God’s grandmother

Daily Reading for July 28 • The Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary (transferred)

The extent to which Anne was venerated in the Middle Ages came as a surprise to me, as did the realization of that I had “always” known, namely that she is nonbiblical, completely legendary, and apocryphal. . . . But she came to occupy an ever-growing place in popular piety. Legends proliferated, as affection for “God’s grandmother”—Godz grotemoder—grew. More than affection, there seemed to be a genuine need for Christ to have a grandmother and for his earthly family to be fleshed out. Anne was variously depicted as a wisdom figure, a mysteriously smiling sibyl, and a comfortably ample grandmother. Above all she was a matriarch, the center of a large and overwhelmingly feminine group of kin. Popular piety created “the Holy Kinship,” which expanded Christ’s family tree on the maternal side. According to legend, Anne married twice after Joachim’s death and gave birth to two more daughters, also named Mary. They became the mothers of six of the disciples: James the Greater, Judas the son of James, Barnabas, Simon, James the Less, and John the Evangelist. . . .

There are no Annes in the hagiography of our popular culture. Her brand of wisdom is not at home in the pages of popular magazines nor in the Pentagon—nor even in the church, Mother Teresa notwithstanding. It is time for us to rediscover and reclaim St. Anne, to recognize the truth, love, and ambiguity she personifies even as we accept her legendary status. The Anne of legend is strong and reliable, a source of wisdom born of long experience and closeness to ordinary human life. Perhaps what Anne represents has been rendered invisible and neglected, not just by the church but by the whole culture, because her beauty and (more important) her power are feared. To accept what Anne offers might call for letting go of old fears. It might call for new openness and willingness to change. . . . Like many grandmothers, she’s been around and has much wisdom to offer, wisdom about ways of living and working together and about ways of dying.

From Toward Holy Ground: Spiritual Directions for the Second Half of Life by Margaret Guenther (Cowley Publications, 1995).

Past Posts