I always enjoy the week after Christmas. The rush of preparation is over, school is still out, friends come to visit. There is some margin time for reading, for sleeping late, for contemplation.
In the beautiful cycle of the church calendar, I find myself meditating again on the mystery of the Incarnation - a mystery which pivots daringly upon the "yes" of one particular Jewish woman who lived two thousand years ago. It makes me dizzy, giddy, such intimacy between God and a woman. To be overshadowed by the Most High, to conceive the Son of God within one's body, to mother the Savior of the World - in the words of David "such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too high to attain." Yet the more I think upon this mystery, the more I love God . and the more I am convinced of His love for us humans.
It saddens me, as it saddens many on earth and in heaven, that any mention of Mary in mixed company can set Protestants and Catholics on edge. Certainly there are real theological differences between the two camps which are not easily reconciled. I will make no attempt at such a feat in this blog. But in my experience, we also suffer from a lot of misunderstanding which can be helped by sitting together, learning each other’s language, and sharing our stories.
When I first began exploring Catholicism 15 years ago, Mary did indeed make me nervous. Not because I held any negative feelings toward her. What young Protestant girl doesn’t want to play Mary in the Christmas pageant? What Christian heart isn’t moved by the nativity story? But Catholic devotion to Mary felt strange, foreign and potentially dangerous. In my religious upbringing, any devotion to a human, especially shared prayers or other displays within public worship, was considered dangerously close to idolatry. I did not want to cross that boundary. I knew Mary would not want me to cross such a boundary.
Still I felt convinced, Thomas felt convinced, that God was drawing me into the Catholic Church for His own reasons which I could not fully comprehend. Therefore I would have to come to some peace regarding Catholic practice. That first year of study, I read a lot and asked lots of questions, but still felt no peace. Several months into my preparation for confirmation, I invited one of the nuns serving at my parish over for tea. Sr. Guadalupe was one of the most godly women I had ever known; I figured if anyone could resolve my inner conflict it would be her. I was nervous, and my response to nerves is intensity. I launched straight into all of my theological concerns and fears. I cannot remember how long I rambled on before Sr. Guadalupe stood up, placed her hands on my shoulders, and said gently, "Amy, you are changing very rapidly now. Trust the Holy Spirit to show you the way." Then she left.
It has been more than 14 years since that tea with Sister Guadalupe. Though I still live with some tension, some questions, I can now say wholeheartedly,as my Catholic friends used to tell me, that the more I grow in love for Jesus, the more I appreciate Mary. And the more I contemplate Mary, the more I love Jesus. That is the nature of life in God - whoever loves the Father will love the Son, and whoever loves the Son will love the Son's friends, and the Son's mother.
For the next couple of months I plan to reflect on lessons I have learned from Mary, and the ways my brothers and sisters, both Protestant and Catholic, have taught me to love her.