I have a friend whose Marian devotion sometimes borders on superstitious. She once told me, in hushed, urgent tones, that anyone could tell that one particular apparition was from the devil, simply by looking at the Our Lady’s feet. “Real apparitions always show the Blessed Virgin’s feet. And her feet are always bare.”
I mulled that over for a bit, and asked her why this was. She sighed, the sigh you give children who ask questions even they should be able to answer, and said, “Because Satan can’t hide his cloven feet.”
Her response, of course, only led to more questions, but I realized that there was nothing profitable to be found there, and happily let the conversation drift off to other topics. But the exchange did help me articulate one of the puzzling things I’ve noticed about the relationships we try to forge with Mary.
I knew Mary, and had a friendship of sorts with her, long before I ever became Catholic. In fact, during the wilderness years when I had rejected every single shred of Christianity, I still respected Mary. Oh, to be sure, I dressed her up in New Age triple goddess costumes, and imagined her a victim of the Catholic Church, kidnapped and enslaved by evil patriarchal forces, but I still admired her. I even, from time to time, spoke to her, offering her just enough space for her powerful prayers to work on my soul.
Maybe because I had spent so much time giving Our Lady makeovers in whatever oddball spirituality I was pursuing at that time, when I finally entered the Church, it never occurred to me to keep our Mother frozen in first century finery. In fact, I found myself drawn images of Mary that reflected the culture she appeared in. The Aztec princess Mary of Guadalupe, the Asian Marys, in kimonos and obis and long flowing hair unveiled, and the African Mary of Kibeho, whose feet, I noted wryly, were decidedly hidden.
But even all those images of our Mother struck me as somehow too formal for the woman who had been by my side for as long as I could remember. The Mary I knew was a real, living person. She loved me and protected me, and took care of me just as much as my earthly mother did. So why would I keep her swaddled in miles of robes and veils, outward signs of her modesty somehow keeping her from being a real person who would teach me real modesty- and so much more?
I wouldn’t dream of telling you how to conduct your relationship with Mary. But now, in her month of May, I would urge you to examine it. Jesus didn’t ask her to become our mother so we could keep her in a box and only take her out on fancy occasions. Just like our Protestant brethren miss out by only trotting Mary out at Christmas, so do we miss out if our conversations with her are restricted to a Hail Mary or a Memorare.
There is something to be gained from regal images of the Queen of the Universe, and certainly few pictures grasp a tiny bit of the majesty of heaven quite like seeing Mary attended by countless angels. But, just like you don’t insist that your earthly mother put on her wedding finery every time she interacts with you, we shouldn’t do that to our spiritual mother. Remember that Mary is more than her imagery. She’s more than a haughty Botticelli Madonna, she’s more than a fingertip Madonna. She’s more than a 20th century tween in saddle shoes, and she’s more than the probably intended to shock, but ends up being charming superhero Madonna. She’s bigger than an interesting piece of artwork, or a beautiful set of prayers, or an odd set of barefoot superstitions. She’s a real woman, and she is your mother, and she wants to have a relationship with you.
So call on your mother. Call out to her, and don’t be scared if you meet a real woman who wants to lead you closer to her Son- even if you can’t see her feet.