"Jesus told him what to do
and in the evening the youth comes to him,
wearing a linen cloth over his naked body.
And he remained with him that night,
for Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God."
-Secret Gospel of Mark
"A young man was following Him,
wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body;
and they seized him;
but he left the linen sheet behind and ran away naked."
These verses, mind you, precede a chapter wherein a Jesus-in-the-process-of-being-crucified recounts his experiences with a male lover whilst foresaking god: "Oh Father, how I begged you to stay away from me."
Thusly does Santana present the reader with the first storyline, that of Mary and her son, Jesus. Jesus' request on the cross resonates throughout the book, especially when interwoven with the parallel story of the modern-day woman, Marien Valbuena, a "radical feminist" theologian who is in an abusive relationship with a former Catholic priest and who was sexually abused by her Mormon father.
It is always bold to revisit "the untouchable paradigms of our western civilization," as Santana refers to them, and infuse them with circumstances that are highly controversial. Undoubtedly, and unfortunately, critics will reject this book without reading it, because of the audacious idea that Jesus might have had a male lover. Yet, Santana's book, far from being a gimmick, is a beautiful combination of intellect, poetry, emotion, and recontextualized passages of the Bible and other sacred/mythical texts.
From a feminist perspective, the divine feminine is fully present in Santana's Mary and, indeed, many elements of the novel reject an (arguably Judeo-Christian) obtrusive, authoritative god/father who imposes himself on unwilling humans. Mary, as a teacher of the Isis Mysteries, is at least as divine as her son, Jesus, in a world in which multiple mythologies co-exist and influence one another. Indeed, although the disciples venerate Mary for being the vessel from which Jesus was born, her aunt also baptizes her in the name of the Holy Mother, Isis, saying: "I'm Isis, sovereign of the world, the one who set forth laws and set what cannot be changed...I'm the queen of the rivers, the wind, and the sea. I'm the Lady of War, the Lady of Thunder. I have conquered destiny. Destiny obeys me. Blessed is Egypt, for it sustains me" (125-126). Although, afterwards, Mary confesses to having visions of sadness from Isis, perhaps signaling the coming of the male monotheistic god who will "reign over" her.
Within the interwoven Mary/Marien stories, are many layers and interpretations. The two protagonists have much in common, despite the roughly 2000 years that separate them. They both want more than the "subjection and motherhood" (30) that their birth religions require of them. And, presenting Mary as a mother who is both aware and accepting of Jesus' sexuality, Santana gives us a progressive model of ancient motherhood. Although, if Jesus took a male lover, what devout mother could be anything but accepting? Perhaps that is part of the conversation Santana was trying to stimulate.
To end, the novel is not linear, parts of it are ambiguous, and the shifts in point of view can be confusing at times. But in Santana's hands, the novel manages to come together in a coherent, lyrical revelation that is, perhaps most importantly, a personal one.