Ave Maria

Are You My Mother? is a classic little children’s book by P.D. Eastman. A little bird falls out of his nest and goes in search of his mother. She has not abandoned him however, she has just gone off to dig up a few worms for his supper. Freshly hatched from his egg, he doesn’t know that. He can’t fly yet so, he plops down to the ground and goes for a walk. Along the way, he asks a kitten, he asks a chicken, he asks a dog, and he asks a cow: “Are you my mother?”  Finally, he encounters a “Snort” – really a backhoe of enormous size. “Are you my mother?” “Snort!” the backhoe says, and lifts the little chick up and plops him back down in his nest. Just in time for his mother’s return. “I know who you are!” the baby bird says.

Ave Maria, gratia plena,
Dominus tecum.
Benedicta tu in mulieribus,
et benedictus fructus ventris tui,
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei,
ora pro nobis peccatoribus,
nunc et in hora mortis nostrae.

Mary, Mater Dei, are you my mother too?

Pre-Vatican II, I learned Mary’s Prayer in garbled Latin at my grandmother, Mary Angelus’ knee. Born in 1891, in Mary’s Land across the water, my grandmother was named Mary Angelus as the Angelus bells tolled as she came into this world. The Angelus, the Angel Gabriel’s message to Mary, is a four-part Ave Maria traditionally prayed three times a day, as the church bell rings at morning, noon, and eventide.

Mary Angelus was the eldest of twelve children. At twenty, her mother died, and she raised her eleven siblings. A sister, she now became a mother to them. At the age of thirty-five, she married my grandfather Benjamin Cady and had her own children: my mom, another Mary, and her brother, my Uncle Joe.

Grandma Cady’s Anacostia row house was a haven during the Great Depression and WWII years. A haven especially for wayward siblings, aka children of hers. There on V Street they could always count on finding a hot meal and a bed on the couch. They always knew they could come home to the sister who had been their mom.

In her later years, Grandma Cady moved into our house, a very chaotic and sometimes scary house. With my mother Mary Lou, often unavailable, Mary Angelus became my mom too. An incredible blessing really, my grandmother is the one who first taught me about the Blessed Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God. 

Mother’s Day seems a good day to talk about Mary.

One of my favorite books is called Mary Through the Centuries by historian Jaroslav Pelikan. The table of contents tells the 2000 year-old tale of Marian spirituality. Biblically, very little is known of Miriam of Nazareth, yet her feminine presence looms large. The Annunciation is one of the most painted and sculpted biblical scenes in all of art history. Christendom, and even some traditions beyond Christendom, have bestowed upon Mary many names: 

  • Daughter of Zion
  • The Second Eve
  • The Theotokos
  • Heroine of the Qur’an
  • La Morenita
  • Handmaid of the Lord
  • Woman of Valor
  • Mother of Sorrows
  • First Christian
  • Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrows
  • Queen of Heaven
  • Eternal Feminine &
  • Woman, Clothed with the Sun.

Just how did Mary become The Feminine Face of God? (The title of another great book by theologian, Rosemary Radford Reuther.)

Monotheism, by definition, is patriarchal. The One Father God, Heavenly Father, King of the Universe – is Lord above all lords, casting aside the former glory of the gods and goddesses who went before Him. Even, the Holy Trinity presents itself as exclusively male. Though Hagia Sophia, Holy Wisdom, does wear a woman’s garments and came to be identified, not just with a genderless Holy Spirit, but with the Mother of God herself.

There is no Son without a Mother. There is no Jesus without a Mary.

Mary posed a problem for the prudish patriarchs of the early church. Sin had come into the world by a woman, sin had come into the world by Eve. So, the Second Eve was reduced to a cypher, just an empty vessel for the gestating of Jesus.

Biblically the Fathers of the Church ignored the fact, that while Joseph is nowhere to be found after the flight to Egypt, Mary stays with Jesus from alpha to omega. She is his first disciple, the very first Christ-ian.  Even though Jesus denies and disrespects his mom in the gospels, Mary understands him only as a mother can. And just as she was there at his birth, she is there also at his death, her son’s lifeless body cradled in her arms.

Jesus’ Mother. God’s Mother. Mother of the Church. And dare I say, Mother of us all. So, yes, even we Episcopalians can pray: Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee.  Mary’s prayer is a prayer for us all.

Let me end this homily with the words to Mary, a song Patty Griffin wrote for her grandmother in 1998. (You can also click here to listen.). It’s a very fitting song in this time of Covid-19. For all the Mother Mary’s nursing and sheltering their children and grandchildren. For all of the Mary’s in our lives who never left our side. And for all the Mother Mary’s to whom we have had to say goodbye.

Mary, you’re covered in roses, you’re covered in ashes
You’re covered in rain
You’re covered in babies, you’re covered in slashes
You’re covered in wilderness, you’re covered in stains

You cast aside the sheet, you cast aside the shroud
Of another man, who served the world proud
You greet another son, you lose another one
On some sunny day and always stay, Mary

Jesus says Mother, I couldn’t stay another day longer
Flies right by and leaves a kiss upon her face
While the angels are singin’ his praises in a blaze of glory

Mary stays behind and starts cleaning up the place

Mary, she moves behind me 
She leaves her fingerprints everywhere
Every time the snow drifts, every time the sand shifts
Even when the night lifts, she’s always there

Jesus said Mother, I couldn’t stay another day longer
Flies right by and leaves a kiss upon her face
While the angels are singin’ his praises in a blaze of glory
Mary stays behind and starts cleaning up the place

Mary, you’re covered in roses, you’re covered in ruin
you’re covered in secrets
You’re covered in treetops, you’re covered in birds
who can sing a million songs without any words

You cast aside the sheets, you cast aside the shroud
of another man, who served the world proud
You greet another son, you lose another one
on some sunny day and always stay
Mary, Mary, Mary

Happy Mother’s Day!

Pax vobiscum, Joani

Spirituality The Episcopal Church

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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog

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