Saint Luke the Evangelist is not a Feast day Icon;
it is considered the icon of Iconographers. Saint Luke is depicted seated as he paints the image of Saint Mary with the Christ Child while being instructed by an Angel. This icon portrays three levels of reality which iconographers are aware of simultaneously; physical, historical and spiritual.
St Luke seated painting is the basest reality, the actual activity of writing an icon on real touchable wood. ( the physical) The second level of reality is represented by the miraculous apparition of Mary and Christ. This apparition comes to him like an (historical) event which has already happened; he is trying to capture the vision, it’s deeper meaning and significance. The third level of awareness is the inspiration received from the angel. (spiritual) Though we cannot feel or touch an angel, we sense deeply that they are without a doubt real and assisted in much of what we do. Intuitive awareness is not of this world, yet this awareness of a spirit presence sustains us.
Mary the Mother of Christ appears in 12 Feast Day Icons;
The Presentation of Mary as a child, The Annunciation, Visitation, Virgin Birth, Nativity, Presentation of Jesus, Flight into Egypt, Finding in the Temple, Wedding at Cana, the Crucifixion, Resurrection and finally Pentecost. I was astonished by how many versions of Mary I came across as a young painter. Through prayer and reading the bible for support and curiosity I was increasingly energized by Mary. I believe she still holds grounded theology valuable even in today’s society. The meditations on Mary are hardly exhaustive, once you have mastered one quality of her presence; there are 10 more to be explored. By far, she is the most popular image in the church.
Few mothers, matriarchs of our myths, have been so confusing to us.
Images of Mary are so powerful and so trivial; so central and so peripheral; so mysterious and so obvious; so comforting and so disturbing. We are told Mary is the Queen of Heaven. She is a pregnant teenager. She is our mother in the heavens. She is a statue and museum marker for a patriarchal church. She is the mother goddess in all cultures, in all times, in all places, archetypal as well as universal. Mary appears and re-appears in many apparition of the arts, an endless epiphany of our own deep longing.
She is discovered and re-discovered as the elusive woman who by her most human act gave birth to the most transcendent truth. Mary the Universal Mother on whom we ultimately always depend is love as unconditional as it is enduring.
Saint Mary, could be our Friend and Guide
Mary the Virgin Mother has inspired Catholics for centuries to perform rituals, consecrate her divinity through books and images, practice personal devotions, as well as; homilies praising the glories of her being, untold rounds of rosary chanting, venerating through all manner of sacramental acts to honor Mary. With all this devotion and recognition one would think women would have a better place in society. Not so, as most Women know all too well, Saint Mary is the Mother of God and Eve was a sinner and there is very little in the middle. In this new age of spirituality we might make Mary our Friend and Guide rather than a pedestal image of unachievable perfection.
Karl Barth wrote, “The heresy of the Catholic Church is its Mariology.
The Orthodox view states Mary the Saint is “superior to all created beings”, although not divine. Their theology goes on to say things like, “Mary was a virgin before, during, and immediately after the birth of Christ.” or “in her God became man and Man became God”. Truly I have no problem with such statements, I find them inspiring but the church tells us this is unattainable for every other women. The line is blurry between the high admiration for God’s active Grace in Mary and God’s active Grace in the rest of us. Seems the Church teaches us that God only chose two people as the ultimate recipients of complete Grace in Mary and Christ. I might add Mary is not as divine as Christ. God must be keeping a hierarchy where His own greatness is preserved for only two humans? Mystically these two are holy and Supernatural but where does that leave the rest of us?
In the Islamic tradition, Mary and Jesus were the only children who could not be touched by Satan at the moment of their birth, for God imposed a veil between them and Satan. Don’t you just wish you could go out and buy one of those Veils, perhaps as a gift for one of your pregnant sister in laws, so she can birth another Saint Mary the Mother of God.
Why It is Perplexing to seek the Truth.
A theologian once said, “it is necessary to go back to Mary if we want to return to: truth about Jesus Christ, truth about the Church and truth about humankind.” This is an amazing statement and one worth thinking about. I guess as a practitioner of prayer and journey women in the spirit, I am not sure there are truths which can be spoken, but rather wispered, deep truth can only be known and experienced. The masters of doctrine and theology are to be praised for their commitment to language and outstanding efforts to articulate scripture for us, but I would still choose experience over words.
Example: Statements like these offer a lifetime of thinking. Orthodox teaching; “From her we have harvested the grape of life”; “from her we have cultivated the seed of immortality.” “For our sake she became the Matrix of all blessings”; “in her God became man, and man became God.”
Indeed this kind of sentence gives structure to the experience of the divine. Dogma is fine except when there is no more room for flexibility or creative new perspectives. Anyone who has spent time in meditation and prayer will no doubt find Life to be a Dilemma. We are here but who are we and whose are we and what’s the point! We are left with living the question, living the mystery, living from the heart and where no answers come from this world or the mind.
The wisest people in the world are silent. I know why! Not one of us can give actual awareness of the divine to anyone. Fabulous irony! The stories about Mary, Jesus, and humanity are all mystery and can only be known and explored through the heart. Yup, the bible surely helps, along with ritual, doctrine, study, prayer and the faith filled community. But, in the end after all the thoughts and words, we are each unique expressions of God’s life force. I will have to learn to shut up!