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 (  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.