For the benefit of readers who know nothing of Scottish culture let me explain that a proddy is a Protestant brought up to view anything connected with the Virgin Mary as Roman Catholic and therefore probably damnable. My own upbringing was more reasonable, softened by elements from the English Cathedral Christmas, but it stopped short of anything that might be called mariolatry.
Over time I have come to see the Catholic tradition about Mary as an answer to the male bias of mainstream Christianity, but as the wrong answer. Yes, Mary has become a kind of female incarnation of God, with her motherhood emphasised and her sexuality rejected. She is the apotheosis of the female eunuch, serving the male power of Christ and The Father and conceiving Jesus through the male power of the Spirit. She has been distorted by a deviant preference for virginity over sexual experience, and has in turn helped to bring the Catholic tradition on sexuality into its current antiseptic irrelevance to healthy people although it does, however, influence the aberrant sexuality of its male priesthood. She is a male dream of holy womanhood.
The biblical Mary is quite different. Luke makes her a feisty young woman, part of a family whose women,especially, dream of the Messiah to come, and are ready to play their parts in his birth and ministry. She responds to Jesus’ adult ministry with dismay and is rebuked along with the rest of his family for not giving priority to God’s will. She is also mother to Jesus’ brothers and sisters. She follows Jesus to the cross, and becomes the mother of the Christian community as part of the household of John the disciple. Her son James becomes the leader of the community of believers in Jerusalem. The biblical account gives absolutely no indication that she remained virginal for the rest of her life or that she was assumed bodily into heaven.
Still, even a Prod has to admit that she must have been a splendid person; indeed a Prod like me who doesn’t believe that Jesus had a son of God implant which made him different from other children, is probably the ideal person to appreciate Mary’s qualities as a woman and mother. She along with her husband Joseph must take credit for Jesus character and wisdom. The reasonable deduction, that Jesus’ parents contributed to his adult nature, undermines a magical view of Jesus as son of God, and allows us to begin a reflection on the God who works through an evolutionary process which culminates in Mary and her first-born child.
Yes, that’s a real brain teaser!
Meanwhile I leave my readers with a fresco by Giotto, which more than any other work gives us the human Mary and Jesus, and the bond between them. Mary reaches for her child from the midwife and her eyes look into his, and his into hers. This is the word made flesh.