Monday, May 17, 2004

Marvelous as a Morning in May

May is Mary's month and what better way to celebrate it than getting a better understanding of Our Blessed Mother? This excerpt from chapter 6 of "Adventures in Orthodoxy" discusses the common idea of "virgin" versus the real meaning as applied to "Virgin Mary." As a bonus, this explains something I always wondered: why didn't Mary and Jesus (and possibly Joseph) stand out as unusual? The comments in brackets are my own for clarification of points the author discussed earlier in the chapter.
"... born of the Virgin Mary"

...Mary, the mother of Jesus, is an icon of beauty and purity because she is a virgin. But I'm aware that this term, too, [like the term "purity"] has been misunderstood and maligned. We think of a virgin simply as a person who hasn't had sexual intercourse. This is the shallowest of definitions. Defining a "virgin" as someone who hasn't had sexual intercourse is like defining a person from Idaho as "a person who has never been to Paris." It may be true that most Idahoans haven't been to Paris, but to define an untraveled Idahoan by that simple negative definition is too small. Even the most stay-at-home fellow from Idaho is bigger than a negative definition.

What were the early Christians thinking when they honored the Virgin Mary? Was it simply their form of goddess worship? [as some nonbelievers would say] If so, why the emphasis on virginity? When you look at what they believed about Mary, it turns out that they were honoring her for far more than the biological fact that a maiden remained intact. For them the Virgin wasn't just an untouched woman. Her physical virginity was a sign of something far more. It was an indication of her whole character. In her they sensed a kind of virginity that was a positive and powerful virtue. Mary represented all that was natural, abundant, positive, and free. Mary was a virgin in the same way that we call a forest "virgin": she was fresh and natural, majestic and mysterious. Mary's virginity wasn't simply the natural beauty and innocence of a teenage girl. It held the primeval purity of Eden and the awesome innocence of Eve...

You might imagine that such total innocence and goodness would make Mary a sort of Galilean wonderwoman. It's true that her innocence was extraordinary, but it was also very ordinary. That is to say that while it was momentous, it didn't seem remarkable at the same time. There is a curious twist to real goodness. It's summed up by the observation that what is natural isn't unusual. If a person is really good, he is humble; and if he is humble, he is simply who he should be. There is nothing bizarre or egotistical or eccentric about him. There is therefore nothing about him that calls attention to him. Truly good people blend in. They are at home with themselves, and no one is out of place when they are at home. In the same way, Mary wasn't noticed in Nazareth. Because she was natural, she didn't stand out. Mary fit in because she was simply and wholly who she was created to be. Because she was perfectly natural, she was perfectly ordinary. Therefore, she was both as marvelous and as unremarkable as a morning in May.

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