Mary, Mother of our Lord
St Andrew’s Parish of Indooroopilly
Saturday 15 August 2020
Mother of Incarnation ©Suzanne Grimmett
Excerpts from The Visit of the Virgin Mary to the Weekly Rosary Group by Pádraig O’ Tuama, transcribed in part from a talk entitled “Our Lady of Greenbelt” given at the 2011 Greenbelt Festival.
Hear the full version along with the rest of the talk delivered by Pádraig Ó Tuama at this link: https://www.greenbelt.org.uk/talks/our-lady-of-greenbelt/
When we finally realised who she was,
The small woman with the lively eyes in the corner.
We were confused.
She had been coughing the whole way through the sorrowful mysteries, from quiet coughs during the agony in the garden to a long howling hack that reached a crescendo during the crowning of thorns.
When we gave her a glass of water, we really meant perhaps you would be more comfortable outside.
Sorry, I‘ve got a cold, she said.
Had she got her cold in her weekly appearances in the long cold winters of the former Yugoslav republic?
Or standing cold with St John and St Patrick,
pointing at a baby sheep
Chilled forever in the driving walls of rain
In a wet church in County Mayo?
How did you get sick? Our Lady..…our blessed..our holy…Mary” we asked.
I’m only human, she said.
Happens to us all.
Maybe I should give up those Cuban cigars…
Only Joking, she said, noticing our shock.
Our youngest member was a child of seven who constantly mixed up the joyous mysteries and the glorious mysteries and insisted on calling her “Virgin” as if it was her first name.
“Listen Virgin” the child said
What was it like?
It was then that we noticed how lively those lively eyes really were. Now here’s a question, she said.
What was what like?
We held our breath.
Were we going to be given the insider scoop on the birth of the incarnate Lord,
Or the sword, piercing her own heart,
that famous wedding wine,
the silent death of St Joseph
or that long keening edge of pain that she bled on
while watching the torture of her beautiful son
whose eyes and ears and nose she had kissed
when he was still wet
with her own birthing fluids.
What was it like to be turned into a statue? the child said. What was it really like?
While we felt anxious with the desire to describe the difference between physicality and physical representation,
Mary held up a hand with fingers that had broken nails. Sometimes I hate it, she said.
Imagine not being able to dance, imagine being frozen for years..
The one good thing about it she said,
is that I get to see the insides of people’s houses.
I smell their cooking, I hear their sides of phone conversations.
I see the people who can’t sleep making cups of tea in the middle of the night.
That’s my favourite part- the cups of tea.
What about when Jesus said,
“Who were my mother and brothers?
Oh, I’m so glad they kept that bit in, she said.
More than the torture and the resurrection, more than Peter’s constant attempts to please him…more than anything. I remember when he was born, she said, not really feeling like he was mine. It was all so confusing.
Surely this was a big confusing dream.
And then the first time he said to me,
Who are my mother and brothers? I began to begin to understand.
He was always mine and he was never mine, I didn’t own him even though he had my eyes.
I wasn’t allowed to call him just mine- it was the best thing and the worst thing combined.
Whenever I thought I owned him, he’d find a way to stretch my womb a little bigger.
One more thing before I go, she said, pausing at the door. Yes, we answered.
And in between that moment of saying yes and the heartbeat of expectancy she was gone.
We didn’t see her go.
She just wasn’t there…The star of the sea
O star of the deep
O portal of the sky
O Mother of the Word Incarnate
Mother of Incarnation. Pádraig Ó’ Tuama
I wonder how it changes our thinking to view Mary as not just the mother of Jesus the Messiah, but as Mother of God and Mother of Incarnation. I wonder if it would change our view of Mary as not completing something- succeeding in giving birth to the Christ child yes- but heralding the beginning of the much bigger something which is the ongoing incarnation of God in the world?
In this light, incarnation is not a once off event but an unfolding reality mirroring our material, expanding universe. Mary’s womb was the hidden space which first sustained the body of God that would grow and be given birth on this earth and over and again down the pages of history. Ours is an incarnational faith: meaning that through our lives surrendered to God, the Word again puts on flesh.
The incarnation is about being a bearer of God in the world. I love the title, Mary the Mother of God, because it reminds us of the deep vulnerability of a God who would be present in a small helpless infant. That Mary would have wiped God’s bottom, cleaned up God’s vomit. This was the submission of God, but it could only begin with the wondering “yes” of Mary who held the Christ child to her breast, but also had to let him go and watch him pour himself out for love of the world.
That a child can be the incarnate word of God means that this human body, this enfleshed experience we share, is graced and redeemed by the living presence of God in us and with us. This, I think, reveals the power of nativity scenes to speak to us. St Francis was the one who first introduced the tradition, because it brought into focus for him the way he saw the presence of God in all life on the earth- in every creature and in all the many and varied faces of humanity. This is why I think there is still a place for constructing nativity scenes that reflect our own culture and tribal group because it helps us to realise that Christ did not just come to some far off foreign land in a far distant time, but that even within ourselves and our own local community can be found the light that no darkness can extinguish.
In the cloisters of Iona Abbey, Scotland, there sits a sculpture called originally “Our Lady of Delight:”, but renamed rather more conservatively, “The Descent of the Spirit”. The sculptor created an abstract divine feminine form on which the Spirit descends like a dove as it opens to give birth. It points to the story of Mary, conceiving Jesus by the Spirit, but also is telling the creative and sacred story of the universe where ‘everything is conceived by the Spirit in the womb of the cosmos’. This particular sculpture was 1 intended for the National Cathedral in Washington DC, but the leaders found its representation of the divine feminine too confronting, and commissioned instead another artist to create a statue of George Washington riding a horse. I will just leave you with that to notice the ideologies driving decisions there!
Perhaps recognising the feminine in the Divine is confronting for some, but it has the virtue of being utterly orthodox, given that God is not confined by one gender or personhood but is a trinity of relationship and unity. Mary is not God to be worshipped, but is the icon of the incarnation, revealing to us the truth that we too can be God-bearers.
As we celebrate this Feast of Mary, the Mother of God, may we recover the prophetic, feminine word of God which reminds us that everything that is born is sacred, and the whole earth is alight with the glory of God. May we find holy moments in quiet rainy nights in the kitchen, in soothing cups of tea when we can’t sleep and in the kindness of friends who remind us we are never alone when we feel lost or afraid. And may our lives bear witness to the hospitable yes of Mary, so that God may be born again and again as we, through our lives and in our bodies, make a place for love.
John Philip Newell, The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings, (Skylight 1 Paths Publishing, Vermont: 2015) p.3