This week’s topic was hard to form around a question. She writes, “I personally think a lot about what it means to be a woman and mother.” It’s a good question. One I think about myself. As I pondered how to even begin answering the question, I realized that I could only say what it means for me in the context of my own faith. It’s tricky because all too often women are supposed to fall into two categories – saintly virgins like Mary, mother of God or those evil temptresses like Eve. As we delve in – it important to acknowledge that men are also boxed by ideas that men can’t show emotion and must be the macho bread earners in the family. That’s a topic for another day.
What does it mean to be a woman and a mother? Who am I? I’ve been reading Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming that tells the story of her life and her own struggle to find meaningful work and balance that with being a good mother. While not everyone becomes the First Lady, I think most women struggle to figure out their place in the world.
It is struggle because for too long women’s histories were not written about or talked about. So we don’t know their stories how they’ve shaped meaning. The Bible is largely silent when it comes to women. You have to work hard to find them and many don’t even have names. There is the widow of Zarephath or the story of the widows mite or the woman caught in adultery. There are some whose names we know, like my name sake Miriam – who led the people in dancing and in their wondering in the desert. There is Deborah who both prophet and Judge. There is Sarah who went when God called to seek that land of milk and honey.There is Dorcas who was an early apostle and preached the good news alongside Paul. There are Jesus friends Mary and Marth. There is Ruth and Naomi and Rachel and Leah.
But the women in the bible whose stories have become the archetype for women in general are Eve and Mary, mother of Jesus. The traditional interpretations that have been handed down from one generation to the next are narrow ways for women to be in the world. There is evil temptress Eve and there is the Saintly Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. What woman do you know that can fit neatly into either one of those images?
I can’t. I’m neither the temptress Eve nor the saintly Mother Mary. I wear many hats. I’m a woman. I’m a daughter, a wife, a mother, a sister, a friend, a minister. I get this wrong. I make mistakes. I struggle. I love children and I love being a mom. My children bring me such joy. But it was hard for me when I first became a mother. I thought it would be something I just knew how to do. They let me leave the hospital with a baby and there were days I wasn’t sure what to do. There were challenges with breastfeeding and no sleep. I thought it was supposed to come naturally but it didn’t. I had to read books and talk to other women. I never called my mother so much as in those first few months of Will’s life. I missed my work and adult conversations.
As women we need to hear the stories of others so we can learn about making mean for ourselves. If you read Genesis carefully Eve isn’t evil. She is curious and she listened to the wrong voice. The serpent instead of God. I’m guessing Eve isn’t alone in doing that. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the three was desired to make one wise, she took the fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.” (Genesis 3:6) Adam didn’t need much persuading. He’d seen that fruit on the tree of knowledge of good and evil and he wanted try it just as much as Eve did. I think Eve’s gotten a bad rap over the years. Adam and Eve both have their eyes opened and both stand naked before God – not just Eve.
Then we have of Mary – mother of Jesus. In every statue and portrait, she stands there in so serenely in her blue gowns. But she was so much more to her. She was young when the angel came to her asking her to bear God’s son into the world. Where did she get the courage? She boldly says to God. “Here I am, the servant of the Lord.: let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) Mary had the courage to say yes. Her first identity should be as child of God.
As women, we need to reclaim the fullness of Eve and Mary’s stories. We also need other role models. Our last reading is the story of Mary Magdalen. She was a follower of Jesus. Before we go any further, there is speculation that Mary was a prostitute. This is simply not supported by the biblical record or that available historical records. Mary was an independent woman. Some say she was a dealer in purple cloth. It is clear that she was a big supporter of Jesus because it says that she provided for him out her own resources. There are some who believe that Mary was Jesus wife. What we do know, Mary was cured of the seven demons who haunted her. We know that, even though it is not part of our bible, there is a Gospel of Mary. We know that is was Mary Magdalene – in every gospel account – never left Jesus. She was there for the crucifixion when all the others had fled. And it was Mary who was the first witness of the Jesus resurrection. Mary was the one who told the rest of the disciples the good news that Jesus was risen. “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18)
Here is why Mary makes a good role model for me. She is complex – she had seven demons cast out of her. She knows what it is like to have troubles. She knows what it is like to feel whole. She knows what it like to love someone and lose them. She knows what it is like to be a follower of Jesus and boldly proclaim, “I have seen the Lord.” (John 20:18) After Jesus’ resurrection, Mary was one of the people who shared and helped to the good news.
As I wrestle with how to tie the many hats I wear together, Mary is someone who reminds me that women have an important story to tell. What does it mean to be a woman and a mother? What makes me who I am and what gives meaning to my life is faith. For me, before I am anything else being I am a beloved child of God and follower of Jesus. That is my starting place as both a woman and a mother. It is because God loves and Jesus invites me to follow that I can be a mom and be minster and be a wife and daughter and sister. It is God’s love that gives me strength and courage when I need it. And when things seem to go terrible wrong, it is God’s love that comforts me. Jesus gives me a path to follow and the reminder that I am never alone. What gives shape and meaning to my life is my life of faith. It is my starting place.
I am thankful for the generations of women who’ve gone before me showing me the way. For who Eve reminds me to be curious and asking questions but not to listen to those devious voices that don’t sound like God’s. Mary, mother of Jesus, reminds me that before am a mother, I am invited to be about God’s work in the world. When God calls, we too can say, “Here I am. Let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) Mary Magdalen reminds me that even though the voices of women in the bible are few, they are so important. She reminds me to bold proclaim my faith, “I have seen the Lord.” Amen.