Fall 2017 Essay Contest Winner 
by Holly Keyser

 

On the western shores of the Sea of Galilee rises Duc in Altum, a newly constructed worship center. The beautiful Jerusalem stone building stands just a stone’s throw from the 2,200-year-old synagogue that Mary Magdalene attended. This is her hometown, Magdala, where elegant mosaics and partially painted walls boast of the synagogue’s ancient beauty. A women’s atrium in the worship center was designed in honor of this faithful follower whom Jesus freed from seven demons.

As I step into the circular space of the women’s atrium, I am overcome by its luxury. Pinks and golds surround. Glittering water overflows a well of pink marble. The same pink marble covers the floors and stretches to the ceiling in etched pillars. The names of Gospel women are proudly displayed on each one. Among them are Mary Magdalene; Mary and Martha; Susana and Joanna; and Salome.

My eyes follow the pillars to the domed ceiling above. Here is a painted woman, a hidden woman. She stretches across the ceiling of this extravagant atrium. All I see of her is the silhouette of her hands folded in prayer. Her fingertips and heels of hands touch while her palms, knuckles, and fingers gently arc away from each other.

She prays softly. The fit of her hands is natural, familiar. Her hands are not calloused from the exertion of prayer, but rather, like leather, have softened from constant use.

Something like pearls lines her wrists and ornate cloth drapes behind her soft hands. Her cloak hides her. Sky-blue and covered in gold stars, it folds over itself and out of view. I begin to recognize her, Our Lady of Guadalupe. This hidden, painted woman is a fragment of Mary, mother of Jesus, as depicted in the famous Mexican image. Yes, it is her cloth, her starry cloak, her hands soft from prayer.

My eyes trace the edges of Mary’s cloak to the top of a pillar. I notice this one is blank.

Our guide tells us the unmarked pillar is for unnamed women. For faithful women throughout all time who have loved God and lived by faith. I swell with disbelief when our tour guide’s eyes meet mine just as she says, “this place was built to honor you.”

“I don’t deserve something like this,” I respond in my heart. I think of Mary hiding overhead. I want to hide too. Hiding is more of what I’m used to. So how could I, weak and insignificant, be honored with a place such as this? Yet even in her hiddenness Mary is celebrated. Here she is, the center of the atrium. The focus of the room. And hiding. I feel something like awe, shame and joy mixed together. “I qualify,” I think to myself, “I qualify for this honor.” My heart quiets at the extravagance of this gift.

And yes, it prompts me to Jesus. This extravagance is too much, just like His love. How can I take it all in? But Jesus, in his wild extravagance, says, “It’s all for you. Even if you can’t fully accept it. Even if some is wasted.”

Yes, this is His love. His extravagant, overflowing love.

And my eyes rest again on the pink marble well overflowing with water in the center of the room. I think of the Samaritan woman. What would she think of this place? A sinful woman who avoided the public eye. If this was her closest option for water she’d find another place. “I don’t belong in a place like this,” she’d say.

But I look to my left and see the unmarked pillar. The one for her and for me and for Mary Magdalene. The one that says, “You belong here, all you lovers of Jesus, you daughters of the King. This place is for you! To honor you. To celebrate you. To show you the extravagant love of your King!”

I look up again at Mary, mother of Jesus. Celebrated and hidden. Her son would have taught in the ancient synagogue just outside. He would have pressed His blessed feet to the very tiles archaeologists have recently exposed. He would have leaned against the mosaic walls that still partially stand in ancient beauty. This uncovered place, hidden until 2009, bore witness to the words of love and challenge and wisdom and mystery that slid from the lips of the King himself. Words meant for men and women. Even hiding women. Words for Mary Magdalene. Words for the woman at the well. Words for me. And words for every woman who would follow Him. Even today, in this place, I can hear Him speaking. He says, “You are my joy, my hidden treasure. Come to me, let me give you my extravagant, overflowing, abundant love.”

Let us say yes to Jesus and not keep Him waiting. Let us not hide from Him but in Him. Let us know Jesus as the name of this precious place describes: Duc in Altum, it means “put out into deep water.” Yes, may we cast ourselves deep into the depths of His extravagant love.