As a convert to Catholicism, the traditional reverence to Mary, the mother of Jesus, has been a hard concept to wrap my head around.
My initial objection to Mary was pretty typical of Protestants: we refuse to talk about Mary–let alone honor her–out of fear of elevating her over Jesus. Fortunately, Catholics also share this concern!
Honestly, honoring Mary is quite biblical. See, the thing is, Catholics don’t equate singing songs or praying to someone as worship. We worship Jesus (as a member of the Trinity). We worship Jesus’s real presence in the Eucharist. We worship Him, by consuming Him. God alone is worthy of worship.
Honoring Mary, or revering Mary (even in songs, prayers, words, and images) doesn’t cross that line. Furthermore, it’s often said that Mary always leads people to Jesus.
But, even knowing all that, it is still hard sometimes to wrap my head around honoring Mary.
As a kid, the idea of personifying nature as Mother Earth always appealed to me.
After all, we are all part of nature. Without nature sustaining us, we would all die. In many traditions (including the Judeo-Christian tradition), people came into being through the dust of the earth. While God breathed life into us, our physical beings came from the earth.
Just as we physically come from our mothers, so we come from Mother Earth.
Mother Earth is an easy analogy to begin use physical objects as very real symbols, to see truths represented within everyday occurences, patterns, and things.
Mary’s Symbolic Nature
While Mary was a very real, historical person, a lot of the fascination surrounding her throughout the centuries is that she evokes a huge amount of symbolism within the Christian tradition. Apologists refer to any very real, tangible, historic person (or event) which forshadows a greater, universal truth as an “archtype” or “type”–which, unless my definition is faulty, is just a fancy word for a symbol.
While Mary was just one woman, she often symbolizes the church.
While Mary was just one woman, she often symbolizes every woman (and man).
While Mary was just one woman, she often symbolizes all of creation.
In the beginning, God created the Earth. He called it good.
It was God’s first, perfect creation.
Mary is also referred to as a perfect creation of God. Again, she is a symbol of all that humanity could be, all that we should strive to be, and all that we will be someday.
(For those that struggle with that whole concept of Mary being sinless . . . I do, too. If you’re interested, click here for a better explanation, as I am still processessing that idea. But this is a great explanation! Even if you don’t buy into it, for the sake of this analogy, let’s say, “OK–Mary was sinless, and therefore a perfect creation.” If you can’t do that, click here to read about how cool Mexico is, instead of reading the rest of this post.)
For those who are still with me, let’s get back to the point–the Earth is God’s perfect creation, and Mary is an example of God’s perfect creation.
Do we worship Mary?
Do we worship the Earth?
But should we care for both?
We are commanded to “honor our mother and father.” Did Jesus honor his mother? Of course. Jesus asked us to follow him, to follow his lead, to do what he did. If that’s the case, how could honoring his mother be wrong?
Likewise, God created the Earth. He took pleasure in it. He walked through the Garden of Eden. God in Jesus also walked all over Isreal. God breathes life into all creation. “Wherever one or two are gathered in my name, there I am.” So God is everywhere.
If God is present all over the earth, if God was pleased with his creation of the Earth, shouldn’t we also honor the Earth?
Traditionally, we have placed too much emphasis on the command to “subdue the Earth.” I wonder if that isn’t a mistranslation. Given what I understand of Adam and Eve’s roles and God’s nature in general, it seems that “care for the earth” was more of what God was trying to tell Adam and Eve (and therefore, us). After all, if God is love, and we are God’s followers, how does “subdue the Earth” fit in?
Care for the Earth? Absolutely.
Furthermore, as we repeat every year on Ash Wednesday, “Dust you are. To dust you will return.” We are merely the dust of the Earth. We are children of Mother Earth breathed in with life from God the Father.
I realize, part of people’s objections with the idea of Mother Mary/Mother Earth is that it appears to elevate Mary (or the Earth) on equal footing with God the Father. After all, in healthy family relations, both parents should share that position of authority and power equally, right?
But while God the Father is a great analogy, and makes it clear that God loves us and is approachable, it is actually a limiting title for the hugeness of God.
Both Mary and the Earth are God’s creations. God is God to both Mary and the Earth. Just like with the rest of us, their being exists solely in God. (No doubt, both Mary and the Earth are much more secure in the knowledge than we are!)
But God can exist without us.
While God the Father is an excellent title, it is far from the only title for God.
Let’s not limit God.
Taking that into account, all of creation is indeed a beautiful family, with God the Father, Mother Earth, and all the rest of creation as children. But that does not mean that God the Father and Mother Earth are on equal footing!
So What Am I Saying?
Am I suggesting pantheism, where we worship everything? No.
Am I suggesting that we honor all of God’s creation? Yes.
Worshipping something and honoring something are not the same.
As Christians, as the Church, are we honestly honoring God’s creation? As Catholics, we have a long tradition of honoring Mother Mary. Do we have an equally strong tradition of honoring Mother Earth, who could possibly be another archtype for Mary?
Is anyone else getting a little uncomfortable about how we treat the Earth? Do we honestly appreciate the Earth as God appreciates it? Do we appreciate it as he wants us to? What do we need to change, so that we appreciate and honor the Earth as God wants us to? Do we honor God’s creation as a means of worshipping the One who made it?
On the flip side, as a Catholic convert having trouble relating to Mary, understanding Mary as an archtype for Mother Earth also makes it easier to honor Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and accept her as my spiritual mother, too.
Reflecting on this, how can we show honor toward both these perfect creations, Mother Earth and Mary?
Photo of Hands Holding a Seedling by Noah Buscher on Unsplash.
Dirt Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash.
Sunrise Photo by David Zawila on Unsplash.