The Lost Image of Mary

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Living in Virginia, I never saw that many Mary statues.  When I began to date my husband, a Roman Catholic with family in New York and New Jersey, I became used to seeing Mary outside of houses, in little grottoes.  For some, she is a familiar sight, especially in localities with a high Catholic population density.  I’ve seen so many versions of Mary, I lost count.  There’s classical versions like Our Lady of Grace, of Fatima, of Lourdes, of Guadalupe, Madonna and child, etc.  Here she is, in standard form:


(Image courtesy of flickr.com)

Last week I received another religious catalog in the mail.  I get one every week or so from some company trying to sell clergy everything from media, to clergy apparel, to office accoutrements, etc.  They can never pin point that I’m a Methodist so I get them for every Christian denomination.  This last one was obviously for Catholics.  I enjoyed perusing the pages and seeing what new and exciting products Catholics could indulge in.  Then I came to the page with all the Mary statues.  I saw this:


(Image courtesy of leafletonline.com)

That’s definitely Mary.  I’d recognize that blue and white outfit and the sweetly downcast gaze anywhere.  This is not just any Mary; this Mary is great with child!  She’s a good eight months along.  Obviosuly one of those women who wears pregnancy well, according to the sculptor.  I stood there looking at her for a long time.  Why had I never seen this before?  All the Catholic churches my husband has taken me to, including the Basilica in Washington, DC with more Mary’s than you could imagine (there’s over 70 chapels and each one has its own Mary).  Yet I have never seen this incarnation, and it threw me.

She’s captivating.  I was drawn to this image in a way I had never been to any other statue of Mary.  I’m Protestant, so I don’t spend as much time thinking about her as my Catholic friends and family do.  While I had never wanted my own Mary statue, I wanted this one.  I really wanted it; not just as a novelty either.  This Mary was real, she was pregnant and she was relatable.  Why isn’t Mary shown pregnant?  Why is she always depicted with a small infant Jesus or not pregnant at all?  There’s nothing wrong with being pregnant.  It’s God’s first commandment to humanity: “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28).  All of Christianity is grateful that Mary was pregnant with Jesus, so why do we shy away from picturing her that way outside of the nativity at Christmas?

My husband was less than enthralled when I showed him the catalog.  “Look,” I said, “Have you ever seen a pregnant Mary statue?”  His reply was no and, with that, he was over it.  So I told one of my co-workers, who is female and deeply interested in all things religious.  She was intrigued like I was.  OK, so maybe it’s a woman thing, but I don’t think it’s that simple.  Only 2 out of 4 Gospels recount the birth of Jesus, and neither one dwells on Mary’s pregnancy.  I think, having been pregnant myself, I am now more closely drawn to that part of the story, however untold it remains.  I wonder what it was like to be Mary, feeling Jesus grow and having all those thoughts and wondering what he will be like when he’s born.  Mary is more human, more like me, when I think of that.  Perhaps some are not interested in humanizing her, but it only strengthens my connection with her.  Perhaps with others, too.  This is one Mary statue I’d have in my office and in my home, because this Mary and I could have a conversation.  Being pregnant makes her life that much more real, gritty, and down in the trenches of reality.  She had a baby, in a stable of all places, who powerful people wanted to kill.  She fled to Egypt to raise her son in safety until the threat had passed.  Mary wasn’t a kept princess; she was a woman who knew how hard things could get and yet she made it, she survived.  No one else can say that they were there from the very beginning with Jesus, but Mary was.  She was there before his ministry began, she lasted through it, and she was one of the few at the foot of the cross.  She didn’t always understand, and sometimes she questioned whether Jesus was doing the right thing, but she was there. 

Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed– and a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:34-35 NRS).

I’m sure that those last days of Jesus’ life before Easter were a sword piercing Mary’s soul.  No parent wants to see their child in pain, much less suffer and die.  Somehow, when I look at this pregnant Mary, I see a woman of strength, who will persevere, even while her soul is anguishing.  She will live to see the promise fulfilled, and right now, she’s got that introspective look many pregnant women have.  She knows things, and keeps them to herself.  She’ll share when she’s ready, and I’m all ears.

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