In Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, Kathleen Norris narrates her struggle to claim for herself the faith of her grandmothers. Frustrated with the institutional church, she nevertheless could not bring herself to leave it behind. She writes that the “strong old women” of the church kept drawing her in: “Their wellworn Bibles said to me, ‘there is more here than you know.’”
I suspect that line reflects the experience of many of us who find ourselves compelled to study biblical texts and their times. Whether our interests are theological, historical, literary or some combination thereof, the Bible and its world have us in their grip and will not let us go.
Perhaps because Norris invokes the Bibles of women, her comment echoes in my head as I think about the work I did for my own book, Mary: Glimpses of the Mother of Jesus (University of South Carolina Press, 1995). This was a project I undertook with reluctance. My earlier work had focused on the letters of Paul and the Acts of the Apostles, so that the gospel stories of Mary seemed alien territory. More important, I am a Protestant and an inheritor of a tradition that sniffs for mariolatry at any mention of Mary’s name. But I was lucky: Mary hooked me, and I found out that there was more to her than I knew.