cover image Strange Heaven: The Virgin Mary as Woman, Mother, Disciple and Advocate

Strange Heaven: The Virgin Mary as Woman, Mother, Disciple and Advocate

Jon M. Sweeney, . . Paraclete, $21.95 (233pp) ISBN 978-1-55725-432-0

Pious devotions to Mary the mother of Jesus, once derided as superstitious by non-Catholic Christians, are reconsidered by award-winning Protestant author Sweeney (Born Again and Again ). Drawing upon excellent scholarship, Christian history and spiritual traditions, Sweeney recounts how a humble Palestinian teenage girl came to be revered by many Christians as the "mother of God." While there is a dearth of historical facts about Mary, it matters not to the Christian imagination, for "It is her myth that draws us: her power to fascinate us intellectually is only surpassed by her ability to inspire devotion." Sweeney is clear that Mary's significance transcends even her role as the mother of Jesus. Mary's virginity influenced the development of Christian sexual ethics, she is praised in the Islamic Qur'an and some would say that her role in redeeming humanity is equal to her son's. Sweeney is very evenhanded when addressing some of the more controversial Catholic beliefs about Mary—his prose comes across as earnest and respectful, while remaining informed and unafraid of critique. This book may not convince Protestants that Mary deserves the privileged place that the Catholic Church gives to her, but it is a fascinating and well-researched exploration of a powerful female archetypal figure. (Sept.)