Mary Full of Life
(Hat tip: Fr. Finigan at The Hermeneutic of Continuity)
An image of a very pregnant Mary, the mother of Jesus, looks down on Old Town from a billboard on West Burnside Street and Northwest Third Avenue. In the weeks before Christmas, she is a reminder of the approaching celebration of her son's birth.
She's also a testament to a Milwaukie woman's deeply held beliefs.
"I'm not political," says Valerie Aschbacher, who commissioned the sculpture that was photographed for the billboard. "Mary's not political. She's an image of the gospel of life."
Many people would not agree. They see life -- when it begins and how it ends -- as a political issue. Abortion and physician-assisted suicide continue to be campaign issues for many voters.
So it's not surprising that Aschbacher's billboard has sparked a dispute in a time divided by life issues.
The Catholic Sentinel, the official newspaper of the Catholic Church in Oregon, reported recently that developers of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Northeast Portland had crews remove a billboard structure on their property before Aschbacher's ad, which the Sentinel characterized as an anti-abortion ad, was scheduled to appear on it.
James Adamson, a spokesman for Beech Street Partners, the developer, said the decision had nothing to do with ad content.
Aschbacher, a Roman Catholic, says she is frustrated because the culture around her doesn't reflect her belief that all life is sacred. In 2004, she began looking for a piece of art, a visual reminder that God is the "giver of life." She looked for an image of a noticeably pregnant Mary.
When Aschbacher couldn't find one, she worked with an artist, who wants to remain anonymous. They decided on a sculpture because it would be three-dimensional; the figure would look full of life from every angle.
Aschbacher picked up the piece nine months later, on Sept.8, the date when Catholics observe the birth of Mary. Aschbacher wanted the world to see the sculpture, but she wasn't sure how to do it. She put it in her bedroom, on a bedside table.
"It's the first thing I see in the morning when I put on my glasses," she says. "And the last thing I see at night." She wrote a brief prayer to Mary, copyrighted it and the name, "Mary Full of Life," and then she waited.
"You'll know when the time is right," her parish priest at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church told her. And this fall, during a presidential election, she thought the time was right. She said she felt called to register with the state of Oregon as a religious nonprofit corporation.
She got help creating a Web site, www.maryfulloflife.org, that displays several photographs of the sculpture and Aschbacher's prayer. At each stage, she says, she signed confidentiality agreements with the sculptor, photographer and Web designer. She won't say how much money she's invested in the project, except that she had $1,000 to spend to put Mary Full of Life on a billboard.
Much to her surprise, however, Clear Channel wanted just $90 for graphics and installation. Because she represented a religious nonprofit, Parsons said, her ad was a public service announcement.
When he heard that Aschbacher had lost her first billboard site and had trouble finding another, Parsons felt bad and offered to cover the $90 fee. He said she could have the billboard at Burnside and Third -- after the beer ad's contract was done -- through the end of the year at no cost.
"It was just a case of customer service," he said.
Early Nov.13, Mary Full of Life took her place on the billboard, overlooking a steady stream of morning commuters.