Among women

So I did try to be a good girl and focus on this week’s readings. The first one had some potential being God trying to talk the people out of having a king with all the sort of symbolism of hegemonic masculinity, militarism, ruling class parasitism and all the rest of it. Well done God! Now you know how I feel trying to speak out against “common sense” (that’s common sense in the sense of Gramsci) arguments. God of course didn’t prevail and was whipped enough to give the people what they wanted.

I am a bit conflicted by seeing God that way. I guess I could have turned it into a discussion about free will, family loyalties, vocation…..etc, etc, etc.

But I am sad enough to have missed last week’s Visitation story. Not only (as I already mentioned) is this a bible story that actually passes the Bechdel test but I have always thought that at some point I need to talk about Mary. When I was a little girl I was in love with her. I didn’t know it was called being in love and I didn’t know lesbians existed or that I was one. I just used to stare dreamily at the blue-clad statues (sorry this is not a protestant-friendly post…if statues offend you feel free to give this week a miss and come back next time). I was catholic so any of the myriad churches my mother, father and especially my grandmother brought me into had statues of Mary. She wore blue. I have always loved the colour blue on women (correlation or causation?)

Once at least the statue was in a rose garden, there was what at my young age almost seemed like a maze and at the end of it the beautiful blue woman serenely holding her smiling baby and her eyes down-cast which was supposed to signify humility but to a three year old signified eye contact. She looked at me. She loved me.

I was encouraged to think romantically about this beautiful woman by my catholic relatives, especially by my grandmother who was also devoted to her (maybe more innocently…maybe not). A lot of older women wearing black brought Mary flowers- roses mainly and kissed her feet and touched her hands and I wanted to as well very much but my parents told me it was not really the right thing to do to touch the statue.

Many churches had a place where you could light a candle then go kneel by the statue and you were supposed to pray but all I prayed was “here is your candle dear Mary you are so beautiful I want to touch you”. Why should I see sexuality in that when I was only three? Because 33 years later when I realised I was a lesbian, when I recognised the lesbian feelings inside me the particular sort of nostalgia I felt the next time I saw a statue of Mary  (who looks alarmingly young to me now) helped me connect the dots.

I guess it was more like courtly love than a modern version of romantic/sexual love in that I never saw myself as Mary’s equal. I half wanted her to touch me and half wanted to be her and I wanted to be close to her and make her happy and be worthy of her. Catholics are allowed, even encouraged to pray to the saints and especially to Mary. I prayed to her even more than I did to God. Because I was taught that God was male and inaccessible and without an image HE was alienating. Mary was welcoming and I could understand the idea of unconditional love in her soft look (and I consider myself non-visual). When I dreamed of God, I dreamed of Mary too. When I dreamed I died and had to face judgement (which was something I worried about all the time since I was told just how sinful and unworthy I was all the time) I always dreamed there were three figures who were God (I hadn’t heard of the trinity) and one looked like Mary only with a crown of flowers on her head as if it was Jani.

When I googled this week’s gospel (Mark 3: 20-35) with the word “feminist” a poem by Brian Wren came up about Mary. It made me think about the scene I missed last week of Mary and Elizabeth having their exclusively female community of support when huge things happened in their lives. Wren has thus managed to connect 2 very different gospel stories by seeking a pro-feminist reading. The joy of seeing each other causes so much oxytocin that the child in her womb seems to leap. That can happen, the mother’s emotions can move the baby. But is Jesus also thrilling to be allowed into this intimate female space- not as a colonising privileged male but as a voiceless witness to unselfish, courageous friendship and wisdom.

Mary is wise. She comes out with the Magnificat a great manifesto of the kingdom of God who “casts down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lonely” (If you click the link please note the Magnificat is actually from the bible and the catholic church do not own it, just as they don’t actually own marriage either).

But God casts down the ruthless, expoitive ruling class and lift up the proletariat; casts down the privileged white person surrounded by white culture and lifts up the every other race; casts down the wealthy authoritative male and lifts up the single mother; casts down….down with all privilege, all domination, all exploitation and lifts up and liberates the 99%.

Here is some real good news!

Yes please God. Mary’s vision is one to make everything within us leap for joy, to help us reach out in friendship to one another even when it takes a huge effort to offer that support. I am not trying to continue some sort of awkward older-woman crush that I had when I was 3 years old when I look now to Mary for revolutionary wisdom, guts and authoritative discipleship.

If Jesus, the young man had his moment of not being interested in his mother and brothers (sounds like my son) then so be it. I wonder though, what was Mary doing all this time? What acts of radical discipleship might there be behind the masculine world of the text which focuses on the one shining figure of Jesus? What words of friendship and wisdom might have gone unrecorded? Mary most often gets remembered or celebrated for being a womb…but there are snippets of evidence that she was other things too.

I don’t pray anymore by closing my eyes and imagining Mary touching me. But I see her as sister-disciple, mentor, inspiration, wisdom’s daughter and mother. I hear last week’s gospel about Mary and Elizabeth embracing and talking radical politics and I think here is a sacred site in the text where people like me and experiences like mine exist and are sanctified. Sisterhood is no longer something alien to the kingdom of God.

Hail Mary indeed.

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