If you took the two Saints with which the Church has got most tangled up in knots, they would both be called Mary. Mary Magdalene, mistakenly characterized as a fallen woman, and Mary the Mother of Jesus, painted as an ivory goddess of goodness. August 15th is the Feast Day of Mary the Mother of Jesus (if you remember it being September 8th, you would be right, it moved!).

The problem with the way that the middle ages painted Mary the mother of Jesus is that it is totally unrealistic. By turning Mary into a sort of fairy-tale princess centuries of women have been taught to look at someone who is so unlike their reality that they either find it difficult to engage in their every day existence or carry huge burdens of guilt. Wives and mothers are caught up in all sorts of messy and real things. Love, sex, family dynamics, fear, anger are all a part of real women’s lives and being held up to a fantasy as the ideal is not healthy. Let alone the damage the image does to women who do not live lives which look anything like a traditional female role.

As we consider Mary we are called to remember someone who had the most intimate knowledge of Jesus as she carried him inside her and raised him to manhood. She knew joy and sorrow. She remained faithful to her calling as the handmaid of the Lord but we cannot assume her life was lived in a glassy eyed haze of religiosity. Her joy was real joy and her pain was as real as anyone who watches someone they love suffer and die. She must have had days when her back ached, when she was afraid or when her heart was torn in two when she asked questions of God, perhaps, even, when she despaired of the reality of her calling or God’s presence with her.

Allowing Mary to be real, at least to me, allows her to be a more powerful figure in my life. Following in the footsteps of a real human disciple of Christ is so much easier to me than being asked to be like an alabaster saint, detached from the real world and set on a pedestal.