Interview with Shannon Evans on Befriending Mary
This interview is the second in our four-part Befriending Mary series for the month of May. Learn more about the series here.
Shannon Evans is a Catholic writer, speaker, bridge builder, and wannabe contemplative. She is the author of Embracing Weakness: The Unlikely Secret to Changing the World. Her writing has appeared in America, St. Anthony Messenger, and Tapestry magazines, and online at Ruminate, Huffington Post, Sick Pilgrim, Blessed Is She and RelevantMagazine.com. Shannon lives in central Iowa with her husband and band of silly children through both birth and adoption. You can preorder her book here.
Read Shannon’s letter Living in Solidarity with Those We Serve here.
What's your favorite title for Mary?
I think it would simply have to be, "Blessed Mother.” To me those words feel so expansive, as though she holds and encompasses all of the nurture and strength of the sacred feminine in the world (which I believe she does!). Calling out to a great, universal Blessed Mother reminds me that I am never alone—always upheld and always guided.
Tell us about your relationship with Mary: When did you start getting to know her? How has she interceded or shown up for you? What's your relationship like with her today?
This is such a funny story because as someone who was not a cradle Catholic, Mary was actually my initial reason for NOT considering Catholicism... and now she's one of my favorite parts about it! My husband was interested in confirmation years before I was and I have one specific memory of him asking if I thought we'd ever convert and I immediately—I'm talking zero hesitation here—said, "No, I just don't think I could ever get over the Mary thing."
Fast forward just a few years later and we were enthusiastically going through RCIA and participating in a Catholic Worker community. I had come to accept Mary but still didn't quite know how to have a relationship with her, or even if I needed or wanted one. But in this season of life, my family was suffering significantly with one of our children. It was the hardest thing I had ever been through, hands-down. And I remember, during Lent, praying the Stations of the Cross and realizing that Mary understood. She held my hand in solidarity and it blew my mind. There was this aching within me as a human mother, the place of my deepest wounding, that no image of a heavenly "Father" could really touch. But in that moment, Mary did. And she continued to. So ever since then, I have cherished seeking out her unique place in my spiritual life.
Years later, more recently, I had a professional experience of being silenced by a man abusing a position of power. It really shook me and forced me to face the inequality that women continue to suffer. Here again, Mary showed up for me day after day after day. It became a running joke among those who knew me best: where is she going to show up today? I felt deeply comforted and supported in my womanhood by her.
The Church tells us to look to Mary for encouragement to become all that God has made us to be. What aspect of Mary's humanity (or one of her virtues) resonates most with you or inspires you?
Her freedom. The Catholic Church teaches that Mary was sinless, but for me that feels like an incredibly unattainable goal! However, as I've prayed with the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises this year, I've gravitated toward the vernacular, "spiritual freedom.” I've realized that term brings a lot of clarity and hope to me regarding Mary, specifically. She was completely free, which yes, means sinless, but freedom is a concept I feel more able to grasp. I'm inspired to do the heart work necessary every day to become more like her: more free to say yes despite confusion, fears, or doubts –– more free to discern the Spirit and to step out bravely despite how it might be judged by other people.
Mary has been a popular subject for artists for centuries. What's your favorite image of her?
I am unapologetically obsessed with ethnically diverse religious images. I believe it is crucially important for us all to see the Holy Family and saints represented within the framework of different cultures and races, because the entire point of the incarnation is that access to the Divine is universal! Janet McKenzie is one of my favorite artist creating those images. But having said that, my single favorite image of Mary is a modern version of Our Lady of Czestochowa by an artist named Lauren Walsh. Our Mother is simultaneously nurturing her infant and looking confident and powerful, which I think is a perfect representation of what it is to be female: our tenderness and our strength working together at all times.
If the idea of a relationship with Mary was foreign or uncomfortable, what or who encouraged you to take a second look?
It uncomfortable precisely because it was foreign! I didn't actually know what Catholics believed about Mary. So simply reading about Mariology in the Catechism was incredibly enlightening for me, and put to rest a lot of misconceptions I had held. Scott Hahn's book, Hail, Holy Queen was the first work I read and I absolutely recommend it to people coming from Protestant backgrounds in particular. He shows how our beliefs about Mary actually do come from Scripture, which cradle Catholics aren't always able to articulate. For the more mystically-inclined, I adore the book Untie The Strong Woman by Clarissa Pinkola-Estes.
What would you say to women who are converts to the Faith and unsure about developing a relationship with Mary?
I get it, perhaps more than anyone! But I invite you to explore the places in your heart that are unique to the feminine experience; perhaps it's experiencing prejudice, perhaps it's menstruation, perhaps motherhood, or something else entirely. What might it feel like to have a heavenly Mother to find refuge in? Our Christian tradition is so male, even though we verbally attest that God has no gender. Two-thirds of the names we've given the Trinity are specifically male, and Jesus came in a male body! The fact that we have a feminine intercessor in the spiritual realm is a huge gift. The fact that there is a woman in a female body who is reigning in heaven is so subversive! We are offered this precious gift, this affirmation of our womanhood—and we don't have to take it. You can live your whole Christian life without developing a relationship with Mary. But have you thought about what you might be passing up by doing so?