The Many Faces of Mary, Service – October 7 2012 by Lauren McKinley Renzetti


 Equality The Virgin Mary is a heady topic. I spent a long time trying to ensure I accommodated all of the listeners in this room.  I am sure Mary would be an easy topic in say a Roman Catholic church but here in a UU congregation, I am sure no matter what I say She may push some buttons for some. To be true to myself and to speak truly from my heart I may say things which you will not agree with, I may offend. I remind you that we draw inspiration from many sources. Part of being up here is to engage you in thought and spirituality and I think that needs to challenge you. In no way am I trying to offend, I apologize now if I do. Please be as open as your personal Mary Baggage will allow and maybe today will open some doorways to your spiritual growth.


 Be Fearless As an artist I could not create an image specifically of God.  God was too esoteric and unreachable. I could not decide was God male female or the planet itself. I did want to create some work with a religious context of an icon of importance. I wanted to create messages that would be listened to and thought about. The Virgin Mary was possible, tangible, and real for me. One artist I have a real affinity for is Andy Warhol. He made Pop culture in the 1950 ‘s and 60’s. He created iconic images of Marilyn Monroe, Chairman Mao, Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis and the Campbell soup can. Warhol was a devout catholic so he never portrayed Mary because he thought this was sacrilegious.  I am not Roman Catholic and I thought- what could I do with Mary’s image? She deserves my time and energy- she is important. So I created a series of prints of Mary. The false colours and strange background colours are all my homage to Mary the Universal Mother and to Andy Warhol.

Belonging Fifteen years ago I became a mother for the first time and many of the worlds puzzles became Chrystal clear to me. Why my parents seemed always tired, sometimes exasperated, sometimes in awe and why they said silly things like “ Because I said so…“ and “You will understand when you are older” I have had many ahha moments as a parent and still do daily. I am sure many parents in this room know what I am talking about.

Mary has many incarnations or faces. The first face of Mary is rooted in her existence as a living breathing mother. Like mothers of that and other eras, she would have breast-fed her child, would have taught her son to walk, to talk, to pray, and to do many other things. This is the face of Mary that speaks to me personally. Mary is a Mother first. Mary had to deal with the death of her son. Mary survived this ordeal and carry on.  Because of her life after his death she had the ability to understand suffering and to give comfort through listening and through being open to others suffering. Mary was present and still is, unlike any God that may or may not exist. Her presence has been felt for over 2000 years with sightings, with miracles in her name. Her image has been portrayed  as portraits on plaster, canvas, and wood, in tile work as mosaics, as well as statues in gilded wood, painted plaster, and stone.

Respect Mary is present all over the world, she is the most depicted being ever to have walked the earth. Mary has over 152 names and titles. There are more than 42 holidays in her name through out the year. The entire Month of May is dedicated to Mary the Mother of God. Since the 9th century all Saturdays are traditionally the day to have a memorial for the Blessed Virgin Mary. As this was the day she sat and prayed by her son in the crypt.  I think She is qualified for my reverence.


Slide 5. Heed The second face of Mary is rooted in her roll as one of the first disciples, Mary the Listening Disciple, an active listener of God’s word. For the Scriptures, Mary is the ideal disciple, the model listener. She hears God’s word and acts on it. This theme, Mary as the Listening Disciple, has often been overshadowed by other more exalted Marian titles. But it is an extremely important one. In fact, it lies at the core of New Testament spirituality: all disciples, like Mary, are called to listen to the word of God attentively and act on it.

 Love Mary’s third face was declared in 431 AD as the  “Mother of God”. This is surely the most glorious of her titles. This is different than being “just a Mother” Mary is not just someone who gave birth to a deeply spiritual, human, Jesus; rather, Mary gave birth to the one who is God in the flesh. Mary was Jesus’s mother. He is flesh of her flesh. Mary’s unique relationship with God, in her son, flows not from her physical relationship with Jesus, but from her first conceiving him in faith by God. In fact Mary possesses a unique relationship with all three Persons of the Trinity, thereby giving her a claim to the title of Queenship. She was chosen by God the Father to be the Mother of his Son; God the Holy Spirit chose her to be his virginal spouse for the Incarnation of the Son; and God the Son accepted her to be his mother. This Queen is also our Mother. While she is not our Mother in the physical sense, she is called a spiritual mother, for she conceives, gives birth, and nurtures the spiritual lives of grace for each person.

Go Deeper The fourth face of Mary is as an Apparition or Saint. She appeared as an apparition as early as 40 AD to the Apostle James in Spain. In most of the appearances, she is a white light holding out her hands with her feet surrounded by a mist or cloud. Some appearances are preceded by lightning and thunder from a clear sky, and sometimes there are angelic beings or clouds of unusual shapes as well.

 In France alone, Mary was sited in over  20 locations in the 1800’s . From the 1920’s on there were over 210 claims of apparitions at various places throughout the world. One of The most famous sightings is Our Lady of Lourdes in France in 1858. Mary appeared to a girl by the name of Bernadette. She encountered Mary in a grotto, and made many visitations to her over a 6-month period. During this time, Mary instructed Bernadette to dig a hole in the ground, drink, and bathe in it, and later this became a spring of healing. Lourdes soon became known as one of the world’s major pilgrimage site where thousands have been cured from a variety of illnesses, both physical and spiritual.

 Faith The appearance of Mary as an apparition dramatically helps to encourage us to: be converted, seek peace, love thy neighbour, and pray faithfully and mightily. Her miracles remind us that Mary is free from sin, the most perfectly redeemed of God’s creatures. She is the first among the saints. Mary the Saint encourages us, to unite our prayer with hers in our need, trusting deeply in her love for us.

 Think The last face of Mary is one I will call Mother of Universality. She has been depicted as a woman of many races. As early as 1382 in Czestochowa there was  a Black Madonna. Ironically, the blackened face of the Virgin in that icon was the result of smoke, not of skin colour, but its darkness has symbolized for Polish people the suffering that Mary bore heroically, hoping against hope.  The Christian faith is malleable and the Christian imagination is very creative ; consequently, Marian devotion has been inculturated countless times in countless ways.

In actuality Mary’s features were probably very much like those of Jewish or Palestinian women living in the middle east today. Her clothes were those of the poor. But popular imagination has always wanted to bring Mary closer and closer to us, and so it has shaped her to fit the features of the believing community. She is our mother. Because of Mary’s universal appeal, she has become a powerful force for liturgical and artistic inculturation, taking on local dress and skin-color effortlessly. The essential thing is not that Mary lived in the territory of ancient Palestine and that her skin colour was like that of middle-easterners. The essential thing is that she was one of us (whether us means European or African or Chinese, rich or poor , educated or uneducated).Mary  responded affirmatively and wholeheartedly to God’s call, God took hold of her life by being born of her flesh, and that she remained steadfast in faith through her joys and sorrows. The Black Madonna and many other similar Madonna’s make it easier for many to see Mary’s story as applicable to any time, any place, or any culture.

 Peace This fifth face of Mary is the one I think I chose to depict visually. She is every mother; the Universal Mother. My colour choices may be festive or deemed flippant by the viewer but there was always reverence present in making them.  The words she speaks in my text and titles speak of all 5 of her faces. Mary was a poor human mother, the first listening disciple, the Mother of God, the First Saint, and one of the few icons that was depicted as a Mother of all Races. Mary is speaking through me, through my art. The phrases and words she speaks are not new, not specific to any one religion. The words are the voice of the continuation of Growth of the human race. Thank you for listening.