Revered and Shunned
Despite the widespread devotion to her through the ages, Mary has remained something of an enigma. Check your local bookstore and you may be surprised by how few titles there are related to the Virgin Mary. While most bookstores have large selections of books on Christianity, books on Mary are often difficult to find.
But perhaps this lack of literature speaks to the historical dilemma. People just don't know how to feel about the Virgin Mary. While Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics revere her, Protestants often feel uneasy about Marian Devotion, sensing that it could distract people from Christ. And while no woman has been a model to more women, some strains of feminism have expressed disdain for Mary, saying that her submissive attitude only fosters a culture of male oppression. Yet the paradox only grows, because to so many of the people who love her most, Mary is the ultimate female representation of strength and power — transcending time and transforming lives.
The final way in which our culture seems to have a paradoxical relationship with Mary is demonstrated through some of its popular images. While many images of Mary are created with great love and reverence, others seem to mock her. The “artistic” depiction of the Virgin Mary covered in dung and pornography, which went on display at the Brooklyn Museum of Art is one example of this. (You can read more about this in Chapter 15.)
During the Reformation, bandits knocked off the heads and limbs from statues as a way of expressing their rage at some of the practices of the Roman Catholic Church. In our day, random vandals topple and shatter statues of Mary as a way of defacing all that she represents.
Another way that Mary is both loved and shunned is through statues. After Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma devastated Louisiana and Florida, many people cared gingerly for pieces of the statues of Mary that had been shattered by the storm. They felt that their loving care for these broken images translated into loving care for Mary and her son. But as much as people have respected these images, over the course of history people have also defaced and intentionally destroyed them.
As much as Mary is shunned, mocked, and feared, she is also adored and cherished. The wide variety of reactions to Mary is suggestive of the wide scope of realities that she represents. So much of who and what she was seems simple at first glance, and then becomes increasingly complex as she is explored. For this reason, paradoxes have offered an invaluable tool for glimpsing this woman who continually stretches beyond the grasp of our language and comprehension.