A few weeks after I brought my babies home from the NICU (you can read about my first moment of appreciation for Mary in part 1), I was battling through PPD, managing 3 older children and breastfeeding preemie twins. I was absolutely humbled. I've never felt more desperate.
This was a necessary lowness, I think. Before this, I had often relied on my powers of critical thinking to wrangle through theological debates. I approached the whole subject of Mary with the typical "prove 'em wrong," "show me the Bible verse!," "gotcha!" mindset of my fundamentalist childhood.
But as I sat in my rocking chair, nursing my twins, it suddenly seemed totally ridiculous that I was approaching Mary as if she were a debate topic.
She was, after all, the the mother of our Lord! She was a PERSON, not a bullet point in a proposition/rebuttal debate.
At the very least, as the mother of my Savior, she deserved my respect. For the first time in my life I felt a shiver of shame regarding the way I had treated Mary. My approach to Mary–Jesus' mother!–had been so irreverent.
Did it grieve the heart of Jesus to see so many Christians like myself treat His own mother disrespectfully?
I had never once considered that maybe Jesus thinks His own mother is special. Yes, God could have chosen anyone to bear Christ. But He didn't. God chose Mary. She wasn't just the mother of Jesus.
I mean, really. Is there a higher honor?
Maybe, just maybe, Mary was important. Maybe she was really important.
How could I have ignored her for so long? Perhaps because I had simply accepted the male-dominated Christian narrative I had learned as a child.
I mean, this is how skewed it was: even when teaching the story of of Jesus' birth, we sang "extra-Biblical" songs about ox and cow before Him bow, but we never once pondered the Magnificat.
We certainly didn't sing about Mary.
It was almost as if we intentionally avoided her.
We didn't accord her any honor–not even in how we referred to her. She was just Mary. Or sometimes, if we needed to distinguish her from Mary Magdalene, she was "Mary, the mother of Jesus."
Contrast this with how we talked about Paul. I mean, we fell all over ourselves referring to Paul as a great apostle, John as the Revelator, John as The Disciple Jesus Loved.
But Mary was always just Mary. Nothing special, nothing worth noting really.
For the first time in my life I realized what a stunning oversight this was. It was almost as if in our haste to avoid being like those Catholics who "worshipped Mary," we'd demoted her from central character in the Nativity to one of the sidekick, background characters.
This was right around the time when I first watched EWTN, a Catholic TV channel. I watched–with great curiosity–some nuns praying the Rosary. I had never seen this before. Each morning as I breastfed my twins, I watched these nuns pray the Rosary and I was struck by two things:
- The Rosary was all about Jesus: each decade was devoted to a particular event in the life of Christ
- Jesus was right in the center of each Hail Mary.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee,
Blessed art thou among women
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, JESUS.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me, a sinner,
Now and at the hour of my death. Amen.
I was completely blindsided by these discoveries. I mean, all my life I had believed "Catholics worship Mary." It was quite clear that these nuns weren't worshipping Mary. Rather, they were joining with Mary in worshipping Jesus!
What other human being knew Jesus more intimately than His own mother? Praying the Rosary was like sitting down with the one person who knew Jesus best and letting her take you through the events of her Son's life.
Still, I was pretty leery of praying the Rosary myself. But sometimes I murmured along with the nuns because, in spite of myself, the prayers soothed my anxiety and helped me focus. It was a form of prayer totally foreign and unfamiliar to the extemporaneous, "popcorn praying" style I had learned from childhood.
As I began to find great comfort in listening to these prayers, I simultaneously realized that this was NOT the empty, repetitive praying I had been warned against. This was prayer with purpose and deep intention. This was structured prayer that simply allowed me to fall into something more profound than myself.
I can't tell you the relief I felt. What I'd often referred to as "empty ritual" was becoming nothing less than a lifeline pulling me to safety.
Devotion to Mary did not detract from devotion to God. Indeed, it seemed to compliment it. How often had I appreciated other heroes of the faith whom God chose to use? God chose Mary to physically participate in the story of redemption. And isn't God big enough to bring along a grand entourage of co-participants?
In other words, who am I to belittle or demean or simply neglect those whom God has clearly chosen to use?
I had never considered the life of Jesus through the eyes of His mother. I had never walked that road or seen His life from her viewpoint. But as I began to pray the Rosary–albeit falteringly and disjointedly–I began to catch an altogether different view of Jesus.
Jesus was full of love. Jesus loved his Mother. Jesus loved women.
The strongest impression I had of Mary and Jesus was how much they loved each other. She never abandoned Him–even when most everyone else had.
I began to understand some of her titles like "Mother of Sorrows." Could it be that Mary understood and sympathized with my sorrows? For so long I had been confused and unable to talk to God.
But now…could it be that I could run to Mary and pour out my heart to her? When I was afraid of talking to God directly, would Mary perhaps hear my cries for help and intercede to God on my behalf?
Could this be what Catholics meant when they said: "If you can't find Jesus, look for His Mother"?
I was finding Mary and she was gently leading me back to Jesus–her Son who never forgot her.
Even as He hung dying upon the cross, He looked down and seeing His mother, committed her into the care of the disciple John.
Jesus loved His mother.
If Jesus loved her, that was enough for me. I was no longer going to ignore her.
I was going to love her, too.
**Sincere questions are always welcome but comments that disparage Catholics and/or Mary will not be published. There is so much misinformation and misunderstanding among Protestants regarding Mary that I have chosen not to perpetuate this on my blog. Thank you for understanding.**