On the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception


Immaculate Conception painting by Miki de Goodaboom, 2010

I don’t get Mary.

I mean, yes, I recognize that of all the women that ever lived, the peasant girl Mary was singled out to be the host womb for the human birth of Jesus Christ. There was that terrifying visit from the archangel Gabriel to tell her all about it and everything. I understand that Mary is a critically important character in the story.

I guess what I don’t get is how Mary’s story unfolds.

I don’t get why she wasn’t yet married to Joseph at the time, and instead had to go through the trauma of hoping he, their families, and the entire community, would believe her impossible story. I don’t get why she was forced to travel to Bethlehem at the end of her pregnancy. Surely our omniscient Creator could have timed either the pregnancy or the census differently. I don’t get why she gave birth, alone, in a stable far from any familiar supports. I don’t get why shepherds, not rabbis or governors, were the first to pay honor to the Lord of Lords upon his human birth.

Unlike my cradle Catholic sisterfriend, Mary, I have spent most of my life engaged in expressions of Christianity that are decidely non-Catholic. Marian devotion is not at all widespread beyond Catholicism. Mary only tends to come up around Christmas, and while she is super important to the story, teachings I have had about her make it clear that she is a supporting character.

My understanding is that the Almighty chose this scenario for Jesus’ birth in order to blow the minds of the folks who were expecting their King of Kings to arrive in a of blaze of glory. The Jews wanted some sort of warrior king to bring them salvation from an oppressive government. The Jesus they got was a whole other kind of Savior. The King of the Jews, who would save them–and all humankind– not from a government, but from death and sin, started his earthly life as an infant in a carpenter’s family. Mary’s humble stature, her extreme ordinariness, is meant to highlight that point.

No preacher I have heard, no devotional I have read has suffiently explained why it was so brutal an experience for Mary, though.

I have little understanding of the Catholic teachings about Mary’s own miraculous birth without original sin, for living the remainder of her life perpetually a virgin, and for then ascending into heaven without first dying a natural death. I have many, many questions.

For today’s Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, I have learned that I am far from alone in my misunderstandings of this feast day. This is not about Jesus’ conception, but rather about Mary’s. This is the day that commemorates Mary’s conception as the moment that she was set apart to one day be the mother of Jesus.

Catholics believe that at the moment of Mary’s conception, the Creator marked her, exempting her from Original Sin. “Sin” has gotten a bum rap, becoming synonymous with “wrong,” “breaking rules,” or being “bad.” If one understands sin as “separted from God,” though, it gives Mary’s story a whole new lens angle.

Can you imagine this? At the moment of Mary’s conception, she was protected from the inevitable separation from God with which  all humankind since Adam and Eve have had to contend. What must that have been like to have always known, really known, your Creator? How different would life be, knowing that God is with you?

Advent, 2018: Reflections on–and of–Light

advent advent wreath burn burnt
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The name of our blog came about from a conversation Mary and I were sharing with some writer friends a year ago, as they were discussing their Advent practices. Most of the folks in the discussion were enthusiastic about the season and the celebrations for Christmas. Several had suffered catastrophic illnesses and losses, so were struggling, but still looked forward to the joys the season has always brought them.

Mary noted that for a whole host of reasons, including mothering children who rely upon consistent routine to get through their days, the holiday season has become something she endures, rather than truly celebrates. She quipped, “I guess I’m just made for Ordinary Time.”

To my surprise, I realized that I agreed with her.

See, I absolutely love the trappings of Advent and Christmas—the traditions, decorations, the cookies, the eggnog, the celebrations… I am one caroling-party away from being a character in a Cable Network Christmas Movie. Underneath all the trimmings, though, I have to confess that I am always let down by the season. The extra demands on my time and attention exacerbate my health problems for starters. More critically, though, is my ongoing wrestling with the Almighty to hang onto my faith. Advent forces you to contemplate your beliefs, ideally in expectation of rejoicing in birth of the Savior, and in the promise of the Second Coming. When you wake up on Christmas morning not sure of who or what you believe in, well, it’s a bit dark, eh?

I would like to say that this year, here in this public forum, I will finally figure it all out. I’d like to believe that this year, someone—perhaps a charming-kid-next-door type with an adorable dog—will come into Mary’s life and show her and her family the Meaning of Christmas so powerfully that their hardwired anxieties will be overcome in an hour-minus-commercial-breaks.

This is no holiday television special. That’s not how any of this life business works. We know. So, for this Advent, we share a more modest goal:

Find the bits of light that come this season and pay attention to what they illuminate.

We invite you to join us as we struggle along the way in the dark together.