Of all the people of all the Bible, no, of all the women, whose stories I have pursued, whose voices I have heard speak to me in the midst of my life, you can rest assured, Mary’s was not one of them. I have sought the Magdalene for her struggles with mental illness, Anna, in solitude in the temple, and the bent-over woman, but not Mary. For me, she remained the Perfect Virginal Mother – three things I am certainly not. I did not want to reach out to her, much less to her seemingly inextricable link with Catholicism, the Rosary, with high religious piety.
Yet here, in this collection of poetry, Nicola Slee does what I would have defined as impossible (had I not witnessed her do it) in opening Mary’s story as liminal space, as one which could, and did touch me: which reduced me, at times, to tears. In considering images of Mary, from Palestinian girl living in poverty, to care-worn mother at the end of her tether, angry at a Jesus who kept denying their familial connection; from sister to mother, to lover, to daughter, Slee paints a wonderfully kaleidoscopic picture of who Mary might have been.
In spite of the many pieces painted here, or perhaps because of them, Slee acknowledges that the one who said ‘yes’ and freely gave her all, who endured unimaginable loss, but loved and lived so fully, is infinitely open to interpretation. For me, Mary became someone whom I wanted to know more of, as reflected in my words below:
Mary of mystery,
Out of reach, might you become
My longed-for sister?
Again, through her own reflections, Slee invites her readers to explore their own thoughts of Mary. I have only begun to catch glimpses of her: as Slee encourages, I will now be more mindful of her in those I meet.