Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Mary was a Real Mother

I know a woman whose son died in a carelessly started cabin fire when he was 12. That was twenty years ago. She told me her story after I commented on her brilliantly colored tattoo featuring a name, her son’s name, surrounded by turquoise rays of light emanating from an eagle, his favorite bird. One ray embraced a heart with a piece missing. She recently got the tattoo after all this time to honor his memory. And to let go, in a way.

As I listened to the story, I was struck by several things. First, you can talk to someone for a long time, years in this case, without having any idea about that person’s deep story. The story that matters. Second, tragedy is both personal and universal. I have grieved and still grieve over my son’s autism. Chronic grief. It is not the same as her grief which was heart-exploding catastrophic. I can’t imagine hers. She perhaps can’t imagine mine. But we share a mother’s broken heart.

I have often felt guided and protected by Kuan Yin, the Chinese goddess of mercy and compassion. But Kuan Yin is always serene, never born as a human being, never suffering as a mother. So when my heart has been torn apart with pain that seems unbearable, I turn to Mary, mother of Jesus. As a therapist once said to me, "She was a real mother." Mary is often portrayed with a radiant, sublimely loving face, a Kuan Yin face. But I don't think that is what her face really looked like much of the time.

What did her face look like when her wayward preteen disappeared, only to be found days later teaching in the temple, shrugging his shoulders at his parents’ worried consternation? Or when he refused to acknowledge her in front of the crowd, instead claiming the people around him as his family? (I remember telling my mom once that I wished the next door neighbor was my mom. She promptly told me to go see if Mrs. Beasley wanted any more children and locked me out of the house.)

What did Mary’s face look like when her son was being ridiculed and hated? Not a mother’s proudest moment. What did she answer when all the moms got together to brag about their kids and asked her, “And what does your son do?”

I’m sure none of that compared to what her face looked like as her son was arrested, tortured, and killed right in front of her. I don’t care how strong your faith is. That is not something any mother should have to endure. And yet so many have. Before yielding to God’s will, Jesus asked for the cup to pass from him. How many times did Mary pray this prayer? How many times have I?

I don’t pretend to understand the meaning of such suffering. Or of any suffering for that matter. But I know that some of my most fervent prayers have been to Mary. The mom prayers. The prayers a mother would understand.

Lately, I’ve been asking Mary to watch over my two too young daughters who are expecting babies of their own. I ask Mary to strengthen them with courage, to soften them with kindness, to inspire them with wisdom, to delight them with joy, to calm them with patience, to awaken them with compassion, to sustain them with faith. I ask the same for me.

No, I’m not Catholic, but I think that’s okay with her. After all, Mary was a real mother.


  1. That was beautiful. Thank you.

    kelly @ My Joy Project

  2. A beatiful and moving post, Galen. What joy to be anticipating the arrival of two grand-babies! I hope all goes well. I love watching my daughter mothering her two little ones... she is a much better mother than I ever was.


  3. Wow, you've touched a spot in my heart tonight as I read this. I'm sure Mary wouldn't mind one wee bit. And I'm looking forward to seeing your new grandbabies, you will post photos won't you?

    Have a wonderful rest of the week, it's hectic around my home right now and I'm not sure when I'll get back to visit you here, but I will get back!

  4. Kelly--Glad you liked it.

    Alexia--Thanks for the nice words and the good wishes.

  5. darlin--Always glad when you can stop by. Hope you have a good rest of the week, too.

  6. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on Mary. I too have wondered how she did what she did and how she handled all of it. This was a thought provoking blog post.
    Thanks for some thoughts to ponder.
    Blessings to you!

  7. That was a very special and moving post Galen.

  8. Wonderful story Galen. Yes, Mary would know what a mothers pain can be. I had never thought of it that way. Thank you very much for pointing it out. I love hearing new ways to look at the world and situations.
    Do enjoy your new grand children. They are fun and I am sure your daughters will be wonderful mothers. Sometimes I don't agree fully with my own daughters and the grand kids, but the world is a little different now and they are growing up just fine.

    The really nice thing about grand kids is you get to play with them and then send them home. LOL Yes spoil them a little too!

    Thanks again for sharing Mary with me.
    Blessing always,

  9. A stunningly powerful post, Galen. Even though Mary knew who her son was, because he was fully human as well as fully divine Mary had to endure agonies of the soul and spirit we can only imagine.

    I'll be praying for your daughters.

  10. LeAnn--Thank you. Blessings to you, too.

    Riley--Thanks for your comment.

    Debbie--Thanks for the good Nana wishes and advice. It's going to be an interesting fall--one due in September and the other in October!

    Bob--Thank you for your kind words and for the much appreciated prayers.

  11. Wow one of my first sermons was a long poem about how Mary must have felt - really felt about being pregnant and in her circumstances.
    Part of the gist was that the story had to be big among the male myth makers, because most women need her to be a "real" MOTHER

    Mother prayers are amazing - they need more air time :)
    Thank you for sharing
    I think we all have a child....special prayers are needed

  12. Congratulations about becoming a grandmother soon. You must be so excited!! Do share the news when the babies arrive!

    I love this post very much! While I share a lot about Buddhism and meditation on my blog, my views are actually more spiritual than religious. I also ask Mother Mary for assistance sometimes.

  13. Patricia--That is an interesting perspective on Mary. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    Evelyn--Thank you. I think all our prayers go to the same place no matter how they are addressed.

    Chrissy--I thought you might!!

  14. I enjoyed reading this post, just wonderful.

  15. This story is beautiful, and you told it so well. I loved reading it. Oh, and don't worry about not being Catholic. She wasn't either.

  16. Mikey--Ha! You gave me a good laugh this afternoon. Thanks!

  17. :-) There is but one God in different forms.I love your post and your interpretation. :-)


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