Was baby Jesus ever spanked by Mommy?

Published November 1, 2000

MARY, tenderly holding the Christ-child in her arms, is an instantly recognizable icon of Christmas, even for the person of little or no faith. But did mother Mary ever spank a misbehaving little boy, as imagined by an artist mentioned in this collection of creative and provocative essays?

[pullquote] First given at a series of conferences sponsored by the (Anglican) Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk, a place of pilgrimage in England since the 12th century, the essays are presented “with the conviction that the birth of Jesus Christ was the defining moment in human history and the unique revelation of what it means to be human. Mary is the gateway to that revelation, offering the eternal Word a local address.”

So says Fr. Martin Warner, a priest administrator of the shrine, whose introduction effectively focuses the insights of the 11 contributors into a unified whole. As it explores ideas of revelation and response – both of Mary and today’s disciples – the book is happily free of the “preciousness” often associated with Marian literature. Detective story author P.D. James, writing as a contemporary Walsingham pilgrim, contributes a thoughtful foreword.

The book is really about the Incarnation – the “revealing” in the subtitle – while showing that Mary’s role in it goes far beyond that of mere bit player. Written for ordinary lay people willing to work at their reading, it approaches the subject through four themes: doctrine, society, art, and liturgy.

Heavyweight theologian Rowan Williams sets the context with the powerful opening essay, The Seal of Orthodoxy: Mary and the Heart of Christian Doctrine, which is well worth the couple of readings (or more) needed to absorb it. The rest are less strenuous.

Contemporary social issues are addressed in three insightful essays, comparing motherhood and family life then and now, and the values driving today’s society. Though written in an English setting, the illustrations used and ideas expressed could apply anywhere. The arts, music, architecture, and worship are imaginatively inter-linked in seven of the essays, showing Christian truth reaching beyond the intellectual to embrace all the senses.

While at Christmas Anglicans may sing lustily about “yon virgin mother,” the Reformation left us, at best, ambivalent in our “out-of-season” thinking about Mary. Catholic in perspective, evangelical in emphasis, this book offers a fresh sense of proportion about Mary’s year-round significance in the mystery of the Incarnation and her relevance to our pilgrimage of faith today – after all, it was her “yes” that enabled it all to happen.


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