This is kinda’ nuts. And I would say I can’t believe the Washington Post printed this but I absolutely believe the Washington Post printed this.
The Rev. Ruth Everhart, who is a victim of rape, wrote that it hurts her that Catholics appreciate Mary because they honor her. Obviously, this woman went through something terrible but impugning the Virgin Mary is a tad over the line.
And, of course, we get a “patriarchy” shout out. I bet if she were speaking at a Sunday service and everyone had to drink every time she said the word “patriarchy” there wouldn’t be a non-puking non-passed out person crawling out of there.
Church culture tends to be fixated on sexual purity year-round, but during Advent, I’m tempted to blame it on the Virgin Mary. After all, she set an impossibly high bar. Now the rest of us are stuck trying to be both a virgin and a mother at the same time. It does not seem to matter that this is biologically impossible. Can you at least try?
I’ll speak for myself. I was raised in the church and taught to be a good girl, by which I mean obedient, quiet and sexually pure. That worked reasonably well until I was 20. During my senior year of college, my housemates and I were the victims of a home invasion. The intruders held us for hours and took turns raping us at gunpoint. The next year of our lives revolved around the criminal-justice system.
Of course, I was traumatized. But what was harder to describe — and more long-lasting — was how the crime became bound up in a sense of sexual shame. I wondered constantly: Did I somehow deserve to be raped? Had the rape ruined me irreparably? Both questions seemed inevitable. After all, what is the opposite of being sexually pure? Sustaining irremediable damage. Being ruined.
I’m not blaming my sense of ruin on the Virgin Mary, not entirely. Protestants do not claim Mary in the way Catholics do, but every Advent I feel a sense of kinship. I know what it’s like to be a good girl whose life got upended by what someone did to her body. Of course, her story plot was good and mine was bad. Plus she was, well, a saint. And I’m not.
Still, I study her this time of the year — always dressed in blue with downcast eyes — and want to ask: “How was it really? And how do you feel about what the patriarchy has done with you?”
I’m convinced of this: Mary is not responsible for what we’ve done to her story. Church culture has overfocused on virginity and made it into an idol of sexual purity. When it comes to female experience, the church seems compelled to shrink and distort and manipulate.