Monday 6th December
‘My soul proclaims your greatness, O God,
and my spirit rejoices in you, my Saviour.
For you have looked with favour
upon your lowly servant,
and from this day forward
all generations will call me blessed.
For you, the Almighty, have done great things for me, and holy is your Name.’
Luke 1: 46b – 49
When Bitter Tears (Mary) heard this, she was filled with gladness, and her words flowed out like a song.
“From deep in my heart I dance with joy to honour the Great Spirit. Even though I am small and weak, he noticed me. Now I will be looked up to by all. The Mighty one has lifted me up! His name is sacred. He is the Great and Holy one.”
Luke 1: 46-49 (First Nations Version, An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament).
One evening when our family was reading the Bible together, my 8 year old daughter turned and said, “Dad, I know the Bible is really important to you, but it’s just not a book I’m that interested in because so few of the characters are women. As a girl, it's hard to see myself in those stories.”
Almost every week I have a conversation with a female friend or colleague who shares grief and rage about how they were marginalised, excluded or denied voice in their family or faith community. Many spent years playing nice and working hard behind the scenes while the men in their lives got to make decisions and get the credit. I’m sad that for much of my life I didn’t question my own attitudes and participation in systems where men are treated with more respect and importance than women. I’ve had to go back and apologise to many of the women in my life.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is one of the few female lead characters in the story of the Bible. As a protestant, I was taught not to pay too much attention to Mary to avoid worshipping her as I was told the Catholics do, (though I’ve never actually met a Catholic who worships Mary). My hunch is that Mary’s role was gradually emphasised to honour the sacred feminine and to help women better see themselves in God’s story. Some progressive Catholics now recognise the glorification of Mary as a problematic reinforcement of unhelpful gender stereotypes.
Part of how we develop our sense of worth is by comparing ourselves to those around us. Am I taller or shorter? Am I a boy or a girl? We quickly go from recognising differences to ranking one as better than the other. When we look at history and the present, too often it seems that men are treated with greater value and worth than women. We’ve got a long way to go and a lot of work to do to create spaces where men and women feel equally safe, valued and included, particularly in faith settings. For our mothers, sisters, spouses, daughters and neices that day can’t come soon enough. It goes without saying that in the eyes of the Creator men and women are two parts of one whole with equal dignity and worth. Even the scriptures written in a patriarchal society, use both male and female metaphors to describe the Divine being’s love and care for us.
The etymology of the name Mary is a bit murky. It can mean bitter or blessed. Despite the gender inequality of the society where Mary lived, she knew her inherent dignity and worth. She was blessed and highly favoured and didn’t have to compare herself with anyone. She was the imago dei, an important part of God‘s plan to make all things new.
When I read the words of Mary’s song from Luke 1, I immediately think of my friend, Denise Champion, an Adnyamathanha elder living South Australia. Once she invited my wife and me to go “on country” with her. We left in darkness and drove the empty roads North toward Wilpena Pound. Herds of leaping kangaroos peppered the landscape. Just before sunrise Aunty Denise asked us to stop the car. “I want to greet the morning Creator has given to us,” she said. She stood facing the sun and held her hands high in the air, singing praise to Arrawantanha (the Most High).
Afterward, Aunty Denise turned to us and said, “Thank you for joining me today. My heart has needed to be on the land of my ancestors. As an aboriginal woman, I’ve spent much of my life thinking I was a second-class person, worthless garbage. But at sixty-two-years-
old, I’m slowly realising that I’m not junk. I am a beloved child of God. I bear the image of the divine!”
I know the courage it took for Aunty Denise to speak these words. And when she did, I noticed her standing a little taller, holding her head high in confidence. I can’t help but think that being on country and offering praise to the Most High helps her get a more accurate sense of worth.
May we each join Aunty Denise and Mary the mother of Jesus, to embrace our inherent worth and rightful places in the unfolding story of how God is making all things new.
Mark Scandrette is an internationally recognised expert in practical Christian spirituality. He is the founding director of ReIMAGINE: A Centre for Integral Christian Practice and he is on the creative team for NINE BEATS collective. A sought after voice for creative, radical, and embodied faith practices, he frequently speaks at universities, churches and conferences nationally and internationally and also serves as adjunct faculty in the doctoral program at Fuller Theological Seminary. His most recent books includeThe Ninefold Path of Jesus, FREE,Practicing the Way of Jesus, and Belonging and Becoming (with Lisa Scandrette). Mark lives with his wife and their three young adult children in an old Victorian in San Francisco's Mission District.