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Make no assumption with images of Mary.

A statue of a middle-aged Mary at Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Albuquerque has the wide hips of a woman who has given birth and the muscular forearms of one who lifts babies and buckets of water. Sandals barely contain feet that have covered too much distance on too hard an earth. And those outstretched hands: This Jewish woman could be telling a good story, railing against the Roman Empire or reaching out to embrace a friend.

"An unusual image will startle us, especially if we're used to seeing a 5-foot image of Mary dressed in blue looking like a 16-year-old girl," Byron Wickstrom, the artist, told The Albuquerque Journal.

Last year, Fr. Joel Garner named a committee of parishioners to select artwork for the new addition to the church. The group wanted to place in the entryway an image of a wise and mature Mary, a woman who had gone to the edges of experience and emotion - joy, sorrow, glory - the embodiment of the mysteries of the rosary.

The committee selected Wickstrom from among 27 New Mexico artists, although they rejected his first model as being too conventional. "These people wanted me to take them some place," said Wickstrom, who completed the work last August.

When I first saw the statue, I couldn't help but think of the gray hairs that have begun to appear on my head, willy-nilly as cancer that appears far from the original site, few enough to pluck.

Searching the mirror, I think of mentors in their 50s and 60s, powerful women activists and intellectuals. I tell myself that in some cultures, women cannot be healers until they are past menopause; that in some religious traditions, the Crone is as much an aspect of the goddess as, Virgin and Mother. Still, I pluck, stealing what I can from time, a misdemeanor I won't be able to repeat much longer.

Garner's scrapbook includes a letter from a parishioner: "I want that statue to be some kind of Loretta Young dancing her way across the stage of life, well groomed, charming, gracious and sweet. ... I want it to reflect the cultural image of what the perfect woman should be. The paradoxes represented in that are more than I want to confront because facing them in Mary means modeling them in myself. That's scary."

It is said that Mary was assumed into heaven, "body and soul," having finished her work on Earth. Whether it actually happened is of no interest to me; it's the emotional - not factual - truths that are truer in the end.

The Feast of the Assumption celebrates a woman who reached her wisdom years. It's time to wrest Mary away from those who would condemn her to eternal youth. Time for women like me to step through the mirror, to see what truths about women and power wait to be embodied on the other side.
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Author:Martinez, Demetria
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Aug 13, 1993
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