I didn’t do any of that. I do what I always do when I see a strange visual juxtaposition like the Mother of God behind chain link. I took a picture.
I saw the picture in my saved files recently, and thought about her again. And then Michael said something about her in passing, and again I found myself thinking about the Mother of God.
All the shaming and victim-blaming and misogyny, all the terror of Apparition Culture, all the abuse and torture, lay it all aside and look at the woman behind the chain link. Who is she, and what does that mean for me?
Let’s say for a minute that it’s all true.
I am giving myself permission to doubt everything that doesn’t sound right to me right now. The Catholic Church ruined my life and took everything I had. I’m not just going to take their word for anything. But let’s pretend that everything the Catholic Church says about the Virgin Mary is true. Let’s say that she really was without sin from the moment of her conception, the most perfect person ever to walk this earth except for Christ. There’s no one in this world who is a more perfect mirror of God than Miriam. Let’s say she conceived the Son of God through the Holy Spirit without the intervention of any man at all. Let’s say that God entered her without touching her sexually, without changing anything about her, stayed inside of her for nine months as her real, true, biological Son, and then came out of her somehow without so much as disturbing her hymen. Let’s say that every pious story I ever heard about Him not causing her labor pain is true as well. She made up for it afterwards, when she suffered with him in her broken heart at Calvary, but the act of giving birth didn’t break her.
Personally I’ve hated those pious legends because my own childbirth was so abusive and traumatic. It makes me feel even further from the Virgin Mary. But that’s another story. Let’s say it’s all true, even the fanfic. What does that mean?
I’ve heard so many misogynistic and abusive takes on what it means. Could it mean anything else?
If she is the perfect mirror of God, could it be that the truest thing you could say about God, is that God is the Mother Who begets and gives birth without violence?
I would like to believe in such a God.
I could respect such a Mother of God.
I’ll leave it at that for now.
image by the author
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.