Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son.”
And Mary said, “Uh…yeah. Great plan and all, but I’m a virgin.”
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Then Mary said to the angel, “Oh, hello? What – you and ya friends been comparin’ notes? You think you’re so smart you got it all figured out how babies are made?” (Luke 1:31, 34-35, 37; 21st century Brooklyn paraphrase edition)
The call is a funny thing. I mean, there’s always been this sort of deep-in-my-bones aspect to it where I feel fundamentally connected to the commission. But now and then something comes up and I’m left scratching my head, thinking, “Wait…seriously?”
The children’s minister at my church recently invited me to participate in a multi-week immersion class for children about Jesus’ early life in Nazareth. The concept is brilliant – we turn our fellowship hall into a first century Judean village, replete with characters in costume, little shops, and food appropriate to the period, like flatbread and dates and deviled eggs.* Not having kids, I only knew about this class via the grapevine, but I felt confident I could effectively add a little local color by drifting around as a shepherd or a baker or a prostitute.
But, no. Now that I’m under the church’s care as a seminarian, certain unforeseen obligations have begun to present themselves. Because they don’t want me adding local color. They want me participating in the ministry itself. They want me to be an actual character. They want me to be Mary. The meek and mild one, not the frothing-at-the-mouth demoniac one.
For reasons I won’t elaborate upon here, I’m pretty well certain I’m not the best candidate to portray (ahem) the Virgin Queen of Heaven. I made this point to the children’s minister, who cheerfully reassured me that Mary wasn’t a virgin after Jesus was born. I should have leapt at that doctrinal debate in an effort to get out of this detail, but I didn’t think of it.
There’s also the not insignificant problem of my kid phobia. It’s like this:
And then there’s the fact that my brother got all of the actor genes. It only took half a semester for my high school thespian club to exile me to the set crew for all eternity.
But, I also really would like the church to feel like it’s making good on its investments in my education and ordination. (Although, at first, I thought the best way of expressing my appreciation would be to cross-stitch some new decorations for the lobby Christmas tree.) So, what to do? I stalled for time by asking the children’s minister for the script. When she gave it to me, she said, “Please feel free to modify this script any way you want. Make it yours.”
I needed two fingers of Scotch and an IV of insulin after I read it. It seemed to me that Mary’s lines pretty well consisted of:
- “Isn’t it wonderful to know that Jesus died for our sins?”
- “Isn’t it sad that some people don’t believe that Jesus died for our sins?”
- “What will you SAY to someone who doesn’t believe that Jesus died for our sins?”
I absolutely couldn’t go there and even if I did, I couldn’t possibly spend four weeks dragging a bunch of little kids there. Because if that storyline wasn’t enough to hold my attention (which, thanks to a touch of ADHD, is good for about as long as a preschooler’s), it sure as heck wasn’t going to engage a bunch of little kids. And if it doesn’t hold their attention, that means I’d have to focus on crowd control. (Please see the graphics above if you missed the part about my kid phobia.)
So, I debated with myself. One morning, deep in prayer…okay, okay, it was more like deep in bitching to God about this assignment…the Lord granted me a vision. It was no wheel-within-a-wheel, but as soon as the image clicked in my head, I emailed the children’s minister to accept the role.
Thus, this Sunday, I will be portraying Mary. Not Mary, the Virgin Mother of Christ, but Mary, the Jewish Mother of Christ.
Picture this pastoral scene. Jesus is out playing with his friends and Mary is standing in the doorway of their house:
“Joshie!!!** You put that lepah down right now – RIGHT NOW!!! Ya gonna catch ya death! And if you do, then what am I supposed to do, huh? Ya tryin’ to kill ya muthah? Is that what you want? Don’t give me that sass about inheriting the throne of David – what, you think ya talkin’ to your friends? DON’T you give me that look, young man, or I’ll send you straight to Herod. Yeah, you heard me – STRAIGHT TO HEROD! Now get inside and wash ya hands. We’re havin’ gefilte fish tonight. And if it’s cold because of your dawdlin’, don’t look to ME to heat it up for ya.”
Lent is just a few weeks away, so I exempted myself from any discussion about Jesus dying for any reason. Riding on the tail of Epiphany, this Sunday we’re going to talk about how God sometimes makes us do things we don’t want to do (like give birth to the Messiah before you’re married, or portray Mary in Sunday school class). Then one week about international travel – specifically Joseph and Mary getting the hell out of Dodge when Herod had his bright idea to kill all the Hebrew boys under the age of two. And then a couple of weeks putting the whole “Emmanuel – God with Us” theme into preschool context.***
Thirty-six hours before show time, I’m actually kind of looking forward to this gig. I get to raid the costume closet on Sunday morning and will make every effort to avoid a blue and white robe-and-head-wrap configuration. I’m thinking something brown would be more authentic. You never think of the Virgin Mary wiping snotty noses with her apron, but I bet Mary the Jewish Mother did it all the time. Not that I plan to go near any snotty noses, but still, one must embrace one’s character.
Meryl Streep, who will probably get her ten hundredth Oscar nod this year for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher, famously said, “Acting is not about being someone different. It’s finding the similarity in what is apparently different, then finding myself in there.” I suspect we could say something similar about relating to God and other people – that it’s not about overhauling who we are, but really looking closely at who the other person is and finding those places where our reflection looks back at us.
Buckle your car seats, kids. Marian’s channeling Mary on Sunday.
* I’m not entirely sure about the historicity of deviled eggs in Nazareth, but last year, there were a whole bunch left over for fellowship hour. I ate them until I was stupid, although I’ll grant that the transformation was subtle.
** A little Bible trivia here for you. “Jesus” is actually the Greek form of “Yeshua” (“Joshua” to us gringos.) It’s highly unlikely that anyone called Jesus “Jesus” during his lifetime, at least not to his face.
*** I briefly considered bringing things down to real little kid level, with a discussion on the diaper consequences of baba ganouj baby food, but I thought better of it. I don’t want to have to explain what baba ganouj is.
© Marian the Seminarian, 2012