For many young women, their sense of Mary, mother of Jesus, is relatively one-dimensional. They recall a humble, pious woman who was submissive to both her husband and her God. Or she’s the woman in blue whom we crown with roses every May and who adorns our gardens peacefully. The modern female, it might seem, would have little in common with a woman who seems so out of touch with contemporary life.
Ginny Kubitz Moyer’s book, Mary and Me (St Anthony Messenger Press, Jan. 2008) shatters all those presumptions by compiling reflections and stories from 46 modern women of all ages about their relationships with Mary. While the author uses traditional Marian titles like “Our Lady of Sorrows” throughout the book, they function as subtle connectors between the time-honored depiction of Mary and the rich, varied and modern situations in which the women she features have experienced her. The overall effect is of an intimate gathering that allows readers to feel like they’re with friends sharing spiritual yarns.
The author herself, shares her own painful experience of losing her first-born after suffering an ectopic pregnancy. Later she finds herself resonating with the image of Michelangelo’s Pieta. Moyer writes: “For the first time, the image of Mary holding her dead son spoke to me on a personal level: I had some inkling of the pain she felt at losing her firstborn.” She called on that same inner resolve to attend baby showers and later to face the fear of getting pregnant a second time (This time successfully). This is the stuff of solid spiritual reflection that merges the ancient history of Catholic tradition with the experience of the everyday lives of modern women.
Mary and Me is filled with these types of tales: some funny, some tragic and some incredibly touching. The image of the Visitation, where Mary goes to meet her cousin Elizabeth is ripe for a 14-year veteran counselor and religious sister’s spiritual sustenance. She now calls the one-on-one experience of conducting therapy sessions with her clients “The Mary and Elizabeth thing.”
“In the depths of your heart, you can achieve what you want to get, but we can’t do it by ourselves—it’s not solitary” she says. “We can be Mary to Elizabeth, or we can be Elizabeth embracing Mary, either one—but it’s in that moment that we enable one another to stay the course, to do the hard thing, to do what we know needs doing.” She acknowledges that it’s not always easy; sometimes these encounters involve reaching beyond our own comfort zones. “Human beings can touch the heart of one another, but they have to give up something of themselves to do that. They have to take a risk sometimes to challenge the other, to disappoint the other in some way. It’s in those moments that I think God is within us.”
Naturally the experience of Motherhood takes center stage and allows the women and the author to reflect on their experience of having and being a mother. For some, the experience of having a mother who was a strong nurturer brings them into that same comforting relationship with the blessed mother. They often find their strength and renewal in that relationship. For others, the pain of having a distant mother leaves them cold and unable to love Mary openly, at least at first. Finding their way to Mary becomes an enabling mission in which old hurts are healed and new courage takes hold, to the point where one says she can finally see herself as a mother for the first time.
The strength of Mary and Me is that it is devoid of the usual saccharine images of Mary that are often found in books that focus on the mother of Jesus. She allows women to meditate not only on Mary merely in an “other worldly” sense. More poignantly, Moyer focuses on Mary’s complexity and it is in looking at the many faces of Mary that Moyer uncovers a mother that indeed can connect with one and all.
We forget that the iconic image of Mary, resonates not only with the pious who finger their rosaries to Hail Marys but also is adored by gang members who tattoo the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on their backs. It is these different images of Mary that women from all walks of life present here in a first-rate book that will have you hunting for Mary in your own life.