Dangerous Memories: A Mosaic of Mary in Scripture, by Elizabeth A. Johnson, Continuum, NY, 2006.
With the arrival of the First Sunday of Advent on November 29, we will begin Year C of our liturgical observance, concentrating largely on the Gospel of Luke. With this in mind, our Small Christian Community groups have extended an invitation to join them each week of the season to pray and explore the Sunday Scriptures together. The Little Rock Scripture Study Program is already occupied with its study of the Infancy Narratives, material familiar to us from the stories of the birth and childhood of Jesus. And of course, every household has been given a copy of At Home with the Word, to assist all the members of our community to prepare for the readings each Sunday.
I would like to add a forth leg to this structure, providing a sturdy bench on which to sit and ponder the remarkable happenings of a loving God. Dangerous Memories offers a way of finding authentic images of Mary within Scripture, images which, taken together make up the "mosaic" of her life. Unlike the Marian frescoes, panel paintings and canvases created over the years which have contributed to our perceptions of Mary, the minute fragments or tesserae comprising this mosaic can be viewed both at close range and in their entirety at a distance, providing a new and different approach to the Mother of God who is at once our mother, our sister, our friend within the communion of saints, and a prophet.
In the introduction, "Finding Mary in the Worlds of the Text," Elizabeth Johnson clearly delineates each of the three areas which together will form the substrata of her subsequent reflections, "Behind the Text: the Woman of History," "In the Text: Graced by the Spirit," and "Ahead of the Text: Companion in the Communion of Saints." In the first area, she describes the historical circumstances surrounding Mary's life: the poverty, violence, subjugation and deprivation of a Jewish woman living in Nazareth under the power of Rome, Herod, and a patriarchal society. The second area focuses on the unique gift of God's grace offered to this marginalized woman, the gift of the Spirit, the gift of Wisdom described in the Old Testament, to which Mary will respond freely in becoming God's partner in salvation history.
The world of faith forms the third area. Just as the Holy Spirit throughout history has inspired, encouraged, cajoled holy people of all walks of life to take responsibility for making the world holy, bringing life to creation where it is disintegrating, bringing hope and encouragement where there is despair, bringing justice to those who are oppressed or suffering poverty, so also did the Spirit overshadow Mary, drawing her into this community of holy ones, the "clouds of witness," encouraging us on our journey of faith. As a friend of God and prophet, the characterization from the Book of Wisdom, - Mary continues to challenge us as she was challenged, to a greater relationship with God and a stronger connection to those suffering from injustice in any dimension. Herein lies the designation in the title, "Dangerous
Remembering Miriam of Nazareth in this vein can be dangerous
to both complacency and despair. Connecting her multifaceted story
with our own releases transformative power in our lives. Hearing the
word of God and keeping it, she actively partnered the divine work
of repairing the world.
All three worlds described by the author are carried through on the memories of Sacred Scripture. No harmonized story of Mary here, meant to fit reflections into familiar devotions or artistic creations,- the next thirteen chapters open up thirteen separate New Testament readings in which Mary is a vibrant figure of faith.
Like chips of a great mosaic, the Marian texts of scripture are distinct
Images that do not form a complete picture on their own. They are
glued into the story of Jesus Christ, which itself presumes the whole
biblical sweep of God's gracious history with the world.
While any one of these chapters can stand on its own for our prayer and reflection, I would strongly urge the reader to go beyond those 0chapters that form our Advent-Christmas consciousness to include all of the facets of the mosaic. The reward will be an exceeding richness.
Maureen F. McDermott