Monday, January 23, 2012

The Mother of My Lord

When I pray the Hail Mary, I sometimes replace "Mother of God" with the phrase, "Mother of my Lord," which comes directly from the Bible. I have often come across in my Marian studies the assertion that the first part of the Hail Mary is biblical and should not present a problem to Protestants. It is the second part, it is feared, that crosses the line. I have discussed this in more detail in a previous article. Using the title Mother of My Lord accomplishes two things: it sets the second part of the Hail Mary more strongly in biblical tradition, and it reflects the personal nature of my relationship with Mary. I don't have any issue with the theologically valid title "Mother of God," but at times I prefer the more intimate title that Elizabeth gives Mary in the Visitation scene in the Gospel of Luke. Elizabeth exclaims, "Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb!"

I attended a candlelight Christmas Eve service at my grandparents' United Methodist Church, and curiously, the pastor began his scripture readings with the Visitation rather than the Annunciation. His reading brought tears to my eyes. This Christmas Eve service typically consists of bible readings and the singing of hymns, with no actual sermon. The pastor did not comment on the passage. He did not explain its meaning. He just let it stand on its own, leaving us to ponder these mysterious events, allowing the attention given to Mary to shine forth, and he read her entire Magnificat, in which she sings, "My soul magnifies the Lord" and "Every generation shall call me blessed." Mary's song places her in the role of prophetess. Based on the Visitation scene alone, Protestants should have no issue with honoring Mary deeply as "the mother of my Lord." I heard in the pastor's voice that night a tone of reverence as he read this passage.

This experience gave me pause. God's indispensable role for Mary in his plan of salvation was so evident to me, without any explanations, overemphasis, bells, whistles, grandiose poetry or exalted titles that I began to wonder if I could not, indeed, be quite comfortable as a Marian Protestant, rather than feeling that in order to "have" Mary, I would need to convert to Catholicism. It has seemed in my quest to know Mary that in order to experience her spiritual presence in a church setting, it would be mandatory for me to force myself to believe in purgatory, confession to a priest, transubstantiation, worship of the Eucharist, and Mary's perpetual virginity. But when I reflect on how I came to know her, it was to her Rosary Garden that she called me, not to a Catholic mass. It was in her presence in nature that we communed. All I had to do was call to her, and she answered, immediately.

While Mary has mediated between humans and Jesus both in the Bible and in her appearances up to modern times, for me the nature of her intercession is as a spiritual mother, mediating God's maternal love and revealing his feminine face. She has always pointed us to her son. It was through her that God mediated his grace by virtue of making her the mother of his Son. Asking her to pray for us, talking to her in this role of mediation, and enjoying a very personal relationship with and deep devotion to her seems to me entirely Christological.

While I am heartened by recent Protestant attention toward Mary and the reasons we should call her blessed, so far what I have read on the subject lacks acknowledgment of any Protestant possibility of knowing Mary as "The Mother of My Lord" and embracing her as their own mother. Catholic writings, on the other hand, are often so passionate and loving. That's it exactly; they love Mary. They know her intimately. They don't worship her as God, but they understand her through the eyes of love and sonship, rather than honoring her from only a theological/literal/biblical perspective. They don't just venerate Mary because they feel they should, but because it is the most natural response of a child to his mother.

If I ultimately choose membership in a Protestant church, I think I could assert my Marian devotions as both biblical and spiritually essential to my Christian walk, and I think I could teach my child my personal Mariology in a way that should not contradict the church's teachings. Emphasizing that all churches have their own, unique interpretations, and individual Christians have theirs as well, would go a long way toward Christian inclusiveness, love, and respect. Shying away from affirmation of the sacred feminine in the Protestant churches for fear of "Mariolatry" will leave us stuck in a dominantly patriarchal and unsatisfying spirituality that simply doesn't work, even if people do not know precisely what is missing. I have been there, and now I know, and it's thanks to the intercession of Mary, praise be to God.

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