(Art poem essay) In Praise of Her by Yvonne M. Lucia

In Praise of Her

IN PRAISE OF HER

I pledged my life to God

in the back seat

of our ’57 Rambler

when I was seven,

as my dad drove home

from the 6AM Latin Mass.

When Sister Renata

taught us the catechism

in first grade,

the Doctrine of Limbo

made me cry.

That same year

she chose me

to lead the May Procession –

the special girl

who got to wear

the special dress

reserved for the occasion.

I crowned the alabaster Mary

with a wreath of baby’s breath,

then joined the others

in the Living Rosary

encircling the altar.

Today I worship

the Feminine Divine –

the seeds of my rebellion

were sown, it seems,

around the age of reason,

with talk of “Pygmies”

who, unbaptized,

upon their death

might live happily ever-after

but could not meet God.

The pastel velvet dress

I wore for Mary’s coronation –

that domesticated Rite of Spring-

was the tiny spore

of my unfurling.

The child

is mother

of the woman.

Now,

I’m whirling

in the circle dance

in praise of Her.

The poem “In Praise of Her” is my attempt to crystalize the experience of my journey with the Divine Feminine, encountered in the figure of Mary, from childhood to the present.  I have been a lover of Mary for as long as I can remember.  As a young girl I used to recite the prayer “Lovely Lady Dressed in Blue” each night before falling asleep. I felt held and comforted by the words and the images I saw in my mind’s eye.

The series of paintings that I began in January 2012, Contemporary Images of the Feminine Divine, is a culmination of many threads of my life being woven together into a public offering of my personal theology.  The paintings explore images of the sacred feminine, primarily symbolized in the archetypal figure of Mary.  They are visual contemplative prayers offered as a healing balm for our broken selves and for our dying Mother earth.  The images are intended as reflections and mirrors of the sacred feminine that resides within each of us, male and female alike.

The seed of the idea for these paintings was planted thirty years ago when I was studying theology.  I longed to paint contemporary images of Mary that would speak to a late 20th century audience.  For many reasons that seed lay dormant until the very recent past.  In 2008 I became aware that drilling for natural gas (known as fracking) might happen, literally, in my own backyard.  I became an outspoken critic of the entire fracking enterprise.  After several years of intense public activism I had an increasing sense of despair about the degradation of the earth and our unsustainable way of living.

I also felt profound grief and sadness over the conflict and division that I experienced in my own community over the gas drilling controversy. I found I was actively seeking to find a way towards reconciliation, one that could be experienced both internally and externally. This transcendent “third” way would provide a path through the polarization I was feeling and I envisioned that it could assist the larger issue of how we as a species understand our relationship with Mother Earth.

In the midst of my despair and paralysis I turned to the primary thing in my life that that offers me a sense of agency: my creative voice. I have an abiding intuition that the problems we are confronted with at this point in history must be addressed at the deeper level of archetype and symbol. As an artist, I speak through the language of archetype, symbol and metaphor. I made a conscious decision to turn inward and allow my art- making to speak of deeper truths, and become the voice of my activism.  Contemporary Icons of the Feminine Divine is the flowering and fruit of my creative contemplative sabbatical from a more public environmental activism.

Each painting in the series is multilayered and referenced with symbols that connect Mary with expressions of the sacred feminine from many cultures, spiritual perspectives, and historical epochs. Much of the imagery is inspired by poetic titles ascribed to Mary in several ancient litanies in praise of her, including the Gaelic Litany to Our Lady (mid 8th century) and the Litany of Loreto (c. 1200). Mary Magdalene as an archetype of the Divine Feminine is also present in one of the paintings, as is my interpretation of the doctrine of the Trinity.

The oval shape of the canvases is a familiar form, which came to me in a dream as I was preparing to begin. The shape reflects the egg, a perennial symbol of female fertility; the mirror, a symbol of reflection, vision and clarity; and the vesica pisces or mandorla from sacred geometry.  Mary’s face is intentionally masklike, presenting a more universal and archetypal appearance than is typical in more traditional representations of her.  The prayers accompanying each painting were written as my own personal response to the images as they emerged on the canvas.

My intention for this project is that the images and words will be received as an invitation into a sacred, contemplative experience of the Divine Feminine.  I am currently working toward offering the series of paintings (each 24” x 36”, acrylic on convex oval canvas) as an installation in which they will be displayed on clear acrylic easels around the circumference of a portable floor labyrinth.  My daughter is composing original music to each of the prayers, which will add to the contemplative atmosphere I envision. Please contact me at www.sacredartportal.com if you are interested in hosting the installation.