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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Song of the Magdalene: Mary Magdalene of the Tears

Mary Magdalene of the Tears, Oil on canvas board, 7" x 9", 2010

Beloved disciple,

your tears arrived,

when you embraced,

your vision,

weaving the warp and weft,

where we now rest,

in the perpetual lace

of Resurrection.

(Verses from the poem Tears of Freedom)

In Spanish, there is a very popular expression: "Crying like a Magdalene." I don't know if the same is true for other languages and cultures, but for Puerto Ricans, the Magdalene is always the image of crying in desperation. This Magdalene, the last one I completed (for now!), is the only one I painted with tears as an iconographical reference. But once again, I am substituting the traditional meaning and offering a new interpretation. In this painting the tears are not a reference to pain, but to freedom.

Mary Magdalene must have experienced an immense amount of pain. She chose to face it. She stayed by the Cross as her Beloved died a terrible death. She did not run away before or after, but lived through it. Those of us who know pain of any kind, physical or emotional, know that once we live through it, something happens. Nothing is the same as it was before, there is a calm, a silence of a meditative and clear nature. A silence that lets us hear its lesson.

Pain is a great teacher. Once we meet pain, we will forever be aware of the suffering of others. What we could not imagine possible in terms of suffering, we realize as true after knowing pain. Empathy and compassion can blossom out of this experience, and a new kind of strength as well. It is as if pain can have the power weaken our bodies, while also containing the possibility of adding muscle to our souls.

I, like many people, have experienced both physical and emotional pain. The physical pain of cancer is excruciating. It creates an impenetrable layer of fear that can soon make you wish death. It is clear and loud, like a bomb. Emotional pain can be the opposite. It is so quiet and ineffable that we can't notice it as it takes over our life and then crawls all over us like a slimy snail. Both can take us into the most immense loneliness, and both can kill us, or liberate us.

Why can pain liberate us? Because when we face it, we make the decision to be free. Even if we cannot get rid of the pain, we can be free to start finding a new way to live, a new way to see. There are terrible things in the world, and I cannot console or offer any words of comfort to the victims of all the terrible errors of humanity, or to the victims of illness or even of pure chance. All I can say, from my very limited perspective, is that when people embrace their experience of pain, they make a difference in the lives of those who are just beginning to live it, and as a result, their own lives acquire purpose. Of all the things I read about cancer during the moments when I first had to face it, only the stories of survivors stayed with me. That was all I had, and that was all I held on to. The Magdalene had more than I did at the time. She had her faith in the Resurrection.

Whether we understand the Resurrection as a literal or interpretative event, faith remains the base of its redeeming power. Faith is the notion that we can be reborn out of a life-changing experience. Mary Magdalene was reborn through her tears of pain, the same tears that brought her liberation from being a woman to being a human being in its full expression. Her tears formed the veil she penetrated in order to see the true nature of her teacher, and in order to see her own true nature. It was through her faith in her vision of the Resurrection that she brought the news to the world that we were more than just our flesh, that we were beyond sin. If we accepted the redeeming nature of death and rebirth, we would be born into a new being free from the archaic notion of sin, free from judgement, free from the restraints we had invented in response to fear. She brought faith in answer to fear, rebirth in answer to death.

So from now on, when we go to a museum or a church and see a crying Magdalene, we can choose to remember that the purpose of the Crucifixion was the Resurrection, and that the tears we see washed her eyes of the illusion of death in order to see life. Her vision, of life reborn, of life never dead, can be the warp and weft on which we can place our faith to believe that out of our pain, a new life can be born.

Prayerfully painting for more love, for more peace, for more faith, for our world to be reborn.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Song of the Magdalene: Mary Magdalene of the Hibiscus

Mary Magdalene of the Hibiscus, Oil on panel, 9" x 12", 2010. $350

A couple of years ago, I received a hibiscus plant from my husband. The flowers are particularly beautiful and "magdalenic." The colors are those I use to paint Magdalenes: yellow, fuschia, red and the mix of all these, bright orange. The plant would bloom every day with a new hibiscus or two. And I enjoyed each of them, looked forward to them, photographed them, told people about them. They were such a gift! A gift I needed to pass on.

I once read a book titled The Gift. It is an investigation on the nature of the gift. When we think of a gift, we think of something we might give or get, but what this book explained is that a gift is something that is meant to be passed on. Well, pass on, but not as in "regifting"! When we pass on a gift, we honor the gift we really like!

When we are given a gift, we are supposed to also give a gift. We do not have to give it to the same person who originally gave us the gift, but we can pass it on to someone else. The book told about a tribe where a gift would be passed around the different members of the community, with its pertinent gratitude ceremonies, until it reached full circle. The gift was a precious object, but what made it really meaningful was the action of giving it, of passing it on to someone else.

This book was assigned in one of my art classes. Although back then I didn't understand why, now I think it is important for artists, as well as people in all professions, to consider the nature of their gift. We come into the world with certain talents or inclinations. If we are lucky and obstinate, we develop them. But what good are they if they just stay hidden from the world. These talents, aptitudes, gifts we bring, are meant to be shared. This is the way we can help bring peace and harmony into the world. Have you ever given someone a very special gift? Have you made a gift with your own hands or worked hard to get enough money with the intention of buying a gift? Or even just looked up a thousand websites in search of something very, very special for someone you love? At that moment, when we search, make, work for the gift and at the time we give the gift, it is as if a light glows really bright. It creates a connection with the other person that shows the love that the gift brings. And our souls, in that connection, feel fulfilled and in love. We can think of everything we do as a gift. When we spend time with someone, we give them a gift. When we write a letter, or a blog!, we give a gift. When we work, we offer our knowledge and aptitude as a gift to those who receive the product of our work. Doesn't this make work sound a lot better?!

This is why I painted the flowers around Mary Magdalene, offering her a gift in gratitude for her many gifts, passing on a gift made with love. Mary Magdalene has been an immense gift for me. I paint her in the hope that I can offer that gift back to the world so that it will not remain stagnant inside of me. I hope that I can give you the bright colors of love that the Magdalene gives me, so that you can transform them in your own heart, and in the fire of your own passion, and share them with the world... until it comes full circle and we all get to share in the great gift of life.

 If you would like greeting cards or a print, I invite you to visit my store!

Friday, October 01, 2010

Song of the Magdalene: Mary Magdalene of the Heart

Mary Magdalene of the Heart, Oil on canvas, 16" x 20", 2010

An ancient Egyptian quote reads: "The Heart is the source of all knowledge." In my paintings, this is the meaning of the heart. Mary Magdalene meditates with her heart, made visible here. We process information with our mind, but we really get to learn it when we distill it in our heart. What good are numbers or facts or theories if we cannot use them for a noble purpose?

Mary Magdalene learned about love, and this knowledge transformed her by letting her shed her old self to become what we call a saint, or an enlightened being through whom love flows directly from the Source. In order for this to happen, her entire being must have had become connected to her heart. The teachings she received were transformed into knowledge at the center of her being, where her purity and innocence remained intact behind all the layers of life she must have carried as a human being, just like each of us.

In the chakra system, the heart chakra is at the center of the chest. It stands for love, acceptance, compassion, forgiveness, renewal, harmony, growth and peace. Mary Magdalene's heart is filled with all of these, and with fire. In the passionate fire of the heart, we patiently simmer all that is good until we create the healthy concoction that sustains us and gives us a clear perception of all that surrounds us. It is the antidote to fear and the elixir of a purposeful life.

Is there any other purpose to life than love? When we light it with the fire of passion, it melts the ice that fear tries hard to keep unthawed.