In Season 1, Episode 3 of Derry Girls, a series on Netflix, the high school gang has a mystical encounter with the Virgin Mary. Derry Girls is set in Northern Ireland at a Roman Catholic day school. The students had pulled an all nighter studying for an exam but were woefully unprepared. Erin, one of the students followed what looked like her family’s former dog into a church. The kids gathered around the statue of Mary, praying for a miracle to help them with their exam. One of the kids had downed so many energy drinks she had started hallucinating and thought the statue of Mary was smirking at her. As one of the kids chased the dog up into the choir loft above the statue, it relieved itself. The dog’s pee slowly trickled through the choir loft, dripping onto the statue, making it seem as though Mary was crying. It seemed to be a miracle and they soon reported it as such to Sister Michael, the nun who the headmistress of their school. She wasn’t believing any of it, but a young priest caught wind of the story came further to investigate. Hearing that that the apparition of a deceased dog had led them to the miracle, the priest was convinced the hand of God was upon these events. He suggested the family dog had been resurrected, having been recently buried in the backyard. The only way to know for sure was to exhume the dog’s grave.
By this point the kids started to sweat knowing that the gig would soon be up. That the weeping statue of Mary was not a divine intervention, but rather a ruse to get out of writing an exam. As they exhumed the dog’s grave to the kids’ surprise, the grave was empty. The priest’s faith was renewed by evidence of the resurrected dog. Meanwhile the mother sneaked out to use the phone and her daughter overheard another story. The mother had given the family dog away to an older woman whose dog had died. The mother wanted rid of the dog, told her daughter it had died, and then buried an empty shoebox in the backyard complete with makeshift tombstone, to make the lie convincing.
As per usual the episode ended with everything dissolving into chaos and confusion. No divine miracle, but revealing human truths. It also makes we wonder how often we think about Mary in pop culture. She prayed to as a softer side of God, the mother of Jesus who might grant an answer to prayer that a more masculine image of God might not. The absurdity of the weeping Mary in the episode of Derry Girls also reveals that Mary has often fallen into a predictable narrative in our society. Even people without a background in the church can identify with the outlines of the story.
What happens when we pull apart the story from the cultural baggage that have sometimes concealed Mary and her song in the Gospel of Luke? In place of tropes, the Song of Mary reveals a strong woman in whom the divine entrusts vast truths and to give birth to a divine child. Let’s look at three themes about Mary’s strength in the gospel reading:
“All generations will call me blessed.”
First, “All generations will call me blessed.” The New Testament exults Mary and the gift of child bearing. Too often Mary and other women in the Bible are treated as diminutive, as though child bearing is passive, while the feats of the boys and later men they raise are what really count. It is one of the dangers as we look at the Trinitarian emphasis of masculinity between Father and Son. Theologies often point to ways in which the Holy Spirit as Wisdom is often described as feminine. Unsurprisingly the Holy Spirit is often not talked about as much in our tradition as Father and Son in the Western tradition. As well, Mary is lifted up in the seasons of Advent and Christmas, and then when August 15, The Feast of Mary, happens to fall on a Sunday as it does today. It is good to be aware of these dynamics when we tell the stories of Biblical women, especially the story of Mary.
In declaring, “All generations will call me blessed,” Mary testifies that her role in the divine story is creative and irreplaceable. Rather than seeing herself as passive, she knows how God is at work through her to move forward the salvation history of creation.
“Scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. God has brought down the powerful from their thrones.”
The second theme from Mary’s Song: “Scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. God has brought down the powerful from their thrones.” We don’t normally think about Mary as political but her song is political in the broad sense. Not partisan political, but affirming God’s intervention into human history through the incarnation. Mary affirms God’s desire for justice and love, especially for those who are downtrodden.
A meme that has been circulating which is a mash-up of the yellow flag of a snake that reads “Don’t tread on me.” A flag that has become a symbol of hate groups instead has an icon of Mary superimposed with the words, “I tread on whom I please.” It recalls the destruction of Satan who appeared as a snake in the garden in the Book of Genesis. It’s a feminist send up of a flag and symbol often touted by white men advocating for violence and white supremacy. Instead it’s Mary asserting her power and strength in God to trample upon those who use power to crush others.
It’s something we are realizing as a church. The days are numbers in which we simply let men get away with whatever they want. A tweet from Melissa McEwan (on Twitter as @Shakestweetz): “I’m just entirely done with being asked to indulge the revolting pretence that men who inappropriately touch women don’t know what they’re doing is wrong and/or that it isn’t sexual. Do they do it to other men? No? there’s your answer. The end.”
A follow-up to this Tweet by someone with the handle “elfwreck”: “Also: if he touches the woman who works in the copy center, but not the regional director, it’s not a case of “he just cant help himself.” He can; he’s just decided who’s an acceptable target.”
We think also about the ways in which Indigenous children were seen as acceptable targets in the church. The Olympics in Tokyo are a reminder about women’s bodies. How the women’s handball team from Norway was fined for refusing to wear more revealing uniforms the men’s team was not made to wear.
Mary reminds us, “No more.” The time has long past for the patriarchy to give way to mutual flourishing for all people and all God’s creatures.
“God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.”
The third theme is “God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” This I find among the harder lines from the Song of Mary because I know I am implicated by it. I know relatively I am rich compared to most fo the world. With great privileges come great responsibilities to distribute wealth and resources.
I am heartened seeing the Shelbourne Community Kitchen distributing food to people in need out of the rotunda here in church on Tuesdays. The Kitchen’s renovation is nearly complete but until their space is ready, up to 50 people have been walking up to the front of the church each Tuesday. It’s an amazing opportunity for people in the neighbourhood and beyond to see the church as a home to a place like the Kitchen.
It’s led to the germ of an idea, recognizing there are new ways in which we can reach all the people who pass by the church every day. Many of these people walk by on foot or by bike, kids often with parents on their way to school starting up again in September. Ways in which we can make connections and build relationships. Whether it is a morning of contactless distribution of a juice box and granola bar, everything individually packaged, or something else. A way to say to people we are here as Church of the Cross, desiring the flourishing of all our neighbours.
It could also be something else. Thinking about ways in which we actively participate in God’s desire to fill the hungry with good things. Ways in which Mary is prodding us get out there and live into God’s love.
Wrapping up, remember that Mary is her own person, sent by God to accomplish great things. And to inspire us to be like Mary and to empower other women in the church and beyond to flourish and thrive. Amen.