“So how do you all feel about Mary?”
It was 2019 and I was at a worship planning meeting for the Advent season. Pastor Matt had asked the question.
“We have a complicated relationship,” I said.
It is not novel to have a complicated relationship with Mary. Much ink—and at the post calvin, many pixels—has spilled in the exploration of who Mary is and what she means. Mary as woman. Mary as art. Mary as comfort. Mary as shroud.
Mary makes me uncomfortable. This is, I recognize, a deeply personal problem and much of it stems from my own somewhat-fraught relationship with my reproductive system, which is to say that I hate it and wish that it didn’t exist. Tragically, it insists on doing so and tangibly reminds me of that fact every month in a torrent of blood and cramps so bad they’ll literally make you wish for death.
I’m not one of those cool feminists who proudly displays a uterus pin on her bookbag or wears a t-shirt that says “my uterus is the cuterus.” I am also convinced that my uterus knows I resent it and has decided to assert dominance by making my periods the longest, bloodiest, most pain-inducing affairs it can without quite making them long enough, bloody enough, or pain-inducing enough for me to overcome my natural laziness and see a doctor about it.
(In health class, I was taught that the average period lasts two to five days, to which I have to say two things: 1) who’s that lucky bitch who only gets a two-day period and 2) I’ve always known I was above average.)
For those of you who don’t have vaginas, let me put it like this: Menstruation is like the Trump presidency. When you first encounter it, the details are almost too shocking and ludicrous to be believed, but given enough time, you realize that this is the way things are now and you learn to deal with it. Every once in a while, though, the weight of the thing makes you sit back and look up at the ceiling and say, “Really? Really?”
And since this year, my menstrual cycle has landed over Christmas (ho, ho, ho), I’ve had ample opportunity to sit back, take a look at the whole festive parturition drama and go, “Really?”
Mary makes me uncomfortable because I was taught from a young age that I should fear pregnancy. (For the sake of my parents, I should note here that this fear was not their fault.) In my pseudo-Evangelical community, motherhood was possibly the worst thing that could happen to a person (and certainly the fastest way to completely ruin your life), unless you were married, in which case it was all sunshine and rainbows and what you were born to do, probably.
That all stems from the unhealthy relationship Christianity has had with sex historically but despite leaving that way of thinking behind me as I grew, I was never quite able to shake the fear. And now that I am old enough to know myself and know that I do not want to be a mother (not now, probably not ever), the idea of Mary is still an enigma.
And the idea of Mary is really what most of that ink is being spilled about, even among those who seek to contextualize it against the historical character of Mary. The idea of Mary, who was told, “By the way, you’re pregnant” in a context where such a thing might get her killed and said, “Neat.” The idea of Mary, who was both a virgin and a mother, like in some sort of conservative utopian fever dream. The idea of Mary, who is Madonna, mother, protector, nurturer. Mary, who is blessed among women.
If I don’t want to be like Mary, then what sort of woman am I?
I don’t have a way to reconcile that I believe I should want to be like Mary with the fact that I do not. I don’t have the grace nor the courage to be her, regardless. And while I know that the continuum of Christian virtue is broad enough for women who are not like Mary, I don’t think I’ve figured out how to believe it yet.
For believing such a thing, I think, takes grace and courage, too.