Consider Mary. That Mary. As in the Virgin Mary.The Virgin Mary?
Well, what does that even mean?
When I think of “virgin” I think of olive oil (in which case I think “extra virgin” because that’s the kind of girl I am). Or I think of Madonna—she of “Desperately Seeking Susan,” Queen of Pop and “Bitch, I’m Madonna” fame—also singing “Like a Virgin” in the 1980’s, fooling none of us on that score. But who cared, really. If you knew the song, you might dance to it if you were in the kitchen. If you were in the car, you might just twist up or down the radio dial, looking for something else.
But what about The Virgin Mary?
Well, when I think about her (and I like to call her the BVM because she’s kind of my saintly bestie), I think back to what I learned in seminary: that the whole concept of a “virgin” referred only to a woman who had not yet given birth to a child. In other words, the word “virgin” focused on uterus, not hymen, maternal status not moral opprobrium. And that was all consistent with a Hebraic understanding that a woman’s status was related to her ability or capacity to reproduce. Sure, that’s sexist, but still not quite as stultifying as a double standard that made a woman’s sexuality reprehensible and a man’s normative.
And though it’s true that I am a sucker for those gracious portrayals in Renaissance paintings of the lovely Mary in azure robing—who doesn’t like a pretty lady?—this is not truth in advertising.
Because quite apart from the fact that the scene in the stable was more one of deshabille and utter chaos--the Holy Couple not having registered at Buy, Buy, Baby nor even employed a proper doula and lactation consultant—we lose a sense of Mary completely if we ignore the deeply political and sublimely justice-seeking exhortation that she offers forth upon hearing that she is to bear this very special—and not that she could have known—game-changing baby.
What the writer of the gospel of Luke records Mary saying is more or less this:
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
who has looked with favor on the lowliness of this servant….
God’s mercy is for those who fear God from generation to generation.
God has shown strength, scattering the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
And yes, I see the email in my inbox now: I de-genderized God, substituting “God” for “he” a bunch of times. (To which I privately say, it’s about time and I’m not along in doing so.) Others will note that I’ve also hedged on the veracity of the gospel writer by saying that “the writer of the gospel of Luke records Mary as saying” which may leave doubt as to the word-for-word literalism of what is recorded in the various versions of the Greek New Testaments Christians read.
But you know what? Studying biblical texts is my life’s work. For over a quarter of a century. So stand down, naysayers. I may be a girl, but I’m no dummy. And I’ve no longer the patience for nit-pickers unless it is literally about a head full of lice.
Because Mary—my beloved BVM—spoke truth to power. She persisted. She persists. And when I read that the writer of Luke says that God will scatter the proud in their conceits, I incline myself to patience. And to persistency in my own efforts. And I incline myself to belief in her words.