Entry Into the Temple, Part Two: On the Shoulders of Little Girls

Entry into the Temple, Coptic

The first post in this two-part blog considered Joachim and Anna's sacrifice of their daughter to the Temple and how it was women's veneration that turned its commemoration into a feast day. Here is the second part of that meditation.

I wonder about other emotional dimensions of the story. Did Mary know that she was leaving her parents forever? Did she miss them? Did she understand the profound historical and eschatological significance for her future? WE do know that no one could have known at the time that she was the one chosen to be Theotokos. WE know this because of her surprise and awe at the Annunciation; how she took time to consider, and then gave her assent. But, for the sake of the story and what we know now, she was singled out for her radiance and potential.

And I wonder about Anna and Joachim. Did they miss Mary? Was it hard to leave her? Did they see her on Sabbath days and at the festivals? They both died before she left the Temple. Did they ever see her again? What a sacrifice to give their child to God wholly and forever.

The icons and hymns brought another image to mind, one that evokes the same array of feelings: pride, honor, anxiety. This is Ruby Bridges going to her first day of school in New Orleans in 1960. In 1954 the Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision that “separate but equal” schools were not constitutional; that separate schools based on race in the United States were “inherently unequal.” The Court ruled that schools needed to be desegregated “with all deliberate speed.” Communities in the Jim Crow South were not inclined to desegregate. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was publicly reluctant to carry out the mandate.

So it was up to Black people themselves to put this decision into action.

Schools are not Temples. But they are important places for civic participation and education, the spaces for communities to build character and social engagement and pride. In the so-called civil religion of the United States, schools are a major center for community activities and civic pride.

THE NAACP and local organizations, most especially the Black Church, met to encourage and support families. One child was six-year-old Ruby. Her entry would be an occasion for the public assertion of civil rights for a community long oppressed by law and custom. It would be entering an important official precinct that had been forbidden to her and her people. And it could be dangerous. President Eisenhower, appalled by the vicious response by white citizens to Black students entering white schools in other Southern cities arranged for armed US marshals to escort the young girl. Friends and neighbors of the Bridges family guarded her family home.

The first day of school Ruby rode in the car with her mother and four marshals. One of the marshals said: “Let us get out of the car first. Then you get out, and the four of us will surround you and your daughter. We’ll walk up to the door together. Just walk straight ahead, and don’t look back.”


Instead of virgins with candles, Ruby was met by a crowd of hundreds of people, many of them women and children, screaming racial epithets, throwing things, threatening bodily harm. And Ruby entered the school.

There she did meet an angel. Barbara Henry, a white teacher from Boston, came to New Orleans to teach the children that local white teachers refused to teach. Every day, for almost the entire school year, Ruby walked through the mob into Ms. Henry’s classroom. Ruby was the only student. Miss Henry later said: "There was a certain shyness about Ruby. She would appear at the door of our room every morning and walk in slowly, taking little steps. I would always greet her with a compliment about how nicely she was dressed to help make her feel special, as she was, and to make her feel more welcome and comfortable. We would hug, and then we would sit down side by side. We had our corner and it was cozy. I never sat in front of the classroom away from her. If I went to the blackboard, she was always right there with me. I grew to love Ruby and to be awed by her.  It was an ugly world outside, but I tried to make our world together as normal as possible. Neither one of us ever missed a day. It was important to keep going."

I watched the daily coverage of this story on TV every day. My own parents had moved from Harlem to a house in the North Bronx so I could attend better schools. I was one, or one of two, black children in my class until high school. I was supported and encouraged. I had a fine school experience. But the emotional and developmental consequences are with me still.

Ruby’s story brought global awareness to the the ugly and vicious system of white supremacy in the United States and the heroic actions of Black people to overturn the system. Her father lost his job. Her grandparents, sharecroppers, were thrown off their land. Donations and shows of support came to her and her family from around the world, This iconic picture, by the famous American artist, Norman Rockwell, was circulated around the world. He called it, “The Problem We All Live With/Ruby Bridges.”

Two little girls. Each with the hope and destiny of their people resting on their fragile shoulders. Trained and nurtured for great things. Remember that Mary stepped into the word and saw her son bring joy, bring the Word of God, and then endure torture and death. It was her lifelong mission. She was a companion and witness with other women who accompanied Jesus in his earthly mission. Ruby has devoted her life to educating people and organizing around the country to continue the fight for civil rights and to end white supremacy.  Little girls. Remember them and see the heroism and bravery and potential of little girls everywhere. Join in the education and support and encouragement of little girls who will fulfill the promises set before them… given the recognition and tools they require.

Ruby Bridges entering school
Kamala Harris and Ruby Bridges

And here is the last image (courtesy of @briagoeller and @goodtrubble). During a debate for presidential candidates this spring, Joe Biden was struggling through an explanation of his opposition to desegregation efforts in his home state.  Kamala Harris replied: “I was that little girl.” Her mother had put this little black girl on a bus to a school across town for a better education. Our VP-elect walks in Ruby’s footsteps. We all do as we continue the fight for justice. We all walk in the footsteps and compassion of Mary, as we continue to live a full and rich Christian life.

Our blogger Judith Scott has a long veneration for this feast and recently commissioned this Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple from Tatiana Nikolova-Houston. 

Judith Scott with Icon