Blessed Art Thou

29 Dec


Trigger warning: mention of rape

I think about Mary a lot.

Not the Mary you see on Christmas cards or in stained glass windows or in children’s bibles. Not the milk-fed blond virgins in Renaissance paintings. Not the grownup white lady in crisp blue robes with the fat baby on her lap. Mary wasn’t any of these people.

I think about Mary as a scrawny kid, barely in her teens and engaged to a man who was probably more than twice her age. She’s be at that age where you’re all arms and legs, when whatever childish grace you had has given way to adolescent clumsiness. She has big dark eyes and long black hair tucked neatly under a veil. Her skin is brown. Her hands are small, quick, good at sewing a tidy hemline or kneading a ball of dough.

I think about what it must have been like to live in a militarized occupied state. How she must have kept her head down, ducked past the soldiers she saw on the street, in the marketplace, out front of the temple. She wouldn’t have talked to them unless she had to, and even then it would be in whispered monosyllables. Not because she wasn’t brave, but because that’s the reality of life under occupation. You don’t give them a reason to notice you. You don’t give them an excuse to hurt you.

They are looking for literally any excuse.

Maybe the baby’s father was god, but maybe it was the boy next door. The one she used to make mud pies with in the alley between their houses. The one whose nose she’d bloodied during an argument over who should get the bigger slice of cake. The one she used to run foot races with until her parents said she was too old to run around like a child anymore. The one who had dug the heels of his hands into his eyes so that he wouldn’t cry when he learned about her betrothal.

Or maybe the father was a soldier who didn’t like the way she looked at him, or else liked it too much. Maybe the baby was the product of one of the oldest and vilest war tactics known to man.

Maybe Mary lied, and hoped that no one would ever question a lie so huge and so outrageous.

Maybe after she said it enough times – to her parents, to Elizabeth, to Joseph – she started to believe it. Anything can seem true if you hear it often enough.

Maybe she talked herself into it, telling herself that the lord works in mysterious ways, that he can use any person in any way to fulfill his wondrous purpose.

Or maybe the only way that her mind could cope with the trauma was to alter the memory of what had happened. A beam of light, like the sun glinting off a sword. An angel in battle armour. A choosing. A blessing. A reason for all that suffering.

I think about Mary walking around Nazareth, her belly too big to hide anymore – not that hiding it would have done any good, because it wouldn’t have been long before everyone would have known her story. I picture her keeping her head high, thrusting her little chin out while the women at the market whispered and giggled, only to break down later at home, sobbing in bed while her mother strokes her hair. Late at night she hears her father in the next room reciting prayer after prayer. He asks for strength, for faith, for guidance, for something, anything.

There must have been some part of Mary that felt relieved when she learned that they were going to Bethlehem. At the very least, she had the chance to get away from the gossiping neighbours. Sort of a fresh start.

The donkey ride across country while nine months pregnant must have been pure hell. Every morning she must have bitten back a sob as she hauled her bruised, swollen body once more onto that beast’s back. She must have clutched the reins and gritted her teeth and counted the hours until she could lie down in the flea-ridden bed of some dirty old back-country inn.

And then there was that final inn, in Bethlehem, the one they came to late at night after being turned away from all of the others. Mary must have been miserable by then – she’d probably been having contractions for hours, barely able to keep herself from howling with pain as the donkey jostled her up and down the crowded alleyways.

Was anyone there to help when the baby was finally born? Did the innkeeper’s wife come out to the stables to hold her hand, wipe her forehead, and finally guide him out between her thighs? Or was it just Joseph, humbly leaning on his staff and trying not to be sick from the heat, the stench of blood, the sound of his wife’s gut-wrenching groans?

Was anyone there to teach Mary how to nurse? How to squeeze her breast between her fingers and draw the baby’s mouth towards her nipple? Did anyone tell her about plugged ducts or thrush or the creeping red ache of mastitis?

Was there even one person there to tell her she was doing fine, it was all fine, she was going to be fine?

I think about how very much alone Mary must have felt sitting there in that stable, a scared kid holding her own kid in her arms.

I think about her fleeing to Egypt, her days-old baby strapped to her chest with a strip of cloth. Everything there must have seemed so foreign and dangerous – though not as dangerous as what she’d left behind her. I picture her struggling to learn the language, to map the new landscape, to eat the strange food. But I also picture her entering the temple of Isis and finding comfort in the images of the goddess with the baby Horus on her lap. The story of young god growing up in hiding from his evil uncle-king must have felt familiar to her. I hope it made Mary feel less alone.

Mary was the kind of girl who got things done, a problem-solver, a person who thinks on her feet. She was the kind to ask “what next?” instead of “why me?” Mary was someone who doggedly put one foot in front of the other because if she sat down to rest she might never get up. After all, the only way out is through.

When I think about Mary, I think about all the women I’ve known who have faced adversity by putting their heads down and just ploughing through it. These women don’t give up because giving up is simply not an option; they don’t have the luxury of running away to some distant planet at the edge of a galaxy far, far away. They survive because what other choice is there?

That’s the Mary I think about.

Mary the blessed.

Mary full of grace.

Mary the most holy.

Mary the immaculate.

Mary the queen of heaven.

Mary the advocate of Eve.

Mary the seat of wisdom.

Mary the star of the sea.

Mary the daughter.

Mary the mother.

Mary the survivor.








37 Responses to “Blessed Art Thou”

  1. annemarietaplin December 29, 2015 at 5:04 am #

    Just beautiful.

    Sent from Samsung Mobile

  2. Beth Caplin December 29, 2015 at 7:14 am #

    Wow. This was beautiful.

  3. Miss Min December 29, 2015 at 7:15 am #

    I wish I could have written something as heart-stoppingly beautiful and poignant as your post. You have my every respect.

  4. lizjoughin December 29, 2015 at 7:32 am #

    That was the most festive, beautiful and holy thing I’ve ever read at Christmas (marymas). Thank you xxx

  5. London December 29, 2015 at 1:21 pm #

    This is beautiful. I love reinterpretations like these, but I would say it is highly unlikely that Mary would set foot into a temple of a foreign god.

  6. Erin Burbidge December 29, 2015 at 1:29 pm #

    That was fantastic. Thank you for making me think about an old story in a new way.

  7. SCH December 29, 2015 at 2:59 pm #

    I have also blogged about the idea of the Virgin Mary. Christians want us to believe that god does not rape a woman–no, he impregnates her, sends and angel to her and expects complete submission and love from her. Your final word says it all…survival, then to be elevated to demi-god status in the eyes of men. That’s just messed up.

  8. mamalushka December 29, 2015 at 5:16 pm #

    Exquisite writer you are! Thank you!

  9. Brittany December 29, 2015 at 5:58 pm #


  10. Shadiya December 29, 2015 at 6:42 pm #

    Loved this. Not at all into Christianity or any of those hierarchical religions but this is genius.

  11. Minnie December 29, 2015 at 6:51 pm #


  12. maggiebird December 29, 2015 at 7:10 pm #

    This is so beautiful and well-written. The gospel leaves out any narrative of Mary’s femininity, of the actual pain and anxiety of childbirth. Were there never any stories of a midwife? The women at the town well? What Mary and her mother spoke of? I think it’s time for a new take on this old story.

  13. Everyday Voices December 29, 2015 at 9:42 pm #

    This is beautiful. I am a practicing Catholic and Mary is very very important to me and I find myself thinking about what her ‘real’ life was like, not what the church wants us to believe. I am unsure about the ‘virgin’ birth thing, but it’s not a point I argue with my church too much as Mary was much much more than that. Like you say, she was a survivor. Also, she had to watch her son die a gruesome painful death, in the most vile way possible. I don’t think the idea which He was here to suffer so He can save us from sin was much of a comfort to her while he was dying in agony. She was, first and foremost, a mother – regardless if she wanted to be or not.

  14. Tempy13 December 29, 2015 at 9:56 pm #

    I’ve been reading your blog for a very long time. So many of your posts make me weep and feel brave so often.
    This is the most poignant and thoughtful writing about Mary I’ve ever read. I grew up with Irish Catholic parents, family and school. I never could reconcile my feminism with Catholicism. Even before I knew the word feminist, I knew what it meant to be kind and what it meant to espouse hate cloaked in false notions of what God sees as sin. Even when I believed, I didn’t understand the sinful nature of women that rules the Catholic church. I didn’t know why we couldn’t lead the church as priests, why heterosexual love and marriage was celebrated while homosexual love and marriage was sinful. I just didn’t understand.
    I no longer consider myself Catholic. My family is still praying that my soul will find god again.
    I do however, still retain the accessibility to Mary. I do still find comfort in the prayers and rosaries dedicated to her. It’s not a divine connection, but rather a very human connection I’ve always felt towards her.
    You were able to write in celebration of who she was as a human. A woman we can choose to be inspired by and a woman that can feel the essence of what it is to suffer, fear and love as a woman.
    Thank you for such an important piece that lays bare her very human and woman experience that instills in a small way, the sense of divinity that is inherent in being Woman.

    • Happy 2016 December 31, 2015 at 2:42 am #

  15. sallyparnisartist December 30, 2015 at 12:05 am #


  16. nanluke81 December 30, 2015 at 1:30 am #

    I literally never thought about the story of the immaculate conception this way. Thanks for a new perspective.

  17. chavisory December 30, 2015 at 3:15 am #

    I cried.

  18. Lynda M O December 30, 2015 at 4:48 am #

    Thank you for this new and necessary look at this story.

  19. Greta December 30, 2015 at 12:21 pm #

    I know Mary as “Our Lady of Perpetual Succour” and it strikes me that, like a succubus upon which men’s bodies fall, with their aggressions, their self hatred and self loathing, we prevail. We many “Marys,” upon whom their multiplicitous inadequacies & disappointments are visited. We perform a community service, but who is ultimately best served by us😇, poor blessed things. I don’t personally claim to have been raped, but I know some of the shame of one who has lain down, and I know this: Those who profit from my efforts never acknowledge my efforts.

  20. Kerri December 30, 2015 at 9:04 pm #

    Strikes to the heart as more truthful than stories we have been told. Wow.

  21. kathrynwdennett December 30, 2015 at 11:38 pm #

    I can’t stop thinking about this. Thank you for writing it. My mother was raised Catholic but has only prayed to Mary for years. This made me feel more connected to that tradition than I have in years. Thank you for writing it.

  22. Elizabeth Estabrooks December 31, 2015 at 4:56 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this story, told in exactly the right way. As with others, I never thought of this back story of Mary. I’m glad I got to hear it the way you wrote it, because it was honorably and beautifully told.

  23. gigoid January 1, 2016 at 12:31 am #

    This…. This is, simply, the best version of her story I have read in my 65 years…. in any book, any language I know; I read in three, and have read a book every day for almost 60 of those years….

    Beautifully written, with the deepest sense of compassion, and understanding of human nature imaginable… As one who shares your revulsion at rape, or any of the other perversions so common to males in this culture, I can only applaud your strength, and insight. As a man, I can never feel what you have innately felt, but, this is powerful enough to break through any fog anyone might have in their mind, and, helps me to know my anger and disgust with most of my species is right, and just.

    If you have no objection, I would like to use this on my blog, to send my Gentle Readers to read, as part of an upcoming discussion of the issue that is implied by all of what you describe in Mary’s feelings; they all are all-too-common in today’s world, as well.

    I rail at my own gender regularly when I write; the misogyny in modern culture, here in the 21st century, exists just as strongly as it did in the days of Roman occupation in the middle east, and, in my view, has gone on far too long already..

    If you’d rather, I’ll re-blog it, and, I will add my thoughts there…. Either way is fine with me; you’d receive full attribution, as well as my admiration for your perspicacity, and eloquence….

    Well done, sister….

    gigoid, the dubious

  24. 0neart January 1, 2016 at 7:17 pm #

    I’m not Christian, but I grew up in a culture inevitably and pervasively influenced by Christianity, and some images stick regardless of your personal practice. And what all that means is, I don’t worship Mary, as the mother of God or in any other way, but this post moved me anyway. Not because it was there for Christmas, just because it was there at all. Thank you for posting your thoughts.

  25. Leigh LaValle January 3, 2016 at 7:38 am #

    Yes. This.

  26. asmudgeprooflife January 3, 2016 at 2:21 pm #

    Loved this read

  27. Petal and Mortar January 3, 2016 at 7:35 pm #

    Yes. Just yes. Going to share this with my daughter and everyone else I love. Yes.

  28. gigoid January 4, 2016 at 1:41 pm #

    Reblogged this on gigoid and commented:

    Literally, the most powerful story about the historical/religious icon, Mary, Mother of God I have ever read, or heard of….

    This, my friends, is the most likely scenario, based on logic and historical fact, to be found… Period…

    Read it, and weep for today’s world….which resembles the one in which Mary lived too closely for comfort….



  29. Little Voice January 4, 2016 at 4:23 pm #

    Powerful, beautiful, inspiring, and wonderful. Thank you.

  30. poshbirdy January 5, 2016 at 12:30 pm #

    Stunning and insightful. Thank you

  31. enawonder January 7, 2016 at 5:51 am #

    Thought provoking and beautiful!

  32. A Bookkeeper's Notes January 17, 2016 at 2:55 am #

    I am not Christian so my understanding of Christianity is limited to what I’ve learnt from Christmas specials, but that was a very beautiful and thought-provoking article that made Mary more human and real, rather than just the archetypal Virgin Mother.

  33. unavec January 20, 2016 at 12:56 pm #

    Where on earth do your pictures come from?To me it looks like a bad joke. Anyway, to each his own.

  34. katiekarnehm January 22, 2016 at 4:39 pm #

    This is probably one of my top five favorite things I will read this year.

  35. crayolamanic January 26, 2016 at 2:45 am #

    Thank you. You made me weep.

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