This is something I’ve been meaning to write about for awhile, something that occurred to me a few months ago but it has just been sitting in the back of my head, growing like one of those little whirlybird seeds and now it’s a full-grown thought and it has to come out.
In my life as a fundamentalist Baptist, which I’ve been rightly told I’m a bit cranky about (to that I offer an apology for anything said out of anger or that was hurtful), to say women were treated as second class citizens of the church is an understatement. Some women in my church weren’t allowed by their husbands to wear pants, ever. Some didn’t wear makeup or perfume (even deodorant). If a girl got herself pregnant, she went before the church and publicly confessed. The boyfriend was nowhere to be seen. Schools we played in basketball wouldn’t allow the girls to wear shorts. Other schools made our cheerleaders demonstrate their skirts didn’t swish too much (i.e. make boys think bad thoughts) before they were allowed to cheer for games. Recently I stumbled across the work of one pastor affiliated with the churches I attended who wrote that he prayed his daughter married a mean man in order to keep her properly in line. And the past few weeks, I’ve watched so many of my dear sisters and brothers in Christ draw their swords against evil in their midst.
This, my brothers and sisters, is not how it should be. But I think I know why it is.
In the beginning, when the wheels fell off the wagon and everything went all to hell, there were two: Adam and Eve. And you know what happens next: Eve falls for the worst line ever, takes the fruit, gives it to her man and you know the rest. The redemption story starts there and the Holy Triune God intervenes to restore mankind to his rightful place and to help him become what he was always supposed to be.
Fast forward a few millennium, and we reach the place where He intervened more directly, one of the Godhead coming to live with us, to show us the way back to the Father, to die for us and to conquer death. Christ could have hatched in an egg in the desert. He could have just appeared, fully formed as a child or as a man. But He didn’t. He developed as a baby, in the womb of a woman: a gracious, obedient and humble woman who consented to be the first Christian and to have Christ living inside of her.
Fast forward a few millennium, and we now have a place where the Theotokos, the God-bearing woman by whom Christ took human flesh and entered the world, is barely mentioned in a good chunk of American Christendom. In the more rigid and virulently anti-Catholic communities of fundamentalism-some Baptists, Pentecostals, etc. – she is flat out ignored and shunned. My protestant brothers and sisters ignore the truth of Mary at great spiritual peril to themselves, and at times at great physical peril to the women in their lives.
Luther (a monk, let’s not forget) had a great love for the Mother of Christ. In an explanation of the Magnificat, first spoken at the Annunciation, Luther said, “The true honor of Mary is the honor of God, the praise of God’s grace . . . Mary is nothing for the sake of herself, but for the sake of Christ . . . Mary does not wish that we come to her, but through her to God.”
Calvin (don’t get me started) really didn’t like her, so that’s probably where things went all pear-shaped with regard to her rightful place in Christian hearts. In the super-fine straining out of all things liturgical, all things “Catholic,” all things deemed unnecessary, Mary got tossed.
What that leaves them with is just Eve, the beginning of the story, but not the ending. It leaves them with a seemingly silly creature who could be argued to have spoiled the good thing they had going on. (Forgetting of course that Adam seems equally silly for needing nothing in the way of persuasion). It leaves men in a position of constant vulnerability to the wiles of women, who when given one minute alone will figure out a way to lead the men in their world astray. So men must be protected from them and they must be protected from themselves, and one of the key aims of living a godly Christian life becomes then, not the working out of our salvation as brothers and sisters in Christ, but in making sure women don’t make men think bad thoughts and act inappropriately. If the men do, well, doggone it, it must be the fault of the closest women: the wife for not meeting his “needs”, the child for acting in a flirtatious manner (I kid not), etc.
My dear Protestant brothers and sisters, this should not be. This grieves God our loving Father who offers us the example of Mary as that of the true Christian: who was open to Him, who followed Him and who even now points the way to Him through the example of her obedience.
We know our God is concerned with Rightness, not merely being correct, but in things being True. In the mechanical sense of the word, it means accurately placed as part of a mechanism. Mary’s “true” place, then, is within the context of the church, within our theology, because it shows the accurate depth and breadth of our redemption. It shows the reality of the Incarnation. Mary’s place in Orthodox iconography is always near the altar, pointing literally with her hand to Christ: Here, look at my Son, accept Him, believe in Him rightly and find peace.
Don’t be afraid of her. Embrace her story, love her obedience and know that it is God wants for all of us, both Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve.
Oh Most Holy Theotokos (God-bearer), rejoice Oh Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, for you have born the Savior of our souls.