Announcement: Exponent II Winter 2010 issue is now available
Exponent II’s Winter 2010 issue’s PDF is now available online here, but trust me (as someone who is cheap and tries not to waste paper), the art is so lovely that you’ll want to buy a hard copy of the issue to see those vibrant colors or better yet, get some Christmas shopping done by getting yourself or your favorite Mormon feminist a yearly subscription to the magazine.
Winter 2010 Letter from the Editors
by Aimee Evans Hickman
Nearly a decade ago, my husband Jared and I spent a year traveling through Europe and Latin America studying popular Catholicism. We coordinated much of our itinerary around religious festivals, pilgrimages and sites dedicated to the devotion of Mary in her many incarnations. Among the dozens of holy sites we visited, we saw the “Dark Virgin” of Copacabana in Lake Titicaca, Bolivia; celebrated the Virgin of Guadalupe’s Feast Day at her basilica in Mexico City; and sang Ave Maria by candlelight among thousands of worshippers in Fatima, Portugal.
One of our stops brought us to a shrine in Loreto, Italy, where the Catholic Church maintains that the brick walls of Mary’s childhood home were flown by angels from Nazareth sometime in the Middle Ages. Enshrined beneath the decadent vaulted ceiling of the basilica is a rustic brick cottage with the Latin “Here the WORD was made FLESH” engraved in the doorway. Between these humble walls, some Catholics believe, the miracle of the Immaculate Conception took place. By the time we left, the surrounding images had almost convinced me of the immaculateness of this story: a serenely smiling woman made a literal vessel of God via a laser beam of light directed at her womb.
As we left the basilica, we shuffled through the usual scene of tarp-covered tables glittering with a treasure trove of bedazzled plastic keepsakes emblazoned with Mary’s image. One such object of devotion was a small hologram postcard with a picture of Mary “great with child” riding a donkey led by Joseph into Bethlehem. A slight turn of the wrist and the hologram was transfigured into the image of Mary nuzzling the baby Jesus in her arms in the haloed light of the stable. Though not a mother at the time, I knew enough to laugh out loud with recognition that they skipped an important part of the story here! Experience has taught me that very few women gloss over the grisly details surrounding the labor and delivery of their children. Though I had seen thousands of images of Mary swaddling Jesus in the manger, or Mary suckling Jesus at her breast, I was suddenly struck with the realization that I had never seen anything depicting Mary in labor, let alone actually delivering the son who would become a God.
As I’ve searched art books and the internet in vain for images of Mary laboring in childbirth I’ve come across many discussions about how Mary may have experienced a labor devoid of pain, how the birth itself may have been divine in ways that transcended the “unseemly” nature of mortal entry. But as a Mormon, this notion just doesn’t seem to jibe theologically. As Mormons we are taught that coming into the world is all about being veiled from God and experiencing the pains and glories of mortality on the assumption that “all these things shall give [us] experience” critical to our eternal progression. Yet when it comes time to share our faith with each other, we tend to gloss over these experiences, sanitizing our own story to highlight the triumph of an abstract notion of “faith” rather than the realities that honed and strengthened it. So much of who we become and the beliefs we hold are born between the elegant shimmers of the hologram. I think it’s as true for us as I believe it was for Mary—divine faith is created not from being spared the intense experience of mortal life but from experiencing and wrestling with it fully.
And so, like Kathleen Peterson’s painting of women quilting a spiritual patchwork on our cover, this issue is dedicated to celebrating the details, the craft that constitutes personal belief in all its hard beauty. From an interview with Camille, a convert who has found God even amidst the bleakest of circumstances in Baltimore, to Kimberly Burnett’s reflections on her hope in the face of potential loss, to Amanda Olsen’s candor about what happens when one comes to God as much by accident as by faith, this issue explores the miraculous moments that sparkle from the midst of mortal grit, the moments the nativity hologram missed.
Wishing all of our readers a joyous and luminous Christmas Season,