Original art:  H.J. McEnroe

​No one enters parenthood prepared. 
Two-thousand years ago, a young, unwed Hebrew girl in Judea faced nearly certain stoning because she found herself pregnant.  Alone, frightened beyond comprehension by Jewish customs and traditions intolerant of the implications, she faced a daunting choice:  to run into the desert, or make a stand.  Armed only with her recent vision of a messenger, she was left with a preposterous “alibi” for how she came to be pregnant.  Who would ever believe…?

Parenthood is a preposterous excursion into the insane. The very notion that one can ever be truly prepared to shepherd a child toward adulthood, imbuing them with all the “chops” necessary for their own hardships, heartaches, and ultimate destiny, is an exercise in certain failure.  Even more ludicrous, the young, unwed mother in question was barely a teenager.  Still, she accepted the messenger at face value – soon thereafter, finding herself with Child.
Every Christian – and most Jews and Muslims – know the story of that Child, each told from a different religious perspective.  Yet, so little is known about His mother.  Still, for Christians, the figure of Mary, mother of Jesus, is a source of both inspiration and trepidation:  inspiration, in her life of service to her Son, to His mission…and as a powerful example of steadfastness and love amidst the insanity and turmoil of first-century, Roman-occupied Judea; trepidation, in the apparitions of Mary – to children, mostly – in various places on earth, with her warnings to pray.
With only the help of a tenuous husband – himself visited by a messenger in a dream, with a troubling request – this young girl delivers her own child in a stable on a cold night.  As a friend once observed, “…imagine the joy and bliss of holding your newborn Son, perfect in every way with the glow of divinity in every breath.”  Thus, begins Mary’s own story of joy and bliss…and heartache and horror.  It’s a story of every devoted parent, to one degree or another.  But this story becomes profoundly more challenging as her Son grows.
When Jesus is twelve-years-old, during the annual festival of Passover in Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph lose track of Him among their friends and family.  Returning to the countryside with their caravan, a day into the trip, they realize He’s not among their people.  Frantically, they return to Jerusalem.  For what must have been three excruciating days, they searched…finally finding Him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to and instructing them in the laws of Moses and scripture from the prophets.  Understandably astonished, Mary demands,
            Son, why have you treated us like this?  Your father and I have been anxiously searching for  you.                          - Luke 2:48
Like any petulant child, He’s got an answer that befuddles her:
            Why were you searching for me?  Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?

  • Luke 2:49

Thus, for Mary, must have begun the realization that she was losing control…and the realization that the ‘Father’ to which young Jesus referred was not her husband.
P.J. O’Rourke, the political pundit and sometime sage philosopher, once observed, “You know your children are growing up when they stop asking you where they came from and refuse to tell you where they’re going.”  Pretty sure this would have resonated with Mary in that moment…except that, in that moment, Mary’s foreboding sense of loss must have begun in earnest.
Little else is given us about Mary’s influence upon her Son.  But influence, most assuredly, was on full display during a certain wedding feast both she and Jesus attended. Mary overheard servants telling the bridegroom that all the wine was gone, and guests were still feasting.  Like any good Jewish mother, Mary went over to her rabbi Son, basically saying, “Fix this!”  Even though He initially rebuffed her, she turned to those servants and said, “Do whatever He tells you.”  The rest of that story is both biblical history and a profound demonstration of Mary as influencing mother of the most influential Man to ever walk this earth.
Mary had stood strong through the challenge and ridicule of unwed motherhood.  She stood strong as her Son performed his ministry.  Ultimately, she stood strong beside the tortured, dying visage of her Son, horribly disfigured and nailed to a crucifix, doing the only thing left that she could:  be present and witness to the horrific death of her firstborn.  She bore Him into this world, and she would be with Him through his last, tortured breath.  Can anyone imagine the searing agony upon her heart?
How do any of us survive such intense grief as the loss of our beloved?  The crippling medical issues?  The torment of abuse?  Take a moment and reflect upon the above image of a vibrant, hopeful, loving mother…turned gray, and sallow, and creased with lines of worry, despair and heart-wrenching sorrow.  An artist’s loving stroke can reveal where words fail.
The Disquieted Spirit
War, famine, plague, pandemic…all have swept us away in numbers both startling and incomprehensible to the human spirit.  Reports abound, from every age, of ghosts and apparitions appearing in unexpected, startling ways.  Many accounts, here in America, of soldiers killed during the Civil War, can be found throughout our country.  The same is true – has always been true – across Europe and other parts of the world throughout recorded history.  Souls of the dead, it seems, when death involves violence and other unnatural causes, often roam the earth – disquieted spirits whose need to return to their God is disrupted by the unnatural manner in which their spirits are rent from their bodies. 
Is it any wonder that Mary – our inspiration and spiritual mother of all Christians – might, from time to time, visit us…such disquiet, wrought by the barbaric cruelty she witnessed, foist upon her Son?  What joyous mysteries has she revealed?  What sorrowful mysteries has she yet to reveal?
Into the Woods
The poem, Into the Woods, is a meditation by Mary upon all these things she witnessed upon accepting God’s invitation – astounding miracles, sacred prayers, loving ministry – in the brief span of thirty-three years, from birth to death of her firstborn Son.  I intentionally chose natural imagery – a forest – as the setting in which all manner of man’s most unnatural actions against our best attributes of humanity would be carried out upon the one person capable of saving us from ourselves.  Both she, and her Son, were swallowed into the vortex of political and cultural upheaval and violent oppression by a foreign occupier. Mary bore witness to all of it…palpable, visceral pain now worn on her face. 
What could possibly account for such courage in the face of such devastation?  I humbly submit, the only thing is faith.  And we, dear reader, are saved because of the loving faith – the wellspring of courage – of that young, unwed Hebrew girl.

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