Lauren Walsh Gallery, Etsy

“I thank Thee God, that Thou hast made me a man and not a woman.” 

So prayed every faithful Jewish man in Israel first thing in the morning, every single day, at the time of Jesus’ birth. Even the most pure-hearted of men, like our beloved Saint Joseph, would have recited these words with the rising of the sun; and so, its only fair to say it's not an indictment against moral character but a product of the time and place they were in.* And yet, there the words are: suspended as the backdrop for every single Bible story we know so well. Potent. Formative. Far from neutral.

Lately, due to circumstances in my personal life, the severity of Mary’s situation has become more obvious to me. Not just in being found with child before marriage, although that alone was cause for capital punishment. But after a good man spared her life—once word got out that she was claiming her baby was the Son of God. Once she refused to denounce the message she had been given, the part of God’s Self that had been revealed to her. What then? Herod sought to end the life of the one-day king, but how many others wanted to snuff out the light of his mother?

How despised Mary must have been by men, especially the religious! She thinks she knows God in a way we don’t? She thinks God could dwell inside her? She thinks God drinks from her breasts?! I cannot fathom a historical reality in which her life would not have been threatened.

The punishment for a woman caught in adultery was public stoning, but what for a woman who claimed to have conceived by the Holy Spirit? At best, she must have been the subject of misogynistic ridicule. At worst, you can’t tell me there weren’t men ready to see her dead.

Shut the woman up. She’s trying to tell the people something about God without our permission. Throw the stones and watch her bleed.

Perhaps this is why men have been so weird about Mary for over 2,000 years, arguing about whether her hymen had torn and composing hymns called “Gentle Woman,” when for all we know she was the fiercest female in all of Galilee.

Why does no one talk about how dangerous Mary was? How endangered she must have been? Mary was too threatening, too powerful. Men couldn’t kill her, so they painted her black eyes blue, muzzled her, and put her on display in European art museums. But she would not be silenced.

She arose in Perpetua.
She arose in Catherine of Siena.
She arose in Clare.
She arose in Hildegard of Bingen.
She arose in Sarah Winnemucca.
She arose in Harriet Tubman.
She arose in Dorothy Day.
She arose in Rosa Parks.
She arose in Madeleine L’Engle.
She arose in Frida.
She arises, she arises, and still, she arises.

And by the grace of God, woman, may she arise in you and in me.

* (The words continue to be recited as part of the morning blessing by Orthodox Jews to this day, but I leave the contemporary wrestling with it to my Jewish brothers and sisters. My stream of faith has enough problems of its own without judging the predicaments of others.)

Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)