Camille Hamilton Adams Helminski is Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Threshold Society and is profiled in S&P's Living Spiritual Teachers Project. She has long been dedicated to facilitating direct personal experience of the Divine. She has helped to increase awareness of the integral contribution of women to the spiritual path of Islam with her now classic anthology Women of Sufism: A Hidden Treasure. Together with Kabir Helminski, she has published some of the finest modern English translations of the poetry of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi. She is the first woman to render a significant portion of the Quran into English with the heart-opening The Light of Dawn: Daily Readings from the Holy Quran.
To The Way of Mary, she brings two great gifts: meticulous scholarship and a deep devotion to our Oneness in Spirit. In the beginning, she states her intention that this not be a book about Beloved Mary -- a.k.a. Maryam, Miriam, Maria, the Mother of Christ -- but rather an experience of being with Mary, as in the Christian practice of Lectio Divina and the immersion by heart with the Quran of the Islamic tradition. And what a spiritual journey this turns out to be!
In many paintings of Beloved Mary, there are twelve stars around her head. Helminski sees these as twelve stars of blessings and has organized this remembrance of her life into twelve passages:
- I. The gift of the Conception of Mary to Anna, She Who Had Been Barren
- II. Within the Sanctuary
- III. Annunciation of the Word
- IV. Magnificat, Mary's Song of Praise
- V. Birthing Jesus
- VI. Presentation of the Infant Jesus in the Temple: Forty Days of Love
- VII. Journey to Egypt
- VIII. Losing and Finding Jesus: Calling the Beloved
- IX. Miracles of Nourishment and New Life
- X. The Gathering to God: Death and Resurrection
- XI. Teaching Journeys
- XII. Tranquility of Spirit
Helminski unfolds key moments of Beloved Mary's life through the lens of three religions: Judaism, Mary's own path; Christianity, which revers Mary as the mother of Jesus; and Islam, which also revers Mary and gives her the special place of being the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran (in fact Mary is mentioned more often in the Quran than in the New Testament). She includes many passages from the Bible and the Quran, traditional stories, oral traditions recorded over the centuries, such as the Protoevangelium of James, The Lives of the Prophets of al-Tha'labi, and Biblical apocrypha such as the infancy Gospel of Thomas. Some details were also gathered from the first full biography of the Virgin Mary, The Life of the Virgin, attributed to the 7th century monk Maximus the Confessor. Insights into the significance of Beloved Mary's journey are revealed through the poetry of Rumi and the writings of mystics such as Rumi's mentor Shams of Tabriz. To all this, Helminski adds some of her own devotional poems at the end of each section.
There is much to behold and savor in this gorgeous book. Kudos to Sweet Lady Press for the beautiful design, with full-color pictures of paintings, icons, historical sites, and plants associated with Beloved Mary. The whole text feels grounded in nature, helped by the page number ornaments throughout: a sparrow, rose, dove, Madonna lily, frankincense, olive branch, juniper berries, forget-me-nots, grapes, spikenard, fig, and Hildesheim rose.
"So many interweaving strands!" Helminski writes at one point. And that is indeed the surprise, pleasure, and wisdom captured in The Way of Mary. Ranging widely through her sources, Helminski allows herself to take explanatory detours that add to our appreciation of Beloved Mary's impact on our world. For example, in the chapter on "Miracles of Nourishment and New Life," she recounts the story from the Bible of Jesus' first miracle at the wedding in Cana, noting that it was his mother, Mary, who instructs Jesus to turn water in six jars into wine. She then moves into the meaning of marriage in Judaism, a wedding blessing by Rumi, the meaning of the letter six in Hebrew, the recognition of the Unity of Being in the Abrahamic religions, the Jewish Sabbath, the nourishment of food and Truth, the blessing of a body, other miracles performed by Jesus, meeting Mary of Magdala, and more.
It is impossible to summarize a book of such depth with such heart-transforming potential. Each chapter is not only filled with interesting history and insights, it also invites you on a new devotional pathway. You may wish to read it cover to cover, following the chronology of Beloved Mary's life. But you could also open it prayerfully to a random page and meditate with one of the sacred texts or poems you find there. Here's a process you can use (and might recognize from one of the e-courses Camille Helminski has offered through Spirituality & Practice):
- 1. Read the poem, out loud if possible, three times.
- 2. Abide with the phrase or sentence that touches you.
- 3. Ask yourself what relevance or application this has to yourself, to your journey in this moment.
- 4. Sit within the afterglow of these reflections and open yourself to whatever new insightor message the Divine might have for you.
- 5. If you choose, keep a journal of insights and reflections along "The Way of Mary."