(Description: A stormy sea, with a ship in the far distance. To the right, the BVM – Blessed Virgin Mary – clad in blue, with softly tinted white skin, and golden halo around her head, holding an in infant Jesus, similarly white-skinned and be-haloed. He is stretching his hand out in blessing towards the sea.)
“Star of the sea” is one of the names for Mary, who in Christian mythology is the mother of their god, Jesus Christ. In this particular styling, she is the guardian of mariners and all who venture in peril on the sea. I’ve chosen this image because we have been especially virtuous today, having a guest for dinner, and making sure we had wine on hand to pour a glass or two for him, but not touching a drop ourselves. We pressed the remainder of the bottle on him as he left, pointing out that he would be doing us a favour, by removing temptation. He kindly obliged.
I have mixed feelings about the veneration of Mary in the Christian tradition. On the one hand, she speaks these magnificent words (Luke 1: 46 – 55):
And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers.”
It’s a stirring call for social justice, for ensuring that the hungry are fed, and marginalised people are recognised and valued as members of the community. Fabulous words, from a woman.
On the other hand, do you think we ever heard about this at school? Not a hope. The nuns emphasised devotion to Mary, and valorised her gentleness, and sweetness, and goodness, and general faffiness. She was the ultimate good housewife that we were to emulate. She was whitewashed, like the picture above, and she certainly never, ever, challenged authority. Also, she was a virgin all her life, and we were supposed to aim for that “blessed” state ourselves.
That’s the image of Mary that I am stuck with. A sickly sweet caricature of womanhood, but one we were supposed to aspire to. Fortunately, I failed.