Last Advent, I was angry.

As the #MeToo movement continued to grow,
as I thought through my own #MeToo stories,
as I grappled with the way the church did—or, more often, did not—respond,

I was angry that I was being asked to celebrate a meek, obedient virgin.

“Be it unto me,” we hear Mary say in the King James Version.

After being told she would become pregnant out of wedlock,
and thereby have her reputation, security, and perhaps even life put at stake.
Before, we are told, she knew the touch of a man.

“Be it unto me.”

In college, a counselor told me that she thought Christianity’s emphasis on servanthood was particularly damaging to women.

I thought that was a ridiculous assertion.
Servanthood is central to my faith.
Serving others is inextricable from my belief in God.
How, I thought, could that be damaging?

Ask any woman trapped in an abusive relationship.

“Be it unto me.”

It’s not that servanthood is an inherently problematic concept. It’s just that you have to possess yourself to be able to give yourself away. Otherwise you lose yourself completely. And there wasn’t much in my Sunday School classes, much less the broader culture, that taught me how to possess myself as a woman—except how to keep from tempting boys and men to sin.

Last Advent, I was angry.

What did it mean that we don’t worship Mary, the bearer of God, but we practically worship her purity, her submissiveness, her passivity?

I couldn’t stand the thought.

In a Facebook post on December 3, 2018, social psychologist and public theologian Christena Cleveland wrote,

“Patriarchy has weaponized Mary’s virginity…According to tradition, Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit and bore the Christ Child; no man was involved. This reality threatened patriarchy, which petulantly needs men to be the heroes of every story. So, patriarchy reduced Mary to her virginity, ignoring her fiery truth-telling in the Magnificat and re-casting her as a weak woman whose participation in the story of God was contingent upon her ‘purity.’”

Those words were a balm to my soul.

“Be it unto me,” yes.

But also, “she has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” (Luke 1:52).

And, “she has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich she has sent away empty” (Luke 1:53).

Cleveland’s words and the echoes of the Magnificat in them reminded me of an 1851 speech by Sojourner Truth, a speech that so inspired me I set it to music. This is the line that Cleveland’s words brought back up in me:

“Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ‘cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.”

Man had nothing to do with Him.

Man did not produce the Messiah.

The womb of a woman—
for so long a place of shame, secrecy, and ritual impurity—
the womb of a woman (re)produced the Messiah.

The idea that in Mary that God challenges the patriarchy,
which can’t stand the thought of

God and a woman,
God in a woman,
God of a woman—

that idea is comforting to me.

Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

The featured image on this post is “Blessed Is the Fruit of Thy Womb” by Benjamin Wildflower. You can view and shop his Apocalyptic Art by clicking here.

Published by Sarah Howell-Miller

"I believe in kindness, also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when it is not necessarily prescribed." {Mary Oliver}

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