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Mary unpacked

The girl from Galilee can’t be boxed in

By Carolyn Pogue

A Facebook friend mused about “packing away Christmas.” I suggested that maybe Mary should be left out this year, that she doesn’t always like to be boxed up with the men and the sheep. “Give her a break. Let her see what’s going on in the world these days.” God knows, maybe we could all use daily reminders of the woman who did not die when her son did, but carried on and has given people courage for 2,000 years.

In our home, three Marys keep us company all year long. One, bought from its carver in Zimbabwe, presides over the living room from the mantle. An ivory one, inherited from my mother, stays beside a figure of Qwan Yin, the Chinese goddess of compassion. They greet people in our entrance hall. Another carved from Bethlehem olive wood stands near the stereo. She likes Carolyn McDade’s music, I think.

Mary’s been on my mind this week. My husband gave me Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary for Christmas. Although Tóibín is a great writer, I didn’t like his version of Mary. She is bitter, given to hiding in shadows, filled with rage and disappointment. That’s not my Mary. Mine leans more toward Diane Schoemperlen’s Our Lady of the Lost and Found, a Mary who has a sense of irony and humour, and who drops in on a modern writer for a holiday.

Mine leans also toward Gail Sidonie Sobat’s The Book of Mary. Readers get to know this Mary through her journals, which the girl from Galilee starts writing when faced with a surprise pregnancy. This Mary, as the reviewer for the Catholic New Times states, “is not for the faint of heart.” She swears like a sailor and acts out badly at first; she matures into an intriguing woman who is lusty, compassionate and worldly wise.

Some years ago, I gave Mary voice myself. She emerged in a play, Women at the Well, which has been performed in various churches. Part of my attraction to Mary is her strength. I am a bereaved mother; like so many others, I have needed to lean on Mary. I remember a comment my husband made after visiting El Salvador and Guatemala during the terrible time of disappearances and death squads. He saw women praying in front of statues of Mary. “When I thought about how the women were suffering, and how their relationship with Mary strengthened and nurtured them, I had an inkling of her power.”

Crossing Europe seeking the Black Madonna a couple of years ago, I glimpsed that power, too. The stories consistently tell of strength, courage and hope embodied in (as a Buddhist friend refers to her) this “Great Mother”. I was quite taken with the knowledge that Lech Wałęsa, leader of the Polish Solidarity Movement, had a picture of the Black Madonna pinned over his heart during that country’s heroic, peaceful struggle for freedom.

Perhaps in this new year, more will heed Ojibwa Elder Arthur Solomon’s invitation to “pick up our medicine and help heal a troubled world.” And maybe the stories, spirit and sight of Mary and other Great Mothers, saints and goddesses will encourage our efforts.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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