One of my shielding ‘staycation’ projects is reading Vikram Seth’s over-a-thousand page novel A Suitable Boy at the same time — well, I mean as well as — watching the Sunday night TV dramatisation, running on the BBC. The book charts, at the simplest level of plotline, the tale of a young girl, Lata’s, search for, and pathway to, marriage, either arranged by her infuriating ‘Ma’, her brother, relations and friends — or chosen by herself. This plot is what Andrew Davis’ brilliant adaption mostly concentrates on (in six TV episodes he is rather restricted). The book, though, uses much wider brushstrokes, far more period detail, and captures a lot of historical moments, attitudes and personalities, real and imagined. It paints a picture of India after partition and independence but with these events very much in people’s minds and with their lives affected, even broken, by those watersheds in the life of the sub-continent.
Of course there are advantages and drawbacks in this process of combining reading and watching. Some people hate to have how they imagine a character spoilt by a specific actor playing them. Normally I agree but in this case — especially when I have to rifle back a chapter or two to remind myself who on earth this unpronounceable character is again — then I find having a face to put to the name very helpful. This is especially true as all the main actors in the dramatisation are themselves Indian and not known to me and so I am not distracted by remembering other characters they have played (as I was in the case, for example, of Mr Bean playing Inspector Maigret!). I enjoy comparing the novel with what the TV serial has kept in or left out. My old Eng. Lit. training coming out I suppose.
Jesus had to break away too, as we all do, from the person we are most close to in childhood. Like us, looking back at the end, maybe He too was sorry for the pain He inflicted — the misunderstandings, the worry, and here, now, on the cross, where she knew in her heart it would all end up, the terrible agony of watching His slow murder. There is a place in theological thought and imagery that is somewhere between reality and myth, between history and story, truth and — no, not fiction, because the Assumption is a truth — but between a truth and how it is expressed and conveyed through our limited earthy toolkit of words, imagery and metaphor. In the Eastern Church the Feast and the dogma are termed ‘the Dormition’, the falling asleep, of the Blessed Virgin. It is a mystery that human minds cannot really categorise or wholly explain. But I know that whatever our difficulties (and we certainly had our moments) my mother would certainly be one of the most special people in my personal pantheon and heavenly home.
I cannot believe that Jesus was any different, either in His human mind and emotions or as the Divine Saviour. That we wouldn’t be here if it were not for them is as much true of Jesus as it is of us. Sometimes we need reminding of the very real human-ness of Our Lord. And it is the womb of Mary that bore Him, the breasts that suckled Him and the hands that lovingly washed and swaddled Him that does this — for He, like us, needed His mother. His very existence, like ours, was brought forth out of a mother’s pain and sacrifice, and at great risk to both. (My own mother was three days in labour and, as was finally revealed — in the days before ultrasound etc — the delay was caused by the umbilical chord strangling me with every push. An opportunity missed, some might say!). Whatever the birth pangs of Mary, as she brought forth her first born son and laid him in a manger, they are not recorded. But Jesus’ human nature springs out of that moment.
So too Mary’s place in heaven, body and soul, reminds us of our shared destiny and trajectory. Where Mary goes, and is, so shall we, God willing. I hope I made my profound thankfulness for the gift of life plain while my mother was alive. If not, or not sufficiently, I ask Mary, our mother in heaven, now to comfort and reassure her. Bring her before the throne of heavenly grace. Commend her — commend us both — to the compassion and mercy of Jesus: Mary’s beloved Son; our Brother, Friend, Saviour and Lord.