Mary's Courage

By Dennis Teal-Fleming

It always fascinates me how much my church actually misses about Mary, the Mother of Jesus, in most of its traditional devotion to her. I always dwell on this when the Feast of the Visitation comes up, as it did last week (May 31), because it's the beginning of a narrative that's been hijacked by powerful and well-behaved interpretive gatekeepers. You can only find this story of Mary's visit to her cousin, Elizabeth, in Luke's Gospel, which makes it suspect as an actual, "factual" event (read Luke's text here if you're interested). But, whatever the facts, the Truth of the story is pretty powerful, despite the way the story's been tamed by our institution of it.

Visitation follows Annunciation, also told only in Luke- the angel Gabriel's announcing to Mary that she will bear a son, the Messiah, and Mary courageously accepting this mission (Annunciation is celebrated March 25--go figure, 9 months before Jesus' birthday!). Something very profound becomes very clear with both of these feasts--Mary's Courage, in taking on a vocation from God that could have likely gotten her killed (having a child before/outside of sanctioned marriage); her courage in taking off, alone, as it's told in Luke, on a journey to see Elizabeth, who is also pregnant (though "legit", by her husband Zechariah), soon to give birth to John the Baptist (whose birthday's then celebrated less than a month later (June 24)).

So an unwed, pregnant teenager travels on her own to see her cousin. The courage, the strength that must have been great comfort to hear Elizabeth's praise of her (Gabe & Liz's proclamations make up the first part of the Hail Mary, in all its Eastern and Western variations). The story concludes potently, with Mary's Magnificat, calling on the God that she met through Gabriel, the One who knocks the powerful off their thrones, and lifts up the powerless; the One who dismisses the rich, and fills the bellies of the hungry.

Not the Mary I experience in much of the traditional church around here! Yeah, we tend to dress her up all nice and polite, much like we do with this crazy God we believe in, too. As I usually find in my work, the Truth constantly needs to be resurrected, recognized, again, for the first time....and the God who hides in the midst of all of this needs help to really be uncovered, revealed, to all who will only have the courage to look.

And so we call you, Mary, full of Grace, and Courage....

  • to help us speak, and live, of and by the Truth as we have encountered it, and not some bowlderzied version of it to appease the comfortable and powerful
  • to help us speak, and live, of and by this God that we have encountered, that is not happy with the way things are....that is ready to turn everything upside down....that is waiting for us to play the part He needs us to play, just as you did
  • If we, too, are only ready to have that Courage....

    ....pray for us, sinners, Holy Mother. After living the life that you did for Her, I know that God will hear you!

    Asheville Monastery- a Monastery In Place.... wilderness monasticism in the heart of the city