Hauerwas writes that “when Christians lose the significance of Mary in the economy of salvation we also risk losing our relation with the people of Israel” (Matthew).  It’s interesting to think of Mary, the theotokos, as Christianity’s relationship to Israel.  Even more interesting, as Hauerwas intimates, that Mary might be a better place to go when attempting to establish a link between the church and Israel.  Interesting, that is, for someone reared in a tradition where the entire notion of Mary is suspect.

When we forget Mary, we lose not only the full force of the Magnificat, but the entire idea that deification, far from some abstract theological concept, is grounded in bare life.  Even more so, the very logic of deification is rooted in a context of oppression, poverty and humiliation of a people under the heel of empire.  Every advent season I’m struck by just how humdrum the story of Mary really is: another single teenage girl gives birth to a child in abject poverty.  So what?  Yet there’s something about this mother’s prayer of liberation and her entire being: “may it be to me according to the word of thee.”  And of course there’s something about this infant who raises the ire of another would be king.  In some way perhaps, I think the story of Mary shows us the connection between liberation and deification; materialism and transcendence.

One of my favorite Catholic Churches is The Grotto.  Immediately upon entering you’re overwhelm by the fresco above the alter.  Mary stands larger than life gazing adoringly to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

When I was younger, this representing everything that was wrong with Catholicism – the worship and elevation of Mary.  But now I see something else happening.  The Marian element of the Church as invited to the divine banquet, much like Rublev’s icon.

Why is this attention to Mary important?  Billy Daniel at Novare Aeternum captured perfectly the notion of what happens when contemporary theological strands (including Barthian) forget the Marian element and slip into a modern day version of Nestorianism :

“Nestorius’ denial that Mary is the Theotokos – “the God bearer,” was the denial that God would actually “touch” humanity.  Mary could give birth to Jesus but not to the Second Person of the Trinity.  There is, then, no actual union of the divine and human natures.  They remain wholly other to one another.  The body is Jesus’ body but it is not united to the Son.  This is not a pure Gnosticism, since God could have no engagement with the material world, but it is gnostic in its denial that the immaterial God and the material creation can and do come into contact with each other, the divine nature always preceding in the contact.  And if Mary is not the Theotokos then the encounter is unilateral; there can be no participation in Being, only divine events of being of which humans are mere spectators.”

Christmas. Liberation. Deification. Attending to Mary can help to restore these oft neglected elements of the advent season.

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