(Sings Marty Haugen’s ‘Magnificat’)
This is my song. This is my voice.
I am Mary. The mother of Jesus, the mother of God. A mother figure to many who were – and are – overwhelmed by a threefold all-male God.
From early on, I was venerated by the church, put on a pedestal. I was declared an eternal virgin, immaculate. And because I am a woman, a descendant of that original sinner, Eve, I guess I had to be conceived immaculately by my own mother as well to be worthy of adoration and veneration. And because of my o so special status, of course I couldn’t be a mere mortal – and so the story became popular that I was taken up to heaven without having to go through death. I guess there are some ‘perks’ when you are the mother of God…
So many legends were constructed around me – little me, Mary, a simple young woman from a simple family in the Galilean backwater of Nazareth. O, my family claimed that we were descendant from the ancient King David, God’s chosen, this idealized heroic figure who made Israel great – but 1,000 years had left the house of David in ruins and desolate. What did the Romans care about the house of David? What did Herod care about the house of David?
And even though some among my people still had this stubborn and defiant hope against all hope that God once more would raise a king like David from the house of David, there were also those who had given up on this promise, this dream. Not even the remnant of Israel really cared about the house of David anymore.
Nobody cared about me, just another young woman, destined to be just another insignificant housewife and mother, married to an insignificant carpenter, far away from any centers of political or economic or religious power. I was a powerless young woman from a powerless region. When I was a child, the Romans showed us in and around Nazareth who is boss – they came down on us in all their brutality, they did not only burn our fields, they also salted them, just to make sure we wouldn’t be able to plant and harvest for a while.
But then the miracle happened: God chose me to help fulfill God’s promise of redeeming the house of Israel. Me, a lowly handmaid. God didn’t need extra holiness, God didn’t need someone conceived immaculately, God didn’t need someone extraordinary to carry and give birth to God’s son. God chose the lowly, the insignificant, the ordinary, to make a point: for God, all things are possible. God’s power doesn’t manifest itself in what is considered power among human beings. God’s power is subtle and profound and is often found in the small and ordinary moments and actions of our life.
I don’t know why men of the church had to gild the lily and make me into this super human, super saint, exalted above all other saints. I don’t think this was God’s point.
But who ever listens to me?
Yes, they have put me on a pedestal, they made me holier than I am, but they also tried to keep me quiet. Have you ever looked at the graven images they made of me? Have you looked at paintings or sculptures?
There I am the Madonna, meek and mild, holding her child, eyes cast down, gazing tenderly upon the Godchild, maybe a sad little smile on the lips. My lips, however, are sealed. What could this woman have to say now that she has fulfilled her purpose?
Even in images of the annunciation, you know, the time when the Angel Gabriel comes to me and tells me that I would be the bearer of God’s child, I am just sitting there, mute, arms chastely crossed in front of my chest, eyes cast down, listening to what I am being told. Artists seem to forget that I had a say in the whole thing, that I opened my mouth. Why does the angel get to talk, and why do I have to keep my mouth shut?
Ah, and don’t get me started about all those images of me holding the dead body of my son, those pieces of art that are known as the ‘Pieta’. Instead of an infant, the artists now put the form of a grown man into my arms – my posture is pretty much the same as with the Christ child. I am resigned to my fate, I don’t say a mumbling word, my lips are closed. Really?
Like any mother who loses her child, I was out of my mind! I was crying, I was wailing, I was screaming to the heavens, why, why, why?
I have a voice! The voice of every mother on this planet, the voice of one who knows what it means to be ignored, oppressed, abused and extorted.
I have a song, a defiant song, a song that praises God and protests injustice; a song about God taking sides, the side of the underdog; a song that has been sung for centuries in one of the daily prayers in the Catholic tradition, the evening vesper, albeit mostly in Latin, so that the regular Jane or Joe doesn’t even understand what the words – my words – mean. But was my song ever taken to heart?
And even that song was silenced, even that voice was taken from me when reformers like Martin Luther thought that my position within the church is too powerful. Why is there no hymn, no carol, using my words, my voice? Why, during this season, don’t you hear my voice when you turn on the radio that play holiday music all the time, but rather ‘Mary, did you know?’- once again the voice of someone talking to me, and, to be honest, talking to me in a way that I think is condescending? Of course I knew!
I have a voice. I have a song. I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, and I still can’t. I still need to speak up for all those who are lowly, who are treated like dirt, who are treated like animals, who are ripped apart from their families, who are put in cages, who are assaulted, and silenced. Those who suffer from warfare, natural disasters, conflict and hunger and who have nowhere to go – or are rejected once they reach a land where there is safety.
This is my voice. This is my song.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
God came into this world, God became flesh, God became human to turn the world around. God signaled through my lowliness and the human lowliness of his own existence that we will not be saved by knowledge or progress or money or violent power, but through a God who dies on the cross. My son, the Christ, teaches us humility before God and with each other, love, mercy forgiveness; he teaches us to see and acknowledge our neighbor as a child of God. This is the power we are given. This is the power that already changes the world, often in ordinary and seemingly insignificant circumstances. This is the power that affirms life. This is the power that will prevail in the end.
This is my song, and it still needs to be heard after so many years.
So thank you for listening to my song – and to my voice.