My mother Carman Merritt is quite a person. She was born and raised in towns called Dickens and Wallace in Western Nebraska. These are towns that do not or barely exist anymore. Her father was a man who helped build the windmills that dotted the plains of one of the most desolate and rural states in the West. A large family with many brothers and sisters she found herself raising many of them in the absence of her mother and father as parents.
She had briefly attended Evangel Bible College, a small Assembly of God school, but eventually she found herself in the big city of Lincoln, Nebraska. She started working a job as an operator for Lincoln Telephone and Telegraph Company. This is where she met my father Leroy Grant Merritt.
As I grew she was the central staple of my life. She answered questions with simplicity and compassion. She also liked to talk, tell stories and listen. She treated me often like a confidant.
My mother did not drive until I was much older so anywhere we had to go of distance was by public transportation. Whether bundled up in the blustery cold of Nebraska’s brutal winters or sweating in its summer’s stifling heat we stood at the bus stop waiting for the bus to take us to our destination.
Most often we were off to downtown or the mall. I preferred going downtown. The old buildings, the different type of person who populated the streets and the bookstore. Any trip downtown was highlighted by a visit to Miller and Paine department store. After a cursiory look at stuff we could not buy, both of us would board the ancient elevator to the floor that contained that place’s magical restaurant.
It was simply called The Tea Room and I always felt elegant in that place. It felt like going to a scene from Roman Holiday. It was not fast food or soup from a can. It was served by waiters and cooked in back rooms. People had aprons and there was someone at the door taking names and seating “guests.”
We always ordered tea and if we had enough money we would order two meals. If not we would order one meal to share with an appetizer. Sometimes my mother would have to pay the bill with one dollar bills or change. When I was older I would order more expensive food not realizing that caused her to only order a salad.
I do not remember one morsal of food that I ate from that place, I am sure the tea was probably Lipton, but the reason it was magical these many years later was the company. It was a place to talk. Ancient family stories, current fears about bills, the plot from Of Human Bondage that had so impressed her, the endless mystery novels that I was obsessed, my neverending questions about the Bible and politics. I was brought into a world of conversation that I try to recreate over and over again with varied success with anyone who will talk.
The older I get the more central these conversations have become to my identity as a human being in these times. I learned a lot from those conversations. For good or bad I also became the person I am during conversations. I am my mother’s son. There is no doubt about it. I have her same quirks and same foiables. I inherited fears, hopes and spirituality from this woman. Is she a great woman? She is more important than that, she is essential. Having just celebrated her 70th Birthday reminds me again of her importance to me.
Mary is given far too little credit by Protestants in being the mother of Christ. She occupies a place in the creche and becomes a character in a nativity pageant played by the most popular little girl in Sunday School. Then we wrap up the figurines and fold up the costume to forget her for another year. She is treated like a minor character who is merely there to set up the causal action of a great novel. Nothing could be less than true from these texts.
Mary is one of the most important parts of Good News. This is especially highlighted in the book of Luke when we explore the amazing poetry of her Song. It is filled with radical liberation, shocking beauty and theological heft. This was someone who did not take second place to anyone, even her son Jesus Christ.
This woman’s words in this song are echoed again and again in the teachings, parables and exhortations of her son. This is the mother that scolds a son for making her family worry to death about him being lost when he was sitting in the temple. We also forget that she is the one who pushed a reluctant son to actually do a miracle. Yet, in these words we see a direct link from this amazing woman’s radical thoughts to the radical thoughts of Jesus Christ. I believe that what she pondered in her heart is what we now have a record of in the words, actions and faith that comes to us in the gospels of Jesus Christ.
Jesus is Mary’s son. Mary is more than a plastic prop that we light up annually to birth a saviour. Mary is part of a never-ending revelation that has been passed down in story, in whisper, in angry protest and in indignant silence. Mary’s message is as essential today as the day she proclaimed it. We must hear her blushingly confident and liberating assertion, that she is heralded by the divine as blessed. From generation to generation she will be essential to the story of salvation. Thanks be to God.