Feast of the Annunciation Celebrates a Proud Mary
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
For Roman Catholics, today is marked as the Annunciation, when Mary heard that she would conceive Jesus. Orthodox Christians - like commentator Caroline Langston - celebrated it yesterday. She says she's always found comfort in the Virgin Mary.
CAROLINE LANGSTON: The Feast of the Annunciation has come again. This year, as I prepared to eat fish and drink wine and imagined a terrified young woman confronted by the Angel Gabriel, it struck me how these are strange times for those of us who look to Mary as Blessed Mother.
I'm not talking about the recent hype about television documentaries alleging to uncover the tombs of Jesus and his relatives. It is the nature of religious faith to believe in things that seem scientifically improbable, such as the notion that the Virgin Mary, through the Holy Spirit, gave birth to the Savior.
That is why it is called faith rather than knowledge. What troubles me is the attitude of dismissal that many believers hold regarding the woman we Eastern Orthodox call Theotokos, the God-bearer, or Panaghia, the all-holy.
Many fundamentalists equate any veneration of Mary with idol worship, no more than pagan superstition. But disregard for Mary is broadly seen in liberal Christian quarters as well, in which the story of Jesus' birth becomes a story about a couple of teenage kids on a road trip, baby on the way.
That's not even mentioning the portrayal of Mary in books, movies and popular culture. In the Denzel Washington police-thriller "Training Day" from a few years ago, for example, you can tell exactly when things are getting ominous in the barrio from how many Virgin of Guadalupe candles are flickering in the background.
The feminist argument has always been that the veneration of the Virgin Mary disempowers women because she represents passive submission. In agreeing that she will bear Jesus, she is, they note, a woman who is acted upon rather than one who actively, assertively takes charge of her world. And as female archetypes go, we are in an era when the image of the Greek goddess Athena -intellectual warrior bursting forth from the head of Zeus - is clearly in the ascendancy.
Maybe the lesson of the Virgin Mary is that the deepest human qualities focus not on the exercise or accumulation of power, but on the solemn acceptance of life and its vicissitudes. Traditional Christian faith may offer salvation only in Jesus, but Mary provides a model of how we can manifest that faith here on earth.
It is the Virgin Mary who gives me courage to believe that one day, despite all evidence to the contrary, that I might actually become like Christ. Sure, there are psychological reasons why I find comfort in Mary and her example. Raised in a dark and lonely house by a depressed and distant mother, I know that it's kind of obvious that I might find the image of an attentive and all-loving mother comforting. But the power of consolation is no less real.
Every morning when I kiss my icon of the mother of God, I find in that act of devotion the strength to seek compassion, not selfishness - to offer mercy, not judgment.
Millions of people in this country practice yoga to acquire inner calm or look to Buddhism or Sufism for the tools of contemplation or join 12-step programs to admit they are powerless, but they should not lose sight of the fact that an image of peace and stillness is inherent in Christianity, too, in Mary, the mother of God, pregnant with life and wonder, who teaches us to be rapt observers before the incomprehensible mysteries of existence.
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SIEGEL: Caroline Langston is a writer in Cheverly, Maryland.