Saturday, January 6, 2007

Mary, Mary, quite contrary....

My mother-in-law's mother was named Mary. Mary's sisters were named Marie and Marian. The three of them were flappers, and when Chloe was four years old, her mother and two aunts were arrested for making gin in the bathtub. It's one of her most vivid childhood memories. There's a photo in a family album of the three sisters showing a lot of leg and smoking cigarettes. They were rowdy girls.

There are a lot of Marys in the Bible, and they were rowdy girls, too. Beginning in Exodus, there's Miriam, Moses' sister, who watched over her little brother until he was safe in Pharoah's palace. Later, on the trip out of Egypt, she wasn't afraid to tell him exactly what she thought about his new wife. That cost her: leprosy and three days exile from the camp.

There was Mary, Martha and Simon's sister, who had the temerity to stay out of the kitchen and sit with the men -- listening to what Jesus had to say. She antagonized his disciples by her "wasteful" use of spikenard to anoint his head before that last entrance into Jerusalem.

She was different from the "woman in the city, a sinner," who dared to come in behind him, wash his feet with tears, wipe them with her hair, and annoint his feet with oil. All this while he was eating at a hotsy totsy Pharisee's house. This woman has been identified ever since as Mary Magdalene. But, of course, the whole question of just who Mary Magdalene really was is up for question these days.

And then there was THE Mary, the mother of Jesus, the virgin who appears in so many forms down through time and throughout the whole world -- who as the Virgin of Guadalupe was so thoroughly celebrated around here last December. (See prior post -- and see the photos above).

I used to wonder why, if the Virgin Mary was so acquiescent, so passive, come her image keeps appearing on flags raised by rebels? There's the Mexican revolution with the Virgin of Guadalupe. There's the Black Madonna of Czestowa which mobilized the Solidarity movement in Poland. I know there are more. Was the Virgin Mary really a rowdy girl? Have I been missing something?

According to Esther Harding in Woman's Mysteries: Ancient and Modern, the word virgin had a different meaning in ancient times. It didn't mean being chaste or physically untouched. Rather, being a virgin meant "belonging to oneself." A virgin was not defined by any human relationship. She was "one in herself."

Look up the Hebrew root of the name "Mary," and you'll find marah. It means to rebel, resist, cause to provoke, be disobedient. Marah was a place of bitter waters in the Egyptian desert.

So, "how do you solve a problem like [so many] Maria[s]?" Does naming a girl Mary, or a derivative thereof, make her a rebel? Or maybe -- and this is just a thought -- do you think that those guys who translated the Bible just might have re-named any rebellious, one in herself, contrary woman -- Mary?

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