Advent fast approaches. With it comes all the gleaming misrepresentations and farce, in both the commercial and theological discussion, of the Birth of Christ.
We’ve also reached that time of year when we remember suddenly that God had a mother, that she was in fact female, and that she contributed invariably, and essentially, to God’s plan to save the world. But the further issue we face every Christmas is that she is praised, lauded, glorified for her feminine organs and biological fulfillment more than she is for her person, her heart, or her consent. (Now there’s a topic you didn’t see coming in chatting about Advent, did you?)
The Lord cared more about her consent, her heart-filled yes, than He did about obligating His will to her in the form of a command.
Mary was a consecrated temple virgin; I have no doubt, had St. Gabriel brought to her a command from On High (as had been done to so many other people in biblical history), she would have surrendered her own freedom to do His will, consent or not.
But He didn’t frame it that way. He approached her through the gentle invocation of an angel, to ask for her hand.
There is a gorgeous painting by Jan van Eyck portraying the Annunciation. What sets this particular depiction of the conception of Christ apart from others is the use of words in the painting. Placed in front of the Archangels’ lips are the words, “Hail, Full of Grace” in Latin. They are painted upside down, the words being spoken from God’s perspective looking down from Heaven. In response are Mary’s words (also in Latin), “Behold, the handmaiden of the Lord.” This painting allows for the contemplation of such a close dialogue between Mary and her Lord, treating the entire exchange as a marriage proposal, as it rightly was.
The Annunciation itself is profoundly intimate.
There’s a depth of understanding in her reaction, in her pausing, in her reply. She chose the road she followed; no doubt she understood at least a shadow of what that life would mean for her; she still chose it, throwing herself wholly unto the One Who proposed to her, reciprocating all the love she held back to Him.
Modern studies and discussions of Mary interpret her person and the irrefutable role she played in our salvation as nothing but a tool the Lord used to enter the world. (We all know how dark and disturbing that line of thought can get if we fall through that sand trap.) But it is nearly impossible to find discussions of Mary, at least ones that are taken seriously, as being involved in a relational, sensual, undeniably intimate role with God as a person, a sentient being, a lover. Not as a mindless puppet who happened to have the biology necessary to carry a child.
Mary was not only a sentient lover; she was a feminist.
The very act of her saying, “Yes,” to God was a feminist act. She acknowledged, and responded to, the reality of her freewill and her choice as an autonomous person even when standing before the Almighty. If we view even the basic tenet of Feminism as the acknowledgement of a woman as a human being, person, and spirit with her own capability for thought, understanding, and love (not the frilly, cupcake love; the grinding, bloody, sharp love that is the actual reality), then you cannot tell me Mary was merely the apparatus the Almighty used as the gateway to His people and nothing more.
And furthermore, if being a feminist means having the capability to give your consent, and giving it with your heart when you choose it, then we are taken even further into the implications of just what Mary’s choice meant for her as a woman, and as a person, before God. Making such a choice meant sacrificing the obligations and traditions of her culture to be true to herself, true to God, and true to that strange, untoward, and untraditional vocation she found herself in–when she made herself known to the Divine, and He made Himself known to her.
It’s time to give her credit for the choice she made, because it was, indeed, a choice.And we must stop framing the entirety of Mary’s purpose in the use of her uterus. To do the beauty of her life and her love for God even the smallest measure of justice, we must show her in the light of her choosing such a motherhood for the sake of her love for the God she gave everything for.
What’s more, Mary’s life would still have had meaning, beauty, purpose, and holiness–even if she’d said no. Just as Christ’s life would have had all those things (and infinitely more) had He fled that night in the garden in order to save His life, as He, too, had freewill.
Instead of constantly harping on the objectification of Mary’s body, we need to focus on her as a person–as a woman asked to accept a vocation that nearly got her stoned–that drove her from respectability and trust in the eyes of everyone around her–that led to the stigma and cruelty of being singled out and tormented for her Son’s prophecies and miracles–that left her to endure the horrific butchery of witnessing her Son mangled, tortured, skinned, spiked, speared.
Christ rose, but no one thinks about Mary afterwards.
In the eyes of the world, a world that deems women’s breeding capabilities as the greatest contribution we are capable of, her role was long over. How cruel is it, in our conditioned line of thinking, to take away even the discussion of what those days following the Passion and Resurrection were for her.
There is a prayer called the Franciscan Crown (or Seraphic Rosary) that consists of seven decades that focus on the Seven Joys of Mary: the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi, the Finding in the Temple, the Appearance of Jesus to Mary after the Resurrection, and the Assumption and Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth. I adore even just how these prayers are framed, exploring the joys in the Life of Christ through the eyes, and the heart, of His Mother. But my favorite by far is the second to last, also named the Reunion of Mother and Son.
No one can tell me Christ didn’t come to her separately, apart from anyone else, to be with her–to kiss her hands, hold her close, weep into her ear that He loved her–that He was heartbroken over her witnessing His death, that she was the most wonderful mother He could ever have, that He couldn’t have done it without her.
And all of this began because Mary chose to be overshadowed completely, utterly, totally by God. She gave her yes, her consent for the entrance to her body, her mind, her heart, her soul for the One she loved. This decision was freely given, in love, as consent always should be.
The All-Powerful, Ever-Present, Infinitely-Capable God of the Universe hinged the entirety of His eternal plan on one single, “Yes.”
Mary was a feminist–and God is, too.
Image source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/afterglow-backlit-bokeh-dark-556658/
Image source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/maria-mery-sant-51524/