I used to feel an inner struggle whenever I'd hum or sing the famous Beatles' song "Let It Be." I loved the tune, and I really liked the general message of the song . . . except for that darn, pesky line about "mother Mary" coming and urging the songwriter (Paul McCartney) to simply "let it be." The idea of Mary showing up to give the Beatles advice seemed like just one more wrong, off-the-rocker example of Marian mythology in our culture. As an evangelical, I always felt it was my duty to shrug off and fastidiously avoid anything mystical, magical, mythical, or even remotely special regarding Mary.
So it was a great relief the other day when my husband (a Beatles scholar/fanatic) informed me that Paul wasn't talking about Mary the mother of Jesus—he was writing about a dream he had of his own mother (named Mary). She'd died of cancer when Paul was a teenager; as the song describes, Paul dreamed of his mother coming to him and speaking words of peace.
Phew. Now I can sing that song (one of my favorites) in good conscience!
Many of us Protestants experience a similar discomfort with all things Marian. This subtle aversion to Mary (except, of course, in December) seems to be bred into us. Though our beliefs affirm how blessed she was to be chosen by God, in our practice we hardly mention her for 11 months of the year.
To a certain degree, there's good reason for this impulse. Within some segments of Catholicism, Marian devotion appears heretical and even borders on the bizarre. There are the countless claims of Marian apparitions—some even believe in and make pilgrimages to see her image on water-stained drywall, a pancake, or a potato chip (no joke!). Other Catholics put such a heavy focus on their devotion to Mary, the "Queen of Heaven," that Jesus seems to take a far distant second place. (It should be noted that these degrees of obsession with Mary fall well outside the bounds of official Catholic teaching.)
Yet in our efforts to differentiate ourselves from these unbiblical approaches to Mary, we've swung the pendulum too far the other direction. Lest people think we worship Mary, we hardly talk about her. We study, read about, and discuss biblical heroes like Hannah, Esther, Ruth, or Mary (of "Mary and Martha" fame), but rarely give our attention to the one woman, out of all the women on the planet throughout all of human history, whom God chose to bear and raise his son, Jesus.
If any woman in Scripture deserves our attention, she does!
Thankfully, one time a year (at Christmas), we do draw our attention to Mary. In our hearts, we journey with her to Bethlehem. We wait by the manger. We, too, ponder the miracle and treasure it in our hearts.
This Advent I find myself floored by Mary's example—inspired, convicted, compelled ever closer to God. I plan to hold Mary's story close to my heart . . . the other 11 months of the year!
How do you think of Mary? How does her story inspire or convict you? What role does she play as a hero of faith in your life?