Sunday, December 3, 2023

Christmas Is Mary's Season, Too

Image from the film The Christ Child: A Nativity Story.

December has arrived, and with it the beginning of another Advent season. 

I wasn't sure I was going to observe Advent this year, but we have an established family tradition of loading up an Advent calendar with goodies for my daughter, and I wasn't about to deprive her of the fun and anticipation of opening up a new present every morning. Then I saw the Advent wreath in the basement that my wife made for me a few years ago, along with the new Advent candles I'd bought. 

So I thought, why not? 

As I discussed in my 50,000-word blog series, while my spiritual mindset leans toward pagan thought these days, and specifically in Anglo-Saxon mythology, there's no reason I can't incorporate other traditions into my practice if I want to. One driving tenet of my Middangeardweg is that if J.RR. Tolkien, the architect of my favorite fictional universe, found inspiration and meaning in something, then there's no reason I can't as well. I see Tolkien as a tree-hugging, mythology-loving Catholic with a pagan heart, and I'm really not too far removed from that way of seeing things, which is a big part of the reason I take so much inspiration from him. I might even eventually find myself going to a Latin Mass sometime, the same Mass that Tolkien loved, to immerse myself in the peace and beauty and tradition and familiarity, even if not at all for the theology. The pursuit of goodness, truth, and beauty is, after all, Platonic just as much as it is Catholic. And Plato was, of course, a pagan. Thus, when evangelicals complain that Catholicism is too pagan, the only thing I quibble with is the "too" part. The saints are like the localized and specialized demigods of old, the transubstantiation of the bread and wine ranks up there with the highest of magic, and Mary is a goddess figure to all who can see past the church's limiting dogma. She literally stood in for the goddesses that were displaced as Christianity spread into pagan strongholds.

Which brings me to my point. 

As I've said many times here, Mary is my spiritual mother. She has been ever since I was a little kid. As far away as I've ever gotten from my Catholic roots, she's always been there, the sole constant on a lifelong spiritual path that has taken me around the world and then some. To me, she is the human face of Sophia, the Wisdom of God, which Christians tend to call the Holy Spirit. She is that every bit as much as Jesus is considered the human face of the Father. They are a spiritual yin and yang. One shows us how to live an ethical life marked with love and compassion, such that we might find that the Kingdom of God is within us; and the other shows us the power of grace and humility as a tool for finding a connection to divine wisdom, much as Tolkien reminds us that the power to undo the greatest of evils sometimes comes from the smallest and humblest, from the unlikeliest and most counterintuitive of people and places. The upside-down appeal of the Christian story is that everyone expected a high and mighty king who would set the world right through force and power, and instead this king came into the world as the lowest of the low, a child born anonymously in a smelly stable to a Jewish girl of no special importance to anybody but her immediate friends and family. 

Christmas is the one time of year when even the most evangelical of Christians are forced to acknowledge Mary's existence. Even so, to many of them, she was just a flowerpot, a vessel chosen at random to do the necessary work of birthing the child who was the Main Event. Mary, in their minds, was simply a means to an end. She did her job, and with that done, she fades into the background, no longer needed, irrelevant.

But what if that attitude is just centuries of patriarchal religion talking? What if Mary actually meant far more to the Christmas story -- and the Christian story? I recently saw on an online forum someone referencing a book that asked a pointed question: 

What if the central story of Christianity was not a man dying on a cross but a woman giving birth? 

That changes everything, doesn't it? It means Mary is no longer peripheral to the story but absolutely essential to it. Just as the Great Mother Tao gives birth to all that exists, so all women reflect its life-giving power in birthing us all into the world. Without women, human life would cease. Likewise, without Mary, there is no Jesus. That ought to count for something. 

And for those who see the connections between Mary, Sophia, and Spirit, it does. This is the secret of the Christian story hiding in plain sight. The early church fathers tell us that Jesus refers in the lost Gospel of the Hebrews to "my mother the Holy Spirit." Early Christian groups, notably those in the Syriac tradition, thought of the Holy Spirit as a feminine power and presence. Marian feast days on the Catholic liturgical calendar use passages from the Old Testament that point to Sophia, drawing parallels between the two figures. Sophia, the one who tells us she was by the Father's side during the Creation, was also once regarded in early Christian circles as the Holy Spirit. Meanwhile, the great martyred saint Maximilian Kolbe referred to Mary as a "quasi-incarnation of the Holy Spirit," and the pre-Vatican II church was often criticized for handing over the role of the Spirit to Mary. As I always say, there was a good reason for that, and not something the church should have so cavalierly abandoned. For when it did, it severed an important connection to the Sacred Feminine and reinforced a view of an all-male Trinity that left no place for the nurturing and life-giving feminine, save for subordination. That has had real-world consequences for women, and it has deprived men and women alike of something our world desperately needs. 

It needs a loving and caring Mother. A Comforter, as Jesus notably calls the Holy Spirit that he tells the apostles will be sent from on high after he departs. 

Catholic and Orthodox Christians have been reporting miraculous appearances of the Virgin Mary on Earth for 2,000 years now. She almost always comes bearing a message of peace and reassurance and the importance of perseverance and faith. It's almost as if she's filling the role of... a comforter

As I say, the truth of the matter is hiding in plain sight for everyone to see.

Whether you take this literally or metaphorically, the same basic truth remains: Mary is here with us and has never left. And the story of Christianity began with her. 

Christmas is Mary's season, too. And that, as Gandalf would say, is an encouraging thought.

May we bear that perspective in mind as the Advent season unfolds.

No comments:

Post a Comment