November 6, 2011
It is evident that I must continue to write about the Virgin Mary. As personal as this spiritual journey truly is, it can't stay locked in my head or hidden in my heart; perhaps because I intuit that I am not the only one facing these questions. And it is conceivable that I may have a unique perspective as a person brought up Protestant, as a spiritual seeker, and not least as a woman. While it makes me vulnerable to post for the whole world to read, I have never been one to shy from controversy. I may very well have something entirely new to contribute to the ecumenical dialogue.
I went to St. Mary's Catholic Church in Edgerton last night for mass for the first time. Beezy went with me, and when we entered the sanctuary a little early, there were already "Hail Mary" prayers being recited. The Rosary is of particular interest to me. I have for some time craved a spiritual practice that involves a metaphysical element, a meditative path to the deeper mysteries of the Christian faith. The church I grew up in, and was baptized in, was in no way mystical. My personal experience, however, was mystical indeed. At the age of 8, while sitting in Sunday school in the basement of the Church of Christ, God spoke to me quite clearly and instructed me to be baptized.
Right after Sunday school I told my mom of my experience. Surprisingly to me, she took me seriously. I thought that because I was a kid she would not. She asked if we had learned about baptism in Sunday school, which we had not, and I told her again that God just told me to get baptized. She said we would talk to the minister after church about it, and we did. I was ready to be baptized immediately, but because of my age I had to undergo religious instruction via visits by the minister to give me a slide show presentation with corresponding workbooks to be completed. To me it was all very simple. God told me to get baptized, and I wanted my sins to be forgiven. The condescension of the slides and workbooks was annoying.
At last the day of my baptism arrived, with the slight insult of my uncle, who was 13, getting to go first. After all, it was my idea (or rather, God had personally directed me), and he was copying me (as it seemed in my young mind)! What I remember is affirming my belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and He is my savior. I wore a white robe, which I remember being very heavy after I was dunked and it became thoroughly saturated. My spiritual experience was the opposite. I felt completely light, pure, and free from sin. I vowed never to be mean to my little brother again!
So having my first experience as a mystic at the age of only 8, I suppose I was destined to continue a long, long search for the Divine. Mary, as I have written before, was of no great significance in my religious upbringing. Now I am finding that there is a vast history of the Christian church of which I have been wholly ignorant. From the time of the earliest Christian communities, the people were devoted to Mary and understood her role in the new religion as a full spiritual presence, in a cosmological as well as a human sense. This was all lost in the Protestant tradition, and as I have read in the book Missing Mary, much of the mystical beauty surrounding devotions to the Mother of God was also lost to the Catholic Church after Vatican II in the early 1960s. Yet apparitions of Mary appearing to people on earth right into modern times is certainly significant and should not be ignored.
My question today then, is can a Protestant be devoted to the Virgin Mary, or must one convert to Catholicism to do so? With a quick internet search, I could see that there is a resurgence of ecumenical dialogue on the subject of Mary, and the idea that she may very well serve as the bridge between the various branches of Christian faith, that is so desperately needed. In fact, Mary seems to be honored more in the religion of Islam than she is in the Protestant tradition!
So here I find myself often visiting the Rosary Garden, and with a small statue of Mary on my fireplace mantle, studying how to pray the Rosary, and waiting for vintage rosary beads to arrive in the mail. Unfortunately, although I want my daughter to be raised with a much fuller expression of the sacred feminine as part of her religious experience than I ever knew, the Catholic churches in this area have no Sunday school or children's church experiences. So to a 7 year old child it is a boring service! Can a family belong to two churches? On the Sundays in which the Presbyterian church that we have attended does not have children's church, perhaps we could go to the Catholic church instead. And perhaps I could go to mass by myself some of the other weeks.
I don't doubt that some readers will think me confused. But a renewal and deepening of my faith, and a deeper dimension to the mysteries of the life of Christ are being opened, and I believe that there are many, many possible paths. This is mine, and I am sharing the journey.