After Mass today, we stopped by the grotto in the parking lot so the boys could say Hi to Mary. This has become a weekly tradition, one that the boys look forward to as much as I do. There are beautifully-tended flowers blooming all around the grotto, with a winding brick path leading to the statue of Mary. I always love the dramatic contrast between the rough stone walls and the smooth glass sides of the votive candle holders that people leave at Mary’s feet.
As we drew closer to Mary, Luke suddenly said, “No touch!” He was referring to the candles in their glass holders, white and hot, which I’ve warned him about in the past. “No touch!” he said again, obviously pleased by the fact that he remembered my words.
As we headed back to the car, I realized that there was a time when “no touch” would have seemed like a pretty appropriate way to talk about Mary herself. I would have looked at her, white and sky blue up on her pedestal, and thought: That is a woman who is nothing like me. She’s pure and perfect and practically inhuman. For years, she seemed pretty darn untouchable — more like a snow queen than a flesh-and-blood woman.
But that was before many things happened in my life to make her become totally real to me. Most of all, it was before I became a parent, and discovered the overwhelmingly physical nature of being a mom. Motherhood is a full-contact sport, really, one that involves all kinds of touch, and Mary must have experienced all of this herself. Before Jesus was born, she surely felt him fluttering inside her, stretching and unfolding his limbs. After he was born, she would have fed him with her own body. She hugged him, bathed him, cuddled him, brushed back his hair, and probably kissed boo-boos away. And years later, when her son was dying on the cross, she was probably going out of her mind wanting to touch him and hold him and comfort him, but he was too far out of reach, and she couldn’t. I think this is part of the reason why images of the Pietà are so powerful to me: she’s holding her dead son on her lap, just as she did when he was a baby, because a mother wants nothing more than to cuddle her kids, to feel their warmth and weight, and even death doesn’t kill that desire.
I love every image of Mary, including the beautiful queenly statues standing on pedestals. But the ones I love most these days are the images of her where she looks ordinary, human, touchable. I love the pictures where she looks like a real woman and a real mom, a comfortable lap that you can climb into where you can hunker down, safe and warm, just as her little boy did.
No touch? No. Touch.
Holy card from my collection . It’s a detail of Song of the Angels by Bouguereau.