Icon painting Speaks to the soul: Beginning with Mary
In Mary, I found inspiration for my book called In Light of Women. After copying hundreds of images of icon images of the mother of God, I discovered not only the deep mystical Mary message held by tradition, but at least one valuable lesson waiting to be learned in our time. The definition for “Who is Mary?” has changed to suit various theological questions in the church. She was the simple Mother of God who became the Virgin Mother and then the Immaculate Conception. She is continually hailed as the queen of contemplation and her obedience to God is inspiring through her supreme act of selflessness. She is so “Holy” her very being is unattainable for any human being, yet I still imagine her as a women and mother like myself.
The image of Mary has changed along with her relevance, the church needed to continually transform her identity to fit with its desired image of women. For 2,000 years woman have been encouraged to be seen and not heard, to be bodies of perfect motherhood and endless committed service.
As Mary changed in history, I changed as I painted her image.
In my heart, I explored the grieving and weeping Mary of the Renaissance, I painted the best I could the mystical distant gaze of Mary in ancient iconography, and finally I came to understand that Mary is the container for the divine to be known. She became for me the church. She became the womb, the door of the church through which I enter, to learn to learn how to grace the world with my contribution of love. If Christ is love walking among us I go to the church to learn to become that which she birthed, I too am born in His image through her.
I find it ironic that Christian mystics, mostly men, have spoken and expanded the spiritual understanding of God for nearly two thousand years and, in doing so, have controlled and shaped our society without the help of women. Mary has used the spoken word, 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.
Love is by far the very thing the world needs for its Healing.
This triptych of three icons illustrates what I discovered in Mary and her many images: Receive, Nurture, and Release. These three stages in the life of Mary teach us a new attitude towards creation: First, like Mary we are given divinity within, we create with what we have received, then we love and nurture what we have created. The first two are a challenge but nothing like the final image. Ultimately we are called to release and give away to the world our valuable creation. The metaphor speaks to our ego, loving what we think we own, what we think we created and our want to protect and keep it for ourselves. Mary’s journey is a replica of what we are called to, to fully love and nurture as she did and finally give it to the world, with no agenda or restriction. This is not easy but becomes absolute trust in God. Love is given for us to give Love in the world.
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