Holiness and the Feminine Spirit



by Mary Haddad.

Excerpted from Holiness and the Feminine Spirit The Art of Janet McKenzie; Susan Perry, editor. 28 full-color paintings by award-winning artist Janet McKenzie with accompanying reflections by leading women writers. Orbis Books 2009 Used with permission.

I have a book with the one-word title Annunciation, which contains over a hundred images of this story, of the otherworldly angel Gabriel appearing to an unsuspecting Mary in this world. The book is a survey of the images used to depict this one-word story—annunciation—–from a fifth-century mosaic to a late twentieth-century painting. Sometimes I flip through the pictures like a deck of cards and what I notice, almost without exception, is the considerable physical distance between Gabriel and Mary: distance between the divine and the human. Whether measured in inches or feet, there is a distance, an empty space between them; they never touch. In one amusing image from a fourteenth-century altarpiece, the distance is spelled out in a word balloon beamed like light from the lips of the angel Gabriel: Ave gratis plena dominus tecum (Greetings, favored one, the Lord is with you). Mary recoils and if she had a word balloon to go along with the expression on her face, it might say, “Get lost.”

I find in this physical distance between the angel and the girl a paradoxical metaphor for the overarching role of women in the telling of our story about God coming near and dwelling among us. On the one hand, there is the unwitting importance and centrality of Mary, theotokos, the God-bearer, whose consent was a pretty big deal in making this story happen. On the other hand, there is the unconscionable marginalization of women by the institutional church, the oldest boys’ club of them all. They put Mary on a pedestal and made her a perpetual virgin; in other words, perpetually untouchable, safely out of reach, and cut off from positions of power and leadership in the world that God so loves.

~Mary Haddad


About the writer, Mary Haddad

The Rev. Canon Mary Haddad was ordained to the priesthood of The Episcopal Church in 2001. In January 2007 she was called to the position of Canon Pastor of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco. The Vestry of All Saints Episcopal Church Beverly Hills has called Haddad to serve as Interim Pastor commencing January 2010.


About the book, Holiness and the Feminine Spirit

Holiness and the Feminine Spirit The Art of Janet McKenzie by Susan Perry. 28 full-color paintings by award-winning artist Janet McKenzie with accompanying reflections by leading women writers. Orbis Books 2009 Download a PDF.

This beautiful book explores how holiness can empower women and how empowered women work to bring about the reign of God. The paintings of Janet McKenzie and the accompanying reflections follow the life of Jesus through the women who gave him birth and carried his message to the world. The form and color of the images astound and the words of the text inspire!

The 28 contributors include well-known writers such as Joyce Rupp, Joan Chittister, and Diane Butler Bass, theologian Elizabeth A. Johnson, art critic Sr. Wendy Beckett, best-selling novelist Ann Patchett, social activist and writer Helen Prejean, feminist Chung Hyun Kyung, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the American Episcopal Church, and many others.


About the artist, Janet McKenzie

Artist Janet McKenzie has committed her life’s work to creating inclusive art celebrating women. Ms. McKenzie’s image of Jesus, “Jesus of the People”, was selected winner of the National Catholic Reporter’s “Jesus 2000” competition, by judge Sister Wendy Beckett. She lives and works in Vermont. Seen above, Annunciation by Janet McKenzie.

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