Everyday Ignatian is a monthly series by Shannon K. Evans, a writer and mother of five living in Iowa who is chronicling moments of grace in the midst of her chaotic daily life through the lens of Ignatian spirituality.
By Shannon K. Evans
January 21, 2020 — The first morning of the new decade found me shuffling around the house to gather last-minute necessities before barreling out the door, arm hooked around the baby’s car seat handle and verbally pulling my nine-year-old son along behind. The rest of the family would stay home, half of them sick and still in bed, but I was determined to ring in New Year’s Day by attending Mass for the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.
In the homily, our pastor commissioned each of us with the charge to birth Christ into the world in our own ways. I thought about his words and what they meant for me as an author and a mother. Often my professional calling feels easier to understand than my calling as a mom, where the stakes feel higher and I walk a bit more blindly. How do I balance nurturing my children’s tender innocence with the task of preparing them to live as Christ in a hurting world? The church teaches that I have Mary as a model and intercessor in motherhood, but I often feel alienated by the docile picture of her that is popularly portrayed.
Surely there was more to Mary than obedience and tenderness. After all, this is a woman determined enough to flee as a refugee to protect her child, persistent enough to nudge him into public ministry at a wedding and strong enough to remain at the site of his murder until the bitter end. Though what is known about her life is sparse, Scripture alone holds ample evidence that Mary was not a woman to be trifled with. When I place myself in the midst of such stories, the woman I observe is both tender and fierce.
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55. As Ignatian spirituality encourages, I love to imagine what it would have been like to be in the room as she said the now-famous canticle. “He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.” How loud was her voice when she spoke this? What was her body language like? What did she and her cousin Elizabeth talk about afterward?
In my mind’s eye, it’s hard to imagine Mary demurely murmuring such radical statements with a shy smile and folded hands as she is so often depicted. These words are prophetic and powerful. My imagination is not Gospel of course, but it helps me personally to imagine that her passionate delivery just might have caused a scene.
However they passed her lips, these two seemingly simple lines indicate that even before Jesus walked the earth — even before his teaching, healing and class-upsetting, even before he befriended the poor, dined with sinners and had theological conversations with women — Mary already understood what God was about. She already knew that the kingdom of God is the great equalizer, disturbing social order and preferring the poor. Her conviction of this was likely one reason she would be qualified for the mighty task of raising the man who would flip everything upside down.
Imagining this justice-seeking side of Mary gives renewed clarity to my calling as a mother. Just as Jesus was given to Mary because she was prepared to raise him to defy the status quo and prioritize the lowly, so too were my children given to me to teach and form to become members of society who will champion the poor and the oppressed. My children do need nurturing and tenderness, yes, just as young Jesus did. And it is my honor to be able to give them that. But should I be fooled into thinking that a mother’s impact ends there, Mary’s words loudly protest otherwise.
As the New Year’s Day solemnity came to an end, our whole congregation sang the hymn “Gentle Woman” in closing. Standing with my oldest son and youngest daughter at my side, I couldn’t help but smile a bit as I sang along, knowing that yes, this woman was gentle — but equally, she was fierce: a determined proponent of justice who formed and shaped Jesus to preach against inequality and oppression. Mary is not only a model of nurture; she is an intercessor and guide for raising children who fight injustice. And perhaps we would see more mothers following her footsteps if churches sang a few more songs about that.
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Shannon K. Evans is the author of “Embracing Weakness: The Unlikely Secret to Changing the World.” Her writing has been featured in America and Saint Anthony Messenger magazines, as well as online at Ruminate, Verily, Huffington Post, Grotto Network and others. Shannon, her husband and their five children make their home in central Iowa.