Some of my favorite memories from childhood are of when I would go stargazing with my dad. We’d take his SUV out to some deserted field, miles away from the nearest streetlight, and lie on the roof to behold the sky above. We might point out specific stars and marvel at the fact that the trillions of chemical reactions going on in the thermonuclear fusion process were powerful enough to be seen here on our little planet, thousands of light-years away. Or we might shake our heads in wonder at the dancing clouds of gasses in the Orion nebula, or do thought experiments about what it would be like to see the ancient storms of Jupiter up close. But one thing we never left out was the moon.
Our appreciation of the earth’s biggest satellite was not something we shared with all astronomy buffs. Some people found the moon rather unremarkable. After all, it’s just a rock, the thinking went. It has no great chemical reactions, no dramatic storms. It doesn’t even produce its own light! It’s entirely dependent on the sun for its beauty. And yet that diminished our appreciation not at all. I loved how it gleamed like a great pearl, how you always knew where the sun was because the glow of the moon endlessly pointed to it. Maybe it’s just a rock, we thought, but it’s positioned perfectly to dazzle in the light, to act as our guide in darkness.
I’m often reminded of this when I think of Mary.
Of all the things I struggled with on the road from atheism to Catholicism, the veneration of Mary wasn’t one of them. It always made sense to me. (Which was not true for my husband. We’d have these back and forth conversations like, “Dude, she’s Jesus’ mom!” / “Dude, she’s Jesus‘ mom!”) I was bowled over enough by the idea that all the grandeur in the universe I’d appreciated all my life had a personal, living Creator; so when I got to the part in the Bible where God chooses his own mom, I just about fell off my chair. If I weren’t so stubbornly analytical I might have stopped all my research right there and just sought out the church that paid most respect to this woman, figuring that that must be the right one.
The arguments some of my friends make against the veneration of Mary remind me of the arguments some of our astronomer friends made against appreciation of the moon. Like the moon with the sun, Mary is entirely dependent on the Lord for her beauty. She does not create her own light; she merely reflects the light of the Son. And, like the moon, what a beautiful, gleaming reflection it is! God has positioned her perfectly to bathe us in the Son’s radiance when we can’t seem to find him, to point to him eternally, to act as our guide in darkness.
Sometimes when I’m outside at night I glance up at the moon and take a minute to gaze in appreciation of our underappreciated heavenly guide. And when I do, I’m reminded to give thanks for my other Heavenly guide.
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