“…by the power of the Holy Spirit, he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made human”. — The Nicene Creed
Rowan Williams writes that “the real and deepest paradox [of the story of Christ] is that only the Creator can exhibit fully what it is to be a creature.”  “He who alone is unlimited in form and being (essence and existence) appears in the patience of the longsuffering of the most extreme limitation — in the ‘deformed’ form of the crucified slave.”This destitution and its aftermath is the goal of what the Holy Spirit and Mary do together. The Spirit “broods” (מְרַחֶ֖פֶת) over the dark waters of formless chaos; “overshadows” (“broods over” — ἐπισκιάσει) Mary; and in like fashion, “broods” over the corpse of that crucified slave in the tomb. These creative acts are all of a piece with the Love that creates all that is.
Concerning Mary’s virginity, attested in Matthew and Luke’s gospels and implied in John, this line in the creeds particularly disturbs many modern churchgoers, who find it hard to believe. Some have told me that they do not recite it or even cross their fingers at that moment! There are many ways that have been tried to palliate such embarrassment, but I think they are wrong.
It must be admitted that the doctrine of her “perpetual” virginity (widely held for centuries, even Martin Luther and John Calvin insisted upon it) can only exacerbate this disbelief. Add on the so-called dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, and this particular veneration has the effect of reducing the story of this woman to the role of her uterus. What is key in the story is not some biological impossibility, but its import: Jesus is not just an accident in a bedroom but is one of us by the will and design of God through Mary. She believed the angel’s word about Christ, and John says that believing the Word makes one a child of God as he is.
To acquiesce to some disbelief of this story, which to some seems only to fan the flames of atheist scoffing, is to begin to disbelieve the most important aspect of the Incarnation: “only the Creator can exhibit fully what it is to be a creature.” It is the inverse of the mythologizing that developed Mary’s “perpetual” virginity (despite Scripture’s mentioning Jesus’ brothers and sisters) and the felt need to exempt Mary from original sin (“immaculate” conception) and the corruption of her body (taken into heaven after death). This demythologizing shies away from the issue of Jesus’ divinity. He starts to become in this fashion merely a great teacher, or at best a fellow who was so good that God adopted him as son.
Be nice to your Mother
At the same time, it also devalues his mother’s role. The story as told by Matthew is about another dreaming Joseph, who has learned that his fiancée is pregnant by another. He could denounce her and see her stoned to death at the gates of Nazareth, but instead he chooses to be merciful and break their engagement quietly. Here is a man willing to do the right thing — well and good! — but it is a man’s story. It is Luke who values what Mary chooses. The Creator of the billion galaxies waited upon this teenaged girl to make up her mind, after all. This is vital to each of us. God is not coercive but waits for us to welcome the Triune into our lives and hearts. “How can this be?” Mary asks the angel. It is the question that each of us asks when we come to understand what is being offered — life itself, the very life of God. It is just too wondrous. How can this be?
The story of Mary, “Saint Mary the Virgin” as we Anglicans call her, is essential to the gospel as it stands. She is the bridge between faithful Israel and the rest of us, and this role should be recognized for what it is: a priestly one, mediating between heaven and earth. It begins with the coming of Christ into the world through her active freedom, through her heart as well as her body. It moves to her treasuring in that heart what is said about her son, to fleeing into exile, to doubting his sanity, to the terrible destitution of his abandonment, torture and death, and finally to being among the disciples when the Spirit blows through the upper room at Pentecost. (That might have felt familiar to her.)
The archetype of life
Mary was then and is now the archetype of life in Christ for us. The Lady of the Book of Revelation, “clothed with the sun” (Rev. 12:1), is a brilliant image of how she is now, clothed in the life of God that her son offers to us all. The crown of twelve stars represent the tribes of Israel, the Apostles, the whole Communion of saints. She is surrounded by that great cloud of witnesses of which she is the first. At her feet is the moon, sign of mortality and death, death which she has overcome finally and forever.
Mary is the exemplar of our prayer’s confidence that “to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom”. To slight her role because of it feels embarrassing is often the beginning of faith, in fact — but only if it is challenged. If you think this is just another religious myth, as parthenogenesis is impossible for humans, think again. I am not asking that you believe, but that you at least get what the story is really all about.
 Christ the Heart of Creation, (London: Bloomsbury Continuum, 2018), p. 239.
 Erich Pryzwara, Analogia Entis: Metaphysics — Original Structure and Universal Rhythm, tr. Betz and Hart, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014), pp. 346–7; quoted in Ibid., p. 238.
 The ICET version of the Apostles’ Creed has “ conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.” The Greek omits the “power”: τòν συλληφθέντα ἐκ πνεύματος ἁγίου, γεννηθέντα ἐκ Μαρίας. The insertion of “power” seems to make a contrast between “active” Spirit and “passive” Mary, whereas the original says “conceived (Spirit) and born (Mary)”.
 John 1: 12–13 — “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of a man, but of God.” (NRSV)
 “A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”
 Following Elizabeth Johnson’s “modest proposal” to “locate Mary in the communion of saints and there to remember her, dangerously and consolingly, as a woman with her own particular history among her contemporaries and before God.” Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints (New York: Continuum, 2003), p. 95.
 Compare Pope Benedict XVI’s homily, August 15, 2007, http://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/homilies/2007/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20070815_castel-gandolfo.html
 Collect for Peace, Book of Common Prayer, p. 99. It is Anglican tradition that we may ask Mary and the saints in life to intercede for us, but asking only for prayer, not miracles.