As I thought about the image of Mary I realised pretty quickly that I would need someone to model for me. The problem is I don’t know any young teenage girls and it would be quite inappropriate for a man in his thirties to go seeking one out.
But somehow, sometimes, when we seek to be creative and open ourselves up to possibilities then God/the universe/the collective conscious* responds in kind (*delete as appropriate). The day after I began agonising over how to find a model my friend and line manager Rachel visited the studio with her twelve year old daughter Eve. Once I had explained the project Eve readily agreed to model for me.
Here is one of the preliminary sketches I’ve made:
Eve is bright and wise, just on the cusp of womanhood as Mary was. It was inspiring to hear her thoughts about the annunciation and how she felt Mary would respond (In all of my conversations about this piece, as I explore this ever more intractable story, I am very conscious that as a man I am an outsider looking in to a woman’s experience) .
It is intriguing to have ‘Eve’ portraying Mary, two of the most significant people in the Biblical story. Both Eve and Mary are archetypal characters, resonating throughout history in so many different myths and stories, resonating deep in our human consciousness (Carl Jung based a lot of his work on these concepts). As I reflect on Eve as Mary it’s like holding two transparent images together up to the light or seeing two stained glass windows, one through the other.
Both are hugely significant women – one has been celebrated by the church as the pristine virgin bringing hope and salvation into the world; the other is the weak willed temptress who leads Adam astray by offering him the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil after God warned them not to. Both of them have been used by men in the church to subjugate women throughout the centuries.
I said a few weeks ago how I found Phillip Pullman’s re-interpretation of the annunciation story helpful – provoking questions about Mary’s virginity for a start. In his ‘Dark Materials’ trilogy he also breaks open the myth of Eve. Here Eve’s decision to disobey God is the path to human autonomy and free will. This is a Trickster story. The Trickster is another archetypal figure who often acts in morally ambiguous ways but whose actions result in the opening up of new potentials and possibilities for human beings. Due to Eve we don’t do good or evil things because we are told to by an all powerful God but because we choose to by our own volition.
So in holding the stories of these two women together Mary’s virginal robes become a little grubbier and yet she becomes more real, I would say more holy. Eve moves from being a symbol of seduction, tempting man away from all that is good, to a woman who – like Mary – opens up pathways of hope and freedom.
Two women, two freely made decisions, one saying ‘yes’ to God and obeying, one saying ‘no’ and disobeying. Both break open the world in a heroic, risky and creative manner. Both show us examples of what it might mean to be fully human.