Category Archives: Images of Mary

The body of a woman

Like the majority of American women out there, I’ve got a few body issues.  It’s not like I wander around in a state of constant physical self-loathing, and there are plenty of things I really like about the way I look, but there are also a few key things I’m not wild about, particularly as middle age sets in.  I’m not going to name them here because I don’t want to dignify them that way; see, on a rational level I KNOW this is all very dumb, and most of the time I can just laugh at my insecurities and move on.

Then, other times, I can’t.

The sad thing is that this is not unique to me.  Take a look at this article and you’ll see that women all over the world struggle to feel good about their bodies (though not as many in South Africa as in the other nations in the study. What’s their secret?).

Anyhow, I say all of this because as I sat at the vigil Mass last night for the Feast of the Assumption — the day when we celebrate how Mary was assumed into heaven — it occurred to me that there was something about this feast day that I had never noticed before.

I realized that it was a feast day where we celebrate a woman’s body.

And I like that.  Even more: I need that.

I need the reminder that a woman’s body is worthy of respect and honor.

I need a chance to think about how my own body, this house for my soul, is something that does great things.  It walks and talks and touches and sees and smells and tastes and hears, processes that are amazing marvels when you really stop to think about them.

I need to honor the fact that this body has known pleasure and has known pain. It has needed surgery and medication and yet it keeps on ticking.  It engages with creation every day in ways I usually take for granted, even though I shouldn’t.

I want to honor the fact that this body has held four little lives inside it.   I mourn the two who were lost before they could be born, and yet I am forever grateful for the two who grew to term, two boys who happened to be sitting on either side of me during Mass as these thoughts washed over me.

I need to think about how my body holds a record of my forty-four years on this earth.  It’s there in the wrinkles, the gray hair, the random scars.  They all tell a story; my story.  I wouldn’t change that story for anything.

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to think all of this during Mass.  I had gone because it was a Holy Day of Obligation, and I’m that kind of girl.  I didn’t expect to be sitting in the pew suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude that my faith has a day where we honor the body of a woman who was well past middle age.

But it does.  I love that it does.

And maybe this day is an invitation to me — and to you too, sister — to do the same.

The vulnerability of being a parent

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“It was a few months after the birth of Matthew that I kept thinking of a well-known quotation from Elizabeth Stone, one I’d heard years before becoming a mom: ‘Making the decision to have a child — it is momentous.  It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.’ Bingo, I thought as I toted Matthew around in his infant seat.  That’s exactly how it feels.  Matthew is outside of me now, in that big scary world, and that is a very vulnerable place for a heart to be.

One day I thought back to those pictures of Mary’s immaculate heart.  For the first time ever, that image made perfect sense to me.  Like me, Mary was a mom.  Like me, she had a beloved child who was out there in the world, where any number of things could assail him.  Like me, she must have felt as though the dearest, most vital part of her — her very heart — was exposed and vulnerable.

Once I made that connection, I could no longer dismiss those images as creepy or perplexing.  I realized they were, in fact, a perfect way of showing how visceral this maternal-love thing really is.  It’s not just something you feel in your head or in your soul.  It’s in your very organs, in every cell of your body, in the mechanisms that make you tick. Like any other mom, Mary felt that love, in all its exhilarating and terrifying depth.”

— from Random MOMents of Grace: Experiencing God in the Adventures of Motherhood (Loyola Press, 2013)

 

A whole lot of Mary

Somehow or other, the month of May almost passed without me writing a single post about Mary.  The spirit was willing, but the flesh — exhausted by end-of-the-semester grading — was weak.

But here in the eleventh hour, I’m finally putting together a little celebration of one of my favorite moms.  So here are some of my favorite Mary-themed photos, all taken by me at various times over the years.

Enjoy!

 

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Healdsburg, CA

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Healdsburg, CA

 

Mary under a mantle of snow, Oneonta, NY

Mary under a mantle of snow, Oneonta, NY

 

Our Lady of Lourdes shrine, Half Moon Bay, CA

Our Lady of Lourdes shrine, Half Moon Bay, CA

 

Mary statue, my backyard

Mary statue, my backyard

 

Nativity set figures made by my mom

Homemade Nativity set figures, my mom’s house

 

Pencil holder on my desk

Pencil holder, my desk

 

Carmel Mission, Carmel, CA

Carmel Mission, Carmel, CA

A mother’s touch

Detail from Song of the Angels by William Adolphe Bouguereau

Detail from Song of the Angels by William Adolphe Bouguereau

“I don’t know why God chose to enter the world as an infant; there are many possible reasons, I’m sure.  But I like to think that maybe it’s because God, too, wanted to feel the warmth of a mother’s touch.” 

— from Taste and See: Experiencing the Goodness of God with Our Five Senses

A blessed Mother’s Day to all.

Our Lady of the vulnerable times

Our Lady of Guadalupe shine in Healdsburg, California

Our Lady of Guadalupe shine in Healdsburg, California

I think many of us are feeling vulnerable these days.  Tragic world events shake us; political fighting unsettles us; wild winter weather keeps us on edge.  On a personal note, recent changes in my own workplace have left me and many of my colleagues feeling disempowered.  Being vulnerable takes a lot out of you.

But tomorrow is the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and that makes me happy.  Just like her son, she’s a champion of the vulnerable.  She singled out the little guy, Juan Diego, and encouraged him.  She appeared not to the wealthy and powerful but to a representative of the disenfranchised and vulnerable, reminding him of his own innate dignity.

I love that about her.

Here in California, you see many images of Our Lady of Guadalupe: on truck decals, T-shirts, sides of buildings.  The fact that she is so ubiquitous just underscores her availability.  You don’t need a ticket or a background check or a sponsor to approach her.  She’s always there and ready to listen, any time life is roughing you up a bit and you need a little comfort.

Years ago, walking with my husband after dinner at a restaurant in a nearby city, I remember passing a Catholic church.  There was a shrine to Our Lady of G. in the parking lot, and in the dusk a young man was standing there.  He was alone, and silent, just pausing in front of her shrine.  It was clear that he was praying.  I was touched by it, this moment where vulnerable human need sought strong  maternal love.  If my own experiences are anything to go by, I suspect he left that shrine feeling heard.

I think this is why Our  Lady of Guadalupe is so special.  I think it’s why her image is fixed in our memories, just as surely it is on Juan Diego’s tilma.  She keeps on bringing us roses in winter, affirmation in the bleakest times.   And that’s worth celebrating, tomorrow and always.