The veneration and interest in Mary has varied from denomination to denomination, but her role continues to perplex and intrigue us. In islam, there is a more detailed reference to Mary in the Quran than we have in our canonical gospels. The antiphons to Mary have been chanted since the 13th century in Christianity. They contain ideas that we are in the process of amending, but they are a link to the humble faith and trust in Mary of earlier generations. Here are three of the four in a somewhat revised form:
Loving mother of the Redeemer, that passage to heaven,
gate of the morning, and star of the sea, assist the fallen, you who cure, lift up the people:
you who bore to the wonderment of nature, your holy Creator,
Virgin before and after, who received from Gabriel
that joyful greeting, have mercy on us sinners.
Hail, Queen of the heavens, hail, Lady of the angels,
hail, root of Jesse, hail gate of heaven, from whom light has come into the world.
Rejoice, Virgin most glorious,
Above all most beautiful; hail, O most highly honoured, and entreat Christ for us.
Hail, Queen, mother of mercies, life, sweetness, and our hope, hail,
To you do we cry, exiled children of Eden.
To you do we sigh, moaning and weeping in this vale of tears.
Be therefore, our advocate; Turn your merciful eyes to us.
And after this exile, show to us Jesus, the blessed fruit of your womb,
O clement, O holy, O sweet Virgin Mary.
I have been reflecting on what it means “to magnify” the Holy One. When we magnify anything, we not only enlarge it; we also are able to see details that we would have missed. On the other hand, if we look too closely, there will be some interesting blurring of the edges.
Perhaps this is an apt metaphor for how we think about the mother of Jesus, who was not necessarily young, or poor. In fact, the rewritten song of Hannah that Luke has Mary declaim, would indicate a person of learning, of strength and of vision. Mary is not being rescued by God in any sense. Nor does she sound like a victim. Rather, she sees a role for herself in nurturing and bringing to birth a renewed hope for justice in the world.
When asked about the divinity of Jesus, Marcus Borg replied that Jesus’ divinity was no different than the spirit that abides in all of us, except as he realized and lived it. John Dominic Crossan said that to speak of the divinity of Jesus is to imagine how God would look as a human being.
But it is about Mary we are speaking and it is Mary who magnifies the Lord. I think that what we have had an intuition about all along is the way in which Mary represents how everyone can respond to the call for a peaceful, healthy, responsible society. Mary magnifies the yearning of the Holy One for just action, compassionate regard for others, for lives that have meaning and are recognized as worthy. It is Mary who mothers Jesus, nurturing him, scolding him, supporting him even through the final struggle.
While we are constantly encouraged to be more Christ-like, that may be a goal achievable only in community. Whereas Mary’s radical yes may be a response that all Christians can fulfill in the details of our lives. We don’t have to be saviours, or stars or world leaders. But we can all say yes to being inclusive, tolerant. We can all say yes to the empowerment of the poor. We can all choose the path of compassion and peace. And so Mary magnifies the true natural order, a world in which we no longer need to be conquerors, but dreamers, healers, lovers. We can live lives in which details are important, whether it is the extra bag for the food bank or the understanding smile for the harassed salesperson.
We can all say yes, albeit in a shaky voice sometimes, when we are determined to weather the struggles of life, knowing that our suffering unites us with the experience of every human being, including the mother of Jesus. And there is the blurring that enfolds us in community, the love that sees holiness everywhere, and humanity beyond stereotypes or judgement.
In the details there is a star, and in the blurring, the galaxies lighting up the universe. Each of us in particular, brilliant in our own way; brilliant also when we are caught up in a slowly spinning cosmos, powered by love and engineered in mystery.