I knew I would return to the subject of Mary someday, but I thought I was finished for awhile. Time to move on to Lent it seemed. Then my friend Brett showed me this painting he had just completed. It was his first portrayal of Mary, inspired by a photo of doors covered in Arabic graffiti upon which a woman whom he took to be Mary peered down onto some back street, taking in the sorrow, the struggle, and beauty of this world.
The painting reminded me of a National Geographic story I read many years ago. The story was about the minority Christian communities of Lebanon and Syria - communities threatened with annihilation today. Being a National Geographic article, there were several photos in the piece including a few showing shrines to Mary. The pictures showed scarved women carrying ailing children, or crying alone in front of these images of the Virgin. What caught my attention was the caption. The photographer claimed the women praying at these shrines were Muslim.
I knew that Mary was revered in Islam. In fact, there are more references to Mary in the Quran than in the New Testament. Muslims believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. They believe Mary was favored by God above all other women, and they look to her as an example of feminine virtue. But of course, Muslims are not permitted to build shrines in her honor. They share Protestant concerns of idolatry.
Even so, in times of great need, Muslim women have been known to cross religious lines and call upon Mary's intercession. I wonder why. Though I cannot know for sure, I have a guess. I suspect that Mary seems more accessible than Allah. She is certainly more human. And she knows the grief of motherhood. Surely she would sympathize with plea of a desperate mother or a barren wife.
I find it fascinating that Brett's painting places Mary's face on a door, because in the case of these Muslim women at Marian shrines, that is exactly who she is - a door from this world of suffering to the heart of the Everlasting Omnipotent God.
I must admit that speaking of Mary this way makes me nervous. In my theology this image of a door to the Father is best reserved for Jesus, the Son of Man. It is the mystery of the Incarnation - God taking on Human flesh to become like us, to know us and to be known. Jesus used the language Himself. "I am the door; if anyone enters through Me , he will be saved." (John 10:9)
And yet, Jesus says that we are in Him, and He is in the Father. If that is the case, then I suppose we might be doors as well, albeit in a secondary, reflective way. We do have a door to the Father, so let us intercede for this messy, broken, beautiful world.