It’s interesting how I start with one plan and then it get derailed and another comes into play. My intention was a history of Mary, Mother of Jesus. A reflection similar to the reflections I was doing last summer on people of the Bible, so that we could learn together.
I also thought it would be nice to weave her in and then discuss our mothering role models. Hence the Order of Service with the Children’s Corner: what do we appreciate about our moms and mom role models? And, of course, because it’s me, a reminder of what is special about who WE are as individuals. Why does our mom love us? And “because she has to” is not an answer. This isn’t just an exercise for the children.
In my explorations, here’s what I discovered about Mary. She speaks only four times in the Bible. The woman who follows Jesus from crib to cross, speaks only fours times. In fact, she is not very visible in the Bible. Give or take: 12 x in Luke. 6x in Matthew. Mark 1x. In John she is never mentioned by name at all: she is called “woman” or “dear woman”.
Interestingly, she is mentioned more often in the Qur’an than she is in the Christian Bible. In the Qur’an, she is considered a prophet and considered “the greatest woman in the history of human kind”. I mention this because I had no idea and that was fascinating to me, as well as a reminder that all the religions are rooted in the same history and the same stories.
Mary becomes very venerated in the Catholic Church, but does not play a huge role in the Protestant Church until very recently (this century, even recent decades). It not until the second century that we begin to see devotion to Mary. It’s not until the 5th century that she plays a big role in the church stories and histories itself. And it is not until the Middle Ages, with an upwelling of interest in myth and stories, that she becomes very venerated. Especially within art and stories.
We see a wide variety of devotion to Mary from very scant to very deep which developed over a long period of time.
But that brings me back to speaking four times in the Bible from crib to cross and very little visibility, which seems surprising when you consider the art and stories surrounding Mary. I imagined more stories in the actual Bible.
My favorite stories regarding Mary in the Bible is the one where she is very much a mother when she and Joseph realize that Jesus is missing in the caravan and they turn around to find him in the temple. I imagine this as a very mom and son moment. Jesus: saying: “Mom, what’s your problem, of course I’d be here in the temple, where else would I be?” And the mom feeling a sense of relief and fear and frustration. Even though these things are not actually in the scripture, this is what I imagine.
I love the story of Mary at the cross. I imagine a lot going on here that isn’t written in the Bible. But that’s my imagination that brings to life the stories for myself.
From Mary in the Bible, as the great mother, I thought I would compare her to some of the role models of mothers in other literature. I sat down one evening and thought: who is my favorite mother in literature? Blank. Nothing. Nothing.
I started to mentally go through my favorite books: Jane Eyre: orphan. Harry Potter: orphan (although Molly Wesley did come to be on my list of moms from literature as the secondary character’s mom). Dickens: usually orphans. Hugo: Ok, Fantine could have been a good mom if she hadn’t come to that terrible untimely end…
I finally could come up with no one. I went down to my bookshelves (for those who know me well, know there are a lot of books there) to actually LOOK at books and see what I could come up with. Out of 100 novels, here’s the mothers I found: Molly Weasley who is not the mother of the main character. Ayla’s adopted mother in The Clan of the Cave Bear. A good mother in Chocolat. That’s it, from 100 novels.
I thought: maybe I just read motherless literature.
I asked a few other people who their favorite mothers were in fiction/literature (even TV and movies). Answer #1: Molly Weasley (can you tell we’re HP fans) and the mom in Gate to Women’s Country, which I imagine no one else had even heard of. Answer #2: “I got nothing.” Answer #3: (quote from the Book Mobile friend) “I just scanned through 117 books titles of my read books from goodreads. I’ve got nothing. That is sad. Reinforces the need for stronger visible female role models.”
I didn’t expect to find so scant a selection of mothers, or lack thereof, in literature. I guess, from a literary perspective, it is the lack of a mother that is often the thing that takes the hero on his (or her) journey. The lack of guidance means that the hero(ine) has so much to learn all on their own. Orphans. Characters learning to adapt in new environments…Ayla (Clan of the Cave Bear) is lucky, though she is in a strange new environment, she has a wonderful guiding adoptive mother. Harry Potter, not so lucky, he ends up living with the Dursleys who detest him (although Ron’s mom, Molly, takes a protective mothering role on for Harry too). Chocolat…well, there’s a good, thoughtful mom, but a lot of the plot is driven by this mother’s unbalanced relationship with her own mother.
Hmmm. Mothers and stories. A lack of a mothering influence makes for a good story. The excitement of a story is a lack of safety, a lack of advice, care, and nurturing.
I guess the potency of a Mother comes in the absence of the mother. If there’s a devoted mother…there is no drama. If you take out the mother, you drive the plot of a story…the qualities of a mother: nurturing, caring, watchful, a teacher, a guide…don’t make for good novels.
Moral of my story: there’s no story if there’s a good mom to guide you.
My moral of Mary in the Bible: if you’re going to go through a terrible story, it’s nice to have a mom. In this case, from crib to cross and in everything in between. Even if she is quietly in the background.
Two things I learned….
- Need for more strong visible female role models in literature.
- Gratitude for the mothers in our lives: birth, adopted, figures, mothers in background quietly mothering, loud mothers who speak loudly on our behalf, non-mothers who mother, all those who nurture, support, and protect us.
So, today, I thank God for Mothers.