Posted by: HAT | November 19, 2009

Ave Maria

A Marian image by Delacroix

La Dévotion Marianne

Just in time for Advent, realized yesterday that Mary was a radical revolutionary type.

This is not exactly how we were taught to think of Mary, and it goes against the meek mild self-effacing Mary of approximately 2000 years of western visual and devotional culture, particularly the last 200 or so years of holy card kitsch. But there is an in-your-face redistributive justice revolutionary ecstatic Mary in the text for the reading. Hidden in plain sight.

I have heard a LOT of preaching about Mary’s fear, acquiescence, willingness to set her own comfort etc. aside to accept the will of God. Not a lot about “He will be great,” or “called the Son of the Most High” or “the throne of his ancestor David” (the Great King, lest we forget) or “reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there will be no end.” How do we miss that the promise of the annunciation is that Mary has a chance to be an instrumental, pivotal figure in a liberation drama with greatness and immortality as the payoff?

Her response is not oh, I’m not worthy. It’s more like — so, what’s the plan, and aren’t you forgetting something? And the “nothing will be impossible with God” line is what immediately precedes — should we suppose this is the deal-clincher? — her “OK, count me in” declaration.

Then, later in the chapter, the Magnificat contains lines that could be flying from the barricades:

Text Luke 1:46b-55 (NRSV):
My soul1 magnifies the Lord,2
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor
on the lowliness of his servant.3
Surely, from now on
all generations will call me blessed;4
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud
in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful
from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.5
He has helped his servant Israel6
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

1 Greek is psyche, but would like to think we could think here the echoing Hebrew nephesh, less floaty body-transcendent mentation and more juicy embodied spirit.

2 Greek kyrion presumably subbing for YHWH, for which I follow Johanna Bos in arguing is best translated as the Holy God or the Holy One. (See “Who Is The King of Glory” at Wimminwise for a little more on this.) Could add “the God of Israel,” recalling that “Israel” from Gen. 32 could be read “he strives [together] with God” or “God strives.” So it is arguably not wrong to think of this as a name-constellation that points to human-divine solidarity in strife.

3 Greek epiblepw for NRSV’s “looked with favor;” RSV has “regarded;” other candidates are “looked at, gazed upon, looked into the depths, considered, cared about” the tapeinwsin or “humiliation” of his servant. We probably ought to read this in remembrance of Ex. 3:7, where YHWH observes the misery of the people in Egypt and has known their sufferings. So, not so much to be read as God commending the intrinsic virtue of humility, as God noticing and taking action with respect to the social dislocation signified in humiliation.

4 My dictionary suggests “blessed” usually occurs in the sense of “privileged recipient of divine favor.” Two women in scripture before Mary are called blessed: Jael (Judges 4) and Judith. Both are assassins, of military oppressors. There’s a precedent for you.

5 Reversal and redistribution. No more “when the revolution comes,” this is it . . .

6 Initially the servant was Mary, but now, it’s Israel, for which Mary has become an emblem. But Israel is emblematic, in turn, of the people who strive [together] with God. [Should we note the literary parallels here with Isaiah 42, 44, 49, etc., which, while easy to be misconstrued, seem to be pretty strongly alluded to in this speech? “Strength with his arm”? Isaiah 51:9? Coincidence? Probably not. Exile, return, pattern, meaning.]

So, my whole mental picture of Mary has changed — she is looking a lot more like a union maid, a partisan, a member of the resistance, a revolutionary, a Zapatista . . . she is raising a fist, with “the hand that cradles the rock” . . . she means business. It puts Marian devotion in a whole new light.


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