Thursday, August 22, 2013

There is a four letter word that we should be saying more often . At least more often than all those other horrible four letter words that seem to be said everywhere. I like the four letter word Mary. She is becoming so popular these days that she has a new Broadway show about her now. It is called The Testament of Mary and the show is based on a short novel by Irish writer Colin Tóibín. The book was published on November 13, 2012 by Scribner's. This story is about Mary late in life.

What do we know about Mary anyway? We have learned her famous prayer and we recite it from time to time but why? Images of Mary have been plentiful for most of history. The prayer is: Hail Mary full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the……” Well you have heard it. She is best known for her pain at the loss of her son Jesus Christ. No parent wants to outlive their children. It is too painful a memory of their innocent lives that we were trusted with molding and trusted to keep them safe and healthy and alive.

Mary is someone in the Bible that is human. We can relate to her. On the Lower East Side of New York City there is a Church called Saint Mary’s where you can see many pictures and statues of Mary depicted throughout the ages. 20% of all Roman Catholic places of worship in America, nearly 4,000 are named Saint Mary’s parish. People admire Mary’s life; the little we even know about it.

We only know the little bit about Mary that was written in the Gospels in The New Testament of the Bible written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. She was called Mary or Miriam or Maryam in the writings. She was from the little town of Nazareth maybe a population at the time of 400 people in the first Century. Mary was Jewish and would have spoken Aramaic.

At the age of twelve, girls were considered to be mature. So when she was given to Joseph she would have been a teenager. Professor Dedra Good, a New Testament scholar at the Episcopal General Theological Seminary in NYC says that Mary represents in Christian tradition the meeting of God with humanity. We learn from The New Testament that the angel Gabriel visits her and announces that she will bare a child and this child is from God and Mary says, how is this possible because I don ‘t know a man?

That is translated into that she is a virgin. The Gospels tell the Christmas story of how Mary gave birth to Jesus. During his adult life she is seldom mentioned. Only one of the Gospels places Mary at the crucifixion standing along side the apostle John the Baptist. John was told by Jesus while dying on the cross to look after his Mother. So, John takes Mary to a town called Ephesus which is on the far end of Turkey along the Mediterranean Sea. Today pilgrims visit the house where she might have spent her final days.

At the end of the third century we start to see Mary depicted in artwork. At Vanderbilt University there are courses you can take on Christian Art where they explore the Adoration of Mary through art. Early Christian art literally existed underground in the Catacombs on walls and drawn on coffins. Mary is not depicted as important in herself until the beginning of the fifth Century. Then she appears enthroned with angles surrounding her with the baby Jesus sitting on her lap. That is when she becomes important.

By the Middle Ages and the Renaissance Period her paintings often have a halo around her head wearing a blue veil over her hair and a red dress. A blue cloak around her shoulders is the sign of divinity. Rarely is Mary ever shown as anything but young. Although her anguish is nowhere written in the Gospel, by the year 1400 she can be seen fainting and in anguish over his suffering and death.

An Irish actress Fiona Shaw plays Mary late in life on Broadway and is angry, tortured by doubt as she remembers his death. Colon Torbin wrote The Testament of Mary and it is an alternative Mary story and is not the only take on it. In early Jewish texts, Mary was a girl who dated a lot and the virgin birth is untrue. Mary also appears in the Koran for Muslims and is honored above all other women. Who was she really? Who knows. If an image or a thought of her is some kind of role model for you than she has served some kind of good purpose in your life. We need good four letter words like Mary.


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