Ok, it’s been in the news; an image of the Virgin Mary appeared on the salt-stained concrete of a south Chicago viaduct. And they came, with candles & flowers, paying tribute in front of this image which, to me, simply looks like a stain on a concrete wall. Yes, yes, I see where it looks like hands pressed against each other; and yeah, I see the reverently tilted “head,” but please read on.
We all know that this isn’t the first time the Virgin’s image appeared. Pick a search engine and type in “image of virgin mary” and you’ll find entire sites devoted to collecting and displaying pictures, articles, and testimony like it is the Gospel itself. Now, I don’t mean to be flip, but why is every strange image that looks like a hooded figure immediately thought to be a representation of Mary, mother of Jesus? Was she a fashion renegade, perhaps the only woman to be clothed the way we’ve come to recognize from centuries of paintings? Why do we directly compare these images to the romantic representations of the Virgin painted centuries after her death? Would the Virgin really reveal herself in an image that mimics one of these paintings? Truth is our idea of how Mary dressed is based on how all women of that era and locale dressed. So just who is that on the wall?
Don’t get me wrong. I love Mary for what she did – I’m inspired by her selflessness. Mary was a humble and blessed servant of God. She surrendered herself to serve the Lord. She risked (and likely suffered) societal and familial ridicule and disgrace by carrying a baby conceived out of wedlock. She endured the pains of labor and gave birth in a stable surrounded by animals and their filth. She watched her child become a controversial figure, the target of much hatred and murderous plots. She saw her son tortured and executed for crimes he did not commit. She did these things as the bond servant of God Himself, showing great humility and obedience, proving that she knew her role was to put God and His offer of a Savior to the world before her personal goals and expectations. She placed God first and herself last. When I think of this, I wonder if she would have herself exalted; if she would have vague images of herself worshipped; if she would really appear to the world on the surface of a grilled cheese sandwich.
We live in an era when many people feel lost, helpless. And when we feel this way, our tendency is to claw thru the air until we grasp something that looks like hope. But what looks like hope can be hollow and temporal; earthly, even though it bears the likeness of something more, something divine. To those who flock to the underpass or the stand in the parking lot of that glass building in Florida, I have to ask, why are you running to these fuzzy images to have your hope & faith rekindled when Christ is the eternal hope that you carry in your heart? Christ never goes away. He is never vandalized or shattered, never auctioned on Ebay. If something you see reminds you of the glory of God, give Him praise. If a strange image makes you ponder the godly sacrifice of the mother of Jesus, sing “hallelujah.” But keep your candles at home; the only fire that must burn is the fire of faith in your heart.