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Mary's Shame, Mary's Glory

It's a little late in the game, but I've been meaning to recommend a book: God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas. It's a beautiful (including color pictures of major works of art throughout the centuries) book with reflections on Advent by poets, theologians, and other writers, including Kathleen Norris, Eugene Peterson, Richard John Neuhaus, and Luci Shaw. A wonderful gift for yourself or anyone else who might want help remembering Advent in the midst of American holiday cheer.

Yesterday's reflection, by Luci Shaw, offered a reflection on Mary. I'm going to quote at some length:

"It was Henri Nouwen who made the important distinction between productivity and fruitfulness. Productivity suggests a machine grinding out a commercial product. By contrast, fruitfulness give us the organic image of a tree, rooted in rich soil, tempered by weather and seasons, by cold and wind and sun, able to give shade, to bud and flower, and to bear fruit.

"Years ago a friend of mine who had also lost her husband gave me a magnetic motto for my refrigerator–'Live generatively.' It was an encouragement to me to be a risk-taker, a 'universe-disturber for good.' To move in a life-giving direction, not only for one's own sake but for that of others. To contribute to the energy of the world.

"Mary, Jesus' mother, lived generatively from the moment of the Annunciation, through pregnancy and childbirth, all the way to her presence along with the disciples in the upper room of Acts 1. Because she said 'Yes' to both shame and glory, Jesus, offspring of Abraham and Judah and David, the flower and fruit of her womb, became the Savior of the world."

She said "yes" to both shame and glory. Because of having a child with Down syndrome, I think we've tasted this "yes" just a little bit. I imagine that Mary did not feel ashamed of saying "yes" to the Spirit. She knew that there was no shame in bearing Jesus, no shame in responding to God. And yet she experienced public shame as an unwed mother. Similarly, I feel no shame in having Penny as my daughter, and yet there is a public perception and experience of shame associated with having a child with a disability. I've written about it before–the spoken assumptions about us not "risking" another child, the news reports that talk about the "inevitable burden" of having a child with Downs, the use of the word "retarded" in the popular media. There is a public assumption that we should be ashamed, when in fact we could not feel more proud.

Proud, yes. Even more so, blessed.

God's blessing fell upon Mary too, as the God-bearer, the Mother of God. And as we look ahead to the celebration of his birth, once again I am grateful that she bore the public shame for that personal blessing, and that the blessing went forth to us all.

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