Tuesday, September 10, 2013
MARY, THE ROSE OF SHARON: Why is Mary, the Mother of God important?
In all the years of my life, I never hesitated or even balked at accepting Mary as my Blessed Mother, or the importance of her gentle presence in my life, long before I became a Catholic. She was always there for me, with her delicate touch, her enigmatic images, and the poignant thought of her shared sufferings with her Son so aptly illustrated by artists throughout the centuries. She is, however, a stumbling block for some Protestants, and even some Catholics. In light of this, I am reminded of two heresies that threatened the early Church; Arianism and Gnosticism. Both heresies had dubious notions of the Man Jesus, the God Jesus, and who Mary is as Christ's mother. Although the Council of Nicaea clarified the concept of who Jesus is and His mother, there is something worse than these heresies still banging around the universe, and finding comfort and succor in too many places where it shouldn't.
There was a post in a Christian blog community describing God as a psychopathic schizophrenic, and it made me feel as though I had just walked through a narrow hallway encrusted with jagged pieces of glass. It was so irrational in word and tone I couldn't shake that cut to pieces feeling. The writer had no knowledge of rules, traditions, or the concept of consequences for bad behavior, or even how to deal with a loving God who allows for free will. How do you have an intelligent and rational discussion with someone who has no foundation built to even begin to understand what faith in God is? The two aforementioned heresies are minor, intellectual exercises, in comparison with the atheistic and bizarre descriptions and views of God today.
In another blog someone posted an anti-Mary piece on a Catholic website, and it was summarily removed. I didn't see it, but it riled a few who did. With all the misinformation, convoluted views, and conclusion jumping so many young people are want to do, I am still willing to stroll into the lion's den to discuss Mary, and how she fits in the salvation history narrative. But how did she, our Mary, the Theotokos, the God-bearer, become such a thorn in the side of some established Christians? And how do you explain to the irrational who Mary is, and why she is important to us?
Note: I will not go into the Nestorius and Alexander arguments, or discuss Gnostic and Arian heresies in detail here. Suffice it to say, you can read about those through other sites or books. You should be reading the early Church fathers' writings anyway, and learn what Councils decided what. Go forth and seek the truth. Enjoy!
To begin this narrative, we must start with the very first woman, who is, of course, Eve. Oh, Eve. Eve who began the whole shebang. Eve who listened to that smarmy serpent. Eve who couldn't keep her sticky fingers off that blasted fruit. But, she wasn't called Eve when she partook of the tantalizing food. She began her life in the Garden of Eden with the name Woman, meaning the creature who came out of man. It wasn't until Adam gave her a proper name that she became the mother of humanity known as Eve.
Nevertheless, it was Eve, as the Woman, who caused the rift between God and humanity through her flourishes in the Law given by God, "You shall neither eat of it, nor touch it, lest you die," Genesis 3: 3. Those three little words she added to the Law marked her downfall, and the serpent, being the wily creature he was, knew it. By giving the law more oomph, more bite, according to her, she had begun the slide toward her banishment from Eden. At this point, she begins to see the fruit is good for eating, the seduction of the eyes begins, then she takes that fateful taste, and hands the fruit over to her husband. Strangely, they play duck and cover with a fig leaf, as though they could actually hide from God, which I always found curious--but that is for another post. Thousands of years later, comes the redeemer, sent by God to untie the knot of sin the couple created in that moment. According to the dogma of the Catholic Church, including Protestant denominations, Christ is the Second Adam, the One who came to redeem mankind from Adam's sin, and paid the price on the cross. But, wait. There is the other half of Adam, the woman Eve. Who is she? Is she unfinished business?
God is not the author of unfinished business or chaos. He doesn't leave Eve dangling out there with no hope of cleaning up her half of the mess. This is not to say that Christ paid the price only for men, by reason of sex leaving women out in the cold, and some female style Jesus has to appear on the scene (boy wouldn't the feminists love that). That is not what I mean. Christ had to be born of a woman, the second Eve, a completely human mother, and not a Manichean tube that He would pass through, as though he was surrounded by a divine glass bubble. He had to be fully Man, and fully God. But Mary couldn't have survived the inception if she had not been set aside, holy and pure for this purpose. But, I'm ahead of myself.
The scripture says that Eve was created from Adam's side, or in Hebrew tzela, the same word used for the structural beams in the Tabernacle. You can't ignore structure in either Eve or the Tabernacle. If you wanted to look at this from a mystical viewpoint, you would realize that the entire human race is built upon the structure of a man and a woman, that the relationship between the opposite sexes is critical to the survival of humanity. Would not the salvation of that human race require the entire structure, the entire body of Adam, which includes the woman Eve, and bring her flesh and bone into the process? I suppose, if God wanted, He could have just appeared as a Man, without being born in the traditional way, but He didn't. He chose to follow His process. It was necessary to God that Jesus would be born of a woman, and that woman chosen for that purpose was the virgin Mary. Christ's flesh was a necessary ingredient to redeem all of humanity, the garment covering the Word, the divine breath once again breathed into flesh to bring forth the Messiah to redeem the flesh and the divine soul.
The Jewish sages say that the term ishah or ish, which indicates the potential for holiness or destructiveness, was added to the root word for each sex in the Genesis narrative. In Genesis 1:27, the Hebrew letter yod, the sword pointing to creation in judgment, was added from God's name to the narrative of creation when it said, "make man," and the Hebrew letter heh, the breath of God, was added from God's name to "make woman." This means that Adam and Eve were both made for holiness or destructiveness. This was done to allow for man's free will, to give mankind a choice in whether they want to serve God or not. God specifically gave His commandment to not eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in order that these two would not fall into destructiveness, to give them structure for their lives, to build their future on the beams of the Law. But even these perfect creatures struggled with fulfilling the Law when tempted.
The second part of this narrative is when God says that man should not be alone and the term "helpmate" is used, translated from the Hebrew ezer knegdo. This term has often been denigrated by Christian theologians, reducing the term to; one who is subservient to the man. In other words, she is created only to meet all his needs, like a female slave, like a nonperson. But, the Hebrew term ezer knegdo actually means opposite or against him. The point made here in the narrative is that the woman is made to oppose the man when necessary, as well as, being an opposite sex for procreation. According to the Kabbalah, women's tears are counted by God, meaning that she was created as an empathic vessel, a more spiritual creature who can feel the world's sorrows more easily than a man. The heh added from God's name is the ruoch, or breath of God, that He used as an amendment to a woman's basic nature. The woman as a helpmate means more than just a physical companion or partner. She is the spiritual nexus of the couple's universe.
As the nurturer of children, the future human race, every woman would need this supernatural ability, not just to care for her children, but to see who they truly are and what is in store for them when they leave the nest. She then can prepare them to face what is ahead. The perfect biblical example of this idea is in the story of Rebecca, who helped her son Jacob fool Isaac, her husband, into believing Jacob was his nefarious brother Esau. Why would she do this? She knew Jacob would be the future Israel, and he needed to receive the paternal blessing on his future endeavors, a critical spiritual necessity for him to accomplish this. It is the father who imparts this particular spiritual aspect to his children, and not the mother. Isaac was blind in more ways than one. Isaac had a soft spot for his bad boy. Rebecca knew Esau didn't need the blessing. Esau was already everything he could be. The Woman Eve becomes the perfect creature to oppose Adam, just as Rebecca opposed her husband Isaac, and saw the future more clearly than her blind husband.
Eve was created after God breathed a soul into Adam, after Adam was transfigured from a golem, the man of mud, into a creature filled with God's breath, infused with a divine soul. Because she was not made from mud, she is not tied to the earth, but tied to the spiritual. She is not a placid servant directed by Adam to do what he wants. Instead, she is the perfect counterpart to his earthy warrior, helping to transition the hawk into a more angelic being, and guiding the worldly realm toward that which is sacred. She became the receptacle, or container for all of creation, and, therefore, is more in tune with the needs of the world, to hear the souls crying out to God, to be everything that a true mother is.
God created her in this fashion in order to control the animal nature that can run unfettered in every man. Cain, Nimrod, and even Esau are reminders to us of this character flaw. The woman brings a divine soul into the world when she delivers a child, and she must teach the child through example to achieve a higher purpose, to serve God. This is not to say that a man doesn't have a spiritual side. On the contrary, he does. And when he allows the spirit of God to use him, he has the ability to transfigure his power, normally for making war, into a mighty power for the spiritual advancement of mankind. Examples of such men were Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, and many others throughout the scriptures, who changed nations and leaders through this spiritual power. But, this tendency toward the spiritual lies most profoundly within the woman's nature. However, she too can be especially destructive when she turns from God, and, instead, worships nature, or a man, or sex, or even herself. Then, she has the capability of bringing nations down through men. Jezebel is the perfect example of a destructive woman with the ability to bring a nation to its knees through a man.
A woman would be a necessary fixture in the salvation of mankind, primarily because she is intricately tied by her nature to the spiritual, as well as, the physical ability to bring the Messiah into the world. Eve is as much a precursor to Mary as the usual women often sited in the scripture, such as Sarah, or Rebecca, or Leah and Rachel. When she received her name, Eve, she was given an office, the mother of humanity. The Hebrews rename those who have received a higher calling, or an office much like that of a Prime Minister, or a President of a country. In this case, it denotes a spiritual and physical office granted by God that they shall occupy to effect change in the world.
Sarai was given a new office by God when after her husband Abram was renamed, Abraham. Sarah, with her new name, would become a critical component in the founding of the Hebrew nation. She was appointed the mother, the first mother to ever conceive well after her fertile years were over, the mother of the first child that would become the sign of the sacrifice that was to come. The Shekinah's presence, or the Holy Spirit, hovered over Sarah's tent because of her holiness, and when Rebecca came on the scene to become the wife of Isaac, she inherited all the duties and expectations to carry on in her mother-in-law's office. Miriam, the sister of Moses, whose name means, Mistress of the Sea, guided the ark carrying her brother through the reeds in the river in order for her brother to be found by Pharaoh's sister. This was a female hand guiding prophecy, guiding the savior of the Hebrew peoples through the treacherous waters of the Nile. She would be present when the Hebrew nation received the Law, preparing the women of the nation through her prayers, songs, and teaching.
Zipporah, the wife of Moses, had to remind her great and powerful husband of the importance of performing circumcision within an appointed time frame. She throws the foreskin of his son Gershon at his feet in Exodus 4:25 in order to save Moses' life. Bathsheba, in 1Kings 2:13-19, is a perfect example of a mother's importance, as another precursor to Mary, when she goes to her son, Solomon, to plead for clemency in a citizen's case. Even the great Solomon recognizes her authority and office by listening to her, even though he did not grant clemency to the accused. Her importance was well-known to the people, and it was for this reason her help was requested. Judith is another precursor to Mary. Jael, in Judges 4:17-5:24, is a warrior for the Hebrew people when she pounds a stake through the head of Sisera, the enemy of Israel, much like the apocryphal Judith's story. Rahab, Esther, Ruth, and on, straight into the New Testament, are women who are all essential to the unfolding story. Why would Eve be left out? Why would Mary? As we see, neither is. Both have a role to play, an assigned office to fulfill.
The Second Eve
In the beginning of the Gospels, Mary is approached by the Angel Gabriel and he says, "Hail full of grace. The Lord is with you." Luke 1:28. This is a quote from Zephaniah 3:14-20. She is the embodiment of the Second Eve, the one favored by God to bring the Messiah into the world. Her office name is Full of Grace, the spiritual fountain from whom all grace would flow. The Jewish practice of renaming is in full flower here, just as the Woman became Eve, Jacob became Israel, Mary has become Full of Grace. This is confirmed by her elderly cousin Elizabeth, now very pregnant with John the Baptist, another miracle birth like that of Sarah. John leaps in his mother's womb, and Elizabeth declares, "Blessed are you among women." Luke 1:42 Blessed in Greek is Makarios, which indicates the state of the believer is fully satisfied because God indwells them. Not only does the Spirit of God indwell Mary, but The Lord is with her, Elizabeth says, and she continues, "Blessed is the fruit of your womb." Luke 1:43-44
Mary is the Pentecost, she is the Ark of the Covenant. There are three places in scripture where it is written that God overshadowed. In Genesis 1 when God overshadowed the waters, in Exodus 40:35 when God filled the Tabernacle in the wilderness, and Luke 1:35 "The power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, Son of God." She is the Ark of the Covenant, not a tube where God has passed through, but a holy vessel itself because she is full of grace. She would have to be. In 2 Samuel 6:6-15, the pious Uzzah is struck dead when he reaches his hand to steady the ark, and this was a man-made object made holy by God. Mary would have to be wholly dedicated to God, special and set apart in order to bear God's Son. She is much more holy than a man-made object, otherwise, she would have been struck dead when God overshadowed her. The angel told her as much when he pronounced her name, full of grace. Zephaniah's prophecy 3:14-17 said that He, meaning the Son of God, would return and dwell within the womb of the Daughter of Zion, a personification of Israel. Mary is now Israel, the daughter, and not a daughter.
Perhaps Mary is a stumbling block because of what she declares to Elizabeth, Luke 1:46-55,
"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his handmaid's lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he sent away empty.
He has helped Israel his servant,
remembering his mercy,
according to the promise to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever."
She knows that she will bring forth the savior, the one who would change everything forever, for even she is transfigured. She foresaw the Sermon on the Mount here in her declaration. Filled with the Holy Spirit, she sees Jesus, her Son on that mount, telling all of Israel God is now answering all their prayers. This is an amazing prophetic insight. She draws us toward Jesus even before He is born, and points the way, as she will again in Cana.
We've arrived at the wedding in Cana, in John 2:4. Here Jesus uses the term Woman when he refers to his mother. Why would he not say, Mother? He calls Mary Woman because he has recognized her office as the Second Eve. Jesus is harkening back to that point in the history of Man, recalling the Woman in the Garden of Eden in order to give Mary her power, not to diminish her. It was not meant to be derogatory, like someone using terms of sister or woman after a retort, as I've heard some pastors say. Mary, in this narrative, is doing what she was meant to do. She reminds Jesus that He must use his power to bring forth the new wine, that this would be a sign of His coming, and she encourages Him to perform the duties of His office. She is telling Him, in essence, the time has arrived to make His first mark at a wedding, no less, to bring joy through the new wine, through the marriage of the Bridegroom and the Church. If he had meant to demean her, why would he have changed the water into wine? She says to the stewards, do what He says. There she is pointing to Him, reminding the stewards that they must follow God's commands, she, as humanity, is asking God to intervene. This is a critical point in the narrative, a time where we are beginning to see that Mary is always present, that she has tremendous access to Him, and that she still has a powerful role beyond the birth. She is the person who will draw people to Jesus.
Upon Jesus' death he gave us a second gift. He gave us His mother. Now, she is the mother of the world, John 19:26-27. She was there when the Church was born in that upper room. She nursed it through its infancy and then left to be with her Son when the work was done. She cannot be easily dismissed in light of the scriptures, because she's everywhere Jesus is. Somewhere, through the ages, she was cast out, marginalized, and became anathema to those who still can't find room for her at the Inn. This is a shameful way to treat God's mother. By dismissing her, you dismiss our hope in cheating death, for she is the embodiment of the rapture. She is our hope in that beautiful calling up called the rapture by evangelicals. According to tradition, she was the first New Testament person to be translated. It's time to revisit the scriptures about the women who played an important role in the salvation story, and find the Rose of Sharon, our Mary, permeating the narrative.
Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus. Amen.