The Daily Office readings for Tuesday paralleled our first mother, Eve, with our second, Mary. In Genesis, the presence of God is in the garden, asking man how he happened to notice his nakedness (Gn 3:9-15). Adam points to Eve who acknowledges, “The serpent deceived me and I ate.” Eve rejects the first divine imperative, conceding her will to that of the serpent as if his understanding of the way things are (“it’s good to eat the fruit”) exceeds and nullifies her understand of what God had spoken (“don’t eat the fruit”). Implementing her freedom of choice in this manner, Eve diminishes her power by submitting to the serpent’s suggestion and not acting out of her own conviction. Responding to the woman’s deviation toward passivity, God puts a name to her action in the form of a curse, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” It reads like an accusation and an allowance of what she herself has determined; more consequence, “look what you’ve done to yourself,” than curse. This was not the pattern of relationship for which we were originally formed. It is the result of an aberration, one that has continued as each successive generation accepts the “curse” as an indelible aspect of reality and not a consequence renewed by each individual’s chosen course.
With Mary, we have an example of one who walks another way, returning to the original pattern before it was distorted. Initially, this “new Eve,” looks to be following the same formula as her predecessor. An outsider, the angel Gabriel, enters her guarding, so to speak, and delivers a message. This message (you will conceive and give birth to a son), is to her understanding, contrary to the proper order of things; “how can this be?” Mary’s understanding is based on a broken way of being initiated by the first false move and perpetuated by those that followed. Mary accepts the contradiction. In doing so she is like Eve, believing that the assertion from this outside source supersedes what she previously accepted as truth. She is different though in that her acceptance signals a restoration for woman/humankind, to the position in which she was originally created. That is, in direct relationship with God, choosing to act in alignment with his intentions; whereas Eve’s obedience was an act of submitting to an authority other than God to rule over her. Mary and Eve are placed in the same position but on opposite sides. Eve, from a place of union, chose division. Mary, from a place of division, chose to be reunited. Hence Mary is called, “Holy Mother,” not just because the one that she delivered through childbirth was holy, but also because she is in a sense a deliverer as well; restoring for those with the vision to see an example of how we can relate and respond to God, even when Word God speaks stands in contradiction to our understanding of how the world works. We all, like Mary, are presented with that choice of being filled with the Christ and delivering him to the world or otherwise rejecting the claim that “with God all things are possible,” and saying, “This cannot be.” The latter is a sensible response. It makes sense to look at the overwhelming, destructive cycles that encircle us and to submit to resignation. “This is just the way the world is.” There are those, however, with ears to hear and eyes to see that that become aware of way that while not new is surely different. They know it looks impossible, and that is sounds crazy, and in response the say, “I’ll take it.”
I read these passages on Tuesday morning and they triggered a replay of a question a classmate had posed during her presentation the previous night; “If government authorities came to your home and commanded you to do something you believed was wrong, would you say, ‘no.’” I raised my hand, along with about a dozen others, indicating that I would. If this same question had been asked of me a year ago, I don’t know what I would have said. Even now, my confidence wavers. I am uncertain of my own judgment and feeling diminished by my ignorance, inclined to obey, if not trust, those who display certainty. More and more, I learn to question and to recognize that the common way is not always the best. I believe that I am beginning to understand what it means to be free.
Hail Mary, full of Grace; blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb…pray for us…