Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Holy of Holies

I am interested right now in the Holy of Holies and its relationship to Jesus' mission and mystical connection to his mother, Mary. The Holy of Holies was the inner sanctuary of the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, in Jerusalem in the Hebrew Bible. The Ark of the Covenant, which held the Ten Commandments given to Moses, was kept there during the First Temple. Only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies, the Most Holy Place, once a year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, to offer the blood sacrifice and incense before the mercy seat. It is significant that the Holy of Holies was hidden by a veil, and that this veil was torn at the time of Jesus' crucifixion.

by A.L. Gardere

In the wilderness, on the day that the Tabernacle was first raised up, the cloud of the Lord (Shekinah) covered the Tabernacle. There are other times that this was recorded, and instructions were given that the Lord would appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat with its two statues of cherubim, and at that time the priests should not enter into the Tabernacle (Leviticus 16:2). Upon completion of the dedication of the Tabernacle, the Voice of God spoke to Moses "from between the Cherubim" (Numbers 7:89). [Information on the Holy Holies has been paraphrased from Wikipedia.]

With respect to my using the triquetra symbol to visualize the nature of God, we can think in terms of an outer court, which contains the masculine principle, the Lord, and an inner court, which contains the feminine principle, Lady Wisdom. I am understanding the Holy of Holies to mystically represent the intersection of these two principles, which is reflected in the bridal chamber of the Song of Songs in the Old Testament. The Beloved (the groom) and the Shulamite (the bride), symbolize God's relationship with his Sophia, Jesus' marriage to Ecclesia (the Church), and the mystical union of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, where the "glory cloud" presence of God (Shekinah) dwells. Human marriage between a man and a woman most perfectly represents the union of the masculine and feminine principles within God.


Jesus came to restore humanity and the human soul to the family of God, and to reconcile the masculine to the feminine in the unity of Pure Love. In the Old Testament, Israel (God's people) was compared to an unfaithful wife who God brings back to himself. In the Book of Revelation in the New Testament, Daughter Zion is seen in heavenly glory as the New Jerusalem, representing the redeemed people, God's bride.

The teachings of Jesus, the Bible, and the Church are available to us as the "pearl of great price" which is hidden until the right time (like the Holy of Holies behind the veil), for those who have "eyes to see" and "ears to hear."  Jesus' saving act tears the veil. The way of Wisdom, which I believe is reflected in this understanding of the unity represented by the Holy of Holies, leads to this pearl. When the Ark of the Covenant, which had long been lost, is seen in Revelation in God's Temple in heaven, there is revealed the great sign, the woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She is in labor to give birth to the most holy male child, who is taken by God and seated at his right hand, saved from the ancient serpent waiting to devour him. This woman is simultaneously Mary, Queen of Heaven; the Church, Bride of Christ; Daughter Zion, the New Jerusalem--who, with her divine Son, represents the restoration of the people to God and his Wisdom.

Mary is thus understood as Mother of Jesus, Daughter of God the Father, and Bride/Sanctuary of the Spirit. The Incarnation of Jesus in her womb is the Holy of Holies, the Most Holy Place.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What Is Mysticism?

 Joan of Arc

Maternal Indigo chronicles my personal, spiritual journey, particularly as relates to the path along which I am joining the Catholic Church. It is a journey that analyzes what has gone before, my past beliefs, and the ongoing evolution of my religious thinking and experiences, with a particular slant toward the mystical. But what, exactly, is mysticism, and what does it mean to be a mystic? When we think of mystics, Joan of Arc or Hildegard of Bingen may come to mind, or poets such as William Blake. But what about "ordinary" people like you and me? Can we also lead a mystical life? My belief is that if this is so desired, then certainly it can be.

In a general sense, mysticism can be a belief in or experience of a reality surpassing normal human experience, especially perceived as essential to the nature of life. It can be understood as the transcendentalism of Emerson's "transparent eyeball" and be marked by "peak experiences", otherwise known as a state of "flow". For Emerson this translated as a stream-of-consciousness style of writing. Self-consciousness melts away, and the human becomes one with the universe. This type of experience may occur as an artist paints, a poet writes, a dancer performs, or a gardener pulls weeds. Meditation is often used to achieve this state of unity with all of creation. It is the detachment or nonattachment described by great spiritual thinkers from various traditions. In a creative endeavor, the artist seems to be divinely inspired, and the resulting work is a collaboration between human will and a higher power. I have had many such mystical experiences of a creative nature.

In Christian theology, mysticism is a system of contemplative prayer and spirituality aimed at achieving direct unitive experience of the divine. It is an immediate consciousness of the transcendent or ultimate reality of God. In some cases, awareness of the presence of God rather than union with Him is the reality. This was the case for me when, at the age of 8, God called me to be baptized while attending Sunday school, a message I heard directly in my head. A similar experience occurred last fall when God called me to the Catholic Church for a meeting with the Virgin Mary, where her presence and message were mystically made known to me.

Visions and miracles are other types of mystical experiences. Hence the inner voices telling Joan of Arc to lead an army and the special knowledge she received to prove the message was from God, the apparitions to Bernadette by the Virgin Mary at Lourdes and subsequent spiritual and physical healings, and Hildegard's and Jane Leade's personal visions of the Virgin Spirit Sophia. The only possible test of authenticity from a Christian perspective is personal transformation, both on the mystic's part and upon the part of those whom the mystic has affected. The Catholic Church has strict criteria for deciding upon the authenticity of an apparition of the Virgin Mary, for example. Has conversion taken place? Are the fruits of the visions good and holy? Have others been lead to God as a result of the visions and miracles?

 Our Lady of Lourdes by SakuraHaze

Mysticism inspires a sense of mystery and wonder. What was once obscure, strange, and enigmatic is divinely revealed. Sometimes a mystical experience is a purposeful goal, while at other times the peak experience occurs accidentally, as it were, while washing one's hair or chopping vegetables for a soup. Often a repetitive ritual of a physical nature engages the logical left brain so that the creative processes of the right brain have a chance to be released. Inspiration means a state of being filled with the spirit. A combination of study, prayer, and meditation, or the carrying out of some routine task, or becoming lost in a creative endeavor, may bring about the presence of Holy Wisdom; and suddenly one understands, a hidden meaning is disclosed,  and the "ah" moment when we see into the nature of God and existence is reflected in our own souls.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Blog Management and Comment Policy

Just like with any other endeavor, learning how to best manage a blog is a matter of trial and error. There are plenty of etiquette tips out there, and one good suggestion I came across is to establish a comment policy. Negative comments are, unfortunately, a likelihood, so setting down how you will deal with them is important. First of all, the general consensus is to allow dissenting views. I agree with this, but I also think boundaries are necessary to maintain a professional quality blog. Personal attacks do not belong on either the blog page or in its comments. Regardless of how carefully you try to word the views you are expressing via your blog, you cannot control what may offend another person.

I recommend regularly editing your blog content to best reflect your theme in a nonconfrontational manner, without watering down your posts and thus interfering with the integrity of your writing. Say what you have to say clearly and succinctly. Specific examples are more effective than generalized comments, so complete anonymity is not possible, nor should your readers expect it, if you are writing about your own life. It is a delicate balance, and only the continued experience of writing will achieve the desired results. Be as careful as you can with the tone of your blog, while understanding that the tone you intend and how a reader takes it may not be the same. The tone of the comments you allow should also be respectful and polite. So here is my policy:

1. My blog is my space, and I have the right to moderate all comments before choosing to post or not to post. All comments have been placed on the moderation setting, to be previewed before potential posting.
2. Polite, respectful differences of opinion will be allowed, but  no personal attacks or attacks against any group of people, foul language, or comments of a nature that I deem inappropriate for whatever reason will be published. 
3. Only blog members will be able to comment. I have experienced cases of people I personally know using fake names in order to start arguments and personally attack me, so this policy calls for a higher level of accountability by the commenter.
4. While I post blog links to Facebook to extend readership, I prefer comments to be made at the blog website itself, where they can be moderated. My feeling is that negativity and comments of a personal nature, as well as extended conversations and arguments, creates an unprofessional atmosphere.
5. I reserve the right to delete any comments from my Facebook wall, with no explanation.
6. Comments most likely to be published are those in reflection of the specific content of the post, rather than judgments upon me personally. I welcome opinions on the work itself.
7. My blog falls in the literary genre of the personal essay, and therefore is a work of creative nonfiction, not to be expected to be entirely factual like a newspaper article. My posts are opinion pieces from my personal perspective on a particular theme, reflecting my own experiences and supported at times by professional or factual information. A balanced approached to possible sides of any issue is not to be expected. Comments should reflect an understanding of this nature of the blog.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Mystic Path

Catholic Mystic, Hildegard of Bingen

One of my favorite books is Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics. The author attempts to provide a view of the lives of various people who are nonconformists in many ways, whose interior, spiritual life, to greater or lesser degrees, takes precedence over the signals modern society deems necessary for success--money, material goods, power, a high profile career. The monks and mystics this book describes do not live in monasteries or convents, but they do have some things in common with those who do. Their lives are relatively simple; they often require little money, because they have drastically pared down their material needs; they are socially transcendent; and in the case of mystics, they are also self-transcendent, and their overriding goal is union with God.

In all cases, these otherwise "ordinary" people experienced a stage of growth in which they had to pull away in some respects from others and focus inward. They were compelled to reorient themselves toward individual authenticity and re-evaluate what was most important and necessary to personal happiness. "Fitting in" to society was no longer important, and they let go of feeling socially obligated to spend time doing things that did not contribute to their spiritual calling. Small talk no longer held their interest.

Eventually after the period of withdrawal, the monk or mystic would be renewed and feel compelled to return to society the fruits of his or her isolation. Even if he lived alone in the woods, this person would perhaps have an Ebay business in which to sell his hand crafts, or he would publish his poetry. Or the business executive who seemed to live a conventional life might spend a great deal of time practicing yoga or meditating or finding ways to make his business more environmentally sustainable, honest, or helpful to a greater number of people. A feeling of union with others, rather than separation, would prevail.

Mystics such as the visionaries of Medjugorje, who were teenagers when they began to receive visitations and messages from the Virgin Mary, would spend several hours a day at mass and in prayer. We may not have time to be such outwardly devoted mystics. But the housewife who dedicates her day to the care of her home and family, who lives simply and prepares home cooked meals, may be no less contemplative than those Yugoslavian visionaries.

I would like to continue to discuss what it means to be a mystic and the price associated with such a calling, which may lead others to wondering and worrying about a person who lives such an unconventional life as this. Friends and family may wonder about the "sudden" (though it usually is not) change. Have you become a religious fanatic? What is wrong with eating meat? Are you starved for attention? Why don't you want to go to this party or that family gathering? Are you depressed? Are you anti-social? Why don't you read the newspaper? Are you trying to avoid the "real world"?

Or is it, rather, that finding the Real World is exactly your mission?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Apologetics and Revisiting Ecumenism

Our Lady's Maronite Catholic Church

In a previous article I discuss ecumenism and a "take what you like and leave the rest" approach to religion based on the practices of 12 Step programs. In light of coming further along with my studies of the Catholic faith, I would like to return to this topic now. I have come upon the phrase, "cafeteria Catholic", which describes making a hodge podge selection of which Catholic teachings one chooses to follow and which to ignore. I still believe that bickering over details regarding Christian beliefs and practices is not pleasing to God, but knowing what you believe, and why, and standing up for your faith is important. The Bible says we should always be prepared to defend the hope that is in us. In Catholicism, this is called apologetics. This does not mean that one apologizes for being Catholic, but rather explains the tradition.

Because, by Catholic admission, many people have been poorly catechized (learned the specifics of what the church teaches), especially in the wake of the confusion after Vatican II, it is important for all Catholics and those entering the Church, such as myself, to be properly educated. Not doing so results in misunderstandings, such as that Catholics worship Mary, the saints, and statues. It is how the faith is defended, the attitude in which it is done, that is of concern as well.

If the Catholic Church is who she says she is, the very Church that Jesus Christ founded, and the pope and bishops are directly traceable back to the 12 apostles, and if the teaching of this Church is infallible (the official teaching, not the people themselves), then a Catholic must uphold all articles of faith, dogma, and traditions of the Church to be in union with Christ and the Church. That includes the teaching on birth control, homosexuality, abortion, and other controversial issues. This does not mean that we judge others if they don't follow the Church's teaching on matters such as these, or that we should hate anyone for believing or living differently. Quite the opposite. Love is always the order of the day.

So while I no longer "take what I like and leave the rest", because I do believe that the Church is who she says she is, I think it is imperative that Christians of opposing views do not alienate one another and that all religions need to be respected whose followers love and believe in God.  To my understanding, this is the stance of the Catholic Church. I took what I liked and left the rest at first, and now I rest instead on the authority of the Church as completely as I am able, one step at a time. I do believe that the fullest expression of Christian truth is found in the Catholic Church, and it is a relief not to have to interpret things, such as the Bible, myself. Since it is not my opinion, but God's word, both oral and written, that I must continue to know and understand through the Church, I also know that there is no reason to be defensive in any defense I am called to make.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Poetic Catholicism

One criticism of the Catholic Church by Protestants is that it is too ritualistic, and therefore seems "pagan". But this is exactly what is so cool about Catholicism! First of all, let's acknowledge that all forms of Christianity use rituals. Perhaps what is unique about Catholicism is the more expansive incorporation of all the senses. For instance, on Holy Thursday last week, special oils were brought forth and blessed, and there was a procession around the sanctuary using incense. On Good Friday we kissed the feet of Jesus on the cross. We bless ourselves with holy water to remind us of our baptism, and we make the sign of the cross many times during the liturgy. We kneel before taking a seat, and we stand, sit, and kneel throughout a typical service. Bells are rung during the Eucharist celebration, and at every mass we partake of the bread and wine, the transubstantiated body and blood of Jesus. That in itself ignites the imagination.

When praying the Rosary, we use our voices, our hands, and our memories to picture the mysteries of the lives of Jesus and Mary. We have statues and stations of the cross, candles, paintings, and chanting. Belief in the holiness of things, such as the containers used in the Eucharist, is a given.  We learn the lives of the saints and mystics, make pilgrimages to holy places, hold relics such as bones in awe, and hear of visitations to people by the Virgin Mary. We have a profound sense of the ancient. In short, Catholics are poetic. They think in metaphor. Jesus himself was like this, which we know because he taught using parables, where people and things in a story are analogies for deeper spiritual truths. When He said to build your house on a rock, he was talking about faith. Using symbols, we grasp meaning that would otherwise elude us.

When people accuse the Catholic Church of being pagan, they admit that Catholics are better at seeing and understanding God in the workings and beauty of nature. Yes, they may also be saying that Catholics worship saints and so are polytheistic and other such misunderstandings. But intuitively I think they know that Catholics have better mastered the art of connecting body, mind, and spirit in worship and life. Critics of Catholicism know on some level that they are missing something, a state of wholeness, and so they defensively dismiss Catholicism as too "Eastern", like Buddhism, perhaps (and this is yet another way of saying "pagan").

For myself, I love the poetic soul of the Church, her sights, sounds, fragrances, symbols, and imagination. My religious experience is enhanced and deepened by her rituals. Even her weirdness, like that cross kissing experience. I can't wait for the May crowning parade!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Be Transformed

Today, Easter Sunday, begins our time of transformation and renewal. Now is our opportunity for rebirth of the body, mind, and spirit as we begin our journey to the Ascension of our Lord Jesus. Today the sun, the Son of God and man, truly shines. Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! Not only does Holy Wisdom dwell in the Immaculate Heart of Mary, but in the Sacred Heart of Jesus lives the Sophia, Ecclesia Mater, and so in Him is the union of the masculine and the feminine perfectly fulfilled. We can look to Jesus for the balance and wholeness that is missing in our lives.

We have trodden the long road of Lent, fasting, giving alms to the poor, practicing penance, and offering up our suffering for the blessing of others, uniting our pain with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, the scourging at the pillar, the crowning of thorns and carrying of the cross, to His crucifixion. Now the tomb is empty, and we meet our Savior in the garden with Mary Magdalene, and proclaim to all that He is risen!

Now let us cast off our cares for a time, come up from the dark grave of suffering and into the light of God's joy. Who do you need to forgive? Don't forget to forgive yourself, as Jesus forgives you. What bad habits do you need to let go of? What haunts you from your past? The past is gone, and it is time to begin to live fully in the present, looking forward to better days. Our problems are not necessarily over, but we can breathe the lily scented air and plant some new beginnings. We can renew our trust in God and turn our lives over to His care, praying "not my will, but thine."  Perhaps now is the time to consecrate yourself to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Mother.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Immaculate Queen

"In Greco-Roman Christianity, probably because of the dangers of Gnosticism, the biblical images of God as female were soon suppressed within the doctrine of God. God as Wisdom, Hokmah in Hebrew, or Sophia in Greek, a feminine form, was translated by Christianity into the Logos concept of Philo, which is masculine and was defined as the Son of God. The Shekinah, the theology of God’s mediating presence as female, was de-emphasized; and God’s Spirit Ruah, a feminine noun in Hebrew, took on a neuter form when translated into Greek as Pneuma. The Vulgate translated Ruah into Latin as masculine, Spiritus. God’s Spirit, Ruah, which at the beginning of creation brings forth abundant life in the waters, makes the womb of Mary fruitful. In spite of the reality of the caring, consoling, healing aspects of divine activity, the dominant patriarchal tradition has prevailed, resulting in seeing the female as the passive recipient of God’s creation; and the female is expressed in nature, church, soul, and finally Mary as the prototype of redeemed humanity. Because God as father has become an over literalized metaphor, the symbol of God as mother is eclipsed. The problem lies not in the fact that male metaphors are used for God, but that they are used exclusively and literally. Because images of God as female have been suppressed in official formulations and teaching, they came to be embodied in the figure of Mary who functioned to reveal the unfailing love of God" (from online source quoting from "The decline of the Feminine and the Cult of Mary").

The above quote nicely summarizes what I have been getting at regarding my concerns about the use of language that obscures the truth of the nature of God as both a paternal and maternal deity. My guess is that the de-emphasis of the feminine was indeed a reaction to the heresy of Gnosticism and also to the prevailing paganism of neighboring cultures. There is a point on which I differ with the above argument; that is, I don't agree that the Church sees the feminine as the passive recipient. The Church is quite clear that the Virgin Mary actively participated in God's plan for the salvation of humanity, a teaching from Vatican II that I have previously quoted. Still, it is true that the bridal-motherhood of God has been so hidden that the natural outlet for the need of all of humanity, both male and female, to bond with the maternal aspect of God was necessarily embodied in the extremely high veneration of the mother of Jesus. Praying to Mary for her help and intercession is, to my mind, much different from praying to other saints; for she reveals the feminine face of God, and so in a mystical way prayers to her are most certainly not only prayers to the Mother of God, but prayers to God the Mother through her. Mary is not considered to be divine, except by virtue of her deification in partaking of the divine nature of her son, as I have discussed before. Yet symbolically she is understood as the Maternal Matrix, or Cosmic Mother.

 Immaculate Queen, Woman of Revelation 12

Charlene Spretnak discusses this dimension of the Blessed Mother in Missing Mary.  In her book, Spretnak laments what she perceives as the marginalization of Mary in the wake of Vatican II, which resulted in the removal of her statues in many churches, a decline in praying the Rosary, and a reduction of Mary's full spiritual presence. (It does seem, however, that we are now in a phase of  revival of Marian devotion and the Rosary.) Spretnak referred to those Catholics who wish to have the Holy Spirit feminized and suggested instead that Marian devotion needs to be brought back with a closer look at how growing the Christ child in her womb would have changed Mary ontologically, resulting in a unique, "quasi-divine" person. Personally, I really don't like the term, quasi-divine. I agree that Mary was truly unique among all of humanity and that no doubt she was transformed by the experience of becoming pregnant with the Son of God, sharing his blood and receiving his DNA into her own body. Perhaps it could even be said that by this miracle her process of divinization was begun while she was still on earth, before being assumed into heaven. This mystery of Mary being filled with the Holy Spirit and Wisdom is infinitely profound.

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Spretnak discusses the efforts of the Vox Populi, a campaign for the declaration of a fifth Marian dogma, to officially grant Mary the titles of Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate. Pope John Paul II used the title Co-redemptrix, and I understand that he was in favor of the dogma, but the current pope, Benedict XVI, is not. Allegedly Mary has appeared to a woman in the Netherlands as the Lady of All Nations and requested that this dogma be proclaimed so that she can be fully empowered to bring true peace to the world. There is something that makes me very uncomfortable about the effort to try to force this Marian dogma. The Lady of All Nations purportedly referred to herself as "who once was Mary" to this Dutch woman, and I really don't imagine Mary changing her name in this way. New dogma cannot be proclaimed on the basis of a personal revelation. 

At any rate, Mary is a human being and symbol of the sacred feminine, but there must be acknowledged that  in God there is a divine feminine source. Many Catholic writers, Scott Hahn included, express that the Trinity is a family, composed of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who is the Love that unites them. Hahn seems to catch on to the trouble with this single-parent family image, because he goes on to say in one of his books that no family is complete without a mother, and that Jesus gave us his own mother as our spiritual mother in heaven. Still, if the Trinity represents a complete family, of whose image humanity reflects, then there must necessarily be a divine aspect that is feminine.

In my previous post I named this divine aspect Sophia, using the triquetra symbol to illustrate the divine feminine within the Trinity, a parallel dimension to the masculine persons of the Trinity, naming her Holy Wisdom (Hokmah in Hebrew), Ecclesia (Mother Church, the Bride of Christ), and Shekinah (the Presence, or glory cloud, of God). Sophia is identified in the Bible as a manifold presence who has not been completely revealed. I believe that Sophia's primary manifestation is through her indwelling of the Virgin Mary and all that Mary represents. An image of this idea may be found in the Book of Revelation, when the woman who gives birth to the divine child is given the "wings of the great eagle" to flee the ancient serpent, who is Satan. 

Woman of Revelation 12

From her immaculate conception, I believe that Mary was filled with Holy Wisdom, the Virgin Spirit of God's maternal Love, and that as such a pure soul, she is the emissary of the Holy Spirit to the world. To pray to Mary is to honor her divine motherhood and the Maternal Matrix, the feminine aspect of God found in Wisdom/Ecclesia/Shekinah and embodied in the Virgin Mary. By many names she has revealed herself to the faithful, and great signs, miracles, wonders, and healing have occurred at those sights of holy ground. Our Lady of Grace, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Holy Mary, our Blessed Mother. 

Our Lady of Guadalupe