Growing up in a run-of-the-mill Southern Baptist church, I never spent a lot of time thinking about Mary. I had a vague sense that some Christians spent more time contemplating Mary, but for me, she only came up at Christmastime (and, perhaps, Easter). In this issue, we attempt to reexplore how we perceive Mary, especially her role in the incarnation, her prophetic song, and how we can relate to her in our own lives. You will find that a number of this issue’s contributing writers had limited understandings of Mary originally: she was meek, quiet, and obliging. I think that’s a fair summary of what I knew of Mary, too. She was Jesus’ mom, and to a little girl who grew up in church, that seemed normal (I confess, maybe even a bit boring).
Many years later, as a young adult, I began to appreciate Mary more as I grew in my understanding of the Bible and Christian theology. While in graduate school, I became a member of a liturgical church where we spent more time contemplating the depths of Mary, both who she is and why she is important. My imagination for Mary was opened through an experience with an image of the pregnant Virgin Mary consoling Eve (Virgin Mary and Eve, by Sr. Grace Remington). In this drawing, Eve stands on the left covered by her long hair, eyes downcast, and she is holding a piece of red fruit with a bite taken from it. She is facing Mary, on the right, who is great with child. Mary has placed Eve’s hand on her pregnant belly, as if showing her the Savior. She also places a comforting hand on Eve’s cheek, as if telling her, “chin up, sister.” At their feet, a snake is wrapped around Eve’s ankles, tripping her, but Mary is symbolically crushing the snake’s head, just like the baby in her womb would do in his death on the cross.
What I love about this image is how it proclaims the good news of Jesus’ defeat of sin and death so simply, and it does so by bringing women to the forefront as the storytellers. Those women are always there in the story, but we tend to lose Mary and Eve themselves in the way we tell the story. Clearly, God’s plan for rescuing humanity and all creation from the power of sin and death includes both men and women, but we tend to turn up the volume on the men and tune out the women in our retellings. But these women are main characters, too, and they stand ready to proclaim God’s salvation.
I am glad we get to pay more attention to Mary in this month’s issue. We invite you to journey with our writers as they rediscover Mary through theology, personal reflection, and real-world experiences with those who can give us insight into Mary. We hope that through this Advent season, you are encouraged to listen to Mary and discover her anew for yourself. As our writers make evident, Mary can be understood as a prophetic bridge between the Old and New Testaments. Her understanding of what God is doing through her son, Jesus, aligns with the message brought by numerous prophets of Israel, including her namesake, Miriam. Mary’s song sets the tone for how future preachers convey the gospel. It is also important that we pay attention to and remember the physical reality of Mary’s female body. In her female body, she bore the salvation of the world. Because we can learn to love Mary’s body, we can learn to love and value other female bodies, too. Mary also frees us (and encourages us) to look on the most vulnerable in our society with new compassion, especially unwed, teenage mothers.
When our writers sought to look at Mary again, many of them encountered a different woman than they expected. Why? Because too often we portray Mary as a woman of few words, and then we hold this as a standard for women, which weaponizes her against other women. But that version of Mary is a falsehood. As you read this issue, I hope you see Mary as our writers have: brave, strong, lively, prophetic.