Monday, January 23, 2012

The Mother of My Lord

When I pray the Hail Mary, I sometimes replace "Mother of God" with the phrase, "Mother of my Lord," which comes directly from the Bible. I have often come across in my Marian studies the assertion that the first part of the Hail Mary is biblical and should not present a problem to Protestants. It is the second part, it is feared, that crosses the line. I have discussed this in more detail in a previous article. Using the title Mother of My Lord accomplishes two things: it sets the second part of the Hail Mary more strongly in biblical tradition, and it reflects the personal nature of my relationship with Mary. I don't have any issue with the theologically valid title "Mother of God," but at times I prefer the more intimate title that Elizabeth gives Mary in the Visitation scene in the Gospel of Luke. Elizabeth exclaims, "Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb!"

I attended a candlelight Christmas Eve service at my grandparents' United Methodist Church, and curiously, the pastor began his scripture readings with the Visitation rather than the Annunciation. His reading brought tears to my eyes. This Christmas Eve service typically consists of bible readings and the singing of hymns, with no actual sermon. The pastor did not comment on the passage. He did not explain its meaning. He just let it stand on its own, leaving us to ponder these mysterious events, allowing the attention given to Mary to shine forth, and he read her entire Magnificat, in which she sings, "My soul magnifies the Lord" and "Every generation shall call me blessed." Mary's song places her in the role of prophetess. Based on the Visitation scene alone, Protestants should have no issue with honoring Mary deeply as "the mother of my Lord." I heard in the pastor's voice that night a tone of reverence as he read this passage.

This experience gave me pause. God's indispensable role for Mary in his plan of salvation was so evident to me, without any explanations, overemphasis, bells, whistles, grandiose poetry or exalted titles that I began to wonder if I could not, indeed, be quite comfortable as a Marian Protestant, rather than feeling that in order to "have" Mary, I would need to convert to Catholicism. It has seemed in my quest to know Mary that in order to experience her spiritual presence in a church setting, it would be mandatory for me to force myself to believe in purgatory, confession to a priest, transubstantiation, worship of the Eucharist, and Mary's perpetual virginity. But when I reflect on how I came to know her, it was to her Rosary Garden that she called me, not to a Catholic mass. It was in her presence in nature that we communed. All I had to do was call to her, and she answered, immediately.

While Mary has mediated between humans and Jesus both in the Bible and in her appearances up to modern times, for me the nature of her intercession is as a spiritual mother, mediating God's maternal love and revealing his feminine face. She has always pointed us to her son. It was through her that God mediated his grace by virtue of making her the mother of his Son. Asking her to pray for us, talking to her in this role of mediation, and enjoying a very personal relationship with and deep devotion to her seems to me entirely Christological.

While I am heartened by recent Protestant attention toward Mary and the reasons we should call her blessed, so far what I have read on the subject lacks acknowledgment of any Protestant possibility of knowing Mary as "The Mother of My Lord" and embracing her as their own mother. Catholic writings, on the other hand, are often so passionate and loving. That's it exactly; they love Mary. They know her intimately. They don't worship her as God, but they understand her through the eyes of love and sonship, rather than honoring her from only a theological/literal/biblical perspective. They don't just venerate Mary because they feel they should, but because it is the most natural response of a child to his mother.

If I ultimately choose membership in a Protestant church, I think I could assert my Marian devotions as both biblical and spiritually essential to my Christian walk, and I think I could teach my child my personal Mariology in a way that should not contradict the church's teachings. Emphasizing that all churches have their own, unique interpretations, and individual Christians have theirs as well, would go a long way toward Christian inclusiveness, love, and respect. Shying away from affirmation of the sacred feminine in the Protestant churches for fear of "Mariolatry" will leave us stuck in a dominantly patriarchal and unsatisfying spirituality that simply doesn't work, even if people do not know precisely what is missing. I have been there, and now I know, and it's thanks to the intercession of Mary, praise be to God.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


In my article "The Mother of My Lord," I had basically determined to "have" Mary while remaining Protestant, convincing myself that I could practice Marian devotions at home while worshiping in a church that doesn't acknowledge them. Then the very next day that prospect seemed like madness! What happened? I think that by giving myself permission to be devoted to Mary within the Protestant tradition, I opened myself up to a full Catholic conversion. There is more to Catholicism than Mary, but she is integral to understanding the faith and practicing it.

A series of events that day lead me in this new direction. First, I had searched the internet for Eastern Orthodox churches and their beliefs. They "have" Mary too, but I would have to drive over an hour to attend one of their churches. They have Sunday school, but can one really be part of a church home so far away? Still, they don't believe in purgatory, so that seemed promising. But they also don't pray the Rosary, and I just love the Rosary.

Next, I sat down and did some reading from a Catholic For a Reason series book on the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. Also, another book came in at the library from this series that day. Truthfully, I have learned more about the Bible through Catholicism than I ever have in Protestant churches. This makes sense, since the Catholic Church is responsible for putting the Bible together in the first place! I began to realize that I would miss being Catholic. Catholics love Mary. Do I really want, in my heart of hearts, to sit in a church that doesn't love Mary as Mother? I do not.

Perhaps the clincher came in the evening, when I heard this on youtube, from
"The Holy Trinity chose this woman from all eternity, and you think she's just some door into earth... This one beautiful thought alone, that she existed in the heart of God, closer to God than any other creature from all time--that should be so deeply moving that somebody would want to become Catholic immediately just on that thought alone." And my soul sang out, "Yes!"

Even before I heard that, I read something on the internet about the Protestant belief in "total depravity," that humans are entirely lacking in holiness and are in fact inherently evil due to the Fall. Luther described the human soul as a pile of dung that is covered over by snow. In opposition to total depravity is the Catholic doctrine that people are inherently good!  These two things together, the veneration of Mary and the teaching of the essential goodness of humanity, must place me squarely on the Catholic side. Like I stated in my previous article, belief comes first, and then understanding. I learned from my dad not to do things "half-assed" (love this phrase of his!) and to "shit, or get off the pot." My dad is right.

I will not be able to begin my process of Catholic initiation officially until September, but my daughter will start her religious education classes tonight! As it looks now, the path is leading to the Catholic Church, calling me home.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Mary, Better Than a Goddess

Definitions from Webster's Collegiate Dictionary as used in this article:

incarnation:  (1) the embodiment of a deity or spirit in some earthly form; (2) cap the union of divinity with humanity in Jesus Christ

indwell:  to exist within as an activating spirit, force, or principle

centered:  placed or fixed at or around a center or central area or position; gathered at a center; concentrated

The previous article discussed Thomas Schipflinger's thesis that Mary is the incarnated Holy Wisdom (Sophia), that in fact Mary's soul is one and the same with this created spirit. I have been inclined to believe this theory, but upon deeper contemplation, I find that an amendment must be made in order for the relationship between Mary and Sophia to remain within the teachings of the Christian tradition. A distinction must be made between the Incarnation, which describes the divine Son of God, or Logos, as the human being Jesus, and the indwelling of Sophia in the person of Mary. For Mary must have an entirely human soul in order for God's plan of salvation through Jesus' death and resurrection to take effect.

The Catholic church has demonstrated the close connection between Mary and Sophia by way of using verses from the Old Testament Wisdom tradition in celebrations of Marian feast days; but a precise theology of this relationship, to my knowledge, has never been worked out in a way that would legitimately place it squarely within Catholic tradition. In the Wisdom books, Sophia has been known to dwell within holy people, and she was commanded by God to make her home in "Jacob", or the people of Israel. It is my belief that she eventually centered herself specifically in Mary. In the New Testament in Ephesians 3, Wisdom is described as being of infinite variety, to be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms through the church. Mary, as the Mother and type of the church, while not the only expression of Sophia, embodies her fullest expression. Mary's soul is not of the same essence as Sophia, as Schipflinger argues, as Mary's soul is specifically human. Mary is Mary. However, we find in Mary the indwelling of Sophia, who is centered in Mary. 

The idea of Sophia as an emanation of the Holy Spirit dwelling within Mary explains the way in which Mary is understood as a channel of the Holy Spirit by Catholics such as George Montague, the author of Our Father, Our Mother, and as revealing the feminine face of God and his maternal love. It is also helpful to look through the lens of Jungian psychology, in which all humans are understood to have within them both the masculine and feminine principles. Obviously, in men the masculine principle is more pronounced, and within women, the feminine principle. But each person is a spiritually whole image of God. Similarly, each person of the Trinity can also be understood this way, with the Father also containing the Mother, and the Son also containing the Daughter. I believe that the Holy Spirit is primarily feminine but also contains the masculine principle (see Holy Wisdom in the Trinity for a progression on these thoughts). Sophia, though, is specifically a feminine aspect/spirit. Within this theology is the veneration of Mary as hyperdulia, with no danger of equating Mary to the level of God.

Continuing in the Jungian tradition, I would like to look at Jung's idea of the mythological archetype, or highest example of a particular quality, pattern, or personification of a type of being. I see in Mary the archetype, or highest example, of the "triple goddess", represented mythologically as maiden-mother-crone. We see Mary in all three roles of womanhood in the Bible. She is the virgin handmaid of the Lord in the Annunciation story of Luke, she is the mother who gives birth to and raises Jesus, the Son of God, and she is the wise, fully mature woman at the foot of the cross and present in the Upper Room at Pentecost with the disciples of Jesus in the Book of Acts, following the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, when the Holy Spirit descends upon them. Mary is not a goddess; she is better. She is the complete fulfillment of God's Wisdom in an exclusively human person, and this person is a woman, who Jesus himself refers to as "Woman" in her most glorious form--his very own mother, and ours.

*(I have continued to explore the nature of Sophia, who may be seen as God's eternal Wisdom, who emanates from God and is brought forth, or fathered by Him, rather than created in the way we think of the earth and the beings inhabiting this planet. See later posts for the continuing discussion...)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Mother of the Maize

She rises from the corn--
Silken hair wrapped around golden, dreaming teeth
rows of endless, spiraling beginnings,
and endings, and journeys built on fire--

She is the flame of sun beating down on the field,
pushing through her womb, begging
grow grow grow my sweet children of the corn!

What joy the rain she sends
thundering in her pivotal dance
cracking the sky open, scattering
the seeds

In my Wisdom all is born,
all dies renews and lives,
all bears fruit and the
righteous is the poor man
plowing the field, setting the
seeds into my blood and bones

Mercy, I am Mother!

I am the tall stalks dancing;
a breathing field of butterflies singing
Holy, Holy, Holy--

I live in mud and form
the footprints of the eternal;
where I am buried under I
poke through the cracks and become
a strange flower in cement cities
and plastic porches

Stare into my eyes, if you can,
without blinking--

Thursday, January 5, 2012


In Sophia-Maria: A Holistic Vision of Creation, author Thomas Schipflinger summarizes his thesis as follows:
"The point of view expressed in this book is that Sophia as She is described in the Old Testament is created (as indicated by Prov. 8,22). She is the beginning of creation, the Soul of the World and creation's final goal, i.e. Omegarcha. She is the image of the maternal Holy Spirit, which is the feminine principle of the Holy Trinity. She incarnated in Mary and became the Mother of Jesus Christ and the Mother of the Church in order to assist the Logos with the plan of salvation for humanity and the world (just as She had assisted with the world's creation.)" [*I would add here that the word "created" is not used in all translations and when used seems to have varying shades of meaning, so I have continued to explore the nature of Sophia in later posts.]

The idea that the Holy Spirit is feminine is an ancient one, and intuitively I have understood this for some time, but it has been argued that Mary could not have conceived of Jesus by a female spirit. When I read Luke 1:35 myself, I received a revelation in the text that I thought was original, but then I found my theory echoed  by Schipflinger. We both recognize two divine principles reflected in this passage: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; for that reason the holy child to be born will be called 'Son of God.'" The Holy Spirit is the receptive, feminine principle who comes upon Mary, preparing and strengthening her to receive the active, male principle referred to as "the power of the Most High."

The divine feminine and masculine come together in Mary to conceive Jesus. Furthermore, I intuit that Sophia, who dwells in Mary (my belief) and mirrors God's power and glory (according to scripture), is the Primordial Mother, the spiritual "glue" that helps make this conception in the flesh possible. Whether Sophia dwelled in Mary from the moment of her own conception, or whether this occurred when the Holy Spirit came upon her I'm not sure. However, Gabriel calls Mary "full of grace" before Jesus is conceived, possibly implying that the pure, Virgin Spirit Sophia was already present. Identification of the Virgin Mary with Sophia is most thoroughly developed within the traditions of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, though Catholicism links Mary as an embodiment of Sophia as well, just not to such a literal degree.

But doesn't this theology do exactly what Protestants accuse Catholics of doing, and which Catholics are vehement in denying--that is, to elevate Mary to the level of goddess? Oh, that word! People seem to metaphorically run screaming at even the idea of goddess, conjuring images of ritual sex and dancing naked around a fire, out of control and daring to imagine God as Mother. Yet we have already covered the ground of understanding that the metaphor Father is meant to be inclusive of the feminine.

In In Search of Mary: The Woman and the Symbol, author Sally Cunneen refers to the popular folk piety of the Medieval era, describing the mingling of Mary and the mother goddess, using pre-Christian symbols, such as this gypsy version of a folk ballad:
   And carry home your ripened corn,
   That you've been sowing this day...
   And keep Christ in your remembrance
   Till the time comes round again.

Cunneen writes, "Emphasis on the Mother and her Son rather than the Father who was in heaven reflects a degree of continuity in iconography between Mary and earlier goddesses whose functions she now assumed." In other words, the common, peasant people living close to the land intuitively recognized in the story of Jesus and Mary echoes of more ancient forms of religion with which they were accustomed and which were embedded in the collective unconscious. The idea of an all male God did not reflect their experience as humans created in the image of God and their deep connectedness to the earth. As Christians literally replaced the shrines of goddesses with chapels dedicated to Mary, Mary came to be understood as the sacred feminine, the Divine Mother of God the Son, with Jesus and Mary representing in real, human form the mythologies with which the peasants were familiar. This spirituality worked within the context of their lives, experiences, and inner needs.

Catholic artist Meinrad Craighead, known for her Crow Mother paintings, "has absorbed earlier ecclesiological imagery, as well as many of the attributes of pre-Christian worship of the Goddess, into a distinctive Christian spirituality...She shares with many women a need for the feminine divine, which they do not find mediated in mainstream religion. Despite its hierarchical structure, the Catholic church offers great latitude to individuals and groups to focus on different aspects of the divine reality in their private devotions, and to select those most helpful to their spiritual growth." (Cunneen)

Craighead's "vision is a fruitful reintegration of authentic pagan spirituality into a developed Christian consciousness. She reaches back to primeval awareness of the divine feminine and reintegrates it within a humble, communal Christianity of which Mary is the chief representative." (Cunneen)

Can this reintegration be accomplished? It seems that artistic and poetic vision, like that of Craighead, must lead the way. Focusing solely on the written scripture leads to a limited, dry, and very often controversial view of the Judeo-Christian tradition, with myriad interpretations by various denominations being claimed as the only, possible truth. Perhaps to further the moral and ethical teachings of Hebrew monotheism, the role of the sacred feminine was thrown out in what was perceived to be a necessary step. Sometimes radical measures are taken to affect change, and the pendulum swings too far in one direction. I am deeply indebted to the Catholic church and the Catholic writers who have introduced me to the honoring and veneration of Mary and her reflection of the feminine face of God. At the same time, there is still a certain air of caution always on the wind, not to raise her too high, and not to proclaim directly and out loud that God is as much Mother as Father. Well, there, I said it.

I will keep reading on the topic of Mary, and studying the Bible, and endeavoring to integrate the sacred feminine with the sacred masculine, within the Christian tradition. I would not have it otherwise. I think I have reached a point in this journey where spiritual practice, prayer, and meditation, incorporating devotion into the whole fabric of life, must be fully entered into, beyond the literal placing of various pieces into the puzzle so that it makes logical sense. Belief comes first, then understanding follows. Perhaps the Catholic Church has unintentionally limited the mystery of Mary and the Incarnation of Jesus by too narrowly defining every teaching, with no varying interpretations allowed (ie. the issue of perpetual virginity). Then again, perhaps there is yet some room, at least within the area of private devotions. Protestants have for the most part overlooked Mary entirely. Even in the modern effort to reevaluate her role in salvation and give her higher honor, there is certainly no theology being developed regarding Mary's full spiritual presence, as is found in Catholiscim. For my part, it is time to boldly go, to seek a brave new world.