I've been thinking a lot about her over the last few years.
No, my eebil habitual-ritual Episcopal church is in no way to blame here. Mary is rarely mentioned, and usually only around Christmas time. But ever since I became a mother myself, she has really become an engaging figure.
My first child was colicky. COL. ICK. EEEEEE. We didn't sleep for the first year. My second child didn't have colic, but we still didn't sleep for over a year.
And in that sleep-deprived fog, I wondered - was baby Jesus colicky? Did Mary want to just sob and run away and possibly toss Him out the window at times? There's the Away-In-A-Manger Jesus who didn't cry, but I don't buy it. Here's a being who has lived in paradise, in a state of love His entire existence; who has neither hungered, nor felt pain, nor thirst. And now He's a helpless infant who has a headache and is hungry and has gas and is wet and gets cold and just wants his mommy. (And boob. Yes, if He was anything like my two babies...)
I think baby Jesus squalled with the deepest enormity of loss possible.
She was probably 12 or 13. And yes, a 12-13 year old then is nothing like a 12-13 year old today, but still. TWELVE YEARS OOOOOOOLD.
Would you give your really important baby to a 12 year old girl in a third world country to raise?
Didn't think so.
I think God thought an awful lot of Mary. She must have been a pretty impressive person.
So as the interest grew, I started to read up on Mary and found that the Eastern Orthodox really really like her, and they have called her "Theotokos" - the God-Bearer - since at least the 4th century. Now granted, it was more a statement about Jesus' divinity than Mary's role necessarily at the time, but it's a beloved name for her for centuries. For some reason, that name really resonates for me. Plus, I love the Orthodox icon style called "Tender Mercy"; it's so very human compared to the exceptionally white overly-pious Roman Catholic depictions. They obviously love each other dearly. (Except baby Jesus usually looks kinda odd in Orthodox icons. Sorry, Orthodox friends.)
And did you know that Christians believed from very early on that Mary was resurrected and taken to heaven 3 days after her death (or maybe even instead of dying)? Even the Reformers largely found no problem with this belief. At first I rolled my eyes. And then I remembered a recent science article that I read that outlined a fascinating discovery - during gestation, cells from a baby migrate across the placenta and take up residence in the mother for the rest of her life.
Can you imagine? Mary had cells of the Divine Child, the Son of God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords hanging out in her body. Now, I'm not trying to build theology on a shred of new science, but it's not too hard to imagine those cells wouldn't stay dead any more than the rest of Him did. And why wouldn't God resurrect and bring to heaven the woman whose cooperation with the Divine Plan was so utterly important? I mean seriously, Elijah got to, and he ran from God and kinda had a big self-centered pity party for a while.
Some other traditional doctrines I have some trouble with. Like the Immaculate Conception. It seems to me to have grown out of a mistaken (IMHO) belief that Jesus couldn't have avoided the stain of sin if He had been gestated inside a sinner. And the perpetual virginity of Mary - I'm not as hung up on sex being inherently evil as a lot of ancient theologians were, so it does nothing to Mary's character in my mind to think she had a normal married life after the birth of Jesus. (In fact, I kinda hope she did. That would really stink to be married and not get to have sex.) (And, in the days before birth control, only have one baby. Babies are awesome, even if they never let you sleep.) And the whole Queen of Heaven thing? Kinda sketchy to me. Sorry, Catholic friends.
Confession time - I've started praying the rosary occasionally now too. Don't panic, so did ol' Marty Luther and a lot of the Reformers, though obviously not in its current form. I've modified how I practice it and tried to approach the older form, mostly because I'm pretty uncomfortable asking Mary to pray for me. I mean really, we've never met, and she probably has better things to be doing. I don't use the Fatima prayer, because it's a recent addition that smacks of cloying Fundy-Catholicism to me. (Yes, Catholics indeed have their Fundies.) I'm not a huge fan of the Salve Regina prayer either for similar reasons.
But despite cutting out a lot of it, meditating on the mysteries while I say the first half of the Hail Mary (or "rejoice, Mary" as some translations put it) is a joy, and it brings peace and comfort. So hey, I'm not fighting it.
No, I don't think anyone other than the Holy Spirit intercedes when I pray. But Mary isn't just the disposable wrapper Christ came in, as I've heard somebody else say recently. Being out of Fundamentalism has opened up the ability to think of a woman as someone special for once, someone to be highly honored and respected.
And that is just beautiful.