There is a song I like very much, one of many, of course, but I’ve been thinking about this one lately. Lyrics by Mark Lowry, melody by Buddy Greene. It’s called “Mary, Did You Know?”
They play it on the radio often during the Christmas season—understandably, because it’s a series of questions to the mother of Christ: Mary, when you held your baby boy, did you know whom—what—you were holding? Did you know what would happen? Did you realize the transcendent greatness contained in your arms?
Here, listen to the song. Clay Aiken sings it with deep, reflective spirit.
It’s been staying with me lately, and to me it’s more than a Christmas song because, besides any other nuance, it speaks on two prominent levels: of the Holy Family, and of family, which is holy.
I love the song’s explicit message, its timid attempt to bring us to the root of Jesus’ journey not even through Mary’s eyes but before there was anything for the eyes to see, through her mothering heart, through empathy with her special intuition, that mysterious foreknowledge that only she, the pure loving source of Him, could have had.
I love this Mary of the great Christian myth of salvation, for she was a privy participant of what she’d brought into the world. How much of its greatness did she understand? And if she knew its saving miracle, did she understand its heartbreak, too? Listening to the song, this way, by questioning Mary’s heart, I wonder again and again about the determinacy of things: Did He come into the world already bearing salvation? Bearing miracle? Did He come bearing heartbreak?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you delivered will soon deliver you.
This song is a photo album of the man I love, snapshots of his life and baby pictures, he in his mother’s arms. If you’ve ever looked through such an album of the love of your life, you have probably experienced this feeling: looking at an infant you know would grow into the person you love, you know would do the things that have been done, achieve, rejoice, and suffer, and come to you—but there, in the picture, it’s still just an infant, unknowing and innocent, not the person by your side, and yet it is. And you wonder if everything you’ve come to love is contained somehow in that tiny beginning. And you wonder about all the twists of the path between the picture and your spouse.
This is the other side of the song that I like so much, the other meaning. The bigger meaning. I suppose, the very reason that I like it so. I think… Well, I think the song is not about Mary. It’s not about Jesus. Not a whole lot. I think, it’s about mothers and children. About humanity and its potential, about the infinite possibilities every child comes into the world bearing: for salvation, for miracle, and for heartbreak. And when a mother looks at her child, she sees them. Maybe, not all.
Mary, did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy will calm the storm with His hand?
This is not a new truth, that when a child is born, a universe of potential is born with her: she may cure blindness or cancer, she may create great inventions, find mind-boggling discoveries, forever rid humanity of destruction wreaked by natural disasters. He may become a nurse or a counselor and save somebody’s life. Or he may die a teenager under a drunk driver’s wheels. Or he may be the drunk driver. When a mother holds her newborn child, what does she see? What did Mary see in Jesus?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little baby you kiss the face of God?
What I like about the song is that it seems to move from questions to which there is no answer to those with an implicit “Yes.” Did she know her son would perform this or that specific deed? Cure a blind man, calm the storm? I doubt it. Do we ever know such a thing? And does it matter? Even if the mythical Mary had the mythical prescience of a mythical miracle, the relevance of it is narrow, only to the myth itself. But the grander questions… Did she feel the healing force in her child, the salvific power? Did she feel intimately, directly connected to the Divine in all its mystery and majesty as if he’d just come right from where the angels trod? Do we feel that intimate majesty when we look at a child, completely open to his enormous, unknown and yet already contained within him potential, bursting into the future through everything that is, entirely unspoiled by hopelessness or fatigue?
Yes. I think, yes, and few people will argue. It is yet another truism that most of us experience something ineffable holding a child—a subconscious awareness of the Face of God. We all are, of course. The Face of God is all around and within us, but we obscure it from ourselves with worry, despair, drudgery, or entertainment, too often. Children cannot hide it yet. They don’t know how.
Did Mary know she was holding in her arms the very confluence of Human and Divine? Yes, I believe she did. I believe that with a rarest exception every mother, on whatever level, knows that’s what she is holding—whatever words she might use to comprehend the idea. Quite a few fathers, too, and a whole lot of everybody else. I like the way the song puts in in the last line:
The sleeping child you’re holding is the Great I AM.
Christian mystic saints who talked of seeing Christ in other people are too numerous to list. Of course, this means one simple thing: Christ is born. Every time a child is born. When we hold him, we might catch a glimpse of what Mary knew.