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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Mary, You Are One of Us

It’s May. And traditionally the month of May is devoted to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Today I would like to lead you in a reflection on Mary using a contemporary painting of the Annunciation when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary. The painting might surprise or even shock you.  Here it is:

modern annunciation

Take a few moments to look at the painting…This painting is the work of the American artist John Carrol Collier. Painted in 2000, it hangs in St. Gabriel Catholic Church in McKinney, Texas. The painting depicts Mary as a young school girl about 13 or 14 years old. Scripture scholars tell us, that’s probably how old she was when the Annunciation occurred. Girls in first century Palestine were betrothed shortly after reaching puberty. Mary is wearing ordinary clothes, a blue jumper and white blouse (maybe it’s her school uniform) and saddle shoes. She is reading a book. It could be her homework.

Mary has just answered the doorbell and finds an angel, Gabriel, standing on her front porch. He bows reverently to her. We can almost hear him say, “Hail, Mary, full of grace” (Lk. 1:28). Mary looks shocked and even afraid. St. Luke’s words come to mind: “But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be “(Lk. 1:29).

The artist has included other symbols found in many traditional Annunciation scenes. There are lilies on the porch, for example, a symbol of Mary’s purity. If you look closely at the house in the background, you will see a pigeon on the roof–a symbol of the Holy Spirit. In many older paintings of the Annunciation, Mary is reading a book. Often it is the prophet Isaiah who wrote, “The virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel” (Is. 7:14).  Realistically, of course, there were no books in Mary’s time. And being a woman, she probably did not know how to read. But Mary would have been familiar with the Old Testament and would have probably known many verses by heart.

I like this painting for it shows Mary as a real person who lived in a real time and place. In other words, she is one of us. She was only a young girl when God asked her to bear his Son.  She was no Superwoman. She was simple, fragile, and vulnerable–like us. Notice that Mary is standing on the welcome mat. The artist says that this represents Mary’s stance in life, her openness to life in general and to God in particular. At the Annunciation Mary welcomed God into her life and into her body with the words, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38). We might ask ourselves: Is there a welcome mat at the door of my heart? Or does the mat say, “Go away!”

I noticed that Mary’s saddle shoes are untied–as if she had just slipped them on to answer the door. Or maybe she was just going to slip them off. Whatever, the angel seems to have interrupted her. And the truth is God did interrupt Mary’s life. God did interrupt her plans on a very deep level. Has God ever interrupted my life or my plans? Perhaps the untied shoes could also symbolize the “loose ends” in Mary’s life: what would she tell her parents? What about Joseph? How does one go about raising the Son of God? Once again I find myself relating to Mary, for my life too is far from having everything “tied up” neatly in a bow. How graciously can I live with loose ends?

Here is the painting again:

modern annunciation

Ponder it again if you wish. Then speak to Mary with your own words or with these:

Mary, you lived in a real time and a real place. You worked hard, you enjoyed your family and friends, you talked every day to God, you made plans for the future, you pondered scripture and the many mysteries of daily life. Mary, you were simple, fragile, and vulnerable–like me. Yet you were open to life. You welcomed life even when it interrupted your plans, even when it confused or frightened you. And in doing so, you welcomed God the Holy One into your life. Mary, you are one of us. Help us to become more like you. Amen.

What do you think of this painting–and of Mary?


26 Responses

  1. I am always awestruck how God moves in my life. I sometimes don’t even recognize it when it happens. My Lenten goal this year was to spend more time praying, reading and listening to God’s word. To open my heart and ears wider to make sure I get His messages. Today my day started with yet another battle with our teenage son. He is very emotionally troubled despite all our efforts to get him all the help possible. As a mother, I’m struggling with what to do to make things better for him. I’ve reached the end of my rope, yet again.

    And then I receive the email telling me of a new post to the is blog. Once I read it, I know it was God’s way of telling me that yes, things are difficult today but I should remember to reach out to Him. And to remember that I’m not the only woman or mother who face difficult times as a mother. That there is this great woman that I can look to for inspiration and guidance.

    Thank you for listening to God and letting Him reach out to me through your writing.

    1. Dear Joy, Thank you for your response. I really appreciated your words “And to remember that I’m not the only woman or mother who faces difficult times.” And “there is this great woman I can look to for inspiration and guidance.” How beautifully said! I pray that Mary can be with you especially during the difficult times. Thanks again! Sr. Melannie

  2. My birthday is 3/25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, and I love Annunciation art! Thank you for introducing me to this one! Your reflection captures so much that touches me on many levels. I especially connect with the welcome mat and untied shoes. You offer me much to ponder. Thank you!

  3. Just BEAUTIFUL, Sr. Melannie!T
    Thank you for sharing yet another very meaningful article with us.
    May God continue to bless you,

  4. I’m a parishioner at St. Gabriel’s in McKinney. It is such a blessing to see this beautiful piece of artwork when I enter the Church building. It is in the Narthex so we get to see it even if we are just passing through to go to the administration offices. It sits next to the pro-life and vocations area. I’ll admit, it took a while for me to warm up to this contemporary piece, but once it was fully explained to me, it became something I could relate to. We also have a beautiful piece of Joseph doing carpentry work with Jesus as a little boy standing right next to him. This is located in the Sanctuary. Thank you, Sister, for the wonderful comments about this artwork and our parish.

    1. Dear Kathleen, How nice to hear from a parishioner of St. Gabriel’s Church where this lovely painting hangs! Thank you so much for responding. How lucky you are to be able to see this painting so often. And how appropriate that it hangs next to the pro-life and vocations area. I’ve seen the St. Joseph and Jesus painting too on line. I’d recommend that painting to my readers too. I just goggled the artist’s name and some of his paintings came up–plus two videos about him. Thanks again, Kathleen, for writing. I was really excited to hear from you! Sr. Melannie

      1. Thank you, Sister! I enjoyed your talk this Feb. during the retreat you gave in Dallas. God Bless!

  5. Dear Melannie, What a joy to receive Sunflower Seeds. I reflected on the Feast of the Annunciation this April 8th and it’s a delight to read your reflection on this new painting of the story I really love it and yes she was one of us. I made retreat with you a couple of years ago in Dubuque, IA and it continues to live in me. Thanks, JoAnn

    1. Dear JoAnn, Thank you for writing. I have very fond memories of my time in Dubuque, Iowa. The retreat center was beautiful–but the retreatants were even more beautiful! God bless you! Sr. Melannie

  6. Dear Sr. Melannie,
    That beautiful painting brought tears to my eyes! Partly because Mary is wearing clothes that I would have worn at that age. The simplicity of Mary’s life makes the reality of the Annunciation so much more poignant.
    She was just a child herself and yet she possessed the wisdom to accept her call in spite of her fear. Blessed is she, Queen of Heaven!

    1. Dear Linda, Thank you for your sensitive response. Yes, it’s easy to identify with the young girl in the painting. I know I wore saddle shoes at that age…May we too be able to accept our call in spite of any fears we might have. Thank you for saying it so well! Sr. Melannie

  7. Your words touch my soul.I send them off to family and friends. I pray each day to simplify so that I can become more open to God’s plan.. Thank you for your insight it leads me to prayer.

  8. Dr. Sister Melanie,

    Your words held great meaning for me today. I must admit that lately I’ve been struggling with my personal relationship with Mary. I’ve felt far away from her even as I pray the rosary.

    But this reflection brings her closer to me and reminds me of who she is and what a wonders she has done for all of us- “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”

    I love how you wrote about her untied shoelaces. She was one of us. She had unkempt hair and untied shoelaces and yet God saw past these and into her heart and chose her to be the mother of his son.

    Thanks so much for this reflection and all your other Sunflower Seeds. They are a joy to read every week. Have a very Happy Spring!

    1. Dear Dawn, Thank you for reminding us again that none of us has the perfect life. We all have “unkempt hair and untied shoelaces.” And I’m so happy that you enjoy my simple reflections. Thank you for that–and Happy Spring to you too! Sr. Melannie

  9. Melannie, Thank you for your beautiful reflections. It was the shoelaces that caught my attention. When I was a young girl I often needed my mother’s help to untie my knotted shoelaces. This image reminds me to bring to Mother, Mary any “knots” in my life. Mary’s nimble fingers and so full of grace can help us with obstacles that tangle our life. She gently unties them and helps us move on. Today I will ask Mary to help me untie the knots rather than struggle on my own.
    Mama, I need your assistance. Thank you!

    1. Dear Kathy, I loved your insights into those untied shoelaces–that “Mary’s nimble fingers…can help us with obstacles that tangle our life.” That’s beautiful! Thank you for enriching us with that interpretation! Melannie

  10. Melannie,
    What a beautiful painting!. I have a great devotion to Mary especially since my Name is Mary. Seeing Mary as a young girl and dressed so simply makes me think of my childhood growing up . Thanks for sharing this with us its so beautiful and meaningful for the Month of May.
    God bless you in your work of sharing
    these beautiful works of art each

  11. Hi Sr. Melannie,
    I have a little Nativity set of Mary, Jesus, and Joseph set up on a shelf in my room. Their trust and humility remind me to let God lead me. It reminds me that knowing Him, we are “favored ones.”
    In grammar school, I was fortunate to meet “angels”…teachers, scout leaders, and others who announced “the Lord is with you.”
    Thank you

    1. Hi, Marian! We can be inspired by a nativity set all year long, can’t we–and not just at Christmas! I took a few minutes to list a few of my “angels” in grammar school and high school. Like you, I had many! Thanks for writing, Marian! Sr. Melannie

  12. So much to think about when the setting is a place we are very familiar with. I must have read this 20 times, each time there was always something different, I guess this is, in my mind the truth but yet maybe a mystery??? I will continue to Study this, this Month of May.

    Someday I hope to see this paintingand touch it.

    Happy Mothers Day Sister,
    and thank you,

    1. Dear Bridget, Yes, the truth of the Annunciation is a great mystery, I agree…I understand the painting is about 4 ft. by 4 ft. It would be wonderful to see it in person. Thanks for writing, Bridget! Sr. Melannie

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Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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