Re-Imagining Mary is about meeting Mary in image and imagination. It is about the Mary image mirroring both an outer reality and the inner feminine soul. My first meeting with Mary began with an experience of Fra Angelico’s Annunciation (Cortona). I cannot account for my unusual response to the image except to say that, at the time, over twenty years ago, I was studying Jungian psychology in Zürich, Switzerland and was then probably more disposed to respond to the imaginal world. One day as I sat in my basement apartment reflecting on a picture of his Annunciation, energy seemed to surge through me and lift me above myself. Tears brought me to deep center.
It does not matter whether my experience was religious or psychic. The two are very similar since any religious experience always affects our psyche and changes it. It was as if I was restored to my truest self. This was an awakening for me, not an ecstasy. Far from leaving my body-self, I seemed to recover it. At the time I had no desire to study Art History or Iconography. Instead, wishing to stay in the world of the symbolic, I returned to the Biblical inspiration for the image in St. Luke.
|Annunciation, painted by Fra Angelico (1387-1455) (Florence) Museo San Marco, courtesy Wikimedia Commons|
This is what St. Luke tells us about Jesus’ conception:
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, “Rejoice, so highly favored! The Lord is with you.” She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, “Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favor. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High.” (Luke:1:26-38)I had read this passage many times but it was soon to take on richer meaning.
Since we know nothing of Jesus’ conception and birth, legend and myth “fill in.” The word ‘myth’ comes from the ancient Greek word ‘mythos’ meaning ‘word.’ Both ‘logos’ and ‘mythos’ mean ‘word.’ While ‘logos’ refers to rational thinking, ‘mythos’ describes poetic or intuitive thinking. “Biblical accounts of Jesus’ birth and resurrection are ‘mythos.’ Biblical historical facts of his life are ‘logos.’ Both are true.”(2) Myths or mythos express truth closer to life’s meaning than facts. Myths resonate in the soul. For example, stories about the quest for the Grail resonate with all “searchers.” We long to experience the Holy, the numinous. The Annunciation, the birth in the stable, the shepherds’ adoration, and the journey to Egypt, all of these give valuable insights into our personal spiritual journey. And the artists who have painted these scenes have provided us with “windows” into depths unknown perhaps even to them . . .
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Mariann Burke is a Jungian analyst in private practice in Newton, MA. She holds graduate degrees from the University of Pittsburgh, Andover-Newton Theological School, and the C. G. Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland. She has done graduate work in Scripture at Union Theological Seminary and La Salle University. Her interests include the body-psyche connection, feminine spirituality, and the psychic roots of Christian symbolism. She is a member of the Religious of the Sacred Heart (RSCJ)
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1.The work of art depicted in this image and the reproduction thereof are in the public domain worldwide. The reproduction is part of a collection of reproductions compiled by The Yorck Project. The compilation copyright is held by Zenodot Verlagsgesellschaft mbH and licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fra_Angelico_069.jpg
2. Seminar notes by Dr. Richard Naegle, Guild for Psychological Studies, San Francisco, 1995. In St. John’s Gospel “Logos” refers to the eternal existence of the Word. See also Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth, p. 31.