As a Byzantine Catholic, I believe in the concept of ancestral sin, a counterpart to Roman Catholicism’s original sin. Eastern Christian theology teaches that when Adam and Eve first sinned, they were consequently separated from God, who is Life itself, and brought suffering and death into the world. All of humanity experiences the effects–suffering and death–of that first sin, regardless of whether or not we ourselves have sinned. However, we do not share in the guilt of that first sin, as is the case in Western theology’s original sin. Thus, in Eastern theology, Mary, though sinless, would have suffered (and died before her assumption) as a human being.
That’s a big theological introduction to what I mean to point out, which is that I feel like it’s very easy to forget that Mary dealt with normal human plights, especially looking at all the famous portraits of Mary out in the world. I think there are a lot of brilliant works on Mary’s happy, serene, angelic, or piously suffering human moments, but what about the frustrating, frightening, gross, and exasperating moments? Come on. She was a mom. And let’s not forget that Jesus was human as well. He might not have sinned, but he definitely spit up, pooped, cried, and teethed. If I ever find the time (or the skills) to paint someday, I’d dedicate my works solely to the following moments:
- Elizabeth holding back Mary’s hair while she pregnant pukes her guts out.
- Joseph holding back Mary’s hair while she pregnant pukes her guts out.
- Mary laying down exhausted in a dirty house.
- Mary wincing in pain as she nurses Jesus for one of the first times.
- Mary screaming in agony as she nurses a teething baby Jesus.
- Mary cleaning a poop explosion off of her wall.
- Mary wiping the spit up out of Joseph’s beard.
- Mary and Joseph laughing watching baby Jesus eat his first solid foods.
(Not really suffering, but I’d like to see it nonetheless).
- Mary chasing naked toddler Jesus with his clothes. (My friend Charlene actually already did a great stick-figure drawing of this here).
- Mary giving young, crying Jesus a big mom hug
I’m sure there are plenty more possible works for my avant garde series. The point is I think it’s easy to get lost in a misconstruction of the image of the Theotokos praised in hymns and to believe on some level that she who is “more honorable than the cherubim” was something other than human. But she wasn’t an angel or a goddess. She was a very human wife and mother who experienced many of the same joys and frustrations that all of us wives and mothers experience. Knowing that helps me to have a better relationship with her, especially when I’m screaming in agony because my daughter has decided she is a piranha and my nipples are her prey.
“Is that poop on my thumb? Yes. That’s definitely poop. On my thumb.”