Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Book of Mary by Nicola Slee; Marian Images and Traditions

The Book of Mary by Nicola Slee arrived on my desk this week, published in 2009 by Morehouse. I'm considering it for our May course "Praying with Mary" (online registration here). It was first published in the UK in 2007 by SPCK.
 
Cynthia Kittredge reviewed the book for ATR in October 2008. She says that Slee, "a theologian and poet, has taken on this intriguing, overwhelming, and overdetermined figure through a series of poems that explore different aspects of the Marian interpretive tradition and piety.

Variously earthy, ecstatic, and funny, the poems engage with the well-known motifs of Mary's faith, expressed by her "yes to God," her uniqueness. and her emblematic representation of maternal suffering and loss. Slee expands the tradition by naming denied or suppressed dimensions of Mary and giving them narrative and imaginative shape. These include Mary's companionship, not only with Elizabeth, but with other sisters through history; her sexuality; and her resistance and refusal: "Mary Says No." One section celebrates the image of Mary as an authoritative teacher and writer and another identifies her with ministry and the priesthood of women. Treating these different themes as concrete and narrative poems, rather than as speculative and deductive theology. Slee invites readers into imaginative engagement with the contradictions of the subject rather than arguing for one perspective or interpretation. Hermeneutics of suspicion, retrieval, and creative representation all contribute to the critical and appreciative treatment of Mary. Readers are able to resist sentimentalizing portraits and to identify with, praise, laugh with, and celebrate Mary. This iconic figure, viewed from within women's experience of childhood, motherhood, and aging, takes on many colors and opens up the space for women and for men to inhabit this powerful tradition in an innovative way."

The poems are striking:
Fiat (Luke 1:38)

I uttered myself
I claimed my voice
I was not afraid to quesiton

I held my ground
I made my yes
looking straight into the angel's eyes
(any slave girl could have been beaten or raped for less)

There was no mastery here
Nothing was taken from me
Everything was given

Here I am:
See me

Listen

In a chapter, "Mary Breaks Bread: Priesthood" she mentions Antonia Rolls' painting "4am Madonna" which is below. Bags under her eyes and exhausted but awake to calm her wide-awake son.


















The book has much material for reflection. Much of it is provocative and sits to one side of Marian traditions in the East and West. I think I'll use it to round out already identified themes. For example, the chapter "Mary Says No" is well identified in western tradition, bursting out in songs like Ferrandini's "Il Pianto Di Maria."




"Se  d'un Dio fui fatta Madre
per vedere un Dio morire,
mi perdona, Eterno Padre,
la Tua grazia è un gran martire.

Ah me infelice! Ahi lassa!
Il mio Figlio divino,
da un discepol tradito,
da un altro ancor negato,
dai più fidi fuggito,
da tribunali ingiusti,
come reo condannato,
da fragelli percosso,
trafitto dalle spine,
lacerato da chiodi,
crocifisso fra ladri,
dal fiele abbeverato,
dal mondo vilipeso,
dal cielo abbandonato. E ancor non basta
se da barbare squadre il bel suo Nome
fra le bestemmie ancor non deggio udire?

Ahimè ch'Egli già esclama ad alta voce,
Angeli non l'udite?
Padre l'abbandonasti? Almen Tu, Santo Spirito,
soccorri quella divina fronte
in cui desian specchiarsi
l'angeliche del Ciel squadre, sì pure
già sparsa di mortal mesto pallore,
sopra il petto l'inchina Ei muore, Ei muore!

Sventurati miei sospiri
se quest'alma non scioglierete,
molto poco voi potete
molto lieve è il mio dolore.
Atrocissimi martiri
che in umor gli occhi stillate,
poco è il duol se non stemprate
tutto in lagrime anche il core."

Here is a medieval version of The Lament of Mary.

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