November 22, 2004
Taught to obey, follow God,
Able to recite psalms since her feet could fill sandals
well-acquainted with the dusty road to synagogue.
A good girl.
Only a girl.
Today we’d say “adolescent,”
Talk at her about family planning, wonder why she didn’t “know better,”
Lift her up as what not to do, how not to be.
We’d glance furtively, whisper accusingly
Pull our own little ones away from staring.
We’d profess God’s love Sunday,
Judge her outside of it Monday.
She didn’t ask for it, didn’t want it.
Who longs for humiliation,
Asks for ridicule,
Searches out disgrace?
She just said yes.
Said yes to risk and fear and doubt.
To pain and heartache and loss.
Yes to agony and defeat.
Yes to love.
At Gabriel’s bidding
This girl bore God.
Let go mercy.
Gave us life.
I cannot imagine how absolutely terrified she must have been. We celebrate her as if she was perfection personified, the most lovely of young women absolutely willing to do whatever those around her said she must. Have a baby for God (Gabriel). Go to Bethlehem (Joseph). Be happy about it (The angels, even if indirectly). Because, you know, there’s a plan here, God says so, and YOU are part of it and so just smile and go with it.
I feel like this is how we tell the story sometimes. And I don’t buy this version for a minute. No way was she that complicit, that meek and mild (no matter what the songs say), that content to just bask in the glow of it all, a Mona Lisa smile etched across her face.
No young, unwed, poor, very pregnant woman would be. Because being pregnant, having a child–it’s terrifying. Suddenly you’re walking around, your very heart actually moving and having being outside your body, and you’re supposed to somehow return to some supposed level of normalcy when nothing feels like it will ever be okay again.
Because life has come from you. Life has lived in you. And then you’ve handed that life over to the world when all you want to do is wrap that life up close in your arms forever, so that life will always be safe and warm and know how loved she is. He is. They are.
Every school day morning, when I roll through the carpool line and drop-off my seven year-old, my insides twist. Some mornings a lump rises in my throat. The school is so big and she is so little (even if she believes otherwise) and my entire life…it’s right there, in her, and some days I still cannot believe this miracle.
And so I cannot believe that Mary was peacefully down with the whole Nativity scene, no matter what just about any commercial version of that Nativity might suggest. I cannot believe that she didn’t want to scream, “No!” to the insanity of it all and refuse to risk her heart by offering her precious child to God’s world such that he’d never really be hers–just hers–again.
The thing is, it is in this refusal to believe the story as we so often tell it that I find real hope. Real trust that something good was/is at work, even if unknown and unseen. Real faith that even though life rarely turns out as we’ve imagined it might, it is, still, life. And where there is life, there is always the potential for goodness and mercy to come raining down.
I think she was actually “sore afraid.” I think she was probably angry at times. I think her hormones probably raged and she wondered how the hell she’d gotten into this mess. I think she cried, sometimes, even if muffled against the mane of that damn blessed donkey she rode into Bethlehem. And I think she might even, somewhere long the way, have wanted out, have wanted to call Gabriel back down from the heavens and say, “No. I quit. This is not what I bargained for.”
But she didn’t quit. She gave into love. She bore (literally) witness to the possibility of a new way of being and she held up for all to see the good news that we are never alone…that among us, always, is God-with-us. Emmanuel.
This is I believe about Mary…that she lived her life more fully than most of us will ever dream of doing, and she did so by loving with reckless abandon the child that was born to her, trusting that somewhere, in all of it, was the grace of the God who gave them both life in the first place.
And who has done so for you and me, too.