One of my favorite bible studies that I reengage in quite frequently asks the question: “Did Mary have a choice?” The angel Gabriel comes and tells Mary not to be afraid that he brings tiding of joy. Gabriel tells Mary that she is favoured by God and will bear a Son who will be God’s own child. Some feminist scholars criticize the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) for making Mary out to be too passive about what has been done to her. Some claim that Mary never had a choice in the matter so the Magnificat becomes another instance of female submission to a patriarchal influence. I’ve struggled with this question of Free Will versus submission especially over the past 6 years or so as I’ve formally discerned and have been subsequently ordained to the priesthood. (I am a priest… that’s just crazy.)
I wrestled with God a lot as I decided whether or not I wanted to follow this call I heard so clearly. Priesthood wasn’t the life I’d planned for myself so it took some convincing. I think this is why Mary’s nearly instantaneous conversion is so hard for me sometimes. She was a young teen planning to wed the village carpenter. If I think priesthood rocked my plans, what would Immaculate Conception do to them? As I wrestled more with my own call I’ve found comfort and companionship from other women whose plans haven’t always gone as they hoped but found the strength to follow and see for themselves the amazing journey God had waiting for them just on the other side of ordinary.
Miriam put Moses in the river and later led the Israelites in their dance of freedom. Esther married the king and played double agent to rescue her father and deliver her people. Elizabeth remained faithful through all of life’s struggles until the child in her womb elicited a mirthful laugh. But of all the women who’ve walked with me toward this priesthood it is Ruth who has held my heart most closely.
Naomi was a Jewish woman who, with her husband and two sons, moved to Moab during the famine. Naomi’s sons married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. After a time all three of the men died leaving their wives as widows. Being a widow in this time in history was a socially difficult position. Naomi told Orpah and Ruth that she was going to return to Bethlehem and that the two women were free to return to their own people. Orpah returned to her family in Moab; but Ruth refused to go. Ruth made a very difficult and isolating choice saying, “Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God.” (Ruth 1:16) Ruth’s speech to Naomi is where our Christian wedding vows get the phrase “until we are parted by death.” (Ruth 1:17) Ruth leaves behind everything she knows to follow Naomi and chooses to be united with God when an easier road was clearly offered to her.
When I was in seminary and having a difficult time a family member pressed me, “You don’t have to do this; you could quit and go back to being a child life specialist.” But my answer was always the same, “I can’t quit; I do have to do this.” It is a very difficult thing for folks to understand – yes, I have a choice but I really do have to do this – even when it is hard. The truth is: when you’ve clearly heard the call of God and know beyond the shadow of a doubt what you are supposed to do with your life it doesn’t matter if there are days that try you – you do what you have to do because following God is the deepest desire of your heart, even if following God leads you down a path that is completely apart from the path you thought you’d be on.
|“Here I Am” by Margaret Adams Parker
Two nights ago I was blown away, once again, by the generosity of my parish. For the past 3 years I have been in love with a wood cut by the artist, Peggy Parker. In a random conversation with the warden of our church I mentioned it and she remembered. As a gift for my ordination they bought me that woodcut for my office. I was in shock. As I accepted the gift I did a very lousy job in my sinus congested, Sudafed haze of explaining the significance of the work. As my internal sensor worked a bit too quickly to think of what to say through the shock and haze I told them it was an image of Ruth – when the artist’s intention is actually that it is an image of Mary at the annunciation. What I meant to say was that through the many times I meditated on the image over the past three years she has become all of the different biblical women who’ve accompanied me on this journey toward my call – most recently, she’s been Ruth.
I love this depiction of the Theotokos because her face looks afraid and overwhelmed while her hands are stretched forth –relaxed and open – willing to serve. In this depiction of Mary we see the fear that seems missing in Luke’s poetic narrative. In this depiction of Mary I can see myself. As I’ve stared at her on my office wall I can see the strength and resolve of all of the woman who came before her and all of us who have come since who strive to answer God’s call for us – and it makes sense that we should all see our reflection in the face of Mother Mary because in a way, she is mother to us all. In bearing the Son of God Mary gives birth to the creator of the world and her humanity in that miraculous act immediately unites her with every women across all time. Mary is Miriam, Esther, Ruth, Elizabeth, Shifrah, Puah, Mother Teresa, Joan of Arc, Barbara Harris, and yes, maybe even you and me. Please don’t misunderstand me – or report me to the blasphemy police – I am not claiming that anyone else, myself least of all, has done anything like bearing God’s self into the world. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t one in the same: our shared femininity and the strength born out of our faith unites all of us across time and space.
So no, I didn’t have a choice; and I wouldn’t have it any other way.