“In Paleolithic times, gynecology was just in the mind of God.” That may be my favorite sermon quote ever and I’ve been mining from services for years. Who knew I’d have to come to Peru for it?
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I started attending Cristo Rey Iglesia Luterana with my friend David Romero, who runs the youth programming of that church. The following is a reflection following the thoughtful, humorous and engaging sermon by Pastor Pablo Espinoza, which contained the opening quote.
The sermon explored how Mary is characterized in the current narrative of the birth of Jesus. He explained that in Paleolithic times, ignorance of reproduction led women to hold a higher place in most civilizations. As folks learned that it required the man as well, society moved towards ownership of women as men started to claim that their seed was the gift to create a baby.
He chose a general narrative without any citations, but it admittedly is a familiar story and one I believe. Mary’s conception challenges this narrative because it lacks a man. In fact, the story is kind of revolutionary in a respect. The only mortal involved in the birth of the most important baby in history was a young, betrothed teenage girl. The only thing a man did was not mess it up because he paid attention and did not have his fiancé stoned.
So how has the traditional church gotten around that? Well our Pastor, who just continued to nail it, pointed out that the honorific of “virgin” is admittedly more depressing than respectful.
“What’s virgin mean? One who never had sex. That’s kind sad. It’s part of life,” he said.
Highlighting her virginity reflects an overemphasis on purity as the greatest achievement of a young woman. It’s just another dimension of the manplainy, condescending, back handed compliments of patriarchal society.
Why do we ignore Mary’s even more notable accomplishments? For example, she showed immense bravery in the face of a society that would obviously reject her. And then, you know, she raised Jesus. Mothering is among the toughest jobs for human beings. So, our pastor asked, “Why isn’t she recognized as Mary, the mother of Jesus? Or Mary, God’s chosen?”
The point is, these titles recognize Mary as a hero or at least central to the story. Of course, a virgin can also be a hero. These titles just reflect our characterizations of Mary. Just ask yourself whether our culture calls virgins heroes with admirable traits. No, we don’t. They are usually agentless and put on a pedestal.
Pastor Pablo’s sermon inferred that we should emphasize Mary’s agency. Instead, we should look at the story as challenging narratives wherein women are objects of reproduction. This post is by no means exhaustive on that interpretation, as there needs to be some considerable work done to explore how we should characterize God’s choice to create Mary. Has God made her a pawn? Is she treated as only a possession?
I suspect the answer lies in the fact that our relationship with God is not the same as the relationship between men and women, which should be egalitarian, but is not. We are not God’s equal, so God’s actions towards us are not to be viewed as they would between two humans. For now though, I’m unclear on where to take that next or if it is truly necessary. The point is, Pastor Pablo offered some remarkable reflections on a retold story that were refreshing in the depth and, I admit, feminist leanings. I’ll definitely be back for more.