Mary Icons

There are three classic prototypes of Mary.

Her icons point towards a new contemporary kind of trinity. Perhaps the concept of Mary is still undeveloped in our understanding and with more contemplation we will come to realize a deeper mystical message in how we are to behave in the world.

Mary receives the divine gift within, creation, she nurtures that gift through tenderness and she ultimately surrenders that gift to the world, offering her son to the world. Humanity in turn learns to recognize our own divine being within, nurture it and let it go, knowing it was never ours to own but rather to share.

The image of Mary has mutated many times throughout centuries of iconography. From the blessed diva, Mother of God gazing into the unknown to a weeping, anguished mother. The Renaissance painters in the 16th century changed into a more human mother in pain or in joy. Mary’s identity has given rise to many doctrinal wars, decrees and debates but her image is more than cult, idol, mystery or divine. She is a fountain of image, triggering great reflection and contemplation.

Mary defined through history

Theologians of the Middle Ages deliberated in detail the Forever Virgin condition of Mary. They had to answer how it could be that Christ was born to someone as common as one of us? Since Christ is All man and All God, His mother would have to be, in some way, all divine. The Roman Catholic Church fashioned the idea of the Immaculate Conception. The concept of Mary being miraculously conceived was declared doctrine in 1854. It was a theological creation which became dogma at considerable expense to women. Ironically, Mary was lifted to the highest place among men, yet somehow, though she was seemingly divine,she had no voice and no ability to act in any other way but constant surrender.

Nearly 100 years later another detail of her divinity needed clarification. Since Mary was immaculately conceived then where would her divine body go at her death? The Orthodox Church specifically teaches that Mary died a natural death, that her soul was received by Christ upon death, and that her body was resurrected on the third day after her repose at which time her body was taken up into heaven. It was decided Mary did not die but rather “slept”. This statement became an Article of Faith in 1950. The Roman Catholic institution needed an example of undefiled sexuality, perfected womanhood with divine meekness and they found it in the Virgin Mary, from beginning to end.

In the language of iconography, Mary has been held in the highest esteem, I guess for her absolute obedience and silence. We acclaim her to be the vehicle for contemplation through service, surrender and acceptance. The delicate line painted through her neck is there to remind us of her deep humility and constant meditation. Mary being portrayed as the quiet servant and mystical, silent mother has been a hindrance to the development of women and their voice in the Christian church institutions.

I have painted many images of Mary and I believe she has much to tell us. The wisdom women have learned through the years of service and observation has been kept in a soundproof room for too long. It is time for women to speak out and be heard on issues that matter to them. Within our human behavior Mary is the queen of teaching us to love what we have been given, to nurture it and then Give It Away.

I find it ironic that Christian mystics, mostly men, have spoken and expanded spiritual understanding of God for nearly two thousand years and, in doing so, have controlled and shaped our society. Mary has not spoken, making our understanding of her elusive. Mary is a woman who, by her human act, gave birth to the most transcendent truth which is love, a love completed in offering. This is by far the very thing the world needs for its healing. The next three icons illustrate the basis for another kind of trinity: Creator, Lover and Giver. The idea is not only Christian, it teaches a new attitude towards creation: we each create, we each love what we create, and we each have the power to give away to the world what we have created.

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