I grew up in a small neighborhood where the moms all knew each other and the front doors swung open without knocking needed. I was completely comfortable pulling up a chair to the kitchen table of any of the surrounding homes and asking for food and a drink.
Conversations were had with ease...political correctness wasn’t a thing...the disciplining of children verbally was a group effort. I knew that my behavior was being monitored and would be corrected by any woman on that street...with permission from my own mother.
We were all slightly different, of course we were, but we seemed more alike than not. Everyone had a mom and a dad, a job, a dog, and grass that needed to be cut on Saturday. And on Sunday, the cars all pulled out of driveways around 9am and headed to a church.
Where I’m from there is a one on every corner, a church that is. I am not exaggerating. There are so many different denominations to choose from. I can remember my nose pressed to the glass of our car window, counting all the churches we passed before we arrived at ours, the big Baptist one, white columns and all. I would wonder...why aren’t we all together? I want to know what they do differently than we do.
My best friend, who lived directly across the street, was Catholic. I spent a lot of time in her home. If I close my eyes I can smell her mother’s laundry detergent, I loved it so. She also had Sprite in her refrigerator. This was a big deal to me...we didn't keep sodas in our house. I would sneak sips of that Sprite every chance I got.
I also recall the way they had figurines of Mother Mary and open Bibles around the sitting areas. Candles set up for lighting and long strands of beads with crosses on the end. This was captivating too me. I would stare at Mother Mary; run my fingers over her folded hands and bended knees. I wondered why we never really talked about Mary in our church. I mean we did at Christmas, but that was the last I recall throughout the year. (She might have been talked about more than once, This is just the way I recall it.)
We certainly had open Bibles in my home too. My mother studied the Word of God as if it was her life line, and prayer journals were filled year after year. I thank God for that. I am very certain it is the reason I am living the life I have now...the prayers of the ones who love me...God has granted. But no talk of Mary, really.
I gathered that adults were afraid that if they talked about her too much, they were breaching some sort of contract or allegiance to Jesus. It was like walking on thin ice or something. I didn't get it.
Still...I wanted to count beads like my best friend, and I had longing to know more about this Mary she adored. I would ask questions but I was hushed. I imagine it was the same hushing I give my children when they ask questions I don’t want to dive into.
My best friend and I both loved Jesus. We were comfortable talking about Him. I remember her telling me about going into the confessional. My eyes were wide and it was as if she was reading me a Nancy Drew Mystery...I would ask, “Were you afraid? Did he make you list EVERYTHING? Did you tell him anything I did? (Whew) Is he going to tell your mom???!!!!"
My fascination grew and I guess I had pestered her mom long enough...so for the 100th time I asked she finally said yes. "OK Allison, yes, you can come to Mass with us on Sunday." (Mass? I thought we were going to church? Don’t ask her anything or she will change her mind...)
I jumped and clapped and ran home to ask my mom’s permission.
That Sunday came and I was dressed in my best. We parked and walked into the church. I whispered to my friend "Is this Mass?" She giggled and said just pay attention and don’t talk or we are both in HUGE trouble. I pinkie promised her and we took our seat on the soft velvety pew.
I immediately noticed a long bar with pads on it down by the floor. I thought, "How nice, a place to prop my feet!" Her mother squeezed my leg and said in a low firm voice I had never heard come out of her mouth before..."Get you FOOT off the kneeling bench."
The kneeling bench? I had never kneeled in church before. This was going to be awesome!
The preacher was dressed in long robes with cords dangling and he spoke in rhythm. He read the words from the Holy Bible and the congregation would repeat long paragraphs back to him in unison. I stood there...lips sealed. It was so much to take in and then the next thing I knew I was on the floor, kneeling, we all were...bowed low before the giant Jesus hanging on the giant Cross on the platform. I could see the nails and all...
Then came the time for the Lords Supper. I was asked to stay in my seat and not participate. I didn’t question it. I wasn’t offended. I just obeyed and observed as they each went up for a blessing. A BLESSING! I wanted that blessing.
I had never seen someone touch a person’s head and say "May God Bless You In the Name of Jesus Christ." (How beautiful…how important. Bless me someone, please bless me I thought.) It was followed by a loaf of bread ripped and then dipped in red wine. Real wine, the kind that leaves a smell on your breath. The kind Jesus served.
We did a bunch more praying and up and down kneeling and songs and Scripture reading and then it was over. I loved it. And as we were leaving, there she was...Mary. An ivory statue standing with her arms down to her side, slightly open with her head tilted. I went up to touch her dress and stare at her eyes...The one God picked to be the mother of Jesus. Mesmerizing.
That was the last time I went to a Catholic Mass service. Not for any reason really except I wasn’t invited back. I don’t blame them. I was touching everything and asking a bunch of questions. Plus, we were really involved in our own church so it’s not good to have a lot of absences when you are in the learning phase of it all. Sunday school teachers have sticker charts for attendance and I wanted my sticker. (Grin)
Let me say here that I adored my church. It was filled with love and worship and praise to Jesus. It is where I sat at the feet of hundreds of faithful volunteers who taught little children the word of God. I fell in love with Jesus there, had my head submerged in baptismal waters there and married the man my soul is eternally connected to there.
My preacher makes no bones about hard truths of God’s Word yet also speaks of mercy and grace and forgiveness of all sins. He is passionate about the gospel, about serving the poor, about the great commission and he loves his wife in such a way that set an example for even me...a watcher from the pews...one day my husband would love God and love me like that. And he does. I love my church. It feels like home....but I still carry a space of curiosity.
Not a wandering from God…but a searching of His mysteries. Surely, they cannot all be bound up in these walls.
I’m asking God to take me deeper. To follow the things and ways of Him…Certainly, we are all robbing ourselves of a piece of His creativity by setting such hard lines that divide us…brothers and sisters of the One True God. The One who came to set us free, and here we are getting all caught up in our "rules". But the Cross...
I grew up and moved away from home, as one does. I longed to find a church of my own. My man and I have had the privilege of attending several denominations in the process of seeking God’s will for where He would have us become members. As we moved from state to state we researched and visited and prayed and landed in many different churches attached to different denominations. We have learned from them all.
I am quite fond of the Methodist church seeing as my dad was raised in that church and my sister attends one now. I am blessed to have a first cousin who has gone "the preacher route" and he is a Presbyterian. I listen to his online sermons...that boy can give a good word. See for yourself...http://www.revzach.blogspot.com/
I have a Catholic best friend again, I met her in my adult years, and we talk of Jesus often and with great ease. There are differences, yes, but far more that binds us. I am surrounded by new this and new that churches...all trying to name themselves something different in the hopes of breaking down walls that seem unwelcoming. I respect that. Call yourself whatever you want to if it brings people in to worship Jesus Christ.
I am currently a member of Baptist church. I am raising my children there. It is a place of imperfect people who radically love Jesus and do their best to follow the Scriptures. Though, I am not married to it, and I don't see myself staying there the rest of my life...especially if they do not move towards putting more women's voices alongside the men's. The Holy Spirit is rooted in us all equally (Galatians 3:28) and more and more I am longing to hear from both genders. According to Acts 2:17 God declared He would pour out His spirit out on all flesh and “your sons and daughters” shall prophesy. Don't let that bother you. My heart is sealed to Jesus Christ alone. He wasn't a Baptist. And yet He still saved the world...
This Christmas, really just this past week, I am drawn back to the lure of Mary. The Virgin girl who was seen as highly favored by God. He could have picked anyone to deliver The Son...and He picked her. A girl. A human. She was His choice.
From the dust He created Adam, from the rib a woman…from a girl…Jesus. I want to focus on her for just a minute. I don't think that in anyway takes away from the Glory of our Lord. It is in fact a key part of the fulfillment of the Scriptures. (Isaiah 7:14)
I will not pray to her, that is reserved for my God, I don't pray to any humans... but I will acknowledge her role of greatness in the story that woos my heart. The birth of my Savior and yours...The One that will ride in on His white horse according to Revelations and collect all of His people ...from all denominations...
I want my home in heaven to be just like the one I had as a little girl. The one wedged in between the Catholics and the Methodists...the Presbyterians and the Jews. The Non-Denomination the Lutherans and Pentecostals and Episcopalians.
So today...in my attempt to try this "advent"... I'm reflecting on Virgin Mary...thanking God for giving her favor, thanking Him for choosing a young unassuming girl to be an intricate part of the greatest gift man has ever received.
And who knows I may even light a candle and kneel before God in her remembrance. That 80 mile journey on a donkey…full term body aching, baby boy kicking....radical obedience of a 12 year old girl who's response to the Lords call on her life is one to be admired...
And Mary said, “I am a servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Luke 1:38
"Oh how I praise the Lord. How I rejoice in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and now generation after generation forever shall call me blest of God. For he, the mighty Holy One, has done great things to me. His mercy goes on from generation to generation, to all who reverence him."
I’m raising four little girls…what an extraordinary example Mary is to them for multiple reasons. In preparing our heart for the birth of a King, We must not leave out his mother.
The One who put a longing in my heart to climb over man made fences... and search for the things that He deemed important, the whole story, is worthy of the search that makes us uncomfortable.
So you know all about Jesus, but do you know His Mama?