Before I wrote Mary’s Exile the idea of writing a story about the mother of Christ was intimidating. In Christendom she is considered a saint, sinless, and above all other women – qualities I obviously lack. It’s much easier for me to write stories about women like myself – full of flaws who grow through experiences and who find strength, wisdom and healing in the message of Christ.
It was Mary who was visited by an archangel with a message directly from God telling her that she would bear his son, the long-awaited Messiah. Scriptures tell us of her humble acceptance and the challenges she met in telling her parents, her betrothed (Joseph), the rabbi and others. Under the religious laws of the time she could have been stoned to death, but she avoids this fate through what was probably some level of divine intervention. Instead she goes on to bear and raise a child who is not exactly like everyone else’s little boy in the village of Nazareth.
As always, for me, the storyline began with questions:
– What might it be like for Mary when Joseph woke her in the middle of the night and said they had to leave right away to save their son’s life?
– How could they escape Bethlehem without being seen?
– Wouldn’t their neighbors with sons of their own realize that Joseph and Mary were missing?
– If I were trying to save the life of my own baby boy, wouldn’t I be tempted to offer the soldiers the real object of their search if they would let my own son live?
– If I did attempt such a bargain then how could Mary, Joseph and the baby avoid the trap?
Then there is the question of what comes next. The Sinai is vast. It could take weeks to reach Egypt traveling across it even if they rode the entire distance. What might have happened to Mary and her family on the way?
When I thought about what it was like raising a son of my own I remembered him and his friends as toddlers. Mary’s experience with Jesus as an infant and toddler could have been similar. On the other hand, Jesus the toddler might also show important differences from other children his age. What worked for me was to create a “toddler Jesus” who frolicked like other children, who was bright, inquisitive and carefree like other children, but who displayed a passive power that affected others without Jesus consciously intending to do it.
That decision affected how I should describe Mary. To create consistency between mother and child I decided to portray Mary as protective, determined, strong-willed, and brave, yet gentle, nurturing, and accepting. (I know: these qualities, alone, should make her a saint.) On a spiritual level she knew that she and Joseph were chosen to be the parents of God’s child, but this spiritual certainty did not completely erase her practical concerns as a mother. She occasionally doubts herself when problems seem insurmountable. She worries. She sacrifices. She protects. She considers the effects of her decisions on the well-being of her child. Through it all she can never completely free herself of the suspicion that her child knows a great deal more about why he is here and what his path should be than she does.
I developed her relationship with Joseph as affectionate and trusting, but I also thought it was important to have them share Joseph’s subtle sense of humor. When only one partner in a relationship has a sense of humor the frequent result is contempt from the other partner. By creating two people with similar outlooks I was free to explore how that humor might bond them together, and I was also able to weave it through the story to break up the tension of their pursuit.
The result is, I hope, a more captivating story.