Probably nothing is as controversial as the role and status of Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus, in the church. I will not even attempt it. Maybe we can read a book about it together next year and then I will have more to say.
But I will say that Bloom’s meditation on the image of the Virgin Mary has been formative in my life.
From childhood my deepest desire was to be a mom and have a family of my own. Even as I began medical school this was true. I was pursing my career because I felt called to it, but really, my heart was to be a mother and all the joy and struggle that I imagined it would entail.
When God brought Michael into my life and we were married I was delighted, finally, a family of my own. I was only in my second year of medical school, and though I didn’t love the idea of putting off having children, we decided it was best. After about a year and a half and witnessing the 60th wedding anniversary of Michael’s grandparents we decided it was time, at least, to be open to the possibility of children.
We had no idea how we would survive it if we did have a child, me finishing medical school still with residency ahead, Michael starting a new ministry. So when we didn’t get pregnant right away it was on one hand a relief, but on the other it planted a seed of fear inside of me, the fear that is so common among women, the fear of being childless.
I finished medical school and started residency and our longing for a child continued to grow. It became a place of deep sorrow and fear and for those who are in this place now I know it is terribly hard and my heart aches for you.
After about three years God did give us a child. I went through my pregnancy alternating between terror and joy which is probably not all that uncommon. And one day she was born. I had not allowed myself the pleasure of imaging I would ever actually hold a child of my own. When they handed her to me, pink and already smiling with darling little dimples I was elated.
I loved my daughter with a deep and jealous love. I knew I would be returning to work soon and so every moment with her felt even more precious and fleeting. Friends would ask if they could hold her and I’d give them a look, “okay fine but just for a second.” She was mine, all mine, I cherished her.
In my longing and loving over my daughter God gave me a gentle nudge. “She isn’t actually yours, nothing is really yours. She is a gift and she is for the whole world, not just for you. See how faces light up when they see her, see how she brings such joy. She isn’t all for you.”
I was reminded that life is a gift. I knew plenty of children who didn’t have their mothers and even more mothers who had lost their children. Life was fragile and no matter how much I loved my daughter I was never going to be enough for her. I couldn’t really project her from anything. If God, who gave us life, decided to take it away again there was nothing I could do. I began to think about how to love my daughter well and in a way that would prepare her for the world she would face. I began thinking of Mary.
if you look attentively at the ikon you will see that the Mother of God holding the Child never looks at the Child. She always looks neither at you nor into the distance but her open eyes look deep insider her. She is in contemplation. She is not looking at things. And her tenderness is expressed by the shyness of her hands. She holds the Child without hugging Him. She holds the Child as one would hold something sacred that one is bringing as an offering. . .
I pray for the courage to hold my daughter in such a way. To squeeze her and love her yes of course. But to love her in a way that chooses God over her, that chooses God’s will for her over my desires for her.
For Mary to love her son it meant that she must love the world that He came to save. She must be willing to hold Him with an open hand, not cling to him jealously but let Him become who he must become, a sacrifice and The Savior of the world.
My daughter is doing well and just turned three. To be honest honest my heart aches to have another child. But my prayer is that I will have the faith in every circumstance to say along with Mary “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said“(Luke 1: 38).