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Incredulous Mary

Sometimes the things that happen to me overwhelm me with a great generosity or thankfulness. This was not that time. Sometimes my writing is too "pious" to be decent. If there is indecency here, it is likely the opposite variety.

I saw a wooden statue of Mary once at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City.1 It was, for the most part, simply Mary recognizable as such. As is common with Marian statues, Our Lady held a Rosary. In pious imagination, at least, she prays the Rosary along with you, one prayer to Jesus for each Hail Mary. As is common, the statue was lovingly made, with the Blessed Mother depicted in great detail.

But something about the way her face was carved suggested that she was listening to you tell her a story, and she didn't quite believe what you were saying.

A human lie detector like all mothers should be. But how would Mary, even in all her Grace, have learned to tell when children were lying? Her child would have told her few or none. Similarly, Joseph her husband would have told a scant few fibs at the most.

Of course the boy Jesus would have had friends, neighbors, cousins, and so on. She'd have learned it from her less-than-holy extended family growing up. A mother just couldn't be a mother without that built-in lie detector, right?

At any rate, it's probable that she was simply supposed to be carved as tired, or wearied, or weighed down by all the sins and sorrows of the world. Almost certainly she--or the Saint she represents--is. But for a few moments there, all I could see was a mother making an incredulous and almost mocking look at her child's lie.

I wrote the first draft of the previous few paragraphs with a pen and paper while sitting in a pew in the Cathedral in Salt Lake after that meeting with Mary, and I'm fairly sure that all this snark had as much to do with me and my own inner life as it did with her. It's quite possible that the statue wasn't even supposed to be sad or tired, much less incredulous.

I'm still not sure why I ran quite so wild with it at the time. In any case, the snarky reflections that Sunday underlined the personal unease I had brought with me from Oregon to Utah. While something beautiful certainly happened in my meeting with the Blessed Mother, it was also a tense encounter that reminded me of thingsĀ that had to change. Maybe if I'd dropped the farce after seeing her look, and dropped it completely, things would've changed then and there. But I didn't, so the whole mess inside of me stayed a mess, at least at the time.

For all the sadness I could choose to feel for this memory, I think the better response is good, solid, self-deprecating laughter. After all, I can't say she didn't warn me.

  1. It came to my attention in some research here that the statue I saw might've been a different saint. Still quite probable in my mind it was the Blessed Mother, especially if as I suspect the statue in this article made a reappearance last year. In any case that was what I thought, and what happened to me at the time resulted from that thought. If I had the wrong Saint, then the joke's on me again, universe!