Something about Mary
When I was growing up, we didn't make that big of a deal about Mary. We were Baptists and all that Mary stuff was papist, I was told. So we had our white ceramic madonnas at Christmas (I still have the one I was given by my choir director in elementary school), but that was about it. I remember visiting St Peter's in Rome after I graduated from high school and seeing Michaelangelo's pieta there (this one) and although she was not painted, there I saw Mary in a much different light. This was not a serene or placid or blank-faced madonna but a young mother dealing with the unimaginable. This mother was doing what mothers do - cradling their children - and at the same time asking "why" with her palm upraised. If a bewildered Mary asked Gabariel at the annunciation, "How can this be?" then she was asking the same of God here.
When I became an Episcopalian, I met many people who were devoted to Mary; the Anglo-Catholic parish where I served as a deacon had a large statue of her in the back of the nave and we said the Angelus (Hail, Mary....) at the end of every service. Others, primarily women, felt that Mary gave them what was missing in their (as they perceived it) all-male Bible and church tradition. Mary offered a place for women in the story to these women, most or all of whom were mothers.
I myself became drawn to Mary when I was pregnant with my first child. I, too, had a place in the story, a special place. Mary offered me a new way of seeing the story and a new way of experiencing faith that was tied up inextricably with the messiness of life. I had things to ponder in my heart, too, although I was never one to keep everything to myself.
Now I see that indeed women - many women, not only Mary the Mother of God - are all over the Bible and our tradition. They figure in so many of the stories - in some they are just there with everyone else, and in others they are key.
But many women I know were taught about the Bible from people who glossed over the women and their everyday and pivotal roles. They were taught by people who told them that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute and that Martha was the silly and inferior sister whose sphere was limited to cooking and cleaning (and that oh by the way such was their sphere, too) and that if it weren't for Eve, sin would never have entered the world. They were told that women could never be anything because it said so in the Bible - that they were inferior, sinners, hapless, unfit.
And so they found their solace in Mary, about whom no one could castigate or put down. No one could call the Queen of Heaven unfit or hapless. No one could call her silly or inferior.
All sorts of traditions have grown up about Mary, including stories about her later life, her parentage and early life, her assumption into heaven. The Bible itself is rather quiet about all of that.
But it is not quiet about this: Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women.