Friday, May 8, 2009

Guest post: There's something about Mary

Beatrijs Hofland is a Dutch theologian and stay-at-home mom.

She was kind enough to write this beautiful guest post.

The most beautiful sound I ever heard:
Maria, Maria, Maria, Maria.
All the beautiful sounds of the world in a single word:
Maria, Maria, Maria, Maria, Maria, Maria 
(From: Westside Story)

Why do I write about Maria?

Why would a protestant write about Maria? Sure, in protestan religion Maria is important as Jesus' mom, but she doesn’t occupy the same important place as in catholism.

Maria came to my life at special moments:

  • at a wedding
  • as the image that an important friend gave to me. S
  • during my study of women and religion, through which I got to know a different, more revolutionary side of Mary. 
I even named my daughter Elisabeth, after my mother-in-law and Mary’s cousin Elisabeth, who knew that Mary was to give birth to Jesus:

41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.

(Lukas 1: 41-44, New International version)

When your life starts in such a joyful manner, it must be wonderful!

Mary who?

In biblical history Mary is the chosen one who gets to give birth to Jesus Christ. At the time she is still a virgin, and engaged to Joseph, but in a mysterious way she gets pregnant! Many men would call the whole thing off, but Joseph doesn’t because an angel tells him that Mary will bear the Son of God.

Jesus is born and has more brothers and sisters, according to the tradition. He spends his childhood in Nazareth, and at a young age goes to temple to learn and proclaim Gods’ Word.

During his lifetime he meets more Mary’s: Mary of Magdala, who becomes a very good friend and Mary, mother of John, who stands by him at the last moments of his life. 

When we speak of Mary, mother of all mothers, we mean Mary, mother of Jesus.

Searching for Mary

There are only a few Bible texts that speak about Mary (see the Gospels according to Mark, Matthew, Luke and John). In fact, very little was written about Jesus' birth. If wasn't until the First Christians realized the importance of Jesus' message, that they started to appreciate the importance of his biography.

This is what's come to be known as tradition: at a later stage information about Jesus is combined with older material.
 Early Christianity had a lot to explain to the already existing, much older religions. The more wonder and prophecy-stories about Jesus and Mary were told, the more authentic and profound the religion became.

Miracle stories about Mary

In time, many miraculous stories were told about Mary. These originated from folktales, legends and experiences from ordinary people and the official church. These stories were told because the bible left so many questions unanswered: if Mary is Jesus’ mother, what does that say about her own holiness? If Mary is that holy, how did she die?

To provide answers to these and other questions, the church declared the new stories about Mary true. These are the so-called church dogmas. They can't be found in the bible, but are derived from folk traditions.

Not much women in the bible

There aren't all that many stories about women in the bible, maybe that’s why Mary always appealed to so many women. Mary is kinda easy to talk to. Maybe just because she is a woman and a mom, and thereby seems closer than God the Father. You can ask her to pray for you and you can ask for her blessing, as this bride did during her wedding day.

A bride asks Mary for her blessing

The bride in her radiant white wedding gown kneels at an icon of Mary. Eyes closed, hands folded. Her blond her catches a ray of sunshine. Silently she speaks words that remain unheard. Behind her everyone waits in silence and awe, while Bach’s’ Ave Maria is softly being played. Then she gets up, tears on her face as she smiles at her groom.

This is not a scene from a play, nor is it a century old, but it is a scene from a modern wedding. The groom, already a dad to two teenage girls, is getting married again to this young, childless bride.

She was there by herself, with her own thoughts, her tradition and the thousands of women who have walked the same path. She prayed Mary for support in her marriage and asked a blessing: the gift of children. In the catholic tradition it is common practice for newlyweds to pray at a Mary statue, while the Ave Maria is being played.

Usually the bride lights a candle in the centerpiece the bride and groom bring themselves. Praying to Mary is taking a moment to stop and think of Jesus’ mother. It’s also a moment to ask her to bless the promises just made. Because Mary, like no one else, knew what it means to truly say yes to the Other, to God.

I think it means a lot that the young woman is asking help of the mother of all mothers. Unusual? Maybe. Because divorce doesn’t sit well with church tradition, nor does getting remarried. It is like Mary gave this bride courage to enter this marital adventure.

Asking a blessing means asking for approval. And asking a blessing from Mary or from God, means that asking for approval from the Eternal One. That is quite a thing, since you stand up against the official church that condemns divorce/ remarriage.

Yet I believe there is room within Faith to ask for this blessing. I even think it is the core of religion: the good wins in the end, the judgments of people are less important than Gods’ Judgment.
 Ave Maria (which means: Hail Mary), is the right song to the prayer.

The Ave Maria is Elisabeth’s and Gabriel’s prayer to Mary when she was told to be carrying the Savior:

Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
for thou hast borne Christ the Savior,
the Deliverer of our souls.


Ave Maria, Hail Mary

Many composers, like Verdi, Schubert and Gounod, put music to the prayer. And every day, everywhere in the world, this Hail Mary is being prayed. At home, schools, churches, hospitals, everywhere people ask Mary to take care of them and for her blessing.

It's such a beautiful thing to start the day with a prayer to Mary! To the mother who went through the unimaginable: departing from your son, giving him up for the greater good, watching him suffer. And yet it's also the most joyful feeling a mother can imagine: seeing your child go his own way, fulfilling his destiny.

Isn’t that what makes us a mother? Isn’t that every mother’s goal: watching your children becoming loving people, reaching their goals in life?

Praying to Mary touches your soul, it is like talking to hundreds of generations of mothers who preceded you and want to show you your direction: this is your destiny, so it must be.

Literally: so be it (=amen). 

Want to read more from Beatrijs?

Visit her blog! blog



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