Sunday, December 16, 2012

Praying for Newtown

Today at Mass, instead of a homily, Father led us in praying a decade of the Rosary.  This is in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut on Friday, which has left our nation reeling with shock and grief.  Father talked about how sometimes the rote, memorized prayers can serve us best, giving a place for our hearts to cry out and to rest when there are simply no words.  I read a list of the victims' names today, among them 20 first grade students.  Seeing the names makes this tragedy so much more real and personal.  I can think of no better way to pray than to Jesus through our spiritual Mother on the beads of the Holy Rosary.  In a crisis we turn to our mothers, and I understand a little better now why Jesus shares his own Mother with us.  She understands this deep sorrow most of all.  Blessed be these little ones who have inherited the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed be the heroes who gave their lives to save them.  Bless their families and the broken heart of this country.  Lord we pray, help us heal, help us to understand, help us to trust in your mercy.  Grant us your grace through our Blessed Mother Mary.  Amen.



Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Mother in the Trinity

“I, the fiery life of divine essence, am aflame beyond the beauty of the meadows.  I gleam in the waters, and I burn in the sun, moon and stars . . . . I awaken everything to life.”  --the voice of God revealed in the visions of St. Hildegard von Bingen and recorded in her book, Liber Divinorum

Just to explicate a little further on the Motherhood of God in the Trinity, I will use a human analogy.  The feminine principle, which I will call the "Bride", is contained within the Father.  Human marriage symbolizes this divine union, a God who has both a masculine and a feminine nature.  The Son is generated from this union.  The Holy Spirit comes into personhood as the maternal Love proceeding from the Father and Son, as a woman (bride) becomes fully mother only once her child is born.  The Father, then, is also inherently "Mother".  Ruah Ha Kodesh, the Holy Spirit, can be mystically understood as the womb of God.  St. Hildegard of Bingen, recently made Doctor of the Church, saw the universe as an egg contained in the womb of God:






Hildegard, called the Sibyl of the Rhine, saw a vision from God of divine, feminine beings who were named Sapientia, Ecclesia, and Caritas.  These Latin words, respectively, mean Wisdom, Church, and Love.  While orthodox in her Catholicism, God appeared to Hildegard as Mother.  Her trinity of the divine feminine is almost exactly akin to my vision of Sophia at the heart of the Trinity, with the correspondences of Holy Wisdom, Holy Mother Church, and Shekinah (divine presence/glory cloud).  Surely Love is the divine Presence.  Ecclesia revealed herself to Hildegard as "the true, hidden Church".  Again the theme of the hidden quality of the feminine nature of God comes to the fore.  The following poem seems to indicate the feminine trinity within the Trinity.  Note the third wing which "hovers everywhere", a clear reference to the action of Ruah Elohim, the Spirit of God. 

O power of wisdom!
You encompassed the cosmos,
Encircling and embracing all in one living orbit
With your three wings:
One soars on high,
One distills the earth’s essence,
And the third hovers everywhere.
Hildegard von Bingen, O virtus sapientia

In September of 1999, Pope John Paul II told a crowd of pilgrims at St. Peter's Square that God has both a male and female nature and can be referred to as "God the Mother".  A similar declaration had been made by his predecessor, Pope John Paul I, shortly before his death, who said, "God is both mother and father and is more mother than father."  There is a long stream of Catholic tradition which acknowledges the motherly nature of God and the association of Lady Wisdom with the Holy Spirit, understood in feminine terms both by some early Fathers of the Church and in Judaism, before the birth of Christianity.  Yet it seems that this tradition has been intentionally suppressed, and language about God remains terribly lopsided toward the patriarchal.  Let us walk with the sainted abbess Hildegard awhile and see what else our Holy Doctor might reveal... 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Our Lady of Guadalupe

The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe was the first Marian apparition I ever learned about in detail.  Such a lush, inspiring story, I could not believe I had not heard it before.  I am from a family of stories, on both sides.  My grandfather, especially, has told me his stories, repeated so many times as memory is rekindled by a present conversation, so often that the stories grow to the proportion of tall tales, mythic accounts where he and his family members are always victorious.  No one ever bests them, or wins the argument or the fight.  He and his kin always have the last word.  It is proven that human beings learn best from stories, which become a part of the hearer, interpreted within the context of his or her own life and experiences.  If you really want to make a point with a child, tell her a story.  If you really want to learn as an adult, become like a child.  My grandpa's stories reflect his faith, that we are never beaten in the game of life, that through challenge and hardship we will prevail, and at the end receive our reward.

So it was for me when I heard of the Mexican Indian Juan Diego, a poor peasant who was given his Christianized name by Spanish missionaries, in a place of the conquered and abused.  The Mother of God came to him in 1531at the top of a hill called Tepayac, at the shrine of Tonantzin, a goddess of earth and crops who stood in stark contrast to the Aztec gods of the region who required human sacrifice.  The Indians were saved by Catholicism from this barbarous tradition, but their women were raped by the Spanish, and thousands of the people were murdered.  They were an enslaved race.  The Virgin of Guadalupe brought peace, hope, conversion, and motherly love.  She told Juan Diego, "I am the Ever-Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the Great God of Truth."  She washed the violated clean through the power of her divine Son.  "I am your merciful mother and the mother of all the nations that live on this earth who would love me, who would speak with me, who would search for me, and who would place their confidence in me."




With Mary came an ethereal song of birds and roses in December, and a miracle--her image painted on the cloak of Juan Diego, a sign to the bishop that the peasant's words were true, that he had indeed been visited by the Blessed Mother.  The church she requested to be built on the hill was constructed immediately, and tens of thousands of pilgrims visit what is now a major basilica every year.  In almost 500 years the image has not faded, and the cloak, made of maguey cactus fibers that should have disintegrated within 20 years, is still pristine.  The materials used to create the image cannot be identified, and the picture has survived an accidental spill of acid and a terrorist bomb, not to mention the touch and kisses of many, many believers. Today, December 12, is her Feast Day.  I will make corn bread and quesadillas in honor of her association with the native peoples of Mexico and the abundance of life-giving earth.

The Virgin of Guadalupe bears a striking resemblance to the woman of Revelation 12, standing on the crescent moon, clothed in the rays of the sun, her veil covered with stars in the pattern of the night sky on the day of her visitation.  She is wearing a sash that symbolizes pregnancy.  She is praying and appears to be dancing.  This figure of Mary is cosmological, her clothing depicting Native Mexican royalty, her grace forever abundant and available to the downtrodden and broken-hearted.  In her they are lifted up, promised a new beginning and perpetual renewal.  Our Lady of the Dispossessed.

We have a spiritual Mother in heaven who visits us here on earth.  She loves us, she nurtures us, she brings us the peace of God.  We have only to seek her, and she will come.  I know, for she came to me.  "Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" I asked myself, echoing the words of Mary's cousin Elizabeth.  Who, indeed?  I will tell you.  I am a child of God and a child of Mary, just like Jesus, because he is my Savior who made me his sister.  Mary leads us to Jesus, and she offers her motherly intercession free to anyone with an open heart.  She holds us under her starry mantle and shows us the view from the top of the moon.  She allows us to try on her crown that we might look forward to wearing a royal diadem ourselves one day.  From her flows the maternal presence--the Shekinah--of our Creator, and she invites us to dance with her the cosmic dance of holy union, light, and love.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

God as Unity

God is beyond human comprehension in a certain sense, but we can have a personal relationship with the Almighty. God is neither male nor female. God's revealed name is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We can know something about God's nature through the Bible and Church Tradition, and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit in personal revelation. Yet we are still limited by human language and symbolism to grasp and articulate the ineffable mystery of the triune Godhead. If we are humble, we acknowledge what little we actually know.

As both women and men are made in the image of God, we can use language for God in both masculine and feminine terms. The truest way I have found to comprehend the nature of God is as the spiritual unity of the masculine and feminine dimensions of being. Again, God is not divided into male and female principles; God is pure spirit. When I refer to masculine and feminine principles, it is by way of analogy to our human condition and our ideas regarding the qualities typically associated with a particular gender. The creation story of Genesis and the marriage of man and woman teach that men and women together are a symbol of the sacred unity that exists in God. A man and woman being flesh of the same flesh and bone of the same bone, coming together in love and open to procreation, gives us a glimpse into the divine nature. God is the perfection of family relationship.  At the same time, both men and women are unique, equally valid images of the divine.

So when I point out that names like Ruah, the Hebrew for Spirit, and Hokmah and Sophia (Hebrew and Greek for Wisdom, respectively) are feminine in gender, that is not to say that God is a woman any more than God is a man. It is to emphasize that Elohim, the Hebrew name for God, is grammatically expressive of a divinity that perfectly contains the union of what we understand as male and female, and that this gives us a clue to follow.

To incorporate the language of Mother in reference to God, or to refer to the Holy Spirit as "she" in some cases, such as in the manifestation of the Spirit as Lady Wisdom, in no way infringes upon divine revelation. To call God both "he" and "she" simply equalizes theological language that has excluded the truth of the unity of God, that has historically been excessively patriarchal, resulting in untold damage to the psyche and spiritual life of all humankind. Not to mention the devastation of planet Earth, so often characterized in feminine terms and treated in ways that parallel violence toward women. Nevertheless, it would not be appropriate to change the revealed name of the Trinity--the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Also, for the matter of consistency, the use of male pronouns for all members of the Trinity in the liturgy is perhaps more efficacious. This would not exclude, however, sermons and homilies that focus upon the motherhood of God or references to God's "feminine face", as I have occasionally heard spoken by priests at Mass. Then again, referring to the Holy Spirit as she in some contexts in order to reflect the often bridal-maternal nature of this divine Person within the Trinity would most fully characterize God as divine family unity, that which our human family unity mirrors.


 Woman Clothed with the Sun by Duncan Long


Names like Spirit-Sophia, used by Catholic theologian Elizabeth A. Johnson, point to the personification of the Holy Spirit as "Lady" in the Wisdom Books of the Bible. Holy Wisdom as "she" is not merely a grammatical coincidence; it is a full-fledged theology of the Spirit of God in bridal-maternal terms. The Holy Spirit could rightly be called the mystical "feminine nature" of the Trinity. Like all members of the Godhead, the Spirit is fully an expression of divine unity. However, the "Mother Love" of God is most clearly revealed through the Third Person. And Mary, being the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit and Mother of the Church, reveals so personally the sacred feminine in divinity. Jesus said that those who have seen him have seen the Father. Likewise, a personal relationship with Mary helps us to "see" the Holy Spirit/Sophia. This is why, especially in a heavily patriarchal culture, Marian devotion must be emphasized and encouraged, not marginalized. More homilies, hymns and prayers to Mary in the liturgy, and fuller celebrations of her feast days (that is, a return to more traditional expressions of devotion), would provide a greater balance to our community worship.

How we name things does matter. A rose by any other name may very well smell as sweet, but the name of rose brings to mind vividly what the rose is and what it symbolizes. Exclusively male terms for God do not bring to our minds and hearts the truth of God's unity or the fullness of God's love. Woman must understand that she is as complete an expression of the image of God as is man, and man must also comprehend this revelation.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Ruah Elohim

"Again (v., 27), how could Adam (and Eve) be made in the image of the Elohim, male and female, unless the Elohim were male and female also? The word Elohim is a plural formed from the feminine singular ALH, Eloh, by adding IM to the word. But inasmuch as IM is usually the termination of the masculine plural, and is here added to a feminine noun, it gives to the word Elohim the sense of a female potency united to a masculine idea, and thereby capable of producing an offspring. Now we hear much of the Father and the Son, but we hear nothing of the Mother in the ordinary religions of the day. But in the Kabbalah we find that the Ancient of Days conforms himself simultaneously into the Father and the Mother, and thus begets the Son. Now this Mother is Elohim." (http://www.sacred-texts.com/wmn/wb/wb59.htm)

When I met my husband, I asked him if he had a religion (big question for a first date!). He told me that he practiced Kabbalah, which I had never heard of, so of course I was intrigued. Kabbalah is basically Jewish mysticism. I found a book about this religion so that I could understand what my new boyfriend was into. In Kabbalah, the Tree of Life provides the framework for understanding spiritual levels of being and the nature of God. It's very complex, but the idea that captured my imagination was the explanation of the Hebrew word Elohim, which in English is translated as God. God is obviously a singular word, but when God speaks the words, "Let us" in the creation story of Genesis, we get a glimpse of the trinitarian nature of God, God in three persons. In Catholic tradition, the Son is begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from both as the Love generated between them. But this begetting and proceeding is a simultaneous process, not a temporal one-after-the-other. I see the Spirit as the "Mother Love" of the Trinity.


 Mary and the Holy Spirit


As the initial, quoted paragraph above states, Elohim is comprised of a masculine plural added to a feminine noun. When I contemplate Catholic writer Thomas Merton's theology that Holy Wisdom (Sophia) is the Ousia of God, God's primordial essence of being, and that Sophia is inherent to (contained in) all three persons of the Trinity, the meaning of the word Elohim is perfectly crystallized. The Spirit of God is pictured in the creation story, hovering over the waters like a mother bird over her eggs, as the divine power of generation. In Hebrew, this person of the Trinity is named Ruah Elohim. As I have discussed before, Ruah is a feminine word. We find in Ruah Elohim, who is the Holy Spirit (Ruah Ha-Kodesh), the manifestation of the maternal aspect of God. The Holy Spirit is Lord, as the Nicene Creed states, not because the Spirit is particularly male or masculine, but because the Spirit is a divinely equal member of the Trinity along with the Father and the Son, both of whom Sacred Scripture calls "Lord".

It has become increasingly apparent to me that the Lady Wisdom of the Bible fleshes out, so to speak, the nature of the third person of the Trinity. Rather than remaining a kind of impersonal, ambiguous entity running the risk of becoming the marginalized member of the Godhead, we see clearly in Sophia the bridal-maternal character of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, if we consider the profound indwelling of Mary by the Spirit of Wisdom, especially as articulated by St. Maximilian Kolbe, we can comprehend the basis of Marian devotion as a reflection of the intuitive understanding that the mission of the Holy Spirit is accomplished particularly through the Mother of God.

Kolbe goes so far as to say that Mary is a "quasi-incarnation" of the Holy Spirit, while being clear that this relationship is not the same in nature as the hypostatic union of the divine and human natures of Jesus, who is fully God and fully man. Mary is purely human, but Kolbe sees Mary as the ultimate sanctuary of the Holy Spirit, in as close a relationship as is possible of the strictly human with the divine. Mary does nothing apart from the Holy Spirit. Kolbe teaches that Mary's soul is completely permeated with the Holy Spirit, so her being is in perfect harmony with the mission of this Spirit of Wisdom. According to the saint, this is why Mary could call herself the Immaculate Conception at Lourdes. Because the Holy Spirit is the uncreated Immaculate Conception, Mary is the created Immaculate Conception. Therefore, veneration of Mary reflects adoration of the Holy Spirit.

It is also important to note that this inseparable union between Mary and the Holy Spirit does not obliterate Mary's unique personality and essential qualities as a human being. Because she was from her conception free from sin, Mary could most completely experience God's grace and achieve the holiness that the Spirit worked, and continues to work, in her. Precisely because she is not bogged down and separated from God by a sinful nature, Mary can be that much more Mary. I think that one reason people are so drawn to the Blessed Mother is that we quest for the "authentic self", in pop psychology terms. We see in Mary a fully actualized human being. This is the goal of all mystics who desire unity with God. The more we have Christ in us, the more our true selves we become. By losing ourselves we find ourselves, as Jesus taught his disciples about Life. 

At RCIA on Sunday, the teacher talked about prayer and its nature as a personal relationship with God. She said that we can focus prayer to any of the members of the Trinity, in whatever way brings us closer to God. She spoke of being initially confused about the Holy Spirit, but that she is now a "Holy Spirit person".  I shared my use of the Hebrew name Ruah for Spirit in my prayers. I find it very beautiful, and for me at this time in my journey, Ruah Elohim, such an eloquently poetic name, is my preferred call to God. It fills my imagination with an image of God that is both Father and Mother, with a focus on the immanent, maternal Presence (Shekinah) of our Holy Creator.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Simple Marian Devotions #2

At our local Family Dollar I can buy Catholic, glass jar candles for a couple of dollars. I have one with a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe on it. The prayer reads, Merciful Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, show clemency, love and compassion to those who love you and search for your protection. May the sweet fragrance of roses reach your divine son, our Lord Jesus Christ, that he may hear our prayers. Wipe our tears and give us comfort and assistance. (concentrate on your desires). Amen. 



As a simple devotion, you can light the candle and say the prayer, adding your special needs and petitions. I have the candle burning right beside me as I write this. I am also listening to "An English Ladymass" on CD, which contains 13th- and 14th-century chant and polyphony in honor of the Virgin Mary. The lyrics are in Latin, so I don't understand them, but the women's voices are glorious, and the music is calming. I borrowed the CD from my library system and have others on the way. You can play music such as this and meditate upon the love and intercession of our heavenly Mother while making dinner, folding laundry, writing in your journal, or practicing yoga.

Today I went for a walk in the woods with my 8-year-old daughter. Luckily I had my Rosary in my purse, and I recalled how John Paul II had a regular practice of walking in nature while praying the Rosary. I got through most of the Luminous Mysteries before we had to go. There is something about a moving meditation that is especially gratifying.


 Pope John Paul II

I usually pray for a particular intention at the start of my Rosary recitations. Sharing our smallest worries and our deepest needs and sorrows, as well as our joys, hopes, and dreams, truly honors our Holy Queen. And we can trust that she will present them as the most fragrant and lovely bouquet of roses to her divine Son. In honoring her, we honor our Lord.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Why God Is Called Father

"A good book to read concerning power, authority and the politics of language is The Church and the Culture War by Joyce A. Little (Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 1995).
On page 148 of her book, Joyce Little discusses God as Father.  'Now the God of Israel is Holy (Psalm 99). The word "holy" is rooted in the word "separated" (1 Chron. 23:13). God, being pure Spirit, has a certain "separation" or otherness to His material creation. This otherness of God is further revealed when He sent His only Son to the world instead of Himself. Even though we are created in His image, God the Father keeps His distance from matter to a certain extent. For this reason, the title "Mother" is not appropriate for God, since the words: "mother" and "matter", are etymologically related (Latin root: mater-). God is not Mother Nature or Mother Earth. Also mothers during pregnancy are biologically joined to their child, but fathers are physically separated. Even though fathers love their children, there is still a certain degree of distance as compared to mothers. Once again this "separation" of father from child is related to the "separation" (Holiness) of God from creation. The God of Israel is called Father not because He is male, but because He is Holy' " (from the online article, "Mother God" @ http://users.binary.net/polycarp/momgod.html).

The above excerpt is one of the best explanations I have encountered regarding why God is specifically called Father. Though the Bible often uses maternal images to impart understanding of the nature of God, it never calls him "Mother".  Little's theology echoes that of George S. Montague in Our Father, Our Mother, with the idea that the male image of fatherhood reflects God's transcendence. While God is equally our Divine Mother, his official title, Father, is connotative of his separateness from creation; that is, we humans are not divine and neither is anything else in the material world. However, God does dwell among us in the 3rd Person of the Trinity, known as the Holy Spirit, who is often especially understood in bridal-maternal terms. But it is Mary, in her complete union with this Spirit of Wisdom, who best reflects the immanence of God's motherly nature. It is she who has been revealed, by Church Tradition through the Holy Spirit, with the titles Mother of God and Mother of the Church, to manifest for us an image of the sacred feminine by which we can most adequately experience God as daughter, bride, and mother.


 Madonna of the Rosary - Murillo


Using the traditional language, Jesus' incarnation as the God-man can be understood most simply by virtue of his having a divine Father in heaven and a human Mother on earth, making him both fully human and fully divine. His existence as a human being illustrates that we can literally see our Father God in him, and also glimpse God as Mother through his own Mother, Mary, for she is the Mother of God. The way Mary loves Jesus is the way God loves all of his children like a mother. And she also represents the divinized state of being to which we aspire, when we too will inherit a glorified body and live eternally with God as his children. Mary reigns as our Mother, our Sister, our Queen, our Intercessor and Advocate. She is the Mediatrix of All Graces, working in complete harmony with the Holy Spirit of Wisdom who dwells within her to bring about our salvation, not in an equal way to her Son, but uniquely with him.

It still hurts sometimes, this overwhelmingly masculine language ascribed to God. Why is the motherhood of God so hidden? I believe it is because Wisdom, the Sophia at the heart of God, who is equally part and parcel of all Persons of the Trinity, is the Holy of Holies. Without Mary, we just can't get at this mystery at all. Without Mary, the Christian story is truly impoverished and lacking in the fullness of our beautiful faith. Brothers and sisters in Christ, fully embrace God as your Father, for it is a privilege granted to us by our Savior, and also fully embrace Mary as your Mother, for she is Jesus' sweet and holy Gift of Love. With Mary, our family is complete.

Monday, September 24, 2012

My Marian Anniversary

It has been a year since I met the Mother of my Lord, the Virgin Mary. The anniversary was actually September 21, when in 2011 I followed her call to the Catholic Church in my town and discovered the Rosary Garden. The previous night I had been troubled with insomnia, particularly distraught over women's issues in society and my own personal struggles with my family of origin. I felt my essential role as a mother being attacked, and my heart was broken. Inexplicably, I prayed to Mary, for the first time in my life. In her garden I sat and talked to her. I cried and was comforted by her maternal, spiritual presence. Suddenly, I had hope. If I joined the Catholic Church, I could have Mary.

I started going to Mass shortly after this experience. I began to read books about Mary from the library and was like a starving person presented with a banquet and surrounded by roses. I didn't know how much I had needed a spiritual Mother, and the more I read, the more fascinated I became regarding all I did not know about the history of Christianity. I became interested enough to look into R.C.I.A., the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. But they were too far into the program at that point for me to jump in. Just this month I finally began the official process toward joining the Church, which I now love with all my heart.




I am still learning, and after a whole year, I am not any less enthusiastic about the Mother of God. She has continued to gently lead me back to her Son, who I had drifted from for so long. My daughter has been baptized in the Church and loves her weekly religious education classes. And I have been inspired in my writing in a way I hadn't been in years, through the awakening of passion and awe. So happy anniversary to me, and thank you Blessed Mother for enriching my life with your love, faith, beauty, and intercession. Hail, Holy Queen!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Simple Marian Devotions #1

I found that when I became interested in Marian devotions, it was difficult to know where to begin.  Now that I have had some time to develop certain practices, I would like to share them in a series that will hopefully be simple to follow.  As I have mentioned before, in my studies of the Chinese bodhisattva Kuan Yin, I noticed similarities between this being of compassion and Jesus and Mary.  In fact, Kuan Yin historically has taken on an undeniable likeness to the Blessed Mother.  Therefore it was easy for me to appropriate a Kuan Yin meditation chant by Lisa Thiel to an invocation of the spiritual presence of Mary.




Here are the original lyrics (you can listen to the song to learn the tune at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7t_9tbdNldI), Lisa Thiel - Part 1: "Waters of Compassion")--

Mantra--Namo Kwan Shi Yin Pu Sa
To the One Who hears all the cries of the world, I call to You to invoke Your grace
Mother of Compassion, Goddess of Mercy
I offer You all the burdens of my heart, That I may become empty, To be open to receive Your blessings
Mantra
This world is filled with suffering, Yet You, our Savioress, offer us solace
Mother of Compassion, Goddess of Mercy
I offer out into the world, All the love that you have given to me, For the sake of all sentient beings
Mantra

When I sing my version, which is acoustically nice to do in the shower, I begin with:
"To the one who hears all the cries of the world, I call to you to invoke your grace;
Mother of Compassion, Ave Maria; Mother of Compassion, Ave Maria."
Then I sing, "Hail Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe; Holy Mary, the Virgin of Guadalupe;
Queen of Heaven with the moon under her feet; Queen of Heaven with the moon under her feet."


 Our Lady of Guadalupe with St. Juan Diego


You could incorporate the other lyrics by simply replacing "Savioress" with a Marian title that appeals to you, such as Benefactress, Advocate, or Mediatrix. It is also interesting to note that Paraclete, another name for the Holy Spirit, means "one who hears the cries." This devotion thus underscores the intimate union of Mary with the Spirit of Wisdom.

I think that praying in song is especially powerful, as the Psalms of the Bible attest, and chanting gets one into a calm, peaceful, and contemplative spiritual state. You could light a candle and meditate while singing this invocation, and of course offer other prayers as they come to mind.  To replace the mantra, Namo Kuan Shi Yin Pu Sa, which is Kuan Yin's full name, you can substitute whatever name for Mary that might rhythmically fit, such as "Stella Maris, Star of the Sea."

You are free to play around with whatever lyrics resonate most with you.  My version is a place to start. The tune Lisa Thiel created is lovely, as is her ethereal voice, and despite its origins in a "goddess" type tradition, the appropriation to Mary turns it into a beautiful Christian devotion.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Lady Wisdom (Sophia)--Emanation vs. Creation



Lady Wisdom in the Bible is described as an emanation, an eternal generation, and a creation, yet we see from the following explanation that, theologically, she cannot be all three of these things. Yet she could be both an emanation and an eternal generation, as Jesus, Wisdom Incarnate, indeed is:

Emanation is a necessary and infinite number of generations that extends from the nature of the One. Everything extending from it is therefore consubstantial. Eternal Generation is a necessary and numerically single bringing forth of the Person of the Son, not the divine nature of the Son eternally extending from the nature of the Father. The Father and the Son are therefore consubstantial. Creation is a voluntary act of God that begins in time. God creates by divine fiat, not by extensive emanation. This extends from the will of God, not the nature. Therefore, Creation and God are not consubstantial but distinct in essence. Do we not then see that Creation and redemption cannot extend from the nature of God or else it would be eternal and Consubstantial with him?  --from The Trinity by Gordon Clark, p. 115

In Wisdom 7 we find, "Wisdom is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty..."  That is clear enough, that she extends from God and is therefore consubstantial with Him. Her nature is divine.

In Sirach 24 Wisdom tells us, "I came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and covered the earth like a mist." This connotes something more like a birth, a bringing forth, an eternal generation. And we see Wisdom herself participating in the act of creation, covering the earth to make it teem with life, like a mother bird spreading herself over her eggs. Again, her nature is divine.

In Proverbs 8 Wisdom says of herself, "The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago." Here we have her as the first of all of God's creative acts, and we sense a certain but mysterious distinction between her and God. Her nature appears to be as a creation. Are there indeed two Wisdoms, as St. Augustine suggested, one created and one uncreated?

I think what we must do to understand this plurality, as well as anyone can possibly understand the nature of God and his relationship to his works, is to take all that has been written in regard to Lady Wisdom together and see if we can get a clearer picture. In the order that the Wisdom Books appear in the Bible, we follow a gradual revelation of the entirety of the nature of Sophia. Wisdom is unquestioningly eternal and consubstantial with God; therefore, we can certainly conceptualize her as the feminine aspect of the Godhead. However, we also see her as God's link with creation, a pure spirit who is sent to dwell in the earth and among God's people. Wisdom was created in this sense, that she was poured out into all of creation, permeating all things and bringing them to perfect order. She has become both an aspect of God and a part of the created universe.  "Whoever finds me finds life," she promises in Proverbs 8, hinting at both the physical and spiritual realms.




We can conclude that Jesus is indeed the Eternal Wisdom, but we also find in the liturgy of the Catholic Church the accommodation of these passages of Wisdom to Mary, the Throne of Wisdom. Catholic monk and spiritual writer Thomas Merton, in a letter, described Mary as a kind of personal manifestation of Sophia. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that Mary is the dwelling of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (721). As I have previously put forth, Wisdom is clearly part and parcel of all members of the Holy Trinity (which Merton also affirms in the same letter), and therefore the idea of Wisdom indwelling Mary is compatible with official Church doctrine. Holy Wisdom in the Old Testament prefigures (is a type of) both Jesus and Mary in the New Testament, and indeed also prefigures (and is mystically synonymous with) the Holy Spirit.

We see the Blessed Mother as embodying the feminine, maternal qualities of God and possessing within her the pure spirit of Wisdom, who is at once emanation and eternal generation of God, as well as the binding force between God and creation, and a living being of creation herself. As the Church teaches, there is an inseparable spiritual connection between Jesus and his Mother. This great mystery is the mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus through Mary, and it is something that we can only contemplate and hope to someday grasp in its divine fullness.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ave Sophia



Holy Wisdom, gentle is your mercy
holding us in light unseen--
 the scent of purple woven
through this ineffable tapestry--
Ruah, wind of mortal and divine,
what imprint lies behind?

Trees dance with you,
seeming almost human; gingerly
 we place our palms to bark, listen
 for a heartbeat quickening--
the meeting of sap and blood
in mutual veins

You laugh in twilight clouds-become-roses,
the in between worlds where
the Fay play in peripheral vision,
and we hold our breath, still the spirit,
lapse into gilded reverie and 
almost remember...

It is painful. It is longing.
It is exquisite, bittersweet bliss. 
And then I open my eyes, and you are a 
dream whose bridal train
vanishes, a whisper at the end
of the aisle--

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Women and the Priesthood

http://catholiceducation.org/articles/apologetics/ap0001.html

The above link is a very nice article by a woman on why the priesthood is not ever going to be a Catholic vocation for women. I don't know enough about the historicity of the Church's position to make any arguments here. I can only point out the biblical fact that Jesus only chose male apostles among his 12 who were ordained at the Last Supper to perform the sacrament of the holy Eucharist. I won't debate theology with anyone, or travel the road of ambiguous historical evidence. I'm simply not qualified. But the wedding symbolism the article above evokes gives a deeper meaning to the whole question, a panoramic view that gets at the entire purpose of Jesus' life on this earth. He is the Bridegroom, and his Church is the Bride, and the mutuality of the masculine and feminine sexes of humanity is foundational and poetic. It's who we are. Men and women are equal but different images of divinity.

I can't say that I like the chastising tone of the early Church Fathers in regard to women, but their opinions are rather beside the point if one looks at the biblical evidence and contemplates Jesus' intentions in his earthly mission. Then we don't have to get defensive around language that seems hostile toward women. 

It has been impossible in my seeking and journey toward the Catholic Church not to notice these debates, which seem more political than anything, about topics such as women's ordination, homosexuality, abortion, etc., and the accusations that the position the Church takes on these hot button issues is somehow perversely antiquated and hateful. Yet from what I understand, the Church is held by Catholics to be the keeper and protector of the deposit of faith, and her  teachings are guided by the Holy Spirit. We can rest assured that we have the Truth in the Church. This is the only Christian Church that can legitimately make the claim of apostolic authority! How can we be Catholic and not honor the teachings of the Church? One might as well be Protestant or nondenominational and find a church that reflects one's views and go on with life outside the Catholic faith.

What I have read of the opinions of some originally led me to believe that women's ordination is a topic open for debate and that the Church could be persuaded to change it's position. But Pope John Paul II made it clear that this simply isn't possible. Here is his Ordinatio Sacerdotalis:
http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_22051994_ordinatio-sacerdotalis_en.html

This seems to argue that the teaching of the Church on this matter is definitive without formally declaring it as dogma. I imagine that is where the window appears still to be cracked open for interpretation. Nevertheless, it seems sensible to simply honor the Church's declaration on the matter and pray for peace if you are struggling with it. I always come back to St. Augustine's wise words in regard to faith coming first, and then understanding.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Dealing with Negativity toward the Church

I joined a Facebook group this week that looked interesting and left it after no more than two days. By its name it seemed to be a Christian group (having the word Christian as part of it) that honors the sacred feminine. While I did expect to see some pagan tendencies, what I did not anticipate was the strident anti-Catholic attitude of certain members (which in some cases came across as an attack on my spiritual journey).  I understood that some were motivated out of concern that I would make a grand mistake by joining the Catholic Church, but it was rude nonetheless. It didn't take long to realize that in general, this is by and large really not a Christian group.

What were the complaints? The word patriarchy overwhelmingly came up, as well as misogyny. Specifically, references were made to the sex scandals in the Church and the "hostile" refusal of women to the vocation of the priesthood. Now, I too have complained about the patriarchal history of both religion and the world and have bemoaned the plight of women and the destruction of our earth. Luckily, though, I do not have too many negative memories of church itself. There was one sermon in one church that left me feeling like I had been punched repeatedly in the gut and head, and I never returned. But the issue had nothing to do with women.

What I have lamented in my own church upbringing in Protestant denominations was the absence of Mary and the sacred feminine. But I have no resentment in this regard. The path that finally led me home was evidently the one I was meant to tread. I went to a church as an adult with a female minister, and I had no problem with that. In fact, she was wonderful! But I do not feel strongly that women need to be allowed to be Catholic priests, and if the Church has solid theological and historical reasons for this prohibition, I trust the Church's authority. And I think that is the key. The problem many people, from all Christian denominations, have with the Catholic Church is her claim to authority. Authority is not the same thing as abuse of power. I feel liberated, in fact, that the Church does possess and act with authority, that there is a place where Truth can be found, and where the cacophony of clamoring voices is hushed. I can confidently rest in the protective authority of the Church.

That is not to say that I have blindly believed every doctrine or dogma without question. But when I have doubts or confusion, I just keep praying and studying and have faith that understanding will follow in God's time and in His way. I go to the source. The Church teaches that God is neither male nor female but is pure spirit and possesses the perfect attributes of both Father and Mother. The Church herself is called Mother, and so is Mary, who is the foremost disciple of the Church. Traditionally, it is through Mary and the Church that the feminine, maternal aspect of God is revealed. And as I have repeatedly discussed, while the exclusive use of the name "Father" is problematic, it is not meant to exclude the motherhood of God. In a similar way, my blog, Organic Mothering, does not exclude fathering. Also, the Holy Spirit, while called Lord, is clearly depicted in bridal-maternal language, and in fact in both Sacred Scripture and Catholic practice is often referred to as Wisdom, who is personified in female terms. The sacred feminine may be hidden to a great extent, but she is quite certainly present. The very Divine Presence of God is Shekinah, another clearly feminine name.

It's true that there have been misogynist statements made by early Church fathers, and surely today as well, but that is not the official position of the Church at all. Many Church fathers also made egalitarian comments in favor of upholding the dignity of women, especially within marriage.

And as far as the Church's teachings on abortion, I am in full agreement. Legalized abortion has not "liberated" women; it has put women and all of society in chains instead. I'm still considering the subject of birth control, but I have no doubt that in many cases at least, it has been the cause of health problems and has negatively impacted morality. At any rate, none of the Church's proclamations on these women's issues would lead me to believe that the Church hates women, which is exactly what misogyny means.

I have not been Catholic in the past and have not had negative experiences in the Church, and I don't judge those who express their pain as the result of Catholicism. But that suffering does not come from God. The Church herself is not evil, but some of her members are. Holding onto resentment is poisonous to the soul. Some of those harmed in the past seem to give constant, new fuel to their anger. They don't seem to be willing to forgive and be healed. They want to stay angry and bitter. They evidently get some payoff from continuing to grieve and suffer, to refuse to unite their suffering with Jesus on the cross and then to come down from the cross and rise from the dead with Him. They have thrown the proverbial baby out with the bath water. I have compassion for those in this circumstance, but I can't dance around the fire with them and condone the way they keep throwing in more logs and fanning the flames. Emotions are contagious. Build up your immunity by staying securely under Mary's mantle!



Tuesday, August 7, 2012

My Catholic Great-Grandmother's Sacrifice

This past June the 8th, my 8-year-old daughter was baptized at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. My grandparents, who are Methodist, were present for the occasion. I knew from my mother that my grandma had been "sprinkled" as a baby, so I had a vague notion that she had been Catholic. But some Protestant denominations also baptize infants, and I never really knew the story. When I was growing up my family, including my grandparents, belonged to the Church of Christ. This was the church of my grandpa's youth. My grandparents left that church after long time membership and joined the First Methodist, which was the church that my grandma had belonged to in her youth. But it turns out there's more to this history.

Either before or after my daughter's baptism I had the opportunity to share my Rosary miracle with my grandma (see June 1 post). This brought back a flood of memory for her. She told me that she too had been baptized at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Her mother was a Catholic Frenchwoman, and she took my grandma and her older sister to church there when they were very young. My grandma's father, however, was Protestant, and he went to the United Brethern Church (from my understanding, this eventually become a United Methodist Church). So the family was divided by religious denomination and did not attend church together. My grandma told me that when she was only 3 or 4, they came home from church one Sunday, and there was a proliferation of pink roses in full bloom in her yard. She is 84 years old, and she still has this vivid image of the roses in her mind after 80 years. She can still see them perfectly. Why this particular memory stands out, she says she does not know...

In my mind, I am screaming, "Mary!"  Grandma associates the roses with her young childhood in the Catholic Church. And there is no more predominant symbol of Mary than the rose. Rosary literally means garland of roses. My grandma did not attend the Catholic Church past the age of 4. For the sake of family unity, my great-grandmother began attending church with her husband so that they could all worship together. But, my grandma told me, her mother never, ever stopped being Catholic. She never transferred membership to my great-grandfather's church. I believe strongly that Mary knew that my grandma, and her mother and sister, would be leaving the Catholic Church, and the gorgeous pink rose blossoms were Mary's way of letting them know that she would always be with them. She would always be their Mother.  Subconsciously my grandma associated my Rosary miracle with her own miracle of roses.




I was only 5 when my great-grandmother died. I have memories of her, and I remember crying when my mom told me that she had passed away. I wish I would have known my Catholic great-grandmother who sacrificed so much for the peace and unity of her family. How did she live without the Holy Sacrament, the Eucharist? How did she live without Mary as part of Christian worship? Did she still pray her Rosary? How her heart must have ached. How brave she must have been, how full of faith.

But I am comforted by this thought:  My great-grandma Ruth is a saint in heaven. I can talk to her whenever I want. And how happy she must have been on the day of my daughter's baptism, to see from the celestial view her great-great-grandaughter coming into the Church that she had so loved in her lifetime, the Church she left but never abandoned. And of course she will also be thrilled to see me enter the Church at the Easter vigil next year! In my small way, I can make reparation for her sacrifice.  I can give something precious back to her, and I am humbled to be able to honor her memory in this way.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

True Devotion to Mary

As (Mary) is the dawn which precedes and reveals the Sun of Justice, who is Jesus Christ, she must be seen and recognized in order that Jesus Christ may also be.  
--St. Louis de Montfort 






In his book True Devotion to Mary, St. Louis de Montfort repeatedly uses passages from the Wisdom Books of the Bible to refer to the Virgin Mother of Christ. Montfort specifically designates Jesus as Holy Wisdom; in concert with this, it appears that because of his deep understanding of the completeness of Wisdom's indwelling of the Blessed Mother, he also recognizes Mary as Wisdom in a mystical sense. She is the embodiment of the feminine Wisdom, who is the mother/daughter/bride aspect of divinity.

Montfort advocates his particular process of consecration to Jesus through Mary in this book, and I think it no exaggeration to say that he felt there could be no fullness of expression of Catholicism without devotion to the Mother of God. One cannot truly know Jesus without knowing his mother. Therefore, a Christianity lacking in Marian devotion is an incomplete religion, from Montfort's point of view.

It seems, then, following the example of Montfort, that it is beneficial to contemplate the Virgin Mary when one reads the Wisdom Books of the Old Testament (particularly Proverbs, Wisdom, and Sirach). One could picture our spiritual Mother while dwelling upon these holy words and images, making this a powerful practice of devotion to Our Lady.

"We are convinced without any doubt that devotion to Our Lady is essentially joined with devotion to Christ, that it assures a firmness of conviction to faith in Him and in His Church, a vital adherence to Him and to His Church which, without devotion to Mary, would be impoverished and compromised." --Pope Paul VI

Monday, July 9, 2012

Virgin of the Milk

You learn something new every day, the old adage goes. Unfortunately, most of the time we are not aware of having learned something new. But once in while, you learn something so new, it is like being a child again, full of awe and wonder at the world. Here is the new thing I learned yesterday, from Full of Grace by Judith Dupre:


The Virgin and Child before a Firescreen, ca. 1440, Robert Campin


"Devotion to the Virgo lactans ("lactating Virgin") appears in Western Europe in thirteenth-century devotional texts such as the Stimulus Amoris, where Mary's breast milk holds the same saving qualities as Christ's blood: 'Let me be worthy to drink the milk from her breast. Then I will mix the mother's milk with the son's blood and make for myself the sweetest of drinks.' In this way, the breastfeeding Virgin was traditionally associated with the Queen of Heaven, intercessor for the faithful, making Campin's painting all the more touching. The person who commissioned this painting would see the Queen of Heaven, not glorified among the angels and saints, but quietly nursing the Savior in a household much like his or her own."

There is an actual devotion to Mary's breastfeeding?!  I have been journaling on the topic of breastfeeding recently but had not decided when to start posting about it here. Clearly this painting and information was my sign that the time is now! Some readers might recall that what prompted me to pray to Mary for the first time in my life last fall was a night of insomnia, when I was full of anxiety about the plight of women, especially as relates to breastfeeding in society. I nursed my only child for a full 4 years before she began to ween. For La Leche League members, this type of extended breastfeeding is not unusual and is considered to be quite normal. But for most of American society, seeing a woman nursing her child is not something people are generally used to or comfortable with, even when the child is a newborn. I was met with a lot of tension and resistance in my own family of origin for my nursing practices. That night when I prayed to Mary, continuing strain over my mothering style was still an issue, and I was feeling depressed about the situation, although breastfeeding was no longer the problem of the day. When I prayed to Mary, I fell immediately asleep.

I don't know what prompted me to pray to her in the first place, but the next day she invited me to meet her at the Catholic Church in my town, where I discovered her Rosary garden, and she began that day to be my spiritual mother. I think it is going too far to say that her milk literally has the same saving qualities as Christ's blood, but I think that comment above is meant in a more poetic way. Christians throughout the ages have had mystical experiences with Mary's milk, and the contemplation of its spiritual implications could be truly edifying. I am going to continue to research this devotion to Our Lady of the Milk (Nuestra Senora de la Leche) . I'll leave you for now with this prayer:

Lovely Lady of La Leche, most loving mother of the Child Jesus, and my mother, listen to my humble prayer. Your motherly heart knows my every wish, my every need. To you only, His spotless Virgin Mother, has your Divine Son given to understand the sentiments which fill my soul. Yours was the sacred privilege of being the Mother of the Savior. Intercede with him now, my loving Mother, that, in accordance with His will, I may become the mother of other children of our heavenly Father. This I ask, O Lady of La Leche, in the Name of your Divine Son, My Lord and Redeemer. Amen.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Which Bible Do You Read?



Today I received the New American Bible (Official Catholic Bible) from Amazon.com. I already had a Bible--more than one, in fact. Why yet another version? Ah, that's exactly the reason--there are so many versions. Years ago I heard the advice given that one should read several translations of the Bible in order to get a clearer picture of the meaning. We English speaking folks often forget that the Bible was not written in English. Why does this matter? Well, for one thing, the original writers of the Bible were inspired by God, but it does not follow that this is the case with all translators. Also, there can be many valid translations, of varying literalism and accuracy of meaning.

Then you have meanings that are simply lost in translation, because English does not have an equivalent word or concept with which to translate the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. What we read in English is many times an inadequate approximation that cannot transfer the full flavor of the original into our native tongue. So you have those issues regardless. But then you have the fact of inaccurate revisions and tampering, and people go around quoting things from a Bible that may not really be a valid, reliable translation. And that's not even to mention the taking of a verse out of the context of its entire passage and the Bible as a whole, and without regard to authoritative interpretation. Strong words? Harsh? Maybe--but true nonetheless. This is all a matter of historical record, not a matter of personal opinion. So let's get on with it, shall we?

Long story short, the Catholic Church did all of the work to bring us the Bible as we know it today. Hundreds of books were sorted through and argued over to determine, by the guiding of the Holy Spirit, which were truly inspired by God. Some books were deemed good to read, valuable for their religious teaching and historical information, but nonetheless did not make the cut into the canon, or list of official books. These works (such as the Protoevangelium of James) are called apocryphal, and some of them reflect Church Tradition and so are used by Catholics. But again, they have never been part of the Bible.

These books are not the same as the group of 7 books called the "Apocrypha" by Protestants. As you can read in my other post on this subject, these 7 books (including Sirach and Wisdom) have always been considered canonical by Catholics (who again, I must emphasize, put the Bible into writing and are responsible for the fact that we have it at all). However, non-Christian Jews removed these portions from their holy book (what Christians call the Old Testament), for one reason because those books strongly uphold the belief in Jesus as the Messiah of prophesy. Protestant reformers adopted this version of the Old Testament that these non-Christian Jews used (albeit for different reasons)--an incomplete version.

Now, the New Testament contains all the same books in both Catholic and Protestant versions. Sort of.  *By 367 A.D., St. Athanasius of Alexandria published for the first time the definitive list, including all 27 books that we know today. In 419 the Second Council of Carthage again confirmed the canon, and Pope Boniface promulgated it officially. The New Testament as we know it today was then born. So as we see, Catholics determined the entire Bible. And all went well for a thousand years. But in 1546, the Council of Trent, prompted by a serious outbreak of heresy, had to remind everyone very clearly what was the Bible and what wasn't.

"Like the heretic Marcion before him, Martin Luther had decided that only he and Paul really understood Christ and, like Marcion, he frequently thought that he knew better than Paul. Luther translated the Bible himself, altering it substantially to suit his own views, and published it in parts between 1523 and 1534". (As I have mentioned before, if it were up to Luther and other reformers, the book of James and three others would no longer be part of the New Testament, because their teachings contradicted the new form of Christianity that Luther invented.) After that, various incompatible translations came thick and fast all over northern Europe.  [Johnson--reference below]

Henry VIII (famous for his beheadings) and Elizabeth I, for instance, each commissioned heavily revised Bibles to support their claim to be supreme head of the Chuch in England. Elizabeth asked her commissioners to use more "convenient terms and phrases" for those passages that were not edifying or were of offense to the monarchy's power. Elizabeth's successor James I produced the King James version, which also changed a number of crucial passages in both the Old and New Testaments. What a Biblical can of worms was opened by the Protestant Reformation!

Today, some of these unreliable versions have done a little backtracking, fixing up verses that were changed during the Reformation. The Catholic Church, for her part, continues to update her own translations, but she never strays from the original texts that she has so carefully kept since they were written, because, "...having been written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author"  [Vatican I].

The Catholic Church has consistently kept the deposit of faith and the Church that Jesus founded safe from heresy. All Christians owe the availability of Sacred Scripture to the Catholic Church and should be grateful for it. We have seen what happens when the Bible is edited (that is, changed against the original, God-inspired text) by men who wish it to reflect their own pre-conceived notions of the Christian faith rather than considering the teaching of the Church (and therefore Jesus). This is why the Tradition of the Church (the keeping of both oral and written teachings) is so important and why one cannot receive instruction from the Bible alone.

Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition act interdependently to give us the fullness and accuracy of our faith. One's own interpretations, though perhaps well-meaning, run the risk of  false teaching.  Think about this: The result of the break with the Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church, built upon the authority given to Peter by Jesus himself, has resulted in some 40,000 Protestant denominations, all of whom differ significantly in what they believe yet all claim to be Christian. What Bible do you read (and quote), and on whose authority?




*Some information in this post has been quoted and paraphrased from Why Do Catholics Do That?, by Kevin Orlin Johnson, PH.D.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Julian of Norwich & "Mother Christ"

Today I discovered Julian of Norwich, but at the moment I don't know what led me to her.  Little is known of the life of this Catholic mystic.  She was an English anchoress who lived from 1342 to c.1416.  Julian became gravely ill, and in a near-death experience had a vision from God and spent the next 20 years writing about it.  Her XVI Revelations of Divine Love is believed to be the first book written in English by a woman.  So why did I not learn of her in college as a student of English literature?  She was Catholic, and she was a woman.  I suppose those were two large strikes against her.

At any rate, I had remotely heard of Julian before.  Sarah Ban Breathnach quoted her in Simple Abundance:
"All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing shall be well" (according to Julian, God said this to her).  Famed 20th century poet T.S. Elliot even borrowed from Julian's writings.  Once again, odd to not have heard of her academically before!  Well, I ordered her book from the library, but for now let me give you a sampling I found online (http://www.luminarium.org/medlit/julianbib.htm).  Julian's theology of the Divine Mother is well-developed and echoes my own theology, which I have been recording here.  I will let it speak for itself for now, and undoubtedly Julian of Norwich is a topic to which we will return!


 Blessed Julian of Norwich


"Thus I saw that God rejoices that He is our Father, God rejoices that He is our Mother, and God rejoices that He is our true Spouse and that our soul is His beloved wife.  And Christ rejoices that He is our Brother, and Jesus rejoices that He is our Savior. (Ch. 52)

These virtues and gifts are treasured for us within Jesus Christ, for at that same time that God knitted Him to our body in the Maiden's womb, He assumed our fleshly soul…. Thus Our Lady is our Mother in whom we are all enclosed and out of her we are born in Christ (for she who is Mother of our Savior is Mother of all who shall be saved within our Savior). And our Savior is our true Mother in whom we are endlessly born and never shall come to birth out of Him. (Ch. 57)

Thus in our creation, God All Power is our natural Father, and God All Wisdom is our natural Mother, with the Love and the Goodness of the Holy Spirit —who is all one God, one Lord. And in the knitting and in the one-ing, He is our most true Spouse, and we are His beloved Wife and His fair Maiden. With this Wife He is never displeased, for He says: "I love thee and thou lovest me, and our love shall never be separated in two." (Ch. 58)

…the Second Person of the Trinity is our Mother in human nature in our essential creation.  In Him we are grounded and rooted, and he is our Mother in mercy by taking on our fleshliness. And thus our Mother is to us various kinds of actions (in Whom our parts are kept unseparated) for in our Mother Christ, we benefit and grow, and in mercy He redeems and restores us, and, by the virtue of His Passion and His death and resurrection, He ones us to our essence. In this way, our Mother works in mercy to all His children who are submissive and obedient to Him. (Ch. 58)

As truly as God is our Father, so truly God is our Mother. (And that He showed in all the showings, and particularly in those sweet words where he says "It is I" — that is to say" "It is I: the Power and the Goodness of the Fatherhood. It is I: the Wisdom of the Motherhood. It is I: the Light and the Grace that is all blessed Love. It is I: the Trinity. It is I: the Unity. I am the supreme goodness of all manner of things. I am what causes thee to love. I am what causes thee to yearn. It is I: the endless fulfilling of all true desires.") I understood three ways of looking at motherhood in God:  the first is the creating of our human nature;  the second is His taking of our human nature (and there commences the motherhood of grace); the third is motherhood of action (and in that is a great reaching outward, by the same grace, of length and breadth and of height and of depth without end)  and all is one love. (Ch. 59)

The mother can give her child such from her milk, but our precious Mother Jesus can feed us with Himself; and He does it most graciously and most tenderly with the Blessed Sacrament which is the Precious Food of true life. And with all the sweet Sacraments He supports us most mercifully and graciously. (Ch. 60)

This fair lovely word "mother" is so sweet and so kind in itself, that it can not truly be said of anyone nor to anyone except of Him and to Him who is true Mother of life and of all. To the quality of motherhood belongs natural love, wisdom, and knowledge — and this is God….The kind, loving mother who is aware and knows the need of her child protects the child most tenderly as the nature and state of  motherhood wills. And as the child increases in age, she changes her method but not her love. And when the child is increased further in age, she permits it to be chastised to break down vices and to cause the child to accept virtues and graces. This nurturing of the child, with all that is fair and good, our Lord does in the mothers by whom it is done. Thus He is our Mother in our human nature by the action of grace in the lower part, out of love for the higher part." (Ch. 60)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Holy Wisdom--Created or Uncreated?

Wisdom, as an attribute of God, is holy and eternal. And as I have discussed before, Wisdom as a spirit is the feminine aspect of the Second Person of the Trinity and is thus divine. (She is integral to each member of the Trinity.) Jesus is both the Word Incarnate and Wisdom Incarnate. But what of St. Augustine's idea that there is also a created Wisdom? This idea is intriguing, as it lends itself to the notion of an eternal spirit who is feminine only in nature. And the Bible does use the word "created" at times in reference to Wisdom. But having two Sophias seems too theologically complicated, and there is another possible explanation for Wisdom's close association to the natural world.

I have previously discussed that the word created can denote something of a birthing process, such as a work of art that is brought forth by divine inspiration. Also, some early Church fathers felt that "created" used in reference to Wisdom could not be meant in the strict sense of the word, because that would contradict references to Wisdom as divine and begotten by God. I think that what we have here, in keeping with the manifold nature of Sophia, is a feminine emanation of the Spirit of God. As I continue to maintain, Wisdom, the feminine aspect of God, is part and parcel of the Trinity, not a fourth person.

Remembering my triquetra symbol of the feminine aspect of God being at the heart of the Trinity, where the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit intersect, we can imagine the masculine aspect flowing into the center. The feminine aspect receives the masculine, then reflects God's power outward, into creation. It is the Virgin Spirit Sophia, divine emanation of the Holy Spirit, who is the aspect of God that dwells in creation, permeating all things. She is the Spirit of Earth, if you will, the World Soul. Mary is so strongly associated with Wisdom, because Wisdom is the link between God and creation, and Mary is the link between God and humanity. And in Mary dwells this same Sophia. (There is one aspect of Wisdom that one might say is created, which is to be found in the humanity of Jesus. The human nature of Jesus could be considered as created Wisdom. Yet Jesus' human and divine natures cannot be separated.)


 Emerson's World-Soul, by Frederic Edwin Church, El Rio de Luz (1877)


In our Catholic tradition we refer to Mary as Mother. She, our spiritual Mother in heaven, is human like us. We do not want to lose this profound existential truth by confusing her with God's maternal aspect. In Mary we want our focus to be on the mystery of the Incarnation. Mary is typically the one we call Mother in our religious devotion, so that we do not lose our minds trying to understand Jesus as having two mothers (not unlike trying to imagine two Wisdoms). Yet we can come to know God as Mother, Imma, by meditating on God's Wisdom, and through Mary experience God's motherly love.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Wisdom--Person or Personification?

Every time I think I have a theological question regarding the "gender" of God resolved, I get befuddled again by my continuous studies. In regard to the biblical Wisdom, there seems to be no definite answer. I took the question of the nature of Wisdom to my priest, who expressed that Wisdom is not a person/spirit, but rather an attribute of God and one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we receive at Confirmation. But he also said that he saw no problems with my theology of Wisdom as the feminine aspect at the heart of the Trinity, revealed through the Church and Mary.

Theologians over the centuries and into modern times have contemplated Sophia in the Wisdom books. Some see her only as a personification of an attribute of God. Some see her as the Logos, Son of God, and therefore she is divine. Others see her as a created spirit who is eternal. St. Augustine believed that there were two Wisdoms--one created and one uncreated.

The notes from the Catholic Bible on Sirach 1 say, "Wisdom: here the author speaks of true wisdom, namely God's external revelation of himself. Throughout the book he describes in great detail just what wisdom is; sometimes it is divine; sometimes it is a synonym for God's law; sometimes it is human. But the author makes clear that even human wisdom, properly understood, comes from God."

In no other instance is an attribute of God so personalized. Wisdom in the Old Testament may indeed prefigure Jesus, and so we see through her the feminine aspect of the Second Person of the Trinity, and we must in that case understand her as divine. For this reason some Church fathers argued that the word "created", which is at times used in reference to Sophia, cannot mean made in the strict sense of the word, as in the creation of the world, because that meaning would contradict other references to the begotten nature of Wisdom.

But is there additionally a created Wisdom? Such an idea might clear up some confusion on the one hand, while causing additional complications on the other. There are certainly multiple types of Wisdom, and indeed she is described as manifold. As an attribute of God, Wisdom is holy and eternal but is not a person. However, it seems sure that there is a Wisdom developed in the Bible as a divine, feminine spirit who is intimately linked to creation. A succinct summary of this theology is given in the caption for this Holy Wisdom icon by Zachary J. Roesemann:




He says, "The Holy Wisdom is one of the only ways traditional Christian art depicts a feminine aspect of God. Wisdom is mentioned several times in the Old Testament, always personified as a woman. The New Testament, in turn, teaches that Christ the Word is the Divine Wisdom. Icons therefore link the image of Sophia with the image of Christ to make clear that Holy Wisdom and the Word are two aspects of the same Person (my emphasis). This is further reinforced by the presence of Mary and John the Baptist, who appear in their traditional poses around the throne of Christ...Wisdom reveals that the transcendent mystery of God actually comes personally into our world. And we are reminded not to box God in through our language, but instead to rejoice in the many ways God manifests the Divine love for us."

And so today let us rejoice in our Wisdom Jesus!!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Marian Devotion--to Restore the Sacred Feminine



When I was a kid my mother was fond of questioning, "Is nothing sacred?"  At the time I didn't really get what she meant.  Now I want to live a sacramental life, a life rooted in the practice of Catholicism.  In Hebrew, the phrase the fear of the Lord means reverence for God, the practice of true religion.  The fear of the Lord is largely absent in our secular culture, even in some of our churches.

One element of the sacred that needs to be restored is the embracing of the holy feminine.  Christians, pagans, and members of all the great world religions are recognizing the connection between the absence of a divine feminine presence in our consciousness and how this has manifested in the destruction of "Mother Nature".  Women, and our Earth, who is characterized always in feminine terms, are raped and degraded.  The imbalances of an overly patriarchal culture are reeking the havoc of war, poverty, pollution, extreme climate change, species endangerment and extinction, environmental destruction, and a serious shortage of drinking water.  Much of our food is not safe to eat, nor our products safe to use.  These issues are the result of a lack of the sacred in everyday life in general, and in particular of a feminine image of holiness.  Also, the dignity of women and all of humanity is threatened, and the broken family is a distressingly common phenomenon.  People intuitively feel like they have been orphaned of a spiritual mother, although they may not be able to put a finger on what is missing in their lives.

As Christians, we need Mary to restore this balance.  But there are road blocks that get in the way of embracing a Marian devotion.  Some say the patriarchy took over the Church and kicked the divine feminine, once known as the Great Mother, out of religious practice.  This is absolutely true of much of Protestant Christianity.  And it is true that some comments and attitudes of the early Catholic Church fathers were misogynist, blaming all of the world's woes on Eve exclusively, and by extension, on women in general.  Well, they were flawed, human men of their times.  But they also contemplated the unique role of the Virgin Mary and grew more and more in awe of her and what God has done through her.  They elevated her place in the Church to a level of extreme veneration.  The Holy Spirit worked to reveal Mary to these men as the ever-virgin, Divine Mother, the Mother of God.  And all of the Church's Marian dogmas reflect the understanding of her human but divinized nature, by virtue of partaking of the divinity of her son.

The Catholic Church embraces a God whose nature and qualities are both masculine and feminine.  The revelation of this truth is limited by the language we use and our human understanding; however, God as Mother is revealed through the Church (Ecclesia) herself, which is always referred to as "she", the Bride of Christ and his Mystical Body.  Mary is the most eminent member of the Church and is loved and revered as spiritual Mother.

We could invoke God in ways that reflect both the paternal and maternal aspects by using inclusive titles, such as Father-Mother God, God of Motherly Wisdom, Abba Sophia, Abba Shekinah, Abba Imma, or neutral names like Creator.  There is nothing theologically wrong with any of these, and I think there is a place for their use, especially in private devotion.  But in keeping with the revelation given to us by Jesus, Sacred Scripture, and the Tradition of the Church, we can pray to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the usual way, and allow the feminine presence of God (Shekinah) to be experienced through a rich Marian devotion.  For in Mary dwells Holy Wisdom, in her face is reflected the maternal light of God.  In her arms we are comforted by our holy Mother, Queen of Heaven.  We are not making Mary an idol when we do this, or worshiping her as God.  We are rather experiencing the motherhood of God through her.  She is immanent, she is human like us, and she is all that we, both women and men, aspire to be as divinized human beings.

This blog will explore the practices of a deep Marian devotion, one that points us to Jesus, converts us to the ways of God and a holy, sacramental life, and shows us the beauty of the divine feminine, the Great Mother, She Who Is.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Wisdom Incarnate, Seat of Wisdom

I wish I had gotten a hold of a Catholic Bible sooner! I have a Bible with Apocrypha, but the Catholic Bible has those books in their original position in the Old Testament, not sequestered into a separate section. This does make a difference in the way these books are perceived, to see with my eyes where they fall in the official order. Today I borrowed one from the Church, and it has wonderful, explanatory footnotes. Now I have more insight into the Church's teachings on Sophia than before. Still, she seems to be yet hidden, so perhaps taking a little piece at a time, a clearer picture will develop.

The notes on Sirach 24:  "In this chapter Wisdom speaks in the first person, describing her origin, her dwelling place in Israel, and the reward she gives her followers. As in Proverbs 8, Wisdom is described as a being who comes from God and is distinct from him. While we do not say with certainty that this description applies to a personal being, it does foreshadow the beautiful doctrine of the Word of God later developed in St. John's Gospel (Jn 1, 1-14). In the liturgy this chapter is applied to the Blessed Virgin because of her constant and intimate association with Christ, the Incarnate Wisdom" (New American Bible).


Our Lady Seat of Wisdom by David Myers

So the Church seems to have left the exact nature of Sophia open, perhaps for future, official clarification. The traditions and dogma pertaining to Mary have set the stage. Let us then consider the titles of Christ and Mary in association with Wisdom; that is, Jesus is known as Wisdom Incarnate, and the Blessed Mother as the Seat of Wisdom. It may seem strange to imagine Jesus as Sophia, but He is, quite naturally, the Incarnation of Wisdom, if we consider my previous discussions on the nature of Wisdom and her integral relationship to the Holy Trinity. The Eternal Wisdom is the inner sanctuary of the Trinity. She is part and parcel of each member, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In fact, according to the introduction to the Wisdom Books in the Catholic Bible I am using, "The highest wisdom became identified with the spirit of God through which the world was created and preserved (Prv 8, 22-31), and mankind was enlightened."  As my intuition and studies have lead me to believe, Holy Wisdom is intimately linked with the Holy Spirit, and is perhaps in a mystical way one and the same. By the power of this Holy Wisdom Spirit, Jesus became man.

Sophia incarnated as the feminine aspect of God the Son, in the person of Jesus. As God, Jesus contains all of the feminine perfections of God within Him, while in human form being specifically male. If this is so, if Jesus is Sophia Incarnate, why do we need to look to Mary as an embodiment of Wisdom, the purely human one in whom Sophia most completely dwells?

First of all, as we have discussed, the nature of Wisdom in God is hidden, mysterious. We can--and do--see her expressed in Jesus. Yet Jesus is a He, and He does not have a womb. He cannot be Mother in His incarnate form. The metaphor that his Word is spiritual milk can only be understood on the basis of our human experience of the child nourished at the breast of the mother. This nourishment is not only physical. The comfort provided in the arms of the mother feeds the child emotionally and spiritually. To be suckled at the breast is to be provided with food for the whole person, for every kind of wellness. The Holy Spirit is the Divine Comforter who Jesus sends after His Ascension.

Jesus said he would not leave us orphans. In other words, not only are we not left fatherless, but we are not left motherless. He gave us His own mother, Mary, from the cross, and again at Pentecost, as she was once more filled with the power of the Spirit, and with Wisdom. At Pentecost--the beginning of the Church--Jesus was mystically reborn within Mary. The Mother is eternally pregnant with and giving birth to the Son.


 The Icon of Sophia, the Wisdom of God (Kiev)


Mary is the Divine Mother. This is the official teaching of the Church. And her Immaculate Conception, Assumption, and Crowning as Queen of Heaven are also dogma. These point unequivocally to her nature as divinized human, by virtue of her Son. We see and know the motherly aspect of God most clearly through the woman who bore and suckled the Son of God, the woman with her womb and breasts, who gives the soft comfort of a mother's arms. Through Mary the hidden quality of Sophia is revealed.

Now let's look at the word, seat. The first dictionary definition given is, "a special chair of one in eminence; also: the status represented by it."  Jesus is Wisdom Incarnate, and Mary's lap then, literally, is the Seat of Wisdom. Another definition of seat is "a place from which authority is exercised." Also, "a bodily part in which some function is centered."  So from here we can extrapolate many modes of meaning.

Wisdom was centered in the womb of Mary physically when she conceived Jesus and continues to be on the spiritual plane of existence. Holy Wisdom centers the essence of her divine being in the person of Mary by virtue of indwelling (ie, "Wisdom has built her house", Proverbs 9). Jesus holds court, or wields His authority, in connection, both physically and mystically, with His Mother. Mary is gebirah, Queen Mother. She is the royal seat upon which her Son, the King, sits. In her title, Seat of Wisdom, Mary is understood as a temple or throne.

God allowed himself to need humanity by humbling himself as a child dependent upon His mother for His life and survival. He did this so that we might abide in Him, and He in us, in an integral relationship of Love (See John's Gospel). The branches give shape to what the vine is; the vine is the base of life, support, and growth for the branches. Neither makes sense without the other, so this biblical metaphor illustrates the reciprocal relationship of God to humanity and humanity to God.

Mary contained Wisdom in her womb, cradled Wisdom in her arms and on her lap, suckled Wisdom at her breast, and continues to be the Seat of Wisdom, that place from which Holy Wisdom is centered and dwells.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Rosary Miracle



Mother's Day weekend my daughter, Beezy, and I attended a mother-daughter banquet at church. Among the gifts for the little girls was a pink rosary with plastic beads held together by string, and a felt pouch in which to keep it. Beezy also already had a chain rosary with red beads, and she kept both in the pouch under her pillow at night. After a bout with the stomach flu last week involving numerous puking episodes, her dad put the bedding in the wash on hot. He did not realize until after drying it that he had inadvertently washed the rosaries.

The chain had come apart on the red rosary, but it was going to be fixable. This was a relief, because it was a vintage rosary given to her by our priest to replace her very first rosary, which had been purchased at the church book sale and blessed by him, but then had broken shortly after. The pink rosary was another story. The two were tangled together, and the strings of the pink one had become seriously frayed and undone. It looked like a mess and was obviously ruined. I was sad, since we had so much enjoyed the mother-daughter banquet, and this was a special memento of the day. I lovingly cut the strings to extricate the chain rosary, and set about repairing it with pliers and my fingernails.

Once finished with the red rosary, I picked up the pink one, thinking I would just have to throw it away. But for some reason I decided to untangle it first. As I went along, a strange feeling overcame me, and at last I realized that the rosary was completely intact. It was as if I had never cut it, as if it had never gone through the washing machine at all! I was holding the cut threads in my hand, yet there was nothing missing from the rosary, no place that was frayed or unraveled. It was perfect. The handmade, felt pouch had also come through without any sign of damage.

What does this mean? It means whatever it means to you. For me, the message is that what has been severed will be restored. What has been broken will be made whole, even if I have cut it apart with my own hands. My prayers will be answered. The circle of roses is forever unbroken. For with God nothing is impossible.