Post Author: Ann Bonner-Stewart, Katya Ouchakof, Hilary Bogert-Winkler, Sara Shisler Goff and Anna Doherty
Women have had a long, rich, and complex relationship with Mary the mother of Jesus since the beginning of Christianity. As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, this collection of reflections invites us to pause and ponder the young woman at the center of the celebration. The authors are all graduates of Yale Divinity School.
Saint Mary the Brave
by Ann Bonner-Stewart
Since I have been serving at a community called Saint Mary’s for the past six years, I think about Mary a lot. When you factor in that this Saint Mary’s is an all-girls high school, I think about her even more. I am intrigued that most images of Mary show an obedient, calm-looking woman. I highly question and seriously doubt that image. I’ve come to think of Mary as curious, as she questions how this can be, and thoughtful, as she ponders in her heart. I’ve also come to think of her as extremely brave. Though Joseph chose not to put her aside, there is no way that what she went through was easy. In a world where girls and women are often evaluated by how likable we are, I find hope in the strong likelihood that Mary may not have been well-liked, and that later this was completely overshadowed and forgotten.
The Real Annunciation
by Katya Ouchakof
One of my ongoing projects is a Bible translation/paraphrase that portrays the mood of a scene, while translating the Greek into everyday English. The Annunciation is one of my favorite stories, because I don’t imagine Mary as the docile character portrayed by most Bible translations. Here’s a more realistic version of this defining scene, in my mind:
The angel said to Mary, “Peace, favored one, the Lord is with you!” And Mary was scared speechless. But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, God will bless you by making you pregnant so you can bear a son, and you’ll name him Jesus.” And Mary was like, “WTF?” So the angel said, “The Holy Spirit will ‘come over’ you and impregnate you, so your son will be called ‘the holy child of God.’ Don’t you know what has happened with your cousin Elizabeth? They said she was barren, but now she is six months pregnant! Absolutely nothing is impossible for God.”
And Mary said, “Whatever, dude. Sounds like I don’t have much choice in the matter. So if you’re actually serious, and I’m going to be the mother of God, I guess that’s cool.” Then the angel departed from her.
by Hilary Bogert-Winkler
Mary’s “yes” terrifies me. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with unexplained recurrent pregnancy loss that I really had to wrestle with what saying “yes” to God might mean. I pray it every day in the Lord’s prayer: “thy will be done.” But I know a part of me isn’t fully invested in that part of the prayer. I hold back. What if saying “yes” to God means I never get to be a parent? What if it means my community and I have been completely wrong in our discernment that my husband and I are called to be parents? It’s only in this space of incredible longing in the midst of infertility that I’ve come fully to appreciate Mary’s “yes.” Her courage is incredible, and I pray that I may find the courage to pray with my whole self, my soul and body, “let it be with me according to your will.”
Mary’s Blessing for Advent
by Sara Shisler Goff
Sit with me awhile,
here by the fire.
Feel the warmth
and cover you,
and envelope you,
from your toes up to your cheeks.
Accept its many blessings.
You did not kindle this fire,
but you will kindle it
We will kindle it together
as we wait.
Light shining in the darkness.
Flinching fire giving glimpses of
the angels sitting here
as God grows among us
and within us
the Son of Life.
Inspired by the Carmina Gadelica and the Blessing of the Kindling.
A Truer Mary
by Anna Doherty
I’ve always had a conflicted relationship with Mary. Traditional church doctrine, liturgy, and devotional practices have turned Mary into someone or something unattainable for most women. A virgin and a mother. Meek, mild, and a divine intercessor. A girl and a goddess. I’ve never been able to successfully connect myself or any of my roles as a woman or a clergy person with the person of Mary.
Three years ago, I traveled to the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, which is built on top of the traditional site where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary. The church is a big, gorgeously decorated, Catholic cathedral. It is filled with paintings, sculpture, and stained glass depicting Mary and the infant Jesus. Though beautiful, most of the artwork and decoration didn’t resonate with me.
Then I descended the stairs and went underneath the magnificent sanctuary to the site where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary. As I looked at that tiny, meager room—the remains of a first century Palestine cottage—Mary became more real to me. I realized that she was poor, she was young, and she was also incredibly courageous. She said yes to things she didn’t fully understand. She challenged many of the confines for women of her status. If you look at the words of the Magnificat, then Mary was also a social radical. Someone once said to me that Mary was the first person to truly offer the Eucharist, in that her very body, her very blood, made the first home for Jesus Christ in this world. These are all things that I can connect to as a woman and as a clergy person.
Like the church built atop the shrine of Mary, we pile things onto this Palestine girl, Mary, the mother of our Savior. Some of it may rightfully belong to her; a lot of it doesn’t. We have the power, as women of faith, to sort through all of it and find for ourselves a truer Mary. A Mary we can adore, and emulate, in the spirit of who we are.
The Rev. Ann Bonner-Stewart is chaplain and instructor of humanities at Saint Mary's School, an all-girls Episcopal boarding and day high school in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she lives on campus with her husband Jeff and their two young daughters. As the inaugural managing editor of Fidelia, she loves seeing YCWI continue to grow and change!
The Rev. Katya Ouchakof is an ELCA pastor serving in the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin and living in Madison. She blogs at canoeistpastor.blogspot.com.
The Rev. Hilary Bogert-Winkler is currently working on a PhD in history, writing her dissertation on the Book of Common Prayer and Anglican liturgy in mid-17th century England. She also serves as the Interim Missioner for Christian Formation in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts. Hilary blogs at myeverydayadventure.wordpress.com.
The Rev. Sara Shisler Goff is an Episcopal priest serving as Assisting Priest at Trinity Episcopal Church in Towson, Maryland. She is also a co-founder of the Slate Project, an alternative Christian community online and in-person, grounded in the ancient and the arts.
The Rev. Anna Doherty is a 2008 graduate of Yale Divinity School. She currently serves as an Episcopal priest at two congregations in southeast Wisconsin.
Image by: Diana Carroll, Sara Shisler Goff, Anna Doherty
Used with permission