New York Times op-ed: What Mary Can Teach Us About the Joy and Pain of Life, by Tish Harrison Warren (Priest, Anglican Church; Author, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life (Christianity Today's 2018 Book of the Year)):
Two years ago, my husband took up painting icons, an ancient and exacting devotional art form. In his first iconography course, he painted an icon that depicts Mary holding Jesus as an infant. It sits on our mantel, and I look at it every day. It exudes tenderness and love between Jesus and his mother. He is nestled against her, turned slightly toward her face. His hand rests intimately on her neck. Maybe as a tired mother myself I am just projecting, but I’m always drawn to her eyes, which strike me as deeply weary and kind with a touch of sorrow.
As we near Christmas, the church turns our attention to the story of Mary. In the Bible, we first find Mary as an adolescent in a relatively backwater town. She’s a virgin betrothed to marry. Then, she encounters an angel and her world turns upside down. “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus,” says the angel. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”
To me, Mary embodies an idea in the Eastern Orthodox tradition: “bright sadness.” This phrase names how gladness and grief are never easily disentangled, how we taste both longing and delight, simultaneously, in every moment of our lives. ...
[A]s the Gospel stories continue through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we find in Mary’s story that joy and pain constantly intertwine. Her heart is full of all kinds of unimaginable memories treasured up and her soul waits to be pierced. Her life story witnesses to the profound vulnerability of mothers in a world where deep love does not give us the ability to protect our children from all violence or pain.
Mary was called by God, and her life reminds me that the vocations that God calls us to inevitably involve both joy and pain. “Love and loss are a double helix this side of heaven,” I write in my book “Prayer in the Night.” “You can’t have one without the other. God’s calling on our lives will inevitably require us to risk both. We know this dappled reality in the most meaningful parts of our life: in struggling through marriage or singleness and celibacy, in loving and raising children, in our work, in serving the church,” and in our closest friendships.
The poet and songwriter Rich Mullins asked, “How do you know when God is calling you?”
He continued, “To listen to the call of God means to accept some of the emptiness we have in our lives and rather than always trying to drown out that feeling of emptiness, we allow it instead to be a door we go through in order to meet God.” ...
Mary’s story recalls that joy can’t be gotten cheaply. The pain of the world cannot be papered over in a sentimental display of tamed little angels and a cute, chubby baby Jesus. The emptiness in the world and in our own lives can’t be filled with enough hurry or buying power or likes or retweets. We wait for the birth of Jesus, who was called Emmanuel, God with us. We wait with Mary for our hunger to be filled.
Other New York Times op-eds by Tish Harrison Warren: