Confession time: Marian devotion has never come especially easy for me. I fall asleep during the Rosary and get the feast days mixed up. It’s not that I don’t love our sweet Mama. I just find it hard to relate to her. None of the women in my family really reflect the meek and mild Marian ideal of popular devotions, hymns and literature. Instead, I come from a long line of farmers and teachers: Holy women, no doubt, but less “gentle Mother, peaceful dove” and more “mother butchering chickens in the yard.” We drive tractors, play softball, drink beer, read books, and rule over countless classrooms and tiny houses full of wild children. Of one of my pioneer ancestors, it was said: “She rode a horse well, could yoke and handle a double team of oxen … and could swing a two-bitted axe with telling effect … she is said to have helped her dogs drag down a deer.”
Even so, this past October, the Month of the Holy Rosary, I resolved to pray the Rosary more often. Daily, if I could manage it. I wasn’t even looking forward to it. It’s just something I was convicted to do for my own good, like eating more vegetables or going to bed at a decent time. But it took only three days of reciting Mysteries before I was smacked over the head with a whopping dose of grace and an important spiritual insight.
The Blessed Mother was tough.
Meek, but mighty.
Feminine and formidable.
In short, a badass.
“Be it done to me according to Thy will,” is a chill-inducing phrase when the possible outcomes include getting stoned for being pregnant.
Far from being a hothouse flower, Mary was in fact a strong, intelligent mother full of all the graces that God can provide to us as women. Her courage was unparalleled. She had the nerve to talk nitty gritty details with an ANGEL, a heavenly messenger, about exactly how this whole “getting pregnant without a man” business was going to work. Then she accepted God’s invitation to be the mother of his Son without knowing how His plan for her pregnancy would play—would she break her gentlemanly fiancé’s heart? Would she have to raise a baby on her own in the ancient world? “Be it done to me according to Thy will,” is a chill-inducing phrase when the possible outcomes include getting stoned for being pregnant.*
Mary’s physical strength was also remarkable. Not perhaps for her own time, but certainly in light of the fact that many generations of women have been encouraged not to be too athletic or cross over too far into the realm of physical achievement. Our Blessed Mother could walk for days while pregnant. She was a carpenter’s wife in a time when that likely meant she was expected to help with the business, as well as do much of the family’s cooking, cleaning and laundry from scratch and by hand. She traveled by donkey in her third trimester, and she gave birth unassisted in an unheated stable in the middle of winter.
She held on to faith and persevered through trial after relentless trial.
Even greater, though, was Mary’s emotional strength. From the day her infant Son was presented in the Temple, she had an indication that His life (and hers) was going to be incredibly sad. But she held on to faith and persevered through trial after relentless trial. She became a single mom after the death of Joseph. She let go of her only baby so He could go out and do His work in the world. She watched Him clash with the Pharisees, mocked by the people, abandoned by His friends, and finally, condemned, tortured and crucified.
She buried her child, something no mother should ever have to do.
Then, on the third day, she began to exercise a new type of strength and courage: proclaiming to the world that her son, a lowly carpenter’s son from Nazareth, of all people, had risen from the dead and was in fact the son of the Most High God. Amid the continual martyrdom of her boy’s remaining friends, Mary stood as a steadfast mother and leader in the Christian community until her son called her to cross over into eternal life with Him, a journey which in itself requires no small amount of bravery and faith.
All this, and she still enjoyed a wedding and a glass of wine.
Liz Schleicher is a married mama of two and rare cancer survivor. Her career is working with low-income adults, her passion is supporting those with depression and mood disorders, and her shame is that she, a full-grown woman, still can’t get her head in the right sweatshirt hole. She enjoys reading, cooking and dreaming and resides in rural Western Missouri.
*This post was edited to clarify that Mary was not actually an un-wed mother.