Mary as a symbol of simplicity


Thomas Merton shifted his view of Mary quite noticeably over the course of time. Initially he saw her as an intermediary, as an intercessor in prayer but later he understood her as a model of perfection in her simplicity and hiddenness.

He wrote that ‘she was in all things human and ordinary.’ He saw her as simple and unassuming and without drama or self-importance. When he oversaw the making of a statue by a South American sculptor for the novitiate library at the Abbey of Gethsemani, Merton asked her to be created as ‘the Indian woman of the Andes, the representative of all that is most abject, forgotten, despised, and put aside.’

Merton saw her as Our Lady of Solitude completely receptive to the coming of the Word and that her consent opens the door to the incarnation of the embodiment of God in the world. In that sense Mary as well as her humanity is also the embodiment of Wisdom, Sophia, and an example of how anyone can become open to the transmission of the Word.

Carl Jung understood this too in the sense that God is born in the soul of each person. In that way we can identify with Mary and have our own experience of a Virgin birth – it can happen to us. The story of Jesus’ birth – born ‘illegitimate’ and in poverty, with the status at that point of a refugee, offers a framework for people to contain their own experiences of rejection, powerlessness and poverty, the position of the ‘have nots’.

Jung saw that as a ‘myth’ this is therapeutic because it offers a link to a wider experience. We are not left alone as the Son of God also knows rejection and neediness and scarcity. Here Jung is using the word ‘myth’ as a way of expressing life more precisely and meaningfully than science does. He sees a myth as a central idea giving life meaning. He wrote, ‘what we are to our inward vision, and what man appears to be…can only be expressed by way of myth. Myth is more individual and expresses life more precisely than does science.’

Of course myths are often dismissed as ‘only myths’ i.e. not proved scientifically, but myths hold the framework of both the life of the person and of the community in the way that science could never do and each myth holds an essential truth that we recognise from our experience.