Scared child. Proud parent. Beloved icon. Soul sister.
In her startlingly beautiful book, Full of Grace: Encountering Mary in Faith, Art and Life, author Judith Dupre uses each of these phrases to describe the Virgin Mary.
It is the last — “soul sister” — that sparked my imagination.
The Mother of God as friend had never occurred to me. Not in the human sense, at least.
Surely Mary is a spiritual companion and, in that sense, “friend,” but when she walked among us, Mary was and had friends.
She also had a soul sister — her older cousin, Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. When Mary realized the truth of her pregnancy, she “made haste” to the welcoming, non-judgmental, grace-filled friendship of her loving (and also pregnant) cousin’s arms.
Perhaps because I’m a new mother myself, as we enter this Advent season, I find myself looking at Mary the woman — the girl, really — with new eyes.
She must have been completely freaked out. I mean, come on. She was, what? Thirteen, maybe 14 years old?
At that age, an unexpected zit would have sent me into a dither of despair. I cannot fathom what an unexpected pregnancy — especially one of the divinely-conceived variety — would have done to my young soul. I do know the first thing I would have done was call my best friend.
Mary turned to her soul sister. Aeons before telephones and text messages, she did the next best thing. She ran to Elizabeth.
“Who better to go to when you’re a frightened teenager, pregnant, unmarried with the risk of death by stoning?” Dupre writes. “[Mary’s] encounter with Elizabeth radiates the great warmth and energy that is generated when two kindred spirits meet…Both women are pregnant, unexpectedly, miraculously, outside convention.”
In the company of Elizabeth and the go-between God who is as powerfully present between people as in them, Mary experiences metanoia — a transformation of the heart, Dupre explains.
Spiritual traveling companions, such as Mary and Elizabeth, are the catalysts for change, for sacred step-taking in our lives.
“Someone believes in us, shows us the light, and on we go until the next leap of faith,” Dupre says. “There’s a name for these beacons of light and belief. They are called friends.”
Her name is Jennifer Grant.
We are not related by blood, but that’s just a technicality. She is family.
A couple of years ago, Jen took me by the hand and waltzed me into parenthood. An adoptive parent herself, when surprise motherhood presented itself to me in the person of a 9-year-old orphan boy, Jen stood with me — joyful, expectant, laughing.
At the airport when Vasco arrived from Africa.
At the end of his hospital bed as my not-yet-son recovered from heart surgery.
And by my side in prayer (because there is no distance in the Spirit) when a Malawian judge made Vasco our legal and forever child earlier last year.
Jen had faith in and for me long before anyone ever called me “Mom.”
In her memoir, Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter, Jen recalls the birth of her eldest child, Theo, and a period of “post-partum elation” that followed.
“I remember looking out the window on the ride home from the hospital,” she writes. “I thought the streets should be lined with people, not only to mark his homecoming, but to celebrate every new life who exited the hospital driveway. The hope, potential and love that could grow from this tiny person felt almost overwhelming to me.”
I asked Jen about Mary and her enduring appeal for so many of us — especially those of us for whom motherhood was a divine surprise.
“Maybe Mary felt that way about the world,” Jen said, “like she had just brought the most wonderful gift to everyone in it. When she saw people passing by, behind the stable, maybe she had a little excited shiver or led out a giddy little laugh.
“Maybe Joseph heard it. Maybe he dismissed it as the giggle of a teenager. ‘Oh Mary. Geez,’ he said with a sigh. ‘Can you keep it down? I’m trying to get a little sleep. Not everyone got to ride a donkey all the way here.’
“But Mary was smiling,” Jen said. “’Just you wait,’ she thought. ‘Just you wait.’”
Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. She is the author of several books, including The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers and her new release, BELIEBER!: Fame, Faith and the Heart of Justin Bieber. Follow Cathleen on Twitter @godgrrl. This post originally appered on Cathleen's Blog, The Dude Abides and via Religion News Service.