As I imagined you being released from tissue and newspaper — and from the attics and cupboards in which you've waited all year — I felt the need to write. Crafted from wood, wire, plaster, lights and papier mâché, you appear in all ways imaginable. Once again, you'll grace mantle tops, side tables or snowy church lawns. And what do you make of it, dear Mary? I hope you don't notice every way that you're exhibited.
The strangest display I ever saw was in an Edmonton mall. In a shop window sat a creche sheltering you, Joseph and wee baby Jesus. The shepherds knelt, the animals looked on as they always do, the kings stood with outstretched arms, and gifts were offered. Above this scene, right about where the choir of angels and the star should have been, was a host of red and black garter belts with marabou feathers. They were suspended on taut fishing line. Above them, as if dancing, were brassieres that would make you blush. To the side were Santas and candy canes. I can't imagine what you would make of it. I wish that it had been the last time I saw you jumbled in with weirdness and decorations.
You're anything but decoration, dear Mary. Over centuries, you have been the strength for the weary and courage for the broken hearted. I think of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo. It's interesting that you’re most often depicted with downcast eyes. Demure? Humble? Or simply exhausted and overwhelmed?
After walking all the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem and giving birth in a haystack, I would be exhausted, too, I think. Maybe artists have been trying to allow you a quiet moment of grace, so that neither of you would be overwhelmed by your story.
There is much to overwhelm, now as then. The world is no fit place for the tender-hearted, I sometimes think. Do you think that, too? Do you ever wonder about that, as you listen to prayers of mourners, miracle-seekers and petitioners longing for a kinder existence? People from every part of the world seek you. Your sisters, too.
The loveliest display I ever saw was in a shop in downtown Toronto. There, on a shelf, you stood, radiant as ever. Beside and around you stood Kali, Tara, Quan Yin, Brigit, Gaia, Sophia, Frigg and others. So beautiful that I hardly breathed.
I fancied all of you coming to life by moonlight, like the toys in The Velveteen Rabbit. I imagined you discussing humanity, so fragile, and envisioned you offering lament and stories — and maybe dance and song, too.
Mary, the world — and I — need these stories of courage, mercy and beauty more than ever. Holy Mary, woman of God, don't give up on us.
Maybe this January, some of us won’t pack you away in Christmas boxes. Maybe we'll keep you visible to strengthen us, to demand justice for murdered and missing Indigenous girls and women, and to work ever harder for refugees, the frightened, the hungry and the homeless. Perhaps we'll better remember that mothers, including Mother Earth, need our tender care. Maybe we'll take steps to end violence toward women in politics, too. We can only hope.
As always, I wish you a blessed season of hope, peace, joy and love.
This is the first in Carolyn Pogue’s “Letter to a Spiritual Ancestor” series.