Festivals/Seasons & Holy Days

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Mary, the original Christian: Lindsay Newcombe

Mary, the original Christian

page 3 Holy House at Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham

Lindsay Newcombe

I am at my desk surrounded by papers relating to my work. At my feet there are some of my daughter’s toys, and papers lie around from the last meeting of the General Synod. Among the papers there is a little prayer card with a picture of Mary the Mother of God on it. Even in my slightly shambolic study I always have Mary near me. I light candles before her image each Sunday morning and visit the ancient shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk at least once a year. My rosary slips between my bag and coat pocket so that it is usually with me. Unconsciously I have gradually made Mary part of my life and over the years she has become part of my environment. Before now I haven’t really asked myself ‘why’ it is that Mary is important to me.

Mary was a radical person, an independent woman who overcame fear. She was an honoured and respected figure at the centre of an astonishing movement contrary to the political and religious ideas of the time. As a mechanical engineer, wife, and mother, it is natural for me to be inspired by anyone who is able to combine her various callings that don’t conform with what is expected of a woman.

Her role as the mother of Jesus gives her significance for all Christians and it is right to honour her for being the one called to that unique ministry. The many titles she has received over the years indicate how important she has been to Christians through the centuries.

I am interested in understanding Mary, as a person, because of my admiration for her. There is a great distance between her and me in terms of the cultures we live in. However in our generation we do have opportunities to find out more than the Gospel writers tell us. She comes to us in the form of prayers, statues, icons and poetry re-interpreted and repeated many times over the years. Each depiction of Our Lady has the potential to clarify and deepen our understanding of her.

Mary is the original Christian, she has been around longer than any other. In all this time there have been very many representations of Mary – all interpreted and created by different people, each with a unique energy, made for a particular purpose. The images I like to focus on in particular are images of Mary and Jesus together: the caring image of a mother encouraging, feeding or protecting a tiny child; the powerful image of Mary holding the dead body of her son – a man despised and rejected by rulers and by friends.

I love to discover new things about her through the prayerful interpretation of other people. Now that I have a young child, the images of Mary which inspire me the most are realistic images showing mother and child, candidly catching a moment of family life. This is because I can relate to the dynamics, the love between the two. Love and joy. Love and anxiety. Love and hope.

Jesus came down from heaven and nestled himself in another heaven, the body of Mary. When we receive Jesus in Communion we also become bearers of Christ in a real way so she is a model to us, giving tips on how to receive Jesus. I find the imagery of Mary with the Christ child to be helpful in this; the lightness and joy with which she bears him should be our joy, too.

An image of Our Lady that I sometimes find difficult to relate to because of its celestial opulence is that of Mary enthroned in heaven. Sometimes she is shown enthroned beside her son. I do not see this image as often, but when I do it is a brilliant reminder that Mary is in an ideal place to help us every day. I love to say the ‘Hail Mary’ which is based on the words the angel Gabriel said to Mary when he told her of God’s plan for her. ‘Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.’ When I say it I acknowledge that I am not really all that good at prayer, that I allow the day’s stresses and busyness to fill my heart and push God out, and I need a friend to help out by praying with me.

Her unique role in the story of our salvation gives Mary a wide appeal, and therefore many people have been inspired to honour her through prayer and art. I love the fact that this gives us many opportunities to come close to her, and therefore to Jesus. And also that it gives us the opportunity to share our experience of Mary with others from different traditions. The image of Mary where I pray most often is the icon in my parish church. When I pray there I remember that I am participating in an activity that goes beyond divisions in the church, quietly uniting the church in prayer.

It is hard to admit sometimes that I find it difficult to communicate with Jesus when I cannot see him in the flesh the way I see family, friends or colleagues. Mary helps by showing us a very close relationship with him. She loved and cared for him, Luke tells us she got anxious when he ran off in Jerusalem, and was astonished by him. Mary overcame fear and leaped in to life, and she changed the world when she bore Jesus. Jesus Christ is a person – it’s that simple, and it’s that complicated – it’s that ordinary, and it’s that extraordinary. It is through Mary that this miracle happened, and through her relationship with him we can come to love and know him better too. f


Dr Lindsay Newcombe is Lay Vice-Chairman of Forward in Faith and a member of the General Synod of the Church of England.page 3 Lindsay Newcombe