In Light of Women by Mary Jane Miller


Why are so few women mentioned in the great feast days like Pentecost, the Last Supper, the Baptism of Christ, etc.? God made no commandment that they not be included.
Inquisitive women like myself have always been around Christ listening to His message. There they were, cooking and cleaning at the Last Supper, at the wedding at Canon and when He fed the five thousand. When Christ invited the children to come to him, you can be sure the mothers were there, too.
Beginning as early as the fourth century the dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to thwart the ascendant positions for women within the religious hierarchy and in christian societies in general. Yet, the underlying teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, – all call for the proper and equitable treatment of God’s children. Without a doubt, God and Christ love all of humankind with no gender bias. When women listen to scripture we naturally fill in the gap, or adjust the gap knowing in our hearts and souls, we are not inferior to men.

Two millenniums ago society was primarily male dominated, while women were present and valued in the home, they were delegated publicly to submissive roles. It may be time for those in authority to redesign sacred text to eliminate harsh and unnecessary teachings concerning the debasement of women. Example. “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak...”Corinthians 14:34. The words are insulting! If we believe that God’s boundless presence is reflected through sacred text and the iconic images which portray them, then the still unrecognized “New Eve” can and should live in communion with the “New Adam” to offset the gender imbalance in science, art, government, religion and all other facets of life.
In Light of Women is a collection of icons to recognize and honor women who speak, contemplate, teach, heal, administer and, have wisdom, they have always been living and walking among us. While I am painting new images of women in iconography, I am challenging the Christian church to re-frame parts of Holy Scripture which have justified the superiority of men over women. In the language of iconography, Mary has been held in the highest esteem, for her silence and absolute obedience. The church acclaims her to be the vehicle for contemplation through service, surrender and acceptance. The delicate line painted through her neck is there to remind us of her deep silence and constant meditation.
There are more Icons of Mother Mary than any other. She is considered the ideal woman, but unfortunately imbues unobtainable saintly qualities which no woman can ever match. (Men cannot match those given to Jesus either but that is not exactly my point, but it has some overlay to this discussion.) Theologians of the Middle Ages deliberated in detail the Forever Virgin condition of Mary. They had to create and answer the doctrine to address how it could be that Christ was born to someone as common as one of us, a woman at that? Since Christ is all man and all God, His mother would have to be, in some way, all divine. The Roman Catholic Church finally fashioned the idea of the Immaculate Conception. This theological creation became dogma in 1854 at considerable expense to women. Ironically, Mary was then lifted to the highest place among men, yet somehow, though she was seemingly divine, she had no voice and no ability to act in any other way but constant surrender. The Roman Catholic institution needed an example of undefiled sexuality, perfected womanhood, with divine meekness and they found it in the Virgin Mary.
Now ironically, women may be holding the means for how sacred iconography will survive. Two hundred years ago women could not paint icons but today those who are graced with the desire to paint sacred text, have an obligation as prayer practitioners to re-examine how or why women are not mentioned in the great feast days like Pentecost, at the Last Supper, or the Baptism of Christ, etc. It is not God’s commandment that they are not heard of in text or seen in sacred image. When the feminine voice and new icon images are ushered into today’s church communities, the addition will benefit us all.
I am not a heretic, I am not even rebellious, I am asking for a simple review to rectify what we all are beginning to see as misguided behavior of the past, that must change if we are to going to have a thriving church in the future. Heretics are largely called heretics because they question the authority of our accepted norms. I am one? During the inquisition one million named heretics were murdered for thinking differently, hopefully we are past burning witches. Tolerance and open discussion throughout society makes change possible. World leaders have recently published a statement that declares: “The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.”
While I paint I wait for the church “fathers” to draft a similar statement.
Many icons from the collection can be found here.
Note: Description names on the file  all are  18″ x24″ egg tempera, gold leaf and 100 % hand tooled pewter

Mary Jane Miller is a self-taught icon painter with over 25 years of experience. Her work has been exhibited in galleries, museums and churches in both the United States and Mexico, most recently featured in the Museum of Sacred Art in Querétaro. She is the author of three self-published books including Icon Painting Revealed, The Mary Collection and now In Light of Women. She has been published online and in publications such as Divine Temple Russian Orthodox Journal and Faith and Forum Magazine. Each year she shares knowledge and experience by teaching intensive courses and 5 day workshops and lecturing. Vestry officer of the Anglican Chruch SMA, active on social media in addition to blogging monthly on my website: www.sanmiguelicons.com.
Other Resources from Mary Jane Miller:
Contemporary Byzantine Icons
http://www.sanmiguelicons.com
Modern Catholic Iconography
http://millericons.com/

Sacred Icon Retreats
http://sacrediconretreat.com/
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Categories: Art, Belief, Catholic Church, Christianity, Faith, Female Saints, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Foremothers, General, Public art, Ritual, Sacred Space, Scripture, Spirituality, Theology, Women and Art

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7 replies

  1. In Crete we see icons of Mary on the lap of Anna and also of the birth of Jesus in a cave (the womb of the Earth Mother) not a stable. Have you worked with these images?

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  2. Wonderful article, thank you! Sharing, but website link not working?

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  3. Wow! Great article and wonderful icons on website – although I agree with Karen, the link to ‘New Eve’ doesn’t seem to be working.

    I believe the story of Eve is at the root of all womens’ self esteem issues and mens’ anger. It always boils down to womens’ fault. It was Eve’s fault she was seduced by the Devil and it was Eve’s fault that she convinced Adam to try the fruit and thereby incur the world, in which we live today.

    The sooner we have a new story of Eve, the better.

    I hear you about ‘women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak’.

    The thing I have noticed though, is that patriarchial people (and I include women) have a tendency never to admit they are/were wrong. I do not believe they will ever “redesign” ie change sacred texts, because that would be admitting they/the text is wrong and that is something they will never do. If they change that text, the whole religion can be brought into disrepute and the whole thing crumbles.

    However, I believe there is hope in the reading of the lost gospels and inserting or adding to sacred text. They are far more likely to admit that a word or phrase has been missed out, than admit to changing the actual wording. I do remember reading one (and I can’t remember which) which talked about the line women being silent. Instead of changing the line, a line was added (and I can’t for the life of me remember what it said) and it changed the whole meaning.

    A bit like the commandment “Honour thy mother and father”, which as a survivor of incest, I have struggled with for many years. Then suddenly, in one of the lost gospels, it read “Honour thy SPIRITUAL mother and father”, ie God, which immediately made sense.

    I am not the one to do this important work, but I can do my bit.

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  4. Thank you for sharing your gorgeous, important work! If you read novels, you might enjoy The Maeve Chronicles, a very woman-centered view of the Gospels, and New Testament, especially The Passion of Mary Magdalen and Bright Dark Madonna. Each of the four novels can stand alone. Those central two or the ones that directly address the Biblical stories. Thank you again for the exquisite beauty of your icons.

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  5. I love how a stimulating article then stimulates further thought/research.

    Whilst thinking about ‘redesigning’ holy scripture, I suddenly thought how wonderful it would be to have a feminist bible. That led to a website http://www.silent voices bible. com which is a version of the bible which changes the role of men and women.

    Not sure exactly what I think of it at the moment but I did read a bit of it and it was interesting to notice my feelings.

    I started reading the lists of who begets who. When read in the traditional bible, I have thought these passages boring but somehow necessary but read as Davina begat whoever, I ended up thinking this is laughable and rediculous!

    When I read the verse ‘Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged’, I thought I don’t do that.

    Obviously I do on some level but I don’t think it’s a woman’s natural state to do so. It is men that have set up the legal system.

    Would I, as a woman, if I’d had a choice, set up a system such as our legal system? I am much more likely to have set up some sort of system where everybody gets together and says we have a problem – what are we going to do about it?

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  6. My sister gave me a gorgeous print of an icon of Mary visiting Elizabeth, which she got while she was in the middle east. I can’t remember where she was – Syria? Lebanon? – and I have always treasured it. Thank you for doing this important work!

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