When I was a teen, I saved a magazine article about the Virgin Mary. I’ve long forgotten that author’s conclusions, but I kept it mostly for the artwork: a full-page grid of renderings of Mary.
The faith tradition I hold to honors Mary as “blessed among women,” chosen to bear the Son of God–to bring Him up, to be amazed and sometimes baffled by Him, to suffer her own anguish at His death–but does not elevate her above this notable position. It’s not my intent in writing this to give offense to those who see Mary differently than I do. In fact, it’s possible that the article first introduced me to the complexity of perspectives on Mary.
In much of that article’s accompanying collage, Mary is wrapped in, draped with, or surrounded by blue. I did a bit of reading to discover why that is, and while there are many interesting thoughts on it, the simplest appeals to me most: for Renaissance painters, blue symbolized purity.
How deeply this is embedded, even now, when we more often color sadness blue.
Call me Mara . . .
Yesterday marked six years since my Gramma Janet passed away.
We had a small amount of advance warning. My sisters planned a visit in October that year, but I was working out a notice and I couldn’t join them. That would have been my last chance to see her, and I missed it. A bitter pill, that.
It’s funny which tiny details I remember from that time–like sending out Christmas cards on the 14th, and therefore knowing that hers could not have arrived on time for her to see it.
Moments, events, and conversations seemed to converge in odd ways, so that I experienced my life as a series of symbols and signs in the last months of 2010. Most of them were so small and intimate that I could never explain to anyone what they meant. I just felt them, deeply, continually. They became like that grid of artwork in a way–varied but themed, each independent, but also part of a larger whole.
That year, our church offered a Bible study comparing the story of Ruth and Naomi to that of Christ’s birth. I have forgotten much more than I remember from that study, but the parallel between Naomi and the Virgin Mary became personal for me.
She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” -Ruth 1:20
Blue like Mary
The name Mara is a form of Mary, and both mean bitter. Reading through the New Testament gospel accounts, it’s striking just how many Marys Jesus knew during His ministry. It’s my speculation to wonder if all of them had been given the name Mary, or if some of them chose it when they learned that following Christ is indeed sometimes a temporarily bitter endeavor.
Of course, Marie is another variation, and it’s the middle name that Gramma Janet and I shared.
I treasured this connection. If I may borrow the phrase, I pondered it in my heart. It felt like a wordless nod, or maybe a hand-squeeze only partway through a long walk home. The message, as I understood it, was that Christmas would be a little bitter, and tinged with blue.
This year, my husband and I are in the midst of a simple Christmas. I’m quite enjoying it. We haven’t put up our tree and might not, thanks to this bad girl.
I find I can’t whip up a state of merriment like a batch of Christmas cookies anymore, and maybe that’s okay. Maybe “Christmas spirit” shouldn’t be found among the cookie-cutters.
Likewise, I enjoy exchanging gifts, but I don’t mind that isn’t a priority this year. After all, there’s no present like His presence.
Maybe a tinge of Christmas blues is a just-right reminder that no amount of seasonal tradition can satisfy the need for Jesus. First for eternal salvation, of course, but also for His presence as we make our way home. The comfort. The assurance. The nod, the hand squeeze, and the blue-like-Mary heart to recognize them.