Wednesday, September 3, 2008
For Mary’s sake!!!
I was seventeen years old and the rebellious nature of teenage spilling over to the youth was evident in me. Church became a place where young boys and girls like me trickled into to “look at one another.” Not that we would say anything or give our parents sleepless nights by holding each other’s hands. No, no…we would just look at each other. And if we were lucky, someone would smile at someone. (I am aware that this has undergone a sea change over the years.:))
And therefore it was no surprise that everyone would look forward to the festivals in church as that would again be a time to congregate. I remember my sweet mother, who would stand in church with a candle and pray for a long time. Mostly it was in front of the picture of St. Mary, and she would be joined by other women in church as well.
Fast forward………Fifteen years later, I was leading the intercessory prayers and songs to St. Mary in church. I was not a teenager anymore but a full blown priest leading his congregation into a prayerful mood of contemplation. Everything had changed. The church was renovated, the paint was not a white wash where you could scrape the surface away, but liquid emulsion paint. The traditional mundu (dhoti) was replaced by pants and fancy shirts, the white chatta and mundu worn by women was replaced by cotton, synthetic and silk saris (a popular garment worn by women, measuring six to nine meters in length) with full neck, low neck as well as sleeveless blouses and the new addition churidar (a two piece garment including a pant and a top) came in all fashions and sizes.
But one thing didn’t change. The women were still holding candles and interceding to St. Mary. They were crying and talking to Mary. It looked like they were in their own world with Mary. This has been one thing that has not changed in the Jacobite and Orthodox churches. Come September, and the women folk of Kerala will flock to their churches to intercede to their favourite woman saint, St. Mary, the mother of Jesus, the mother of God. (The interpretation varies between the clergy, laity and the faithful, who may even belong to other religions) September 1-8, the eight day lent (ettu nombu in Malayalam), commemorating the birthday of St. Mary thus remains a non-erasable part of a woman’s calendar.
A woman knows another woman’s pains and sorrows. A woman can listen to another woman when she pours her heart out. A man cannot take the place of a woman!!! This rather than being a clear direction for the church instead becomes the complexity of the church. The eight day lent of St. Mary is a lent which has much more meaning to women than men. And yet, women do not play any role in the festival. They help in preparing the sweet dish (nercha) on the final day (even that is sometimes denied to them), but what is their active role in church? Maybe it’s time to ponder over this now. If not for the sake of the leadership which consists of men like me……..at least for Mary’s sake!!!