There’s Something about Mary (and Cary…)

(Originally posted on

Thanks to Cary Elwes and (I guess) typecasting, I often confuse The Princess Bride and Robin Hood Men in Tights. It really doesn’t help things when AMC plays them back to back either. Usually it takes me a solid thirty minutes to figure out which one I’m watching. A friend suggested I keep in mind that it’s not The Princess Bride unless I hear the infamous line “as you wish”, which is, of course, Westley’s reply to the Princess’ every desire. If you have seen The Princess Bride you can probably hear it now; Westley flailing down the hill, a prolonged “as you wish” echoing out as he tumbles to the brush below.

It’s now Advent and we can’t touch this sacred space between “ordinary time” and Christmas without mentioning Mary. Being the mother of Jesus, she’s definitely a part of the story and a pretty important one at that. For a longer time than I’d like to admit, Mary frustrated me. I heard Westley’s echoing response every time we opened Advent with the story of Gabriel’s visit to Mary. No protest besides the question raised about virgin-hood leading to parenthood? Really, Mary? You’re cool with this plan? “Aaaaaaaaaas youuuuuuuuuuuu wiiiiiiiiiiiiish, God. As you wish.” What a push over!

As I do with things that frustrate me, I spent some time studying up on Mary, trying to find a footnote that would help build my argument against the image of this woman who was clearly a fraud. If she was really as young, poor, alone, and broken as the story makes her out to be, she would not and could not have responded the way she did, not just giving it the “go” but also giving thanks. So she must have been prepared! She must have been chosen because of something she did or said or wore. She had to have done something right enough, invested enough faith in God, prayed enough, sacrificed enough, kept the Sabbath enough! Something! She had to have done something!

But whatever Mary did or did not do (besides what being a virgin would imply…) isn’t mentioned in the story leading up to Jesus’ birth. We are not given a history or list of her virtues and good deeds. We get that 1) she was a virgin 2) she was engaged to Joseph and 3) her name was Mary. So for all we know, Mary did nothing in particular to “find favor” with God. This is awesome because it means God could choose any of us for such a job. And this is terrifying because it means God could choose any of us for such a job… I would be much more comfortable knowing that Mary had gotten it together just enough to be chosen by God but I don’t get that in this story. I get that she was in a very vulnerable position.

Again, this is not what I want to hear. I want to hear what’s affirmed by TV and billboards and blogs and some people I know and almost anything else but this text: that if I pretty myself up enough I’ll be successful, cover my wounds no one will know, bandage all my pieces together I’ll be whole. This story of Gabriel’s visit to Mary drives home, once again, the truth that sounds great on paper but feels awful in reality; God chooses the broken and badly bleeding. God thinks those of us who need to be on life support most desperately are the most beautiful people in the world.

The only way I can possibly rationalize this is by thinking that maybe when we have completely lost our grip on the things we think are necessary to hold us up, space is made for God and goodness and miracles. Maybe losing our grip is the only way we take a break from walking around like we’re , you know, God. Like we have everything under control. Like we don’t need God or anyone else’s help, for that matter!

I so don’t want to rely on anything outside of myself. I fell in love a long time ago with the idea that I’m an island! People are messy. Communities can cause pain. Best to keep a safe distance. And that wily rascal God is as unsure as all get up! I mean, look at the kind of people He’s chasing after… No one I care to call “friend.” Those people have serious problems. And they’re weak and they smell because they’re always running to find those hopelessly lost sheep.

But because I’ve been granted a moment to stare into my own brokenness, I know that I do need these things, that I’m not whole on my own, and that God loves me like crazy not despite but because of this.

It’s karmic or ironic or destined that last year while I was putting together a lesson on Mary, I found out I was pregnant. It wasn’t as surprising as a situation involving immaculate conception but still, it came as unexpected news to me! The grace of the matter is that I wasn’t angry or scared in that first moment. For a second I understood what it was like to be filled with awe. I know this because I had all those biblical awe-related responses: I trembled, fell to my knees, asked “How can this be?” Overwhelming fear would hold off for a few days.

There were no heavenly hosts proclaiming my child would change the world but I did experience a rush in the form of a very pure, clear, almost child-like belief in God and miracles. I had spent my entire life striving with great precision to be or create something beautiful. Since some early age I had committed to having the next ten steps planned out. My need to know and fear of uncertainty were so convincing that I gave this dynamic duo the driver’s seat for 27 years. Then, I let them take their hands off the steering wheel for one second and suddenly, life!

If I had my way, Zoey would not have arrived until I had invested the right amount of years in my career, run however many miles it would take for me to be a real runner, moved into an apartment with more than one bedroom, found a few more answers to life’s giant questions, fixed every imperfection I own, grew my hair to a certain length… Luckily as it turns out, I don’t always get my way and whether you call them mistakes, miracles, or pieces of God’s will, they are not bestowed on the most qualified applicants.

This resignation of power still doesn’t convey the real struggle behind the popular movement to “let go and let God.” Recently, a co-worker shared that when things get too sticky she often just raises her hands to the heavens as a way of saying “it’s in God’s hands.” The thing is, she looked relieved as she shared this ritual. If it were me it would look like my arms were moving through molasses and a pained expression would take over as I turned my head, as if to say “I can’t look! This is all going to shit. I just know it!” I’m more than happy to let God, as long as He’s following the bullet pointed plan I sent him earlier.

I’m thinking through it some more, and realizing that (if I remember correctly), Westley throws himself down the hill in an effort to honor the Princess’ request.

Am I right?

Is this in Robin Hood??

Westley knows the fall will leave him bloody and bruised but he honors the Princess’ wish because he loves her. More than that, he trusts her and understands that the bruises will fade and the blood will wash away.

This changes how I hear Mary’s response. It’s no longer an agreement made out of innocence or naivety but rather, made in sincerity. She is not ignorant of the challenges ahead but humbled by them, aware, and fully handing over her life in order to face them in faith. It is no longer about who she was before, but how she has responded.

May we all be able to know we are so loved, warts and broken bits and all.

May we respond to that love in faith and may we come to love those around us, warts and broken bits and all, in this light.


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