It should be an easy review to write. I know the story. Eight years of Catholic school, the story should be engraved on my brain. I open the first pages of Miguel Santana’s The Marién Revelation and everything changes. The story that has been fodder for so many elementary school pageants, so many crèches, so many statues and paintings – sublime and execrable — is turned inside out and woven with the search of a modern woman for faith, for herself.
“Rain no longer burns under this crown of thorns; the wound on my side has grown silent; my hands and my entrails have died. O Father, how I begged you to stay away from me.” Santana’s opening lines echo the Gospel of Mark, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Yet, he flows without pause into the first twist in the familiar story. “But I feel him, his arms sheltering me with the immeasurable tenderness of our first embrace, with the strength of his almighty love. His lips anoint my feet, a mixture of rage and devotion.”
The notion of Jesus with a lover is not new. Speculation abounds regarding the roles of Mary Magdalene and of the disciple referred to in John 20:2 as “the other disciple whom Jesus loved.” Despite the outrage of theological conservatives, there is nothing particularly shocking or astounding in the thought that a god who was also fully human should have lived a fully human experience. Yet, Santana’s fictional explorations of the New Testament do not end with this line of speculation.
The Marién Revelation is not primarily Jesus’ story. It is rather the story of two women separated by two thousand years. Marien Valbuena is an academic, nearing 40, on the cusp of a break – with her husband, her church, her university, her pregnancy, and possibly with her self. The parallel story is the one we think we know: a teenaged girl named Mary, living in the Middle East of two millennia ago, pregnant out of wedlock, a girl who raises a son who is worshipped by some, condemned by others, a son who is persecuted and resurrected.
Santana’s Mary is not the devout Jewish maiden of the New Testament. She lives a dual life outwardly docile, enamored of the carpenter’s son, yet in her heart she is seduced by the glamor of the Romans and dreams of a world beyond the well. “The maidens of Judea cannot imagine that under your sandy clothes, you hide the flesh of the lotus, the breasts of Venus, the hunger of Isis.” In our modern world where religion and mythology are carefully distinguished and delineated, we tend to forget that there was a time in which the God of the Jews coexisted with the gods of Rome, ancient Greece, and Egypt. We forget that these beliefs were not filed in separate categories on neatly labeled shelved, but that one faith flowed and was turned into or overcome by the next.
We first see Mary in the sepulcher. She and the other women are washing the body taken from the cross. It is all familiar, expected, until we see the other women through Mary’s eyes. “They wash him slowly, wallowing in the sensual ceremony. One way or another, they have all loved him. They have been there through it all, committed, faithful, utterly faithful. They have no regrets. Mary knows these women, her pupils and owners of the Isis mysteries.” This first reference to Isis echoes the mention of Apollo, Ganymede and Pan in the prologue. The ancient gods are alive in this time.
Santana’s writing recalls the sensual lyricism of older translations of the Old Testament. The ripeness and flow of his language recalls an earlier Bible filled with poetry, with richness that is absent in most of the crisp, sanitized, modern translations. He weaves ancient texts, both canonical and apocryphal into the story, as description and as dialog. We see the ancient texts in italics as the timeless words flow without break into the modern.
“Hail, you’re highly favored, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women. Fear not, for you have found favor with God. And, behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bring forth a son. You will call his name, Jesus, son of the Most High.” His voice cuddles like a song, progressively annihilating her fright. “He is the one who has been, who is, and will be. Osiris in Egypt, Dionysus in Greece, Acroreites in Sycion, Adonis and Bacchus, Mithra for the Persian, all in one, one in all. The Lord has confided his work to you; his balsam is growing inside you.”
The Marién Revelation demands close reading. The chronology is not sequential, nor is the use of tense consistent. A reader who requires linearity in a narrative will likely be driven mad by the book’s structure. Santana does not write from a modern literary sensibility; his work evokes the mysticism of the ancient texts he employs. Point of view, tense, and timeline are all fluid.
Given that The Marién Revelation is published by a small press, I suspect that much of the attention it receives will be from those who object to its content without reading the pages. This unfortunate tendency toward condemnation without exploration would seem to be precisely the point of the author, who states in no uncertain terms that "The Marién Revelation is a work inspired by a sequence of readings whose common denominator is intellectual curiosity.” While a survey of Miguel Santana’s author website reveals a discernible distrust for and dislike of the prejudices of the major established Christian religions (particularly those of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the Roman Catholic Church), he treats his subject matter with a careful and thoughtful reverence.
Regardless of the potential for religious controversy, The Marién Revelation is a gorgeous work of literature in its own right. With lyrical, evocative prose and compelling storytelling, The Marién Revelation lingers upon the ear and mind, demanding a second reading long after the last page is turned.