This icon is titled: Mother of God Inviolate Mountain. Mary's maphorion is red, the symbolic color of humankind. She is one of us! In eastern cultures red is the color of joy. Notice too that the mantle is covered with stylized clouds: her trust and joy are broad as the heavens! A rainbow runs across the mantle, as after Noah's flood there was a rainbow in the sky. In Christ, mothered by Mary, there is a new beginning of compassion and kindness.
There is a little king tucked in the crook of Mary's arm and perhaps some piece of Jerusalem's architecture. Symbolically this means that Jesus, Mary's Son, was a promised descendant of King David. And Joseph, the Child's guardian and Mary's protector, was at the far end of David's lineage, though there hadn't been a king in David's lineage for a very long time.
And Mary holds a miniature mountain. She's the mountain. As in the desert wilderness, where the ancient Hebrews met God on the Sinai mountain, now in Mary the Mountain, humankind meets God anew and uniquely in Christ.
Finally, she holds a little ladder. Heaven is descending to be with us in a new way in Christ, born of Mary. But I think also it is an invitation to us to join her in the ascent of kindness, tenderness, and a generous gift-ing of ourselves, up and away from the bottom rungs of hate, violence and cruelty.
But for all of this, there is something about Mary in this icon that is immediate to our own lives: her hands and arms are full. We understand and say: "I've got a lot on my plate right now...I can't handle or take on one more thing..." Many people feel life to be an exhausting burden today.
Some of the burdening is out of our control, thrust on to us from outside ourselves. Some of it is of our own compulsive do-ing and for which we have no one to blame but ourselves. Perhaps this Lent we will get a handle on it, put some of it down, learn to say no or not right now. No guilt needed.
But I'm thinking too that we put an awful lot on Mary - all kinds of high theology, prayers and titles. Maybe when we're not looking, she puts it all down, just to be the mother who looks at Jesus in silence. There, that's it! For Lent let's put down all the questions and expectations of heaven and with empty hands, gaze simply in silence.
This is the 700th Pauca Verba post. Thanks for coming along!