It is probably best that men do not pay much attention to how quickly the church would implode without women’s strong, gentle leadership and hard work. There is nothing that brings out the insecurities of a man faster than the effectiveness of a woman. I wonder what our Bible would look like if it had been written by and assembled by women? I wonder if the manipulation of church history to present women as carrying sin or picking apples would have been so violent had men been formed with a deeper self-esteem. And I wonder if the root of it all is not simply that men have never been entrusted with the biological ability to create and sustain life. In that way, women and only women are created in the image of God. In a very real way, men are created in much of God’s image but not entirely. God generates life. Women generate life. Men do not. It is so simple and has caused so much pain as men reel in their indignation, digging their pit deeper and deeper the more they thrash around pretending that they run things.
In this 14th century marble sculpture from the MET of Mary and Jesus this image is one of humility and intimacy. Mary demurs with eyes closed and Jesus touches her cheek. My dog Kai does this sometimes. He simply wants me to know that he loves me and that he is “here”; so at night when we lay together on the carpet listening to music or books, he will reach out a paw and place it very gently on my cheek. It is a way to say “I am here and I love you.” Advent.
The face has always been a powerful place of touch. Someone can get away with touching our arm in an effort to connect or get our attention. But we really notice if someone touches our face. And the touch is so different if it is finger tips (as in a tap) or the back of our fingers (as in a caress.) To touch our face is an invasion of our air space which can result in immediate and automatic armed conflict. And yet when a partner smiles and caresses his or her partner’s face, there is little more beautiful an action on the planet.
When I think of the time Mary had with God in the form of Jesus as a small child, I am jealous. I weep to think of my jealousy. Of course it is Gnosticism to think that Jesus did not poop in his poopy pants and have his bratty moments. He tossed humus from his highchair. But what must it have been like for Mary to hold God? What must it have been like for God to rock God; and for God to look at her through Jesus’ eyes? Could she see through to God in those big, brown eyes?
When Jesus touches Mary’s face so gently this way, I am reminded that God wants to touch me too. Gently. Lovingly. Sensuously. Longingly. Kindly. To miss that awareness is to miss the entire point of the incarnation, let alone Advent.