When I was a kid, the image of Mother Mary was everywhere. There were the statues of Mary, the amulets and chaplets bearing the image of the Mother of Jesus, right down to the calendars of the Virgin Madonna. No shred of blaspheming or shard of atheism was to be taken at home, where prayers were in earnest and religious rituals were observed with the piety of living saints. Whatever CDs and MP3s I had of Mercyful Fate or Marilyn Manson had to be played with earphones or the lowest possible volume on my radio.
Somehow I couldn’t escape the sight of Mama Mary, even though the “watchful eyes” I was taught to fear and revere were inanimate prints on a picture, or carefully-made relief on a sculpture. Every eighth day of September, the statue of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception was brought from the Church to our house, where the pious neighbors murmured the Mysteries of the Rosary over the watchful yet reverent gaze of my grandmother.
It was that gaze: the feeling of being watched.
In a country most reverent of Mary, there’s simply no escaping her. The jeepneys heading to the highway have her images on the rear-view mirror, while the tricycles to the side-streets have rosaries dangling from a corner of the cramped little cab. There’s the giant bronze statue of Mary at the EDSA Shrine, and I bet that no Catholic Church or chapel in the country does not have a statue of her somewhere in the reflectory, or the church itself. There are statues of her everywhere: roads, parks, grottos.
I’m not a hardcore atheist as much as I don’t believe in organized religion, but the reverence for Mary runs deep. They were mortal eyes of a simple woman, the wife of a carpenter, tasked to give birth to the Savior of a people. To many of us, she is the intercessor to every prayer and novena mumbled and muttered on increasingly rare occasions where religion is deemed necessary: political campaigns, a sick or dying loved one, debt, mid-term examinations.
Yet hers are most remarkable eyes that saw a most remarkable life. The eyes that saw an angel. They saw the boy preach to the scholars at the temple, the eyes that saw a young man turn water into wine. The very eyes that saw the man she had borne scourged on the pillar, crowned with thorns, and crucified; on a cross built between a common thief and a common murderer, no less. They were the eyes that cried and smiled, that gleamed and gleaned, the eyes that watch over us. Hers are eyes we seek compassion, love, and care from, as she watches over the world in whatever ethereal, spiritual Heaven we believe in.
Rarely do I see icons and figures of Mary with eyes that look straight ahead to the viewer. They appear “forlorn,” perhaps even “sad.” Yet somehow I’m reminded of mothers every time I dare look at the image of Mother Mary. I’m reminded of the look on my sister’s eyes as she nurses her baby, and the look on my own mother’s eyes as she prepares one of her specialty dishes as me and my brother go home, the gaze of my late grandmother as the neighbors came over the house to pray. It’s the look of a mother; and if anything, Mary is mother to us all.
If there’s something about Mary (excuse the pun), it has always been her eyes. Somehow, I’m not wont to look at them, just as I would never look straight into the eyes of my own mother. On the one hand, it was what I was taught; reverence to my elders was always expressed by keeping my eyes downcast, reserving only the steeliest of gazes to an enemy, the cheeriest of glances to a friend, and the most longing stares at a lover. On the other hand, to not look straight at Mary’s eyes is to acknowledge that like any mother, she always watches; that we can stare ahead to whatever the future holds for us, and what we believe in for that matter, but Maria watches over us.
* – Provenance of the image. Yep, the title is from an anime series.