Category Archives: Images of Mary

Mary in the hall, with flowers

Everything in the vase came from our own yard.  That’s a very nice feeling, somehow.

Where are you finding beauty today?

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Mary of the week: I need an Our Lady of Efficient Grading

We’re in the final throes of the school year here, and holy cow, I’m ready for vacation.  Stick a fork in me.   I’m done.

But then again, I’m not done, because I still have papers to grade.    With the exception of eight weeks in summer, I always have papers to grade.   Always.  The psychic toll this takes on a person simply cannot be denied.

So I really need a Mary called Our Lady of Efficient Grading.  I could use her prayers right about now, as I wearily polish off the final stacks.

Or I could use an Our Lady of Packing, because I’m doing that too: packing up the contents of my classroom and department office desk for a move to a new building.   I am unearthing fascinating things, like papers from students I taught in 1998.  That would make them … how old now … thirty?   Dang.   I’ve been doing this a long time.

But since I can’t find any icons of Our Lady of End-of-the-School-Year Pursuits, I’ll just share this image instead.  It is a soothing and lovely image for any week, especially a frazzled, moving-at-lightning-speed week like this one.  May it bring you peace, too.

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Song of the Angels by William-Adolphe Bougureau

Mary of the week: Star of the Sea

It’s a week until the end of the semester, which means my life is pretty darn hectic right about now.   I currently have grading piles that rival my laundry piles (and believe me, that is really saying something).  So today’s post will be a re-run of a post that I first wrote in — can it be? — 2009.   Enjoy!

Stella MAris

I’m picky about beaches. I’m not really a fan of the sunny, Baywatch, surf-n-sand ones. My ideal beach is foggy, windswept, dramatic: the kind we have here in Northern California, for instance. There’s something so evocative and romantic about strolling along the sand on a gray day, shoulders hunched inside my coat, few other people around to intrude upon my thoughts.

Those thoughts always turn to the immensity of the ocean. It’s impossible to look at that horizon and NOT feel humbled. It’s a good kind of humbled, though. It makes me realize that there is so much out there in the world, beyond my own perspective. Looking at the huge sweep of ocean, I can’t help but think of the courage of people who brave those waters and literally sail into the unknown.

Maybe this is why I love the title Stella Maris — Star of the Sea. It’s an old name for Mary, one that emphasizes her role as guide. For centuries, the stars have helped sailors find their way through the treacherous ocean waters. Mary plays a similar role for us landlubbers. When you’re lost in the choppy churning waters of any kind of problem, try thinking about how she navigated the stormy seas of her own life.  There’ a power in pondering her example, and in asking for her prayers.  She can get you back on the right course. She can keep you from drowning.

And I truly believe that Mary, like all moms, wants us to grow beyond ourselves. She wants us to explore the world and especially our own potential — but she wants us to do it safely. As we sail beyond our comfort zones she’s always there, watching us, cheering us on, and hoping we’ll look up whenever we feel lost at sea.

Holy Card from my own collection (isn’t it a beauty?)

Mary of the Week: Why I now love Our Lady of Guadalupe

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On a spring day about seven years ago, I was interviewing my friend Mary for my book Mary and Me: Catholic Women Reflect on the Mother of God.  We sat in the living room of her bungalow-type home, which was filled with images of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in every imaginable place: painted on a cabinet, on a refrigerator magnet, on a decorative tile in the glassed-in hutch in the dining room.

Mary – I’ll refer to her as “my Mary,” to distinguish her from the Virgin Mary – explained to me her history with Our Lady of G, whom she’d loved ever since she was a child.  Our Lady of G had been a huge comfort to my Mary during the uterine cancer she’d had several years before, a cancer which meant she could never have children of her own.  Throughout that awful diagnosis and the recovery, throughout Mary’s subsequent engagement and wedding to her husband Tom, throughout the travels Mary adored and the teaching job she loved, Our Lady of G was there.  “I feel like she’s always been watching out for me,” Mary told me on that day in 2006.

I’m not sure I paid much attention to Our Lady of G before knowing my friend Mary. Growing up in California, her image is ubiquitous, but I’d never felt much of a personal connection.  And yet there was something in my Mary’s fervent love for her that made me take another look.

My Mary loved the earth tones of the skin of Our Lady of G.  She loved how Our Lady of G spoke to the hearts of many people in the Central Valley farming community where Mary grew up.  And through Mary’s eyes, I started to see something special in Our Lady of G, too: an earthiness, a real-ness.  I liked that she looked at home in any context, both on a church altar and on a tattoo.   I started to understand why people loved her.

Now she’s in my house, too.  She’s in the center of the folk art cross that I bought at the Carmel Mission last year, and which I have hanging by my prayer desk.

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She’s on a small desk clock that Scott found in a dime store in Chinatown.  She’s on this T-shirt that I found at LA Congress, a shirt of which my Mary would heartily approve.

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As it turns out, I wrote about Mary – my Mary – in my second book, too.   She’s in the chapter about heaven.    In 2010, her cancer came back, this time to her bile ducts.     It ravaged her body, stole her strength, made it difficult for her to eat, and caused her great pain.  This time, in spite of all efforts, it was terminal.   It’s been a year and a half since she died, and there is no fancier way to say it than this: I miss her.  I miss her so much and so often.

But this loss made Our Lady of G settle into an even deeper place in my heart, because the day that Mary died was December 12, 2011.  December 12 is the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  There was – and there is – such a unique comfort in knowing that Mary’s struggles ended on that day of all days.  I’m not normally given to flights of fancy, but it feels so natural to picture Our Lady wrapping Mary in her cloak and, after a lifetime of love, leading her to a place where she would suffer no more.

“I feel like she’s always been watching out for me,” Mary said in 2006.  It’s bittersweet to read those words now, knowing what happened later.  But at the same time, those words are truer than any of us could have predicted.  And that is why I love Our Lady of Guadalupe.

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The guest book table at Mary’s celebration of life

Mary of the week: The Mary who looks right at you

In Catholic tradition, May is the month for honoring the mother of Jesus.  For the next few weeks, I’m going to get into the spirit by sharing a favorite image of Mary every Friday.  ( She is the  woman of a thousand faces, so I have lots to choose from.)  Enjoy!

There are some images of Mary that are just hard to forget.  They’re especially beautiful, or striking, or they resonate in some emotional way that is difficult to explain.  For me, this is one of those pictures.

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It’s the work of the Austrian artist Marianne Stokes, who painted it in 1907-1908.  The costume is the traditional dress of Dalmatia, which a region on the Adriatic Sea (yes, I had to look this up.  Oh, by the way, it is where the dogs come from.)  Stokes used a local girl as a model, and apparently the thorny bushes in the background are meant to foreshadow Christ’s Passion.

Isn’t it gorgeous?  And it’s more than gorgeous, too, I think.  Something in Mary’s gaze is very moving to me.  Maybe it’s because so many traditional images of Mary show her with downcast eyes, looking humble.  I like how she looks right at you, meeting your eyes: she seems very confident.  At the same time, there’ s a rather dreamy, introspective quality to her expression that just gives it all the more complexity and depth.  And if there’s one thing that I’ve learned about Mary over the past several years, it’s that she’s a lot deeper and more complex than I ever used to think.

Madonna and Child by Marianne Stokes

This is a re-run of a post from April 2010.