and the virgin’s name was mary

Today is the twenty-fifth of March, and it is cloudy and rainy and cold, and it is a day I didn’t know was a holy day until this year, but I am welcoming it with open arms.

The twenty-fifth of March: my to-do list is stretching out and forward, full of readings and poetry workshop letters and job applications, marching towards the end of a junior year of college that feels already distant. Today, I read the first act of Macbeth and Marie Howe’s What the Living Do and finally, finally organized the props tables for my theater’s upcoming show, an original play called Like that opens next weekend. And it is nine months before Christmas.

Maybe you’ve put together what that means, and maybe not. Friends, today is the Feast of the Annunciation.

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I don’t have much to say about this year, other than I meant to write more and didn’t, because I am still trying to learn what and how much to say about the thoughts, hopes, fears that exist in my mind. But one thing that has been true of this year: never, never before in my life has my heart ached more for women, women who feel lied to and undervalued by the church, women who don’t know the church, women who don’t trust the church. Never have I felt more aware of my own womanhood, as I pour over pages of Marie Howe’s poetry and walk carefully through Chicago and avoid thinking about the news because it hurts too much and stitch prayers into fabric. Never have I needed Mary more.

My roommate Alyssa also loves Mary (we all should, really) and we talk about her a lot, sitting across from each other, beneath the quilts in our lamplit twin beds. We talk about her willingness, the way she said YES so quickly to God and the ways we long to do the same. We talk about her bravery, and her exile–just think, really, what she was doing in accepting the Spirit inside of her, becoming an unmarried woman-with-child, when she was really just a girl to begin with. When Alyssa was young, Mary was her favorite in the book of children’s Bible stories (mine was Rahab, we both tended to pick girls only), and she’d repeat her words to God out loud over and over: be it unto me according to thy word.

Isn’t this what we all want to say to God?

But lately, I’ve also been thinking about Mary in a different way, because as I have wrestled with the juxtaposition of being-woman-and-being-Christian, something that seems so hard to me at times (please talk to me, sisters, if you feel this weight too!!), God’s visitation and inhabitation of Mary has seemed an especial gift to me, proof to me of woman’s unique validity and necessity to kingdom work. God trusted a woman to help God enter the world! That feels crazy, radical, wondrous, at times almost unbelievable to me. I feel it too, this wonder, when I read about the other Marys of Scripture–Mary of Bethany, Mary Magdalene, even Miriam, Moses’ sister, the prophetess. I see her leading the Israelites in song, and I see Mary of Bethany, blushing at Jesus’ commendation of her choosing the better part. I see the Magdalene kneeling at the empty tomb and turning around to see Jesus, to see him who hung on the cross standing and alive. And I see Mary, teenage-Israeli Mother of God, feeling her swollen belly with tears in the corners of her eyes and I know, deep within me, just how much God loves, cherishes, and values his daughters.

In a world where women still sometimes don’t seem to fit safely, in a world of pay gaps and gender violence and objectification and underrepresentation, in a world with churches that try, so lovingly to cling to Scripture and still find themselves silencing voices, with the hymns and prayers peppered with gendered language, we need Mary more than ever. We need the beginning of the most beautiful story in the world. We need the angel saying, “Hail, thou who art highly favored! The LORD is with thee!,” the Most High trusting a girl to bear God within herself, to carry and raise the world’s salvation.

I wish I knew more about the Annunciation, had better words to tell you just how much it means to me without fear of doctrinal errors, but I am no theologian. Just a twenty-year-old almost-woman, with a poet’s heart endlessly fascinated by women in Scripture and how God uses them to bless the world. I am also a toddling little Anglican, reaching with toddler-hands towards the liturgical calendar, the icons, the sacraments, the bread-and-wine tradition I never knew I longed for until I found it. And with that came a curiosity about Mary, Jesus’ mother Mary, the girl-who-said-yes Mary, and a need to recognize today, March 25th, for what it is and what it means. So, I am going to borrow some words instead, and share with you some links on this day of the Annunciation. Let’s keep remembering Mary, especially today on this brightest spot in Lent:

A beloved Wheaton professor’s Advent chapel in 2015

Marie Howe’s exquisite poem, “Annunciation” 

An article by a Wheaton alum, a good bit of Marian encouragement 

And lastly, here are some words of my own. They are borne out of a fascination with the women of Scripture, an assignment to write a concessional poem and a most beautiful icon that my church gave out during their series on gender and theology. I think they are also borne out of hope.

Mary Comforts Eve | By Carolyn Waldee 

We’re quite good at this, you know—

we women, birthing change

like children

 

and I know how it feels

to be encircled

or enraptured

 

by something more

than human, a Spirit

or a serpent;

 

it becomes difficult

to say no—

I should know.

 

We women—we want

answers, to understand

how this new-breathed world

 

will treat us, and He

didn’t tell me much,

either—it is so hard

 

to trust a promise,

and I had history

as collateral.

 

You had nothing, really,

no example but the lies

twisted round your ankles.

 

I would have tasted

temptation, too.

We are so alike—

 

we women, we mothers.

Let me be your second chance.

You will bear the seeds,

 

birthing all the living

cast outside garden gates.

I will bear the Gardener.

 

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