Mary’s Sense of the Sacred

I was asked to give a talk in church yesterday.  Because I eventually want to get all of  my church talks from over the years on the blog (for posterity more than anything else), I figured today would be as good a day as any to publish my most recent talk.  This one is deeply personal to me because at the end I used Mary: A Mother’s Testimony which I wrote back in 2003 for a different occasion.  Writing that was a daunting and humbling experience that drove me to my scriptures and to my knees and gave me a love and appreciation for Mary that I hadn’t felt so deeply before.  I was, uncharacteristically, nervous to give my talk yesterday because I was including that piece of writing in my remarks.  Writing it was a profound experience for me, the end result sacred to me, and my current congregation . . . well, I never know when somebody is going to take me aside to tell me what a horrible person they think I am or what a horrible thing they think I’ve done, so I was afraid to share it.  I was afraid I was casting my pearls, as it were.  I was afraid I was doing exactly what Mary didn’t do.  But it’s done now.  The talk has been given, and no rotten produce has been hurled my way.  Yet.

Anyway, enough blather.  Here’s the talk:

In his April 2017 General Conference talk, Whatsoever He Saith unto You, Do It, Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy said:

“The Savior performed His first recorded miracle at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. Mary, His mother, and His disciples were there as well. Mary apparently felt some responsibility for the success of the feast. During the celebration, a problem arose—the wedding hosts ran out of wine. Mary was concerned and went to Jesus. They spoke briefly; then Mary turned to the servants and said:

Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.’

We usually remember this event because transforming water to wine was a demonstration of the power of God—it was a miracle. That is an important message, but there is another important message in John’s account. Mary was ‘a precious and chosen vessel,’ called by God to give birth to, nurture, and raise the very Son of God. She knew more about Him than anyone else on earth. She knew the truth of His miraculous birth . . . She had unshakable confidence in Him and in His divine power. Her simple, straightforward instruction to the servants had no caveats, no qualifications, no limitations: ‘Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.’”

Mary had an unshakable testimony of her son.  It is interesting to contemplate and try to study her testimony of and relationship with her son.  There really isn’t a lot in the scriptures to go on.  More than anyone, she would have reason to have that unshakable testimony, to know that her son was the Son of God.  At the same time, as a mother, I can see how it might be difficult at times to remember that that child whose hair you have washed, face you have scrubbed, and, let’s face it, diapers you have changed is your Lord and Savior.  On the one hand, motherhood is a high and holy calling, and being the mother of Christ himself is the highest and holiest version of that calling.  On the other hand, motherhood is filled with a lot of mundane tasks and moments that can quickly and easily dull the sparkle of it all, no matter how many times we are told we are doing the most important work we can be doing.  Yet Mary, even through the monotonous moments that must have existed, maintained not only her testimony of her calling, but also her testimony of her Son.  I think, though only in part, this can be attributed to Mary’s strong sense of the sacred.

The scriptures don’t really tell us a whole lot about her, but in Luke we are told that, after the angels appeared to the shepherds, the shepherds hurried off to Bethlehem to see the babe in the manger and, after seeing Him, “they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child,” yet Mary, “kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”  So while the shepherds ran around sharing the sacred experiences they had just had, Mary kept her sacred experiences and knowledge to herself and pondered them in her heart.

Looking at Luke 2, verses 17-19, we read:

17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

From the perspective of a writer, I think it is interesting that we are told first how the shepherds reacted, next how those that heard the shepherds reacted, and finally how Mary reacted.  The juxtaposition of the first two reactions with the third, that of Mary, emphasizes her sense of the sacred.

Now, I’m not saying the shepherds didn’t have some fantastic news to share.  I’m not even saying that they weren’t supposed to share it.  But I’m also not saying that they were.  The scriptures don’t really clarify that one way or the other as far as I can tell.  Regardless, as I read these verses, I get a picture in my mind of the shepherds eagerly saying things like, “Guess what I saw!” and “Have you heard?  Well, let me tell you . . .” as people are wont to do when they have witnessed something spectacular.  And from there, I imagine the news might have spread pretty quickly in a “Well, my cousin’s wife’s brother told my next door neighbor who told me” kind of fashion.  Then, in stark contrast, there is Mary keeping all of these things and pondering them in her heart.  She could have been saying to every shepherd and wise man that came along,  “Look!  See my baby? He is the literal son of God.  Yeah, that’s right, I gave birth to the son of God.”  But instead, she heard what the angels had told the shepherds and “kept all these things and pondered theme in her heart.”  I can only imagine that she was thinking about what the angels had said in the context of what the angel Gabriel had told her, and she knew that all of it was sacred.

Later in that same chapter of Luke, Christ was 12 years old, and his parents had traveled a day’s journey from Jerusalem before realizing he wasn’t with them somewhere in their company of fellow travelers, so they went back to find Him and Mary said, essentially, “Why did you do this?  We were so worried!” We know the reply, “How is it that ye sought me?  Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (v.49).  The very next verse tells us, “they understood not the saying which he spake unto them,” but instead of a typical, “don’t talk back to me, young man,” Mary, once again, “kept all these sayings in her heart” (v. 51).

So, again, though the scriptures don’t tell us a whole, whole lot about Mary, I think we can safely infer that she was a thoughtful woman with a strong sense of the sacred.

In his 2004 CES broadcast address, A Sense of the Sacred, Elder D. Todd Christofferson said in part, “A sense of the sacred should lead us to act . . . with reverence . . .”  Can we question whether or not Mary acted with reverence where her son was concerned?  I don’t think so.  Elder Christofferson also said, “. . . those who do not appreciate holy things will lose them.  Absent a feeling of reverence, they will grow increasingly casual in attitude and conduct.”  As we see later in the Savior’s adult life, Mary still appreciated the holiness of her son, she still had reverence for Him as the Savior, the Savior of mankind as well as the Savior of a wedding feast, as she said, “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.”

Way back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, in 2003, I was asked to participate in a skit in which various sisters of my ward were asked to deliver monologue testimonies of Christ as if they were a woman from the scriptures or church history.  A few years back we did this same Testimonies of Christ dinner theater activity for our Relief Society here in Canada South, so this may be familiar to some of you.  Anyway, I was asked to portray Mary, the mother of Christ.  Additionally, I was asked to write my own part, as the script had not yet been finished.  It was a daunting, humbling, and moving experience for me that involved a lot of scripture reading and re-reading, pondering, and praying, so I hope it is not inappropriate to end my remarks today by sharing with you what might have been Mary’s testimony:

Mary:  A Mother’s Testimony

Mine was the unparalleled privilege of bearing the Son of God and watching over Him as he increased in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man.  I would not have chosen to bring Him, or any child, into this world in such surroundings as I did — a stable, a manger; but looking back, I understand that He who is greatest among us all had to descend beneath us all in order to complete His mission, and so this was a fitting beginning to His mortal life.

Mine was a unique role as I was His mother, responsible for his care and upbringing; and He was and is my God, responsible for my eternal welfare.

I watched Him turn water to wine, heal the sick, bless the children, and raise the dead.  No other mother can possibly know the profound joy I knew in the presence of my son.  Yet, through it all, the words of Simeon the prophet came to my mind, “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also.”

As we fled Egypt to escape the slaughter ordered by King Herod, I thought perhaps I was understanding Simeon’s prophecy.  Then, as we had traveled a day’s journey from Jerusalem only to find my son was missing, I felt sure a sword was piercing my soul.  Finally, I knew I understood his prophecy as I watched my tortured son dying on the cross.

No mother will know the pain I knew, for I was not merely watching the agony of my son, I was watching the agony of the Son of God — agony that I knew was being suffered on my behalf, and even on behalf of those who were inflicting it.  Even as God in Heaven left Him to suffer His final agonizing mortal moments alone, I, his mother, stood helplessly watching, and a sword truly pierced my soul.

What do I think of Christ?  He is the son of my flesh, the brother of my spirit, the father of my world and the author of my salvation.  He is the son of the Living God.  He paid the price for my sins, and your sins.  He overcame death for us all.  It is by Him and through Him that we can reach our full eternal potential and return to live with our Father in Heaven.

I hope this is an at least somewhat accurate portrayal of Mary’s testimony.  I can say with certainty that it is my testimony.  I am so thankful for Mary and other faithful women who have come before us and set the unshakable example: Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.



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