This morning our offertory hymn was “Mary, Did You Know?”. It is also the meditation song for the Joyful Mysteries on my Praying the Rosary with the Daughters of St. Paul CD. I love this song and I enjoy hearing it any time of the year. It is a beautiful hymn that has become a Christmas standard. While the song puts me in a right frame of reflection for Christmas, it also evokes memories of Christmas past — memories of my Baptist past. You see, I’ve met the author of this song on two or three occasions — most recently this past January at his concert at a nearby Baptist church.
The author of the lyrics of “Mary, Did You Know?”, is Mark Lowry who is foremost a Christian Comedian of Southern Baptist upbringing. I was introduced to his music and comedy while he was a member of the Gaither Vocal Band. The Gaither name was revered in my home growing up. My father was in a Southern Gospel quartet that toured around Georgia and the Southeast. Bill and Gloria Gaither have written an amazing amount of music — many of which my dad’s quartet performed. We were in a different church every Saturday night and back at our home church on Sunday morning. I could say we were traveling around in a music ministry that attempted to sing people to heaven. It was like this for me from about the age of 8 to 13 years old.
As a young adult, I taught the teens in Sunday School which included my sister and her friends. I always tried to encourage them in listening to contemporary Christian music rather than secular rock music. In the Summers, late 80’s – early 90’s, I took them to Atlanta Fest — I remember the extremely early days of D.C. Talk, 4Him, Steven Curtis Chapman, Carmen — names that many of my readers may scratch their heads. On New Year’s Eve, I would take them to Jubilate’ at the Omni Arena. It was sponsored by Bill and Gloria Gaither with a line up of Christian performers that would ring us into the New Year. The Vocal Band, with Mark Lowry, performed. There was the first year where I saw Mark and chased him down for his autograph. I treasured the ink pen he used for some time afterwards. I joined his fan club. Another year, I dragged some of my teens out to see him at a church in Powder Springs. I waited in line to greet him, shake his hand, and say how his ministry blessed me. He is a mix of comedic stories of his hyperactive childhood and very thoughtfully crafted parables that get across the message of Jesus. He can sing too which is how he was invited to be a Gaither Vocal Band member.
All this funny business and he comes out with “Mary, Did You Know?” in 1991. It quickly grew in popularity. In 1998, it came out in a gift book format for Christmas — my first Christmas as a Candidate in the Catechumenate to become Catholic. The book included additional readings and reflections in addition to the lyrics. It enhanced my deepening discoveries of Mary and her role in salvation history. Mark has stated in interviews that the lyrics began as a list of questions he would like to ask Mary and it was part of an Advent pageant script. The words stuck with him until it eventually became a song.
So, this past January I learned that Mark would be performing literally a few miles from my home. I got tickets for me, my sister, and my nephew — like old times. This is the first time in many years that I’ve been to a concert like this. My nephew thought he was hilarious. I was one of two Catholics there. I know this because he always does a hand raising attendance for a litany of church affiliations. I worshiped as a Baptist for 33 years and next April is my 10th anniversary in the Catholic Church. It is the first time I’ve felt a minority complex in a way that nearly took my breath away. What was once home to me is no longer the same. I felt like a stranger. In comic form, the Catholics are asked to say hello to Mary and thank her for this song since Baptists can’t talk to Mary. It was not said in any irreverent way at all. He also pokes fun at various Protestant demoninations – as I can attest – we didn’t understand fully each other’s practices either. He causes us to laugh at our differences in some respects. It is just his comment really honed for me how different my Christian life has become. It saddened me to think how much many Christians are missing. As a Catholic, I have gained so much spiritually in the last 9 1/2 years. I can’t imagine my life had I not followed the Holy Spirit and the guidance of a trusted friend. I’m in a church that doesn’t take Mary out only in the creche and put her away after Christmas — maybe mention her at the foot of the cross at Easter. A son has two parents year round. If you want to know about the son, just ask his mother. I was browsing around the Family Christian Store for Christmas gifts and noticed a book or two on praying the rosary for non-Catholics.
I’ve grown from my childhood experiences to understand that you don’t really sing people into heaven. But, I firmly believe the Holy Spirit can float like a dove in the words of a great Gospel song — like the whisper of a feather. They are sermons set to music meant to edify and to draw us ever closer to the truths that God wants us to understand. I thought long and hard about saying some of the things I did in this article but it is what is on my heart. Some of these thoughts have been swirling around in my head all year. I will always sing this song and it will always make me cry. I’ll always have fond memories of the one who wrote it.
Here for you is “Mary, Did You Know?”, performed by the man who wrote it.
I just discovered this video. Mark gave a long 9 minute talk on Mary and Jesus right before singing “Mary, Did You Know?” It is a wonderful sample of how Mark weaves humor with serious spiritual concepts. You will enjoy this. You will understand how he came about with the lyrics for this song. This video ends right before he begins to sing the song.