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  • Constantina Alexander

Mary Magdalene - the most misunderstood woman in history

Mary Magdalene with daffodils

I am very fond of Mary Magdalene. I wrote the above icon as a gift for a retired priest who wanted a memento for his dear departed wife and who also shared my love for this benighted Biblical woman who has been misrepresented for two thousand years. It was a joy to work on the icon and though it was small I added some pastiglia (raised gesso) to give the gilded areas some relief and reflect the light in different ways.

I am not a scholar of Biblical characters, so I won't make any claims or assertions about Miss Mary but I do contemplate her at times. Women are beginning to come to the fore much more in society but it is taking and has taken a long time. Mary Magdalen, I feel, was a highly intelligent and capable woman who had a clarity of perception such that she could see what her dear Lord was getting at. He intimated as much to some of his disciples to their utter disgruntlement.

Sometimes I wonder if others really want women to have insight into the deeper things in life. There also seems to be an element of competitiveness amongst women so that anyone who shines, even a small amount, then has to go through a barrage of jealousy and back stabbing. A good Franciscan friend said to me once, when I was doing a lot of commissions, "Have you been through the Jealousy yet?" I know what she meant. Thank God for Julia Cameron's Artist's Way as this excellent book gave me pointers on how to deal with the manifestations a trip into creativity begets.

It's not just a woman thing, men can be equally threatened by a bright woman and so Mary Magdalen has been misrepresented down the years so that her truth is jumbled up amongst the worst kind of gossip.

But all this leads nowhere because it is part of the struggle of human nature. We need to begin to recognise when we are being less than charitable towards another, no matter who or what they are and then do something about it. We have to recognise our habitual ways of thinking that are hurtful, we have to feel remorse about them and then we have to make an effort to change the tape. To make the effort to see past our own prejudiced thinking, our envy of others who may just be doing something we would like to do but have little courage to do it and then fall into the pit of criticism.

The struggle is one of walking along the road towards perfection: changing self, freeing self, emptying self to allow something bigger and wiser and more loving inside. Times of silence and periods of being away from others bring insights from a deeper place; allow us to cast off the voices others whisper in our ear to confuse us and mislead us. Make space for silence, it soothes and saves.

Mary Magdalen, in the icon, is sitting at peace, contemplating her bunch of yellow daffodils. She is so wrapt in their beauty and essence, her hand reaches towards her heart. She is in love with Creation and delights in it. Her delight is manifests in her serenity and quietude.

I can't think of a better place to be.