Donna's Breath of Heaven. My friend, Donna, sang "Breath of Heaven" this morning at our worship service. Donna is a tough lawyer in a tough practice ("Family Law" as we lawyers call it, with unconscious irony, meaning that she does divorces.) My relationship with Donna has been a difficult one these last two years, because she was married to my friend Brad and the two of them went through some difficult times with each other that finally ended in divorce. (Brad attends our Friday morning breakfast/Bible study.)
So when I learned that Donna was going to sing this song, a song in which the female singer assumes the person of Mary, the mother of Jesus, I just didn't think it fit very well. I have this picture of Mary, the mother of Jesus. It doesn't square with the picture of a tough, female, divorce lawyer. It doesn't square with Donna, although, as I thought about it, she too is a mother and very devoted to her son, David.
But Donna did sing "Breath of Heaven" this morning, and she nailed it.
As I listened to her sing that song, with my eyes glistening, I reconsidered my picture of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Maybe I had Mary wrong, maybe she and Donna have more in common than I realize.
We don't know much about Mary, really, unless we go outside the Gospels to tradition. With all due respect to my Roman Catholic friends, I don't find the tradition helpful. In fact, I find it confusing and disturbing. (I will concede this: our Catholic friends challenge us Protestants to think about Mary carefully, as we ought to do.)
So how can we know Mary better? I think we can look at Jesus and observe how he dealt with the women who came into his life. I would submit that he learned how to treat women from his mother. He saw in the various women that he meets in the Gospels what Mary showed him about women. She prepared him to love women, respect them, and deal with them redemptively.
For example, take the "woman at the well". She was a tough one. She must have been very attractive to men. She had gone through several husbands and, when she met Jesus, was keeping time with yet another man and they were not married. Yet Jesus was comfortable with this woman. She did not intimidate him a bit and he, in failing to be intimidated, did not put her off. In fact, he challenged her and won her completely. She turned out to be the very first evangelist that we know about in the Bible. (Imagine that, a woman, the first evangelist. I bet you thought it was Philip.)
Jesus knew how to deal with strong women because, I think, his mother was a strong woman, a tough woman, a woman who could continue to live in Nazareth with a dubious history. Look at the son she raised - a pretty tough young man himself. May I say that there was something of the "woman at the well" in Mary without offending my Catholic friends? Something Jesus recognized, appreciated, and, finally, loved.
So when Donna sang "Breath of Heaven", I learned something about Mary, the mother of Jesus, and I learned a little more about Jesus. I also realized it was fine for Donna to assume Mary's persona and sing that song. Fine and right.