I’ve been thinking about one of my new favorite songs you hear around Christmas time: Mark Lowry’s “Mary, Did You Know?” The words are absolutely beautiful. They show up at various places around the Web on devotional-type websites such as those linked here.
This simple song was written in 1984 as a meditation for a church Christmas program. As Lowry explains,
“I tried to picture Mary holding the baby Jesus on the first Christmas morning and wondered what she was thinking about that child. She knew he was special–the Virgin Birth was her first clue–but could she ever imagine all the things that he would do while he was here?”
Soon he came up with a list of questions he would have liked to ask Mary. Did she know he would walk on water? Raise the dead? Give sight to the blind? Six years later, Buddy Green composed the music.
I’m pondering “Mary, Did You Know?” as a form of Protestant devotion to Mary. Like all good, healthy Marian devotion, it is Christ-centered through and through. Mary is seen as a vehicle for contemplation of Christ: what he did and what his existence means.
Offhand, I can’t think of another song in the evangelical Protestant repertoire that is addressed to a non-divine individual. We have songs addressing God (obviously!), and we have songs addressing one another collectively, calling us to worship, work, and pray. But do we have any other songs or hymns addressed to an individual? Saint Paul maybe, or John the Baptist? None that I can think of. Of course, prayers to Mary are a relatively early feature in church history. The “Hail Mary” is just the most popular example. Up until around the sixteenth century, this prayer contained only the phrases found directly in the Gospel of Luke. When Martin Luther prayed the Hail Mary (and he did, even as a Protestant), he would have said,
Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women,
And blessed is the fruit of your womb.
The additional phrases requesting Mary’s prayers were added at a later date. Would any Protestant readers object to someone setting this text to music?
I should tell you I don’t think of “Mary, Did You Know?” as a Christmas song. In fact, I have it on a CD of worship music that also includes contemporary renditions of Kyrie eleison and Gloria in excelsis. I almost always turn up the volume when it starts. I almost always end up thanking God for the gift of his Son before it’s over. It is a song I listen to all year long. Does that mean perhaps I’ve already started down a slippery slope toward Mariolatry? For that matter, are there churches or Christian leaders out there who disapprove of Lowry’s song for giving Mary too much attention?
What do you suppose it means that evangelicals would embrace a song addressed to the Mother of Jesus?
Update: Psalmist has alerted me to another song addressing Mary, “Mary, Mary, what you gonna name that baby” by Richard Avery and Donald Marsh.
[…] The Theotokos and the protestant a Tuesday feature? […]
The second half of the Hail Mary actually has a remarkable pedigree. The ideas and some turns of phrase are traceable at least to third-century Egypt, where we find them in liturgy, which tends by nature to be conservative. The piety is consistent with the mariology we find in Justin, Irenaeus, and Tertullian.
I, too, like that song. You have to hear the jazz singer Liz Kelly sing it.
Liz Kelly’s rendition is here in MP3:
While you’re there, check out here “All-Consuming Fire.”