Image In the Shadow of His Wings by Lucy Stothard
I always have to suppress a smile whenever I see an image of Our Lady which depicts her as blonde-haired, blue-eyed, rosy-cheeked and white. True, it’s possible that that’s what she looked like, but as a first century Middle-eastern Jew, I think it’s pretty unlikely. Rather like Our Lord, Mary has been frequently depicted in art throughout the centuries, and generally in ways which were heavily influenced by the beauty standards of the artist’s society.
When I sat down to draw this morning, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to convey, only that I hadn’t really been satisfied with my last attempt at drawing Mary and wanted to give it another go. I asked the Holy Spirit to guide my hand, and the above drawing was the end result. This post is the result of my meditations on the drawing and what insights it can give us into the life of Our Lady and the heart of God.
There are many reasons to love Our Lady, but part of what makes her most appealing in my eyes is that, in many ways, she epitomised everything which is despised in the modern West. Mary was poor, presumably uneducated, Middle-eastern and from an inconsequential backwater of someone else’s empire, non-Anglophone and a teenage mother to boot. Yet she is the one whom God chose to crown as Queen of Heaven and Empress of the Universe, Mother of God and of the whole, redeemed human race. It was this Truth that led Saint Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, to cry out: “blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”
One can’t help but wonder, though, whether Mary’s neighbours and relatives were similarly impressed when she fell pregnant out of earthly wedlock. In a place like Nazareth, people talk – and more often than not, the information they exchange isn’t completely fair or accurate. It’s more than likely that Our Lady would have had to endure gossiping, sniggering, haughty looks and conversations suddenly stopping whenever she walked into a room. The rumours probably persisted well into Jesus’ adulthood; they are alluded to in the words of the Jewish authorities as they confront Jesus with what reads like an underhand snipe: “We are not illegitimate children!” (John 8: 41)
Are we guiltless in all of this? It’s human nature to make judgements about a person based on whatever superficial information we have about them, be it how they dress or look, their personal living situation, the things they say, or even what we’ve heard, third-hand, from others. What we have to remember is that this information is, by its very nature, limited and incapable of giving us a complete picture of a person or their story. Jesus admonishes us not to judge, and not merely because we all too often fail to meet the standards we’re holding others against. To make a fair and accurate judgement, one must have all the facts – and we usually don’t.
This is why it’s so crucial for the church to remain open and non-judgemental toward the souls she encounters. As Our Lady’s story shows, appearances can be very deceiving and we must be constantly mindful of the fact that only God knows the truth about a person and their individual journey. Only God has all the facts. If single parents, divorcees, prostitutes, those with addictions, LGBT people, immigrants and the homeless don’t feel that they can walk into a church and be overwhelmed by the healing love of God, then that church is in poverty.
God knows the truth about all of us. He knew the truth about Mary, too. I like to believe that, even amidst the disapproving looks and the pain of being misunderstood or disbelieved, she was able to hold her head high, knowing that she had found favour with the Most High – and that that was all that really mattered. If you’ve ever had the experience of being pre-judged, misunderstood, gossiped about or believed to be something you weren’t (and most of us have!), then this is something for you to hold and meditate on this week. Just as He saw Mary, God sees you – in all your complexity as a human being. He understands. He knows who you really are and is delighted. And if you’re on this website and reading this blog post, the likelihood is that you, too, have found favour in His eyes.
Blessed are you among men and women!
by Lucy Stothard