This is a story with a very sad ending.
Today is Wednesday: Christendom pauses to consider the Seven Sorrows of Mary,* which are seven specific events in the life of Jesus, as seen through the eyes and heart of Mary, knowing that her beloved Son must suffer and die for the sins of us.
To the Passion of Christ is added the bitterness of knowing that few would understand the Cross and few would even care to understand. Mary would also experience this bitter reality through the filter of her motherly heart, and she is rightly called “Miriam” (Mary) which means “bitterness.” Yet the suffering was a channel of grace and ultimately the way of Peace with God and peace and understanding among people.
I keep thinking, this year, of how the name Miriam created a temporary friendship between me and a lovely young Somali woman who was delivered to this country from a dangerous place in Ethiopia. The name “Miriam” became a bridge between us two women who were otherwise separated by age, culture, and language.
It doesn’t matter how she came to be deposited right next door to me, but I went over to meet her. I found a very pretty, shy, feminine young lady who was being very dignified and brave. We had very few words in common, but she was able to respond to me somewhat only because she knew what kinds of things I would most likely be saying. That wasn’t really “communication.”
She was all alone. I persisted over the next few days. She had many needs. It occurred to me that she might could have had some religious experience, so I set about to inquire if her religious needs were being met. The host family had no idea. She was thought to be Christian, but no one was sure. While we were doing our friend-making sign language type of talking, I took out the crucifix around my neck so she could see it. (we’ re cautioned to not treat our crucifix as jewelry, so I usually have it inside my clothes.)
Her eyes lit up at the sight of the crucifix and she nodded and smiled. Ahhhh. Christian. But: Orthodox? Eastern? Coptic? Catholic? I went home and printed out some religious photos and icons. The next time I visited, I showed them to her. She didn’t say anything until she came to an Orthodox icon of Mary, and she said so clearly: “Miriam!” She looked so happy. She kissed the icon and seemed to be saying a short prayer.
The story doesn’t have a happy ending.
Yes, she knew and loved Miriam. And so did I, even though I call her Mary. I took her to our Cathedral for Mass one Sunday, where I saw her beautiful and holy way of worshiping God; and I was ashamed of the behavior and attitude of the nominal Christians all around me. She was bewildered, but we didn’t have enough words in common so that I could make excuses….or explain that America is a “religious” country with very little faith in the Holy God. We are nice people, but we are not reverent before God. Maybe there is no explanation.
I eventually took her to our wonderful Orthodox priest who just happens to be an expert in linguistics. He spoke a little to her and then turned to his bookshelf and took down a Bible with an alphabet I didn’t know. It was her language. I took her to Mass there a couple of times, waiting in the back until it was done….
And then I lost her. Everyone assured me her individuality and culture would be respected, but she was turned over to social workers, foster parents, and that most hideous institution of all, the American public school. She was given tight jeans to wear and tight T-shirts because that’s what the girls of the school wore. She was introduced to bad music, bad movies, bad food, bad company, and bad behavior.
She became pregnant and I went to her wedding, held at a church without a Mass, but I don’t think she is married anymore.
The bitter reality of sin has changed a lovely young woman into a degraded modern parody of womanhood. But I don’t think it’s permanent. I can’t think it’s going to be permanent.
It was Miriam who gave her some of her first experiences here. It is Miriam who understands the bitterness of sin and distance from God. It is Miriam who intercedes for those who ever have called on her name.
I did eventually leave that cathedral…..
*The Seven Sorrow of Mary:
The prophecy of Simeon
The flight into Egypt
The loss of the Child Jesus in the temple
The meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way of the Cross
The taking down of the Body of Jesus from the Cross
The burial of Jesus