Mary Bears Witness
Mary Bears Witness:
In Honor of Crucifixion Friday and Holy Saturday
Especially for J. and all women who battle --
for themselves, with infertility, and walk the road of fostering and adoption;
for those who live with a child who struggles with sickness;
for those who have bid farewell to a child whose life was snuffed out too soon.
For all of you who come into this holiday season with heavy burdens, Mary bears witness and her story is for you. It was her son who said, “All you who are weary and burdened, come and I will give you rest.” And he was gone. What rest and hope are left when a mother stares at the lifeless body of her eldest child?
I know a portion of her experience and a fraction of her pain. I see it in my child as her body struggles to function and its inability to do so like other children. My heart breaks with each inflamed fissure in her skin, the little body I harbored, helped create and care for. I know what it is to wash her wounds, to dress them, bind them, and for each injury upon her body, I feel it in my soul. “A mother’s heart feels it the most,” a friend recently lamented as she shared her pain at the disease her child suffers. Another friend shared her trauma and agony due to infertility, the challenges of fostering and adoption, the isolation and feeling of “otherness” due to the uniqueness of her pain. Far too many mothers in Israel and Palestine know similar pain, the pain of seeing their child injured or killed by knife or bomb or gun. Others may whisper that your child is contaminated, evil, a terrorist or insurrectionist. No matter your story, your pain is also hers, and Mary bears witness.
Mary, who mothered a child, she and he always marked by “otherness” due to the situation surrounding his birth. Mary, who held in her heart the strange things people whispered about him and the judgment they passed upon her. Mary, who followed her son to Jerusalem for his final political confrontation, standing by her child even when she did not understand him. Mary, who bore witness to Jesus crucified.
As she stood there, do you think that she piously reflected that the message of this injustice was that bad things happen to good people, but God will work it out for good? I doubt it. Set aside your theology, and think of her that Friday and Saturday. She bore witness to injustice, brokenness, and heartache and there was no good answer for it.
Mary’s heart knows what your mother's heart knows. Pain. That there is no reason why your child suffers so cruelly or why you suffer the way that you do. The Friday and Saturday message is about contradiction. Things should have been another way, yet they are not. These terrible acts are not the meaning of life. Your suffering is not your meaning. The crucifixion is a question that begs an answer. There is no beauty in Mary’s pain.
My fellow mothers who bear witness to the injustice we and our children endure, you know that this pain does not confirm our reality. It strikes us so deeply because it contradicts all that could be, all that should be. This pain is a sign of our humanity and our desire for a healthy, whole and peaceful life. Our liturgical year and our own experience allow us the chance to, like Mary, carry our pain. We feel no goodness in it. We simply stand at a cross and bear witness to wrongs, to pain, to injustice.
Maybe there is a day when all will be made right and this pain we shoulder will pass. But that day is not today. Instead, Mary’s Crucifixion Friday and Holy Saturday story is one we know and feel and live. She is our example of a grieving woman who carries her own pain, who stares at the evils her child endures.
Our task, like Mary’s, is to stand and bear witness to the injustice and refuse to let this be all of our existence. These pains will not be the course of our lives, but our chance to challenge our reality by calling our experiences what they truly are -- evil and unjust. Our pain and presence do not confirm the evils and injustices of our world; our pain and presence challenge our reality.
Wherever you stand, you are in the company of many and you are not alone. Mary bears witness.