November 8, 2011
Step 11 of the AA/Al-Anon Twelve Step groups: sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
ecumenical (from Webster's dictionary) 1: worldwide or general in extent, influence, or application; 2, a: of, relating to, or representing the whole of a body of churches; b: promoting or tending toward worldwide Christian unity or cooperation.
catholic (from Webster): including a wide variety of things; universal
"Though traditionally considered a Catholic act of devotion, the Rosary with its primary focus on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, is ultimately a catholic, or universal, prayer that can appeal to Christians of all faiths and denominations...Ultimately, the Rosary is your prayer and can be prayed the way you see fit."
--from The Rosary: A Journey to the Beloved by Catholic writer Gary Jansen
"I am the Mother of all nations." --Our Lady of Guadalupe, to Juan Diego
A common saying in the rooms of AA and its affiliated groups is, "Take what you like and leave the rest." This comes to mind as I proceed in my spiritual journey of exploring the history of the Christian church and the Virgin Mary and the beliefs and practices of Catholicism. My vintage Rosary arrived in the mail today, and I look forward to using it as a tool for prayer and meditation. I have already been praying the Rosary using Jansen's book, as cited above, which includes pictures of the beads to use in the absence of the real thing.
Interestingly, prayer beads were not invented by the Catholic Church. Buddhist Japa Mala prayer beads preceeded the Rosary and are likely one of its sources. There are also Islamic prayer beads. I already own and have used Japa Mala beads for meditation, though I am not Buddhist. I also practice yoga (a spiritual as well as physical practice), though I am not of Indian origin or Hindu. Charlotte Mason, a Christian educational philosopher and homeschooling pioneer declared that all of the world religions contain the light of truth but that Christianity contains the greatest, brightest light.
When I was a Montessori teacher at St. Joseph's school in Columbus, I heard for the first time the word ecumenical, defined above. Students and teachers did not have to be Catholic to attend the school. It welcomed members of any religion or none, just like AA and its affiliated groups. I thought this was a pretty cool attitude, and it seems that many Christians could use a dose of it.
Protestants do not only object to what they perceive as the overly exalted veneration of Mary and her worship, but also Catholic beliefs and practices such as purgatory, confession to a priest, penance, the community of saints, and in some cases the baptism of babies. I believe in baptism by water when the person is old enough to make a conscious decision, but I don't think the baptism of babies is wrong. I have been to Protestant churches that baptize babies and ones that baptize adults in the Holy Spirit only, with no water at all, neither by sprinkling nor immersion. As a Protestant raised with the baptismal practice of immersion in water and with that as my personal preference/belief, should I subsequently avoid like the plague any church that baptizes in a different way? Such nitpicking over the details of Christian practice surely misses the point and would not be pleasing to God. This is why C.S. Lewis wrote his book, Mere Christianity.
I have a Jehovah's Witness friend who considers herself and her church Christian, and they do not believe in hell. They assert Biblical sources for this belief. We must consider that there are a plethora of interpretations of the Bible, as well as the certain disadvantage we have in reading an English translation, where much is lost and translations can vary widely and be incorrect. It is also of historical record that the Bible was many times edited by men. The Jews, Catholics, and Protestants all have certain parts of the same Bible in common but others that are included or not included. Also, the religion of Islam has a common ancestry.
A homeschooling Christian friend of mine commented, in a discussion of organic food, that it is possible to make an idol of what we eat, referring to the scripture passage from Matthew 6 of not worrying about what we will eat or wear. Taking focus off the meaning of Jesus' life and putting it on details of contention within the Christian community instead, especially in an attitude of judgment and fear (which is not in love, and so is not of God) is idolatrous. For any human being to think that he completely understands the ineffable God and the holy scriptures, or that he has the market cornered on salvation, lacks wisdom and is prideful. Jesus said, "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God." This is what I am doing.
Being devoted to Mary is not the sole domain of the Catholic Church. In fact, according to Catholic writer Charlene Spretnak, devotion to Mary has waned since Vatican II. And many Protestants are rediscovering Mary in the light of ecumenical dialogue and the quality of her place in scripture. (Consider too that devotion and worship are not the same thing.) The Rosary does not belong exclusively to Catholics either and can be embraced by any Christian. One doesn't have to be Catholic to attend mass at a Catholic church, nor does one have to be Protestant to attend a service at one of their churches. One can be Protestant and honor the holiness of Mary and the sacred feminine.
Take what you like and leave the rest, practice Step 11 whether you are a member of a Twelve Step group or not, and seek the Kingdom of God first, setting aside fear, anger, indignation, the judgment and condemnation of others and their religious beliefs and practices, and the idolatry of placing your focus on the red tape rather than the Redeemer. The life of Mary is surely inseparable from the life of Jesus, and the contemplation of the Mysteries can be a part of any Christian path.