Lesson Eight: Mary in the Faith and Tradition of the Church
Primary Scripture: Luke 1:26–56; 2:1–52 and John 2:5; 19:25–27
“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
I guess we all have particular times and places that shine in our memories as “sacred ground.” These may include churches with wonderful architecture, spectacular sunsets seen from a mountain top, being present at the birth of a child, or ____________ (fill in your own memories here)!
One of my sacred ground memories still takes me by surprise when I look back at it, because it was completely unexpected. I had driven up into the Yarra Valley, about an hour outside my home city of Melbourne, to spend a day in retreat at the Cistercian monastery Tarrawarra Abbey. I often booked myself a self-led day of retreat there, and deeply appreciated the quietness and beauty of the setting. One section of the garden I had not visited was the grotto to the Virgin. I must admit, statues of Mary, festooned as this one was with rosaries left by those who had prayed there, left me cold.
However, on this day I was struggling with issues in my family life. My spouse and I were going through a rocky time in our marriage, and our daughter was suffering from depression and was self-harming. Suddenly, I found myself sitting in the grotto, spilling out all my troubles out loud. I felt accompanied by a tangible kind, loving presence. It was like talking to an intimate friend, one who understood me and the very human problems I was grappling with. I had a good cry, and eventually wandered out from the grotto with an eased soul. To some small extent, I “got” a bit of the fuss about Mary in that moment.
Our idea of God is so huge, so all-encompassing, it is sometimes difficult to connect with the particularity of our lives. I think this is why we need churches, sacred spaces that contain, not God, but our experience of God at a time and place that is tangible.
I also think this has been the great gift of Mary’s story throughout biblical witness and through the ages: her human life, with its frailties, danger, struggle, and grief, becomes a limited space in which we can see reflected our own frailties, struggle, and grief. If Mary can encompass God within her human body, giving birth to the holy, perhaps we can too.
I came across a wonderful prayer some years ago, ascribed to St. John of the Cross, a sixteenth century mystic; it is called, If You Want. We can’t print the prayer here because it is copyrighted but you can find it in the book Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West, translated by Daniel Ladinsky and published by Penguin Compass in 2002. I hope you will find it and read it.
The power of Mary’s story is this: that each of us, in our own particular life, at any moment, can dare to say “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Moreover, we know we are not alone in this daring. Mary’s courage gives us courage, as does the courage of all our other grandmothers in the long story of hope and salvation.
Merryl L. Blair
author of the 2021-2022 PW/Horizons Bible Study
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