I just saw the movie The Secret Life of Bees. I had read the book by Sue Monk Kidd a while back when it first came out. I loved the book and so I was nervous about seeing the movie because something is always different. But I figured Queen Latifah, whom I adore, was in the movie so it would at least be enjoyable to see her. Still I had some second thoughts, especially after my friends bailed on me. I don’t know if I’ve ever been to a movie by myself. Seemed a little weird, but I went with it. In fact this was probably providential because the movie itself went from being a mere movie to something of a meditation for me, something which had I been surrounded by friends or people (there were only 5 or 6 other people there) might not have happened.

The movie, in a nutshell, is as follows:

Set in South Carolina in 1964, it’s the tale of Lily Owens, a 14 year-old girl who is haunted by the memory of her late mother. To escape her lonely life and troubled relationship with her father, Lily flees with Rosaleen, her caregiver and only friend, to a South Carolina town that holds the secret to her mother’s past. Taken in by the intelligent and independent Boatwright sisters, Lily finds solace in their mesmerizing world of beekeeping, honey and the Black Madonna. (source: IMDb.com)

What I love about this movie as well as the book, is the imagery of Mary the Mother of God that pervades and grounds this story. Granted, Kidd did fictionalize a lot of the stuff around Mary lore, but it’s still compelling.

The imagery begins with a line from Lily at the beginning of the movie. (A lily flower, by the way, is a symbol for Mary.) Lily is fascinated by the arrival of bees and even imagines that they are swarming in her room as she lies awake in bed at night. Lily notes, “[The bees] showed up like the angel Gabriel appearing to the Virgin Mary. I know it’s forward to compare my small life to hers, but I have good reason to believe she wouldn’t mind.”

This reference to the Annunciation when Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to the Son of God is crucial to understanding the whole movie (from my humble perspective). The wiser-beyond-her-years Lily has an inkling that her life will forever change in the near future, a change that will bring her new life.

Mary imagery appears again in the form of a label for Black Madonna Honey. It this label that leads Lily from the tyranny of her father T. Ray to the home of May, June, and August Boatwright in Tiburon, South Carolina. It’s as if Mary herself is helping to lead Lily and guide her to new life. FYI while the Black Madonna that the Boatwright Sisters talk about is fiction, there really is a Black Madonna, and in fact, multiple ones.

Mary imagery appears yet again when Lily and Rosaleen first arrive at the Boatwright house. In the parlor is a striking statue of the Boatwright’s Black Madonna. I personally missed the original language of the book that referred to the statue as Our Lady of Chains of which August says that the reference to chains is “not because she wore them, but because she broke them.” Lots can be said about this statue. What was most meaningful to me was the focal point of the statue: Mary’s heart. It is Mary’s heart that the Boatwright sisters, and the prayer group “the Daughters of Mary”, touch for healing, for comfort, for encouragement, for connection to the Sacred. In our Catholic tradition we refer to Mary’s heart as the Immaculate Heart of Mary (something which I want to write more about soon).

One of the most profound images of Mary comes in two of the Boatwright sisters: August (Queen Latifah) and May (Sophie Okonedo). Although we don’t hear much about August’s past, her motherly presence is unmistakable. She is a living image of Mary the Mother of God. Her sister May is also an image of Mary but more so as Our Lady of Sorrows. It is May who represents the Mary who “holds all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:19). She takes in each and every bit of suffering that she sees and feels around her, and holds it in her heart. May’s character is probably my most favorite of the whole movie. She embodies the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the heart pierced by a sword because of the suffering of her child and the suffering of the world.

These are just a few of the powerful images that remain with me from the movie. As I mentioned above, the movie became a kind of prayer for me, leading me to think a lot about Mary (the real one, not the fictionalized one) and about myself as an Immaculate Heart of Mary sister. I will be pondering these things for a while.

Tell me your thoughts about the movie, book, or these reflections …