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Mary, the first Christian

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RE: Mary, the first Christian 2008/12/09 02:07:36 (permalink)
Our Lady: Untie the strong woman
By Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés

The River Beneath the River
The National Catholic Reporter
December 8, 2008 

My grandmother said that if you listened to stories about Mother Maria for nine weeks straight without interruption ... or if you said the rosary for nine days straight without your mind wandering once ... or if you walked to one of Mama Marushka’s shrines in the woods for nine nights in a row -- nine being the number of months Blessed Mother carried the living Christo before giving birth to the Light of the world -- that if you would do any of these, that Blessed Mother would appear to you and answer any question you might have about how to live on earth fully ensouled.

Hector Hernandez, a member of St. Philip Parish in Green Bay, Wis., carries a painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe during a "justice for immigrants and refugees" walk in Green Bay Sept. 7. More than 400 people participated in the 2.5-mile "Journey of Hope P ilgrimage" co-sponsored by the Green Bay Diocese and four religious communities. (CNS photo /Sam Lucero, The Compass)

But my grandmother also said there was a shortcut. Need. That any human being needing comfort, vision, guidance or strength was heard by the Immaculate Heart ... and thus, Blessed Mother would immediately arrive with veils flying ... to place us under her mantle for protection, to give us that one thing the world longs for so: the warmth of the mother’s compassionate touch.

I know you and I have seen many statutes of Our Lady, lovingly made, erasing all her Semitic features or her Asiatic, Inuit, Nahua, Polynesian, tribal European, Celtic, African, indigenous ones.

I don’t believe this was meant as a racial preference. Perhaps in the beginning, “whitening,” as in ancient alchemical poetics, was merely an attempt to show that whiteness and purity are often associated in much “Western” imagination.

So white-skinned. Blonde-haired, and our Mary Maria, Mir-yam, Guadalupe, over the eons became spoken about in more and more hushed tones too:

She’s pure, you know. Demure.
As they say, so content, so gentle, so quiet, so passive, so submissive.

Yet, I must say No. I say instead: Fire.

I know, and I hope with deepest love that you do too, know the Mary, Maria, Mir-yam, Guadalupe of wilder heart, of long journeys with a blurred map, of night fires at the far encampment. Our Lady who, when all the apostles ran away ... she stayed. Blessed Mother, she who is renowned as the one able to wear the flaming, exploding fire lakes of the Sun.

No demure little cabbage, that woman. No paltry, well-behaved carbon dot. No follower of worldly orders. Quite the contrary. Our exemplar.

I’ve a little white porcelain Mary that some good soul hand-painted carefully in a factory of thousands of porcelain Marys on a conveyor belt ... tiny gold curlicues on the selvage of her mantle. And lovely.

But the Mother I carry with me everywhere is the woods-woman La Nuestra Señora, Guadalupe, she whose green mantle is fashioned of moss from the north side of trees ... and star shards caught in her wild silver hair ... and her gown is soft, coarse woven cloth with the thorns and flowers of wild roses caught in it, and she has dirty hands from growing things earthy, and from her day and night work alongside her hard-working sons and daughters, their children, their elders, all.

La Guadalupe is no symmetrical thing with palms equally outstretched and frozen, but she is ever in motion. If there is emotion, she is there. If there is commotion, she is there. If there is elation, she is there. Impatience, she is there. Fatigue: She is there. Fear, unrest, sorrow, beauty, inspiration: She is there.

And she is demure in a sense, yes, but different from those who would fade her essence into an anemia: Yes, she is demure as in demurring to be contained and made small.

And she is calm, yes, but not without will to rise again and again. Instead, yes, she is calm as the mighty ocean is calm as it moves in enormous troughs and pinnacles, its huge waves like a heartbeat: easy, intentional, muscular.

And she is pure, yes, but not as in never going dark, never having doubt, never taking a wrong turn for a time, but rather pure, yes, as a gemstone is cut into a hundred sparkling facets ... that kind of pure, meaning gem-cut by travail, adventure and challenge -- and yet fully without a streak of dead glass in any facet. By the cutting, by means of the emery cloth and the finest polish ... instead of deadened, and despite all: still pure-fire bright.

Were I asked how one just coming to truly be with Our Lady might think about our Maria, Nuestra Madre Grande, I’d say, Think of her not in the ways you’ve been told/ sold. But, rather, seek her with your own eyes without blinders and heart without shutters. Look low instead of high. Look right under your nose. The exotic locale is not necessary. She is found in a shard of glass, in a broken curb, in a hurt heart, and in any soul knowing or unknowing, yet crazy in love with the divine mysteries ... and not quite so in love with mundane challenges. Yet, she is there.

Everywhere. Do not accept vacuous, vapid words or images of her. Untie the Strong Woman. She’s been waiting for your special touch.  

I often think of Guadalupe, Blessed Mother, with regard to an illustrated novel by Jonathan Swift that carried a picture of Gulliver, the traveler, pinioned to the ground. Gulliver had become a quasi-prisoner of the Lilliputians, a tiny people only 6 inches high. They critiqued Gulliver, among other things, for being in several ways “too big.” So, they tied him crisscross over all his limbs, and took him down with ropes then wrapped around brass nails and driven into pallet and ground.

The tiny Lilliputians stood on Gulliver’s chest and felt they had tied down the leviathan, the behemoth. But Gulliver just simply sat up ... and all his bonds burst, and all the tiny Lilliputians fell off, tumbling into the grass. The giant lumbered off with the trivial rope-strings trailing behind. The Lilliputians shook their heads -- as usual -- trying to make sense of the Gulliver figure that was, in form, similar to themselves in body ... but in an entirely other way, so very unlike themselves.

I think many can understand this push to pare down the numinous, the unfamiliar, the unknown. What is truly divine mystery can be overwhelming at first. Yet it would seem in a culture that likes to minimize true magnitude of talents, for instance ... and to magnify the minimus, “the little man,” that is, the flimsiness or meanness or not well- formed qualities of matters ... that it is not only our calling, but our troth, our sacred promise given from the very first moment we ever saw the soul be assaulted in anyone, by anyone ... to untie the Strong Woman now. And forever.

Way too often, the only relationship we’ve been taught/told/offered to have with Blessed Mother ... is either none, through silence about her rich bloodline with us ... or else one in which we must agree to bind her down into a small and handle-able form ... diminishing her, by making her be the quiescent “good girl” ... in phony opposition to having another woman, The Magdalene, be the less quiescent “bad girl.” These are distortions of both women’s origins and gifts. Untie them both, then.

I have listened to some few theologians talking about Our Lady as though she is an appendage to a group of historical facts. Neither is she, as some charge, a superstition. She is not an obedient building made of cement, marble or bricks. She is not to be used as a length of holy wire to bind us all into docility, severing the other hundreds of traits given by God for being beautifully and reasonably human. She is not meant as a fence, but as a gate.

Who Protects Whom? An Ironic Story

I remember a New York Times book reviewer scorning an author who had urged readers to ask Blessed Mother for guidance. I have never come closer to getting on an airplane immediately, flying to New York, pouncing on that so-called critic’s crate-for-a-desk, and calling for a plague of frogs to take over her entire everything -- including, as the old fairy tale “One-Eye, Two-Eyes, and Three-Eyes” told, that whenever the criticizer would speak from that day forward, lizards and toads and snakes would drop from their lips.

Ai! I was almost more horrified by my own horrible reaction than by the critic’s crummy take on supplication and Blessed Mother. Almost. Yet, I’d understood Guadalupe to say into my heart at that moment, something like this: “All are mine whether they know me or not, practice a devotion or not.” And that too, that oceanic generosity of the Mother -- so unusual in a culture that uses war and death terms for most everything -- that turned most of my ire into better understanding of the attitude I must try to take. For knowledge, for peace, for mercy. And this too, I believe, suddenly being inspired to strive to do/ be grace, not just receive it, that kind of sometimes startling intelligence, can occur when the Strong Woman is untied.

I feel I was called to the priesthood as a little child. A priesthood that perhaps does not exist for me in this world, and that was/is to take her and her works and through her that of her precious Child into the world.
So I take mi Guadalupe to various gatherings, retreats and churches, some of which are, but some of which are not Roman, and who are kind enough to ask me to give the sermon or make space for me to heal and bless others with my hands during that set-aside time in a temple or temenos.
I tell about her world, her life, her daughters and sons, and always there is at least one someone who says, “We don’t believe in her.” Or, “How can you believe in her?” And I say I do not believe in her. I know her. Face to face, skin to skin. Mi madre. She is my mother."

This is the Guadalupe I think you know of, or sense, or want to know, or are very close to for years now; one who is joy-centric and sorrow-mending, one who is present in every way. And in so understanding that pull to the Holy Woman, we do untie the Strong Woman.

I pray strength into your hands and heart ... and inspiration and daring -- and fire -- to lift the Great Woman away from whichever Lilliputians have tied her down into more manageable form ... on any of the pathways you travel. No matter which dissertation or diminution she has been tied down by, she, greater than any Gulliver by far ... the moment we ask for her, see her, converse with her, love her … she gracefully rises up, pins flying in all directions.

With much love, some levity, and certainly deep longing, together, let us all sit up too, let us make all the pins fly too ... untying ourselves as we untie the Strong Woman.

May it be deeply so for you.
May it be so for me, also.
May it be so for all of us, ever.


“One-Eye, Two-Eyes, and Three-Eyes,” an idiosyncratic folk tale told by the Magyar people of my families, is about seeing the world without seeing the soul (one eye); seeing what everyone else sees with no amazement attached (two eyes); and seeing in uncommonly brave or insightful ways, that is, seeing the worlds of soul, spirit and matter all interwoven (three eyes).

In the tale, people are tested by an angel in the disguise of an old woman who asks merely for a drink of cool water from the farmers’ “deepest wells.” Those who scorn her plea experience sudden negative changes to their bodily functions and to inanimate objects nearby ... thus revealing how those who scorn are, in fact, put together inwardly. Those who willingly fetch water for the “angel in disguise” are rewarded too, by sudden changes to voice, senses and surroundings ... these revealing outwardly how those who serve are also in fact put together inwardly at heart.

The transformative aspect of the tale is found in the characters who failed to recognize the angel/old woman the first time, but who plead to be given another chance to care for her more generously, more consciously, this time. Unlike many 19th-century tales overwritten into reward-punishment tales only -- “what’s done is done and no more chances for you” -- in this venerable tale, more chances are ever given ... for the old woman is the angel of generosity and love for the soul.

post edited by Sophie - 2008/12/09 02:09:13
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RE: Mary, the first Christian 2008/12/09 02:17:07 (permalink)

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RE: Mary, the first Christian 2008/12/09 02:23:27 (permalink)
Demanding Social Equality: A Feminist Re-Interpretation of
the Virgin of Guadalupe

by Rhonda L. Barnes

As part of my project for Chicana Cultural Expressions, I explored a few issues surrounding la virgen de Guadalupe and especially her social role. One can see that the religion and culture of Mexico are both patriarchal. How unique, then, that the image of a woman brings the people together, and according to some, gives them their strength. The image of the Virgin of Guadalupe not only unifies and identifies Mexican culture, it is also powerful as a liberator for her people, and since the 1970's, the Chicana artist has taken up the virgin's image in her work. In this way, the traditional image is used to change the community's assumptions about women's roles and to challenge them to action.

Though a far-reaching female figure may seem to give Mexican-American women an inspiring role model, her image cannot be used for positive change unless there is also a demand for social equality. Chicana artists are doing just this. They are raising people's consciousness with a new perspective on a traditional image. And now with technology booming on the Internet, which you must know if you are reading this now, la virgen morena has a new place for potential expression.

Images of the Virgin of Guadalupe
Soon after her appearance, la virgen de Guadalupe began to eclipse all the other male and female religious figures in Mexico, and eventually in the southwestern United Sates as well. (Anzaldúa 29) Now people on both sides of the border between the United States and Mexico consider her to be their own and her image gives a follower her/his identity. (Randall 115) "Through Her intercession, a Mexican remains Mexican in California, an Indian remains Indian in Mexico." (Martínez 101) Thus her image has many meanings for her varied believers and it is tied to the indigenous past of a conquered people.

It is the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that has the power to bring people together. Boys and girls in Texas wear her image on their t-shirts; truck and bus drivers keep her image with them as they drive; pictures and altars are created in the homes and workplaces of her followers.
(Olivera) (DePalma)
She is the most omnipresent symbol of the Mexican-American people and serves to identity her followers as an unique community.

The character of the Virgin of Guadalupe is multi-faceted and has been used for various purposes by all strata of Mexican and Mexican-American people. When the Virgin first appeared over four hundred and fifty years ago, she was morena, brown-skinned like the mestizo race and has thus been considered to announce "the foundation of a new race." (Gonzalez 11) Traditionally, the Virgin of Guadalupe has been seen as a mother, a nurturer, and a mediator. She mediates between the indigenous and the Spanish, between Chicanas/os and Anglo society, as well as between the divine and humanity. (Anzaldúa 30) In addition, the traditional Virgin protects the family and brings people together. (Martínez 107-108)

Re-capturing the Image
The image of la virgen de Guadalupe has become a symbol of hope and liberation for her community. She is no longer a passive mother figure. Her image gives the oppressed people dignity and energy to resist assimilation. (Rodriguez 1996, 48) She shapes who the Chicana/o community is and empowers those who turn to her for guidance. (Cisneros 50; Rodriguez 1994, 146) She is "a role model of strength, enduring presence and new possibilities." (Rodriguez 1994, 160) Her image has a liberating effect on women. (Rodriguez 1994, 161) "She’s the woman that puts the Mexican macho in his place." (Martínez 107) For the women who have searched for an escape from bondage, turning to la virgencita and re-thinking her image, has given them a tool for social change. (Randall 123; Rodriguez 1994, 164)

La virgen hearkens back to an indigenous goddess, and many feminists, such as Sandra Cisneros and Gloria Anzaldúa, have re-claimed the indigenous attributes for the Virgin. Cisneros sees Guadalupe as containing enduring sexual power and as being both creative and destructive, because within her is a pantheon of mother goddesses which combine together to create Cisneros’ own identity. (Cisneros 49-50) Anzaldúa write eloquently about la virgen de Guadalupe as Coatlalopeuh, who is descended from "earlier Mesoamerican fertility and Earth goddesses." (Anzaldúa 27) It is with these strong Serpent Goddesses that Anzaldúa identifies and draws strength. Although her image had been manipulated for the purposes of vanquishing the polytheistic beliefs of the mexicas, pre-Hispanic elements remain in the Virgin and her image has been re-claimed and re-vitalized by the Chicana/o community. (Favrot Peterson)

However, the Virgin of Guadalupe can only be truly transformative if the demand for social equality is made. Female divine figures do not insure social justice for women, as the example of Hinduism with its pantheon of gods and goddesses demonstrates. In addition, there must be a "social expectation of equality." (Wessinger 6) One way in which Chicanas are doing this is through a re-interpretation of the Virgin of Guadalupe. By asserting the power within the Virgin, Chicanas are acknowledging the power within themselves. By creating publicly consumed art and literature utilizing the powerful Virgin, Chicanas are demanding social equality for women.
The Feminist Chicana Artist Re-Claims la virgen

In the 1970’s, the Chicano movement experienced a surge in women artists, partly as a result of the privatization of Chicano art. (Goldman and Ybarra-Frausto 90) Not only that but women no longer felt obliged to take passive or secretarial roles in el movimiento. Chicana feminists became ever more visible through their art work and their activism. (CARA 322) "From the beginning, positive images of active women appeared." (Goldman and Ybarra-Frausto 90) Chicana artists focused on their cultural identity and made art that is self-affirming and empowering. (Mesa Bains 131)

One such artist is Yolanda Lopez, whose re-making of the Virgin’s image defies tradition and orthodoxy. (Ehrenberg 176) Lopez’s work uses feminine images in a way that emancipates women. (Mesa Bains 137)
Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe shows the Virgin in running shoes. The image is one of an active woman in control of her surroundings.

Snakes have a strong traditional meaning in indigenous cultures, as Cisneros’ and Anzaldúa’s writings attest, and this portrayal of the Virgin plays on the notion of Guadalupe as the incarnation of Caotlalopeuh, "She Who Has Dominion Over Serpents." (Anzaldúa 27) By holding the snake in her hand, Lopez demonstrates that Guadalupe is still Coatlalopeuh and thus ties Mexican-Americans to their indigenous roots. By making la virgen active, Lopez demonstrates the power that all women have, that they no longer need to be passive. Her painting calls women to action and reminds them of the power in their indigenous past.

Yolanda Lopez also has a series of paintings of the Virgin of Guadalupe as an older woman, perhaps a grandmother.
Margaret F. Stewart: Our Lady of Guadalupe depicts an older mestiza, sitting on a bench which is draped in the Virgin’s blue cloak, as she holds the skin of a snake in her hand. Again, the image hearkens back to the Serpent Goddess of pre-Contact Mesoamerica that Chicana feminist writers describe. Not only does this abuela-as-Virgin have dominion over serpents, but she has actively killed and skinned the creature. Viewers see her as an active woman, a woman with whom they can identify better than with a virginal, celestial mother of god.

Victoria F. Franco: Our Lady of Guadalupe
a middle-aged mestiza is mending her blue cloak at a sewing machine. The little angel is sitting at her feet, looking bored as a child might while waiting for his mother to fix his clothes. One of the most recognizable symbols of la virgen morena, a bunch of roses, is lying on the floor beside the angel. The impression a viewer may get from this painting is that of a back stage preparation. The woman is mending things as if she were getting ready for an important event - maybe la fiesta on December 12th. The Victoria F. Franco portrayal of the Virgin is much more realistic to women’s every day lives, and thus makes a better role model for women in a practical society.

Through her re-interpretation of the image of la virgen de Guadalupe, Yolanda Lopez is constructing a new ideology and is re-defining "the feminine in a feminist context." (Mesa Bains 137) She is re-claiming an image to which all Mexican-Americans identify and using it to challenge their assumptions about women’s roles in society and calling women to be active.

The Virgin on the Internet
A new forum for interpreting the Virgin’s image is the fast-growing Internet. The World Wide Web provides nearly infinite space which Chicana feminists can utilize in their social critiques and evaluations. However, most of the web pages devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe are religious and support the traditional view of the Virgin. They are mostly faith-based and anti-choice and do not represent the Chicana feminists interpretation of the Patron Saint. Chicanas have not taken advantage of this new medium of expression and placed their thoughts on the information superhighway. Clearly as technology becomes increasingly more important in every day lives, the re-claiming of the Virgin must extend onto the web. The next generation must be aware of what was illustrated and asserted before them, so that they can build on the foundation of Chicana feminist interpretation and continue to demand a social expectation of equality.

Despite Christianity’s patriarchal nature, the image of a woman has gained considerable strength and power among Chicanas/os and Mexicans. The Virgin of Guadalupe, Patron Saint of Mexico, and the incarnation of the goddesses of indigenous culture, unifies and identifies her people. Her followers see her as wielding power and as a part of who they are. But rather than maintaining her traditional image as the virginal, nurturing mother, Chicana feminists have re-claimed her image. Without their demand for social justice, la virgen would not command and inspire change -- both for the Mexican-American community and for the women themselves. By re-interpreting her image, artists like Gloria Anzaldúa and Yolanda Lopez are challenging society’s assumptions about women’s roles and are demanding justice for women. The next step, then is to integrate technology and the Internet into their work and to bring the new images into a new medium of communication.
post edited by Sophie - 2008/12/09 07:17:18
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RE: Mary, the first Christian 2008/12/10 08:34:03 (permalink)

December 8 is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Sister Joan Chittister writes about this feast:

The fact is that Mary is not simply “Mary, the Mother of God.” No, on the contrary, the Mother of God is Mary, the unmarried mother; Mary, the homeless woman; Mary, the political refugee; Mary, the mother of a condemned prisoner; Mary, the apostle of the apostles; Mary, the woman of our time. Say a “Hail Mary” today for the needs of women everywhere.
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RE: Mary, the first Christian 2008/12/13 00:00:08 (permalink)

Mexicans gather outside the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe to celebrate the feast day of the patroness Dec. 12 in Mexico City. The feast marks the appearance of Mary to St. Juan Diego in 1531. (CNS/Reuters)
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RE: Mary, the first Christian 2008/12/15 00:18:32 (permalink)
Guadalupe: Transforming A Drunkard, by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Building a grotto to La Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe:
by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés  
National Catholic Reporter
December 12, 2008

Fifteen years ago or so, I moved myself and all my books and writings to a tiny blue house. From the point of view of some 'moderns,' there's one fast way to become a kind of "instant eccentric" in the increasingly gentrified southwest...

that is, to create a shrine to the Guadalupe in the old, time-honored tradition... by burying a bathtub up to the halfway mark in your front yard...

and then putting a sweet statue of Guadalupe inside the arch of the tub, and planting some real flowers around the porcelain where it meets the ground... but some strongly colored plastic flowers too, for Guadalupe miraculously made roses appear in the wintertime... and this is as close as miracle-challenged Latinas like me are ever likely to have roses blooming during winter.

You can imagine, either the tub or the Guadalupe can cause all kinds of 'vszq,' 'very serious zoning questions' to rise up amongst those who do not yet understand that each home place needs an able guardian of the soul --outdoors, under the open sky. Nonetheless, I began mentioning around the neighborhood that I was looking for a workman to come help me dig a hole for the old clawfoot tub I'd seen at the plumbing salvage joint.

I planned and drew, and pretty soon had a half-way presentable drawing of said tub and small concrete statue of Blessed Guadalupe I'd come by.

Because the statue really was made of asphalt molded around a rod of rebar, I called her, "She who can hardly be lifted," ....even though La Señora, in reality, ever lifted others easily, no matter how much their problems or their hopes weighed.

Now I only needed a willing soul with strong muscles to help me dig down into the stubborn earth there, to a depth of more than three feet in order to seat a six foot tub on end. As an old believer and trusting that whatever good we are seeking is also seeking us, I prayed for the right soul to please stumble across my path and find Guadalupe and me.

The drunken man appears

Well, the stumble part came true almost right away. I was soon brought face to face with a drunken man who said he'd heard I was looking for someone to build something. He boasted that he was just the right 'muscle and might' needed to make a bathtub grotto for Guadalupe.

Really G!d? This was the 'right man' I prayed for? The one who should find me and my concrete Guadalupe and help us? Who says G!d has no humor?

I had sort of been expecting a courtly old gent or perhaps a woman elder in the trades who just did little side jobs now that they were in their venerable 80s. But this man, unsteady on his feet, was only about 45 years old even though he looked about 900, had bad pasty skin, dirty hair, unshaven gray and brown beard hairs all sprouting in different directions.

As men who have been in some part of their lives, los borrochos, chronic drinkers-- when older and still drinking hard -- they also have that 'next day odor' coming through their pores.

Even though more or less sober for a few hours... older bodies often can't purify the way they once did, and that humus smell of leaf rot hangs around the person like a cloud filled with wafts of sour sweat mixed with the smell of whiskey.

The helper I'd prayed to find me and my concrete Guadalupe was all this and more. He didn't just have the drinking sickness. The drinking sickness had him. He'd drank everything; pulque, tequila, rum, shots, shooters, keggers. Like most with this illness, he'd never met an alcohol demon that didn't sweet talk him half-senseless inside an hour's time.

But the drunken man also came with a recommendation about his masonry skills from someone I trusted on earth... and on the recommendation of someone I trusted in Heaven...she who whispered into my heart, 'Yes, this is the one I sent to you.'

And so, with my chin to my shoulder with a little self-doubt, I said, Yes. Even though a less promising partnership could hardly be imagined. Yet, something else seemed present too...

We proceeded to build the important parts first.

No talk about money or design. We began by trading stories. First the topographical ones, then the middle deep ones, and finally the 'want to set my hair afire and go screaming down the road forever' stories... the toughest ones to hear and tell.

Of the last: This man who'd stumbled into my life, was a stone-mason by trade, and a soul who in childhood, lived in institutions which had broken his spirit bones and left him for dead. You could see that he was physically strong from the waist up, from a lifetime of heaving brick and slapping frosting, working plumb lines to perfection.

Yet. His one leg was the leg of a strong man... but the other leg, was the leg of a boy... thinner than thin, with an ankle like a child. Polio. He drag-limped whenever he took a step.

When he was eight years old, his parents, already down and out, left him at the polio people's door. His parents did not come back. Busted up and pinned for years afterward into foster care, and then unhooked and re-hung in various orphanages, the boy who survived polio became one of the children who kept brew under the cot, the only mother many would ever have to help them through the nights.

In those times abandoned children didn't smoke dope or do meth. They did Mother Beer. Mother Chianti. Mother Thunderbird. Cheap... 10% good in one way and 100% lethal in every other.

And these were the arterial stories inside stone-mason man when he came to me limping, red rimmed and bleary-eyed, smelly, slurring, unsteady... and somehow radiant. Seriously radiant. Anyone with the eyes to see, could see it.

The merest beginning of 'the transformative moment...'

We continued from there. How long would it take to make a grotto to Guadalupe? Just a little while. Stone-mason man and I drew plans on lots of pizza-stained paper napkins. He had the drinking disease so bad, his preferred meeting place was a saloon that had a restaurant on one side.

As I told him stories about La Guadalupe, we worked our way from meeting at the scarred up bar to meeting at a yellow oak-topped table. I could see it was talking about La Señora, Guadalupe, that caused this small progression from drink only, to actual real food.

But this awkward and not unpainful re-centering into a holier heart, a greater than human heart alone-continued as we continued. Gradually. I told him the story of Our Lady at the Hill at Tepyac, how she chose to appear to little thin-legged Don Diego whose real name was his Nahuatl name, (The Spanish called the Nahua people Aztecs).... his name was Cuauhtlatoatzin. At that description and at the sound of the intricate sounding name, Cuauhtlatoatzin-- stone-mason man's ears perked up. And stayed up. You could see that something deep inside him was listening.

Some meaningful connection that had been put to sleep for far too long was clearly awakening.

I told him how this little sweet man Cuauhtlatoatzin, had witnessed indescribable horror in the conquest of our ancestral people, yet somehow had survived with an unruined heart...

how Cuauhtlatoatzin was still afraid of all the 'higher ups,' how he had been beaten and hurt bad-seen his own relatives and neighbors slaughtered and mutilated right before his eyes, and all who survived then treated with scorn and flogging, indeed flaying, afterward -and only allowed to live by acting 'worthy' - that is, by taking the only way out... becoming a slave, a bowing and scraping, shuffling, eyes-lowered slave...

As I shined a little candle on the under-stories behind the mystique of Guadalupe, stone-mason man took on the authentic visage of a child instead of that of a battered circus bear.

I told him about how Cuauhtlatoatzin, i.e., Don Diego's story has been cleaned up by various minds that were supposed to be looking out for Don Diego's and Guadalupe's numinous legacy, but somewhere made a wrong turn into budgets and brio for publicity' sake.

Stone-mason man nodded a weary warrior's nod, and said he understood that completely.

He wanted to know, what did Don Diego, Cuauhtlatoatzin, really look like?

I told him that nonetheless, what under girds numinous stories is incorrupt. Like the soul, numinous stories can be dented, scorched, dismembered, but they can never be killed. The real story still remains in any heart that has the eyes to see it, the ears to hear it, the guts to strive to both shelter and follow it.

That was when stone-mason man asked what Don Diego really looked like. I wanted to say, 'He looks like you dear soul, he looks exactly like you. Crippled from the illnesses and the beatings, with long memories shredded into blood red ribbons, yet heartfully alive. He looked just like you.'

But I didn't say that. Didn't want to scare away an eagle who'd landed on the porch rail, so I said a different truth: That in reality, if one wanted to know what little Don Diego really was like, don't listen to the claptrap about him being 'the good Aztec who was converted to Christianity'... at the point of a Spanish hardened steel sword.

Instead, look at Elie Wiesel, look into his face, his eyes, his imperfectly perfect heart, and see the Sorrow of the Ages and the Determination of the Universe. Look at any of the other WWII holocaust survivors still alive today who somehow have not collapsed into insanity or unmediated rage from all they have endured, but who still see the goodness in others, who still strive to put an entire soul of a people back together, including everyone -- not just one's own tribe -- but conquerors and conquered, both.
That is Cuauhtlatoatzin. That is Don Diego personified. Real of heart, beleaguered, barely escaping with his life. No cleaned up Indian with a good conduct medal. Instead a vulnerable and venerable heart on earth, who tried, as a result of Guadalupe's appearance to him, to bridge what seemed a cultural chasm of extreme opposites... to bring the souls of the conquered and the souls of the conquerors together in peace, all in one place.

And that gathering place of peace was not in the palaces of the Spanish Bishops which were encrusted, both bishops and palaces, with the gold and jewels looted from the tribes. Rather, the ultimate gathering place was on the plain dirt ground of the hill of Tepyac... the exact place where The Great Woman appeared to the one considered far beneath the ruling class of The New World.

She chose not to appear to gilded men, but to he who represented the people she held most dear: the in some way abandoned, the in some way unloved, the 'untouchables.'

By then, stone-mason man had bowed his head and did that thing some men do when they feel tears coming up from the old ancestral graves again... they put on their sunglasses even though they're indoors, and they pinch the bridge of their noses as though they're thinking deep thoughts, when in fact, they are weeping. Deeply.

And thus the grotto project grew and grew and grew...

So we went on, story after story, about how the Nahua people enslaved had died at the walls of the churches they built for their conquerors, how the old Nahua temple footers were kept, and how the bones of those who died there became part of the cathedral walls themselves, never allowing a knowing person to gaze on those stone vaults without knowing humans were carelessly interred there. This too, stone-mason man just nodded, said 'I understand completely.'

Meanwhile, the Guadalupe grotto project had grown way beyond 'the bathtub concept' which had been left on the drafting room floor months earlier... Grotto now had a water well that stone-mason man called 'young Mary's well,' and a resting pond with a little fountain, and a walkway, and a scale duplicate of the original part of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City...

But then, another structural problem arose. The little concrete Guadalupe statue I'd brought to put in the grotto was too small in comparison to the now much larger arch. So stone-mason man said he would create a larger Guadalupe, and he did... out of chicken wire over an armature, covered then in a creamy café y ochre stucco. And the grotto went on from there... and stone-mason's man's reverence for Guadalupe grew as he worked, as he said to the stones as he laid them, 'This is for us, for her.' A softness had come into him. A pride. A willingness to be seen, wounded. These were the inward, incontestable changes that began to glow in him outwardly now.

There were material changes too. He began to shave daily. He came to work dragging bucket and metal tools and now his hair washed and still wet every morning. For work, he wore his hair long in a braid down his back, or else rolled up at the back of his neck like samurai.

His hands, the same hands that carried a rifle in Vietnam-and used that rifle for what war rifles are used for... so that time of his life was one he could still barely mumble more than a few words about... those same hands became the very ones that fashioned a little copper dome for the grotto. Those hands that wrapped more around a shot glass or a beer can or a whiskey bottle than around people who could love him truly... with those hands this stonemason transformed a blank piece of earth into a tiny but fine refugio for La Señora, Our Lady.

And I kept feeding him. Food and more food. Stories and more stories.

And as he worked, she took greater shape, but more so, in his hands, in his so able and creative hands, she became more and more visible to him. As she and her grotto came into more magnitude in the small front yard of a nothing tiny house in the middle of much bigger houses... so did stone-mason man's heart and soul surface more and more clearly, despite all that had been overshadowing him.

Miracle at the grotto

There's no other way to say it, than just straight out. Less than halfway through the making of the grotto, stone-mason man stopped drinking. Quit stone cold. Just stopped.

There was no 'intervention,' no packing him off to rehab though goodness knows that would have helped greatly in time. I did speak quietly to him one night about how the broken glass in my heart rattled when I saw his great beauty and creativity so deeply marred by his alcoholic haze. But that only let him know he was loved, noticed, asked after by someone who cared.

It was more than that. Part was certainly his finding meaning, finding passionate devotion to something that mattered more to him than what had, time out of mind, made him into the least of himself... 'the lying devil in the bottom of the bottle.'

But, the rest of how-why, I think is, as my beloved madwomen in black (our nuns), used to say about the spiritually incomprehensible, "It's a mystery." Perhaps some part of stone-mason man's miraculous right turn away from drinking himself dead, was this too: That little house where we built the grotto was what used to be called "a broken-dream house."

There were few of these houses left on the roads in the neighborhood there. They were tiny houses set back all the way to the alley where the trash cans and incinerators of eld were kept. These alley houses were hand-made rather than builder designed.

Therefore, each one still in existence was wildly idiosyncratic, often with a sleeping porch with no insulation, and the entire house built on a sill plate straight atop the ground without foundation or crawl space. This one was made of cement block stuccoed over to look kind of like a plain lady with lots of make up on. This one had ancient black iron pipe for plumbing, and with no basement, the big silver painted iron furnace was practically right in the living room.

These oddly built little houses were eventually called "broken-dream houses," because the plan by their owners long ago had been to build this diminutive one-bedroom-no-garage house, and live in it until enough money could be saved back to build 'the big house' out front....usually, a two bedroom, one bath, one-story brick bungalow.

But, for some, that dream never came to be.

The parallels of all that was not lost on stone-mason man nor me, that such beautiful Guadalupe shrine, and also such beauty from stone-mason man's his own soul, could surface perhaps only at The House of Broken Dreams. Had the 'big house' been built, there'd have been no room for Guadalupe or her grotto.

Sometimes, emptiness is not vacancy, but rather a long gestation. Gestation by ego's measure is always too long. But, by soul's measure, the length of the waiting and making within before it shows on the outside, is ever just right.

The grotto project that was to be only 8 weeks long?

It became a year long project. Let's just say although it is complete, it is not finished even yet. Who is ever finished with La nuestra Señora de Guadalupe? Where would one start in order to be finished with her? How would one know one was done? When are we old enough to stop being our Mother's child, to be done with needing 'a blessing mother' to rain down over our lives? Never.

That's one of the clearest-cut messages from Guadalupe. We could make her messages fancy, we could define them with hundred-dollar words, but in the end, Guadalupe is the quintessential mother... and she does not encourage her sons and daughters who have been broken to walk as weaklings in this world... but rather for broken beings to walk as warriors... who are devoted to speak of her and for her in this world, to enact her holy heart by unfurling the ancient virtues of strength and sheltering, speaking up, standing up and doing... for the sake of goodness.

It is not by accident that she is called, La Conquista, the mother of the conquered. Else, why would she have poured her famous blessing down on us, her words calling us to stop mis-thinking we stand alone in our challenges, when in fact, she ever stands with us; that we should ever flee to her side, ever call her by the name every human being learns before they can feed themselves, before they can even walk: Madre.

Mother. Mami. Mi madre. My mother. The mother who says to us now, exactly as she said to Don Diego at Tepyac hill some 500 years ago:
Do not be afraid.
Have you forgotten?
I am your Mother.
You are not alone.
You are under my protection.

Anything you need,
Ask me.
Do not worry about anything.

Am I not here_
I who am your mother?
Have you forgotten?
I love you,
and you are under my protection.
post edited by Sophie - 2008/12/15 00:19:09
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RE: Mary, the first Christian 2008/12/18 00:54:13 (permalink)
Simple, awesome invitation to love
by Maggie Fergusson
The Tablet
December 20,  2008

Our cover this Christmas depicts an icon of the Virgin Psychosostria - the Saver of Souls - on show in the current exhibition of art and artefacts from Byzantium at London's Royal Academy of Arts

To stand before this fourteenth-century mother and her child is to allow the foreground - what the poet Edwin Muir described as "the perpetual bright oblivion" - of everyday life to recede, and to become aware, instead, of an invitation to growth. "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full": these were the words that shuttled through my mind as I left the Royal Academy.

There is nothing cosy, nor immediately comforting, about this icon. It is surprisingly large (158cm x 122cm), and the relationship between the Virgin Psychosostria ("Saver of Souls") and the infant Jesus appears, at first, mysterious, even cool. The Virgin cradles her son, but, rather than looking at him, she offers him outwards - to God? To the world? Her gaze, meanwhile, seems fixed on the deepest self of the person standing before her, and it is grave and searching.

I thought of Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem "Peace", in which the poet likens peace to a "wild wooddove", who, on his rare visits, never settles, but "comes with work to do". The Virgin Psychosostria has work to do, and the challenges she provokes are made more urgent by the fact that we have no idea who painted her. No artist's life story, or character, or reputation, confuses one's response to her. And the Virgin herself, and her Child, seem to share this anonymity. She gives no impression of character; she is a person without need of a persona. I found myself thinking about the curse of the "self", of the ego, about the unhappiness we cause ourselves and others through the need to have our individuality recognised and affirmed.

And yet here was a conundrum. This icon was inspired, surely, by the belief that God really did become man, that he came into the world as a child, and that he did so to show us that we are loved as individuals; that, with all our differences and failings, each one of us is infinitely precious.

The Incarnation, then, is an invitation to love ourselves. And yet, as Christians, we are also taught that we must die to "self" in order to live.

This was the paradox that kept revolving in my mind after an hour with the Virgin Psychosostria; and in the days that followed, I asked three people of unusual insight to shed light on it. Jean Vanier, founder of the international l'Arche communities for people with mental disabilities, began by distinguishing between the "self" and the "ego". "The ego that develops during adolescence is formed by compulsions: the compulsion to succeed, to be loved, to be acclaimed," he says. "It is a good thing. We have to develop it. But it also hides the deepest part of us."

Only by discovering this deepest part, Vanier believes, can the craving for admiration and affirmation give way to a more compelling desire "to live and speak the truth". So how to discover the deepest part? Through prayerfulness, Vanier suggests, through good spiritual accompaniment; for many, through marriage, for others through community life: "People come to live in community because they want to do good," says Vanier. "They stay because they discover who they really are."

In response to the question of how both to nurture "self" and to die to it, Dame Joanna Jamieson, Benedictine nun and former Abbess of Stanbrook Abbey, began by citing the early Christian writers, and the notion of the capax Dei, the space for God that exists within each one of us.

"God is not just with us," she says, "he is actually dwelling within us." The tragedy for many of us today is not so much selfishness as a chronic lack of self-esteem, she says, adding: "We are taught that we must love God, and love our neighbour, but we are not taught how to love ourselves. Most people can't begin to imagine how much God loves them."

Dame Joanna turns to the image of God as the potter to illustrate her belief that we are never alone in our attempts to change and grow, saying: "Clay is a lumpy, messy, difficult substance, but once God, the potter, has thrown it on to the wheel of life, he never takes his hands off it until it has been transformed." So working on oneself, on one's inner space, far from being selfish, is actually a service to the wider world, she says.

"One of the central goals of all therapeutic psychology", reflects John Dunne, a retired psychologist, "is to help people achieve a balance between healthy self-acceptance and the need for fundamental change. We need to acknowledge and own all aspects of our self before positive change can be embraced. This often entails a reconciliation of opposites within our personality, and is a necessary step towards psychological wholeness."

Dunne recalls how, when training as a psychologist, he was puzzled by Carl Jung's extensive studies of the works of medieval alchemists, whose goal was to transform base metal into gold, saying: "It only later became clear to me that Jung saw this as an archetypal symbol for the human process of psychological and spiritual transformation of all aspects of the ‘self', including the ‘base', into a new whole." There are surely echoes here, he argues, of incarnational theology, "of the redemptive process by which all that is human is caught up in the divine - a transforming process that embraces all that is human, while also transcending it".

There was a fourth person to whom I would have liked to talk about this, and he was the late poet George Mackay Brown. Turning to his writings, I came across these words. If the Virgin Psychosostria were able to speak, perhaps she would say something similar, inviting us to balance our individuality with our belonging to a whole:

"We are all one, saint and sinner, and all that we ever say, or think, or do, however seemingly unremarkable, may set the whole web of creation trembling, and affect the living, and the dead, and the unborn. It is an awesome thought, that we should not let burden us overmuch. It manifests itself in a religious image of great simplicity and beauty: the cornstalk rising into sun and wind from the buried seed, the offered bread and the hallowed bread, and all humanity sitting down at last to share a common meal."

post edited by Sophie - 2008/12/18 00:55:13
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RE: Mary, the first Christian 2008/12/18 08:23:07 (permalink)
Dear friends,

You may have noticed a new Forum on the Circles home page.  Its purpose is to share news and information about (http://www.catherineofsiena.net/default.asp) -- an exciting project developed by friends of www.womenpriests.org.  Because of the nature of the College and its aims, we want to help publicise its features.  Please: Spread the word! and consider enrolling in one of the courses. 

Catherine of Siena Virtual College specialises in Gender Studies. The aim of the College is to help people see clearly the origin of social, religious and cultural prejudices that have stifled the voices of women and subverted their dreams. One of its stated goals is to empower women around the world to assume positions of leadership in religion and society.

The College was founded in 2005 by a group of academics who were concerned about the plight of women in the world.  By January 2008, the College was open to students with its first run of courses.

A thread dedicated to information about the College is located here: Catherine of Siena Virtual College.  Check here for information about current course offerings and news about its work.

If you have questions, let me know.  I can help direct you to the resource people for specific information.

with love and blessings,

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RE: Mary, the first Christian 2008/12/20 00:49:03 (permalink)
Preacher: Give Birth to Christ This Christmas
Father Cantalamessa Reflects on Mary as Role Model
December 19, 2008

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 19, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The preacher of the Pontifical Household is urging the faithful to follow the example of Mary and give birth to Christ this Christmas. Not physically, of course, but spiritually.

Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa reflected today on giving birth to Christ in one's heart during his third and last Advent sermon this year at the Vatican in the presence of Benedict XVI and the Roman Curia. The talks centered around the theme: "When the Fullness of Time Had Come, God Sent his Son, Born of a Woman: Going With St. Paul to Meet the Christ Who Comes."

"We are mothers of Christ when we carry him in our heart and in our body by divine love and with a pure and sincere conscience," Father Cantalamessa said, quoting St. Francis of Assisi. "We give birth to him through holy works, which should shine forth as an example for others.

"How holy and dear, pleasant, humble, peaceful, lovable and desirable above all things it is to have such a brother and such a son, our Lord Jesus Christ!"

"The saint is telling us that we conceive Christ when we love him with a sincere heart and with rectitude of conscience, and we give birth to him when we accomplish holy deeds that manifest him to the world," the preacher explained.

"For St. Bonaventure," he continued, "the soul conceives Jesus when, dissatisfied with the life he is living, prompted by holy inspirations and inflamed by holy ardor, he resolutely tears himself away from his old habits and defects, is in a way made spiritually fertile by the grace of the Holy Spirit and conceives the project of a new life. Christ has been conceived!"

"Once conceived, the blessed Son of God will be born in the heart so long as this soul, after having made a right discernment, asked for appropriate advice and called upon God for help, puts his holy plan immediately into practice and begins to realize that which had been ripening in him but which he had always put off for fear of being incapable of succeeding in it," the preacher added.

Father Cantalamessa warned, however, that "this project of a new life must translate itself, without delay, into something concrete, into a change, possibly even external and visible, in our life and in our habits."

"If the plan is not put into action," he explained, "Jesus is conceived, but he is not born. It will become one of the many spiritual abortions."

"If you decide to change your lifestyle and enter into the category of the poor and humble, who, like Mary, only seek the grace of God, without worrying about pleasing men, then, St. Bonaventure writes, you must arm yourself with courage, because you will need it," the preacher concluded.

He then offered the example of the Mother of God, suggested "to bring this new drive to our spiritual life: to truly conceive and give birth to Jesus in us this Christmas. "

--- --- ---

Full text: www.zenit.org/article-24619?l=english

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RE: Mary, the first Christian 2009/01/17 16:09:41 (permalink)
On January 15, 1933: The first appearance of Our Lady of Banneux, Virgin of the poor, the sick, and the suffering (Belgium.)

Our Lady of Banneux
The Shrine of Our Lady of Banneux, also known as the Shrine of the Virgin of the Poor, is a Marian shrine and place of healing in Belgium.

According to belief, the Virgin Mary appeared to a young girl of Banneux on eight separate occasions in the winter of 1933. Over the course of these apparitions, the Blessed Virgin spoke only briefly, but led young Mariette to a spring that came to have healing powers.

Little Mariette first saw Our Lady of Banneux through her kitchen window before supper on Sunday, January 15, 1933. She saw a glowing figure standing motionless near the vegetable garden, dressed in white with a bright blue sash. The figure held a rosary and was smiling at Mariette. The young girl asked to go outside, but her mother feared the girl's vision might be a ghost and refused to allow it. When Mariette returned to the window, the lady had vanished.

Three days later, Mariette knelt on the frozen ground where she had seen the figure and began praying the rosary. A figure appeared in the distant sky, then came closer and closer until she was only a few feet away. The lady led Mariette to a spring, then spoke for the first time, saying: "Plunge your hands into the water. This spring is reserved for me." Then she withdrew, promising to return.

On Thursday, January 19, the lady appeared for a third time. Mariette asked her who she was, and she replied, "I am the Virgin of the Poor." The Virgin again led Mariette to the spring, and said, "This is reserved for all nations, for the sick."

During the fourth apparition, the Virgin said she would like a little chapel built and made the sign of the cross. At the fifth apparition, the Virgin took Mariette to the spring and said, "I come to alleviate suffering." The sixth time, she said, "Believe in me, I will believe in you," and the seventh time, "Pray hard."

The eighth and final apparition came on Thursday, March 2, 1933. The Virgin said, "I am the mother of the Savior, Mother of God" and again, "Pray hard."

After the apparitions, many healing miracles associated with the spring at Banneux were reported. The site of the apparitions at Banneux was officially approved by the Vatican in 1949.


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RE: Mary, the first Christian 2009/01/17 16:11:12 (permalink)

Pope John Paul II visits the Shrine of Banneaux
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RE: Mary, the first Christian 2009/01/17 16:22:51 (permalink)
Dear friends,

One role of a priest is to act as intermediary. Our most well known intermediary?  She is Mary of course.

Many people are not familiar with the role that Mary plays in the case for women's ordination. Throughout the centuries the faithful have intuitively understood that Mary shares in Jesus’ priesthood more than any other person. Historical records document a devotion to her as priest on the part of many saints, popes, bishops, theologians and spiritual authors. Implicit in the devotion is a strong but usually unspoken conviction that even though she was a woman, Mary could easily have been ordained a priest among men. Documentary evidence shows that a certain times in history, this conviction was expressed explicitly in the Church.

Our website founder Dr. John Wijngaards explains that throughout the centuries Catholics have known in their heart of hearts and to the marrow of their bones that women are equal before God and that there is no fundamental justification to bar them from ordination. 

As we examine our history as Christ’s believing community, we discover just beneath the surface of cultural opposition to women priests a constant awareness that runs counter to the officially sanctioned social and cultural ideas. One way in which this sensus fidelium -- sense of the faithful -- expressed its conviction is through the age old acceptance of Mary as the most eminent of priests.

In his article The priesthood of Mary, Dr. Wijngaards takes down history's lane. In so doing, he provides an overview of the latent Tradition of Mary as priest. In his conclusion, he shares:

In our attic of forgotten treasures lies also the ancient conviction that Mary, priest without stain, supports priests in their ministry. Priests used to recommend themselves to her care, and to formulate, before each Mass, the intention of offering the Eucharist through Mary’s immaculate and priestly hands. St. Ignatius of Loyola had a vision in which he saw the Blessed Virgin assisting him especially at the moment of consecration. Priests hailed Mary as their ‘model’, ‘the first priest after Christ’. Have we become too macho to acknowledge a woman as our ‘model priest’? Tradition’s comment is, perhaps, best expressed in a fifteenth-century French painting that shows Mary standing at the altar and wearing priestly vestments, about to distribute Holy Communion. The Pope kneels before her. Should we see any significance in a frowning angel painted next to the Holy Father, who holds his precious tiara?
The link to the article is here: The priesthood of Mary. Please enjoy! If you have any questions, let me know!

with love and blessings,

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RE: Mary, the first Christian 2009/01/17 16:31:45 (permalink)
Theotokos of the Life Giving Spring

Does Tradition show that Mary was priest? Can we find evidence of centuries long devotion to her as a priest? The following document includes a provisional list drawing together the names of saints, bishops, theologians and spiritual authors who have written about Mary’s priesthood and whose writings are, to a limited extent, documented on our web site. Though the list is not intended to reflect the devotion to Mary as Priest in a complete or exhaustive fashion, it does give us an idea as to the continuity and expansiveness of this devotion throughout the ages. The increase in testimonies in later centuries does not come so much from growth in the devotion as it does from the fact that testimonies from earlier times are more difficult to obtain.

Take special note of the sample quotes of the way Mary is described throughout the ages. For example, some of these are drawn from the list:

During his papacy (1903 - 1914) Pope Pius X attached an indulgence to the invocation of Mary as Virgin Priest. Then quite suddenly, during the papacy of Pope Benedict XIV, the Holy Office forbade images of Mary as priest. This was further compounded during the papacy of Pope Pius XI (papacy 1922 - 1939), the Holy Office explicitly forbade any devotion to Mary Virgin Priest.

See the entire list of our research as it stands so far. The link to it is here: http://www.womenpriests.org/mrpriest/mpr_list.asp
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RE: Mary, the first Christian 2009/01/17 16:32:33 (permalink)

-The Nativity by He Qi, China
-- Theologian Dr. Tina Beattie: "Maternity, a form of priesthood"

Dear friends,

British theologian Dr. Tina Beattie has a keen interest in Mary.  Beattie's article Mary, the Virgin Priest provides an excellent analysis of the tradition of the Virgin Mother's priesthood.  Beattie examines:
  • Mary's priesthood: The Theology
  • Unexamined instinct
  • Maternity: A Form of Priesthood
  • A Defiling Potency
  • Breaching Taboos
  • Symbolic Reconciliation

Beattie's makes the astute observation:

Many see the Catholic Church’s refusal to consider the question of women’s ordination as an almost insurmountable problem. I see it rather as an opportunity and an incentive to develop a coherent theology of women’s priesthood that would not simply absorb women into male hierarchies. The Church’s own symbolism leads along the path of a maternal priesthood. What is it that some men are really afraid of when they contemplate women priests? They have yet to come up with a convincing argument that justifies their fear.
The link to the article is here: http://www.womenpriests.org/mrpriest/beattie.asp.  If you have any questions, as always, please ask!

with love and blessings,



Dr. Tina Beattie

Tina Beattie's main areas of teaching and research are in theologies and theories of gender, symbolism and ethics, and in religion and human rights. Her doctoral research was on the theology and symbolism of the Virgin Mary, drawing on the psycholinguistic theory of Luce Irigaray as a resource for the analysis of Christian writings on Mary and Eve in the early Church and in recent Roman Catholic theology. Her thesis formed the basis of her book, God's Mother, Eve's Advocate: A Marian Narrative of Women's Salvation (2002). Her latest book is New Catholic Feminism: Theology And Theory  (Routledge 2006). She is currently beginning new research on the representation of women and religion in human rights discourse.

A copy of a recent cv is found here: http://www.womenpriests.org/circles/fb.asp?m=10104
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RE: Mary, the first Christian 2009/01/17 16:37:07 (permalink)

More information about the tradition of Mary as priest and its significance on the case for women's ordination is found here:
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RE: Mary, the first Christian 2009/04/18 20:34:17 (permalink)
Dear friends,

The periodical called America Magazine is celebrating its 100th anniversary.  As part of the celebration, they are 'reposting' old articles.  This one about Mary came up.  In light of our conversation here, I wanted to share it.

with love and blessings,



Mary and the Feminist Movement
From December 18, 1993
by Sidney Callahan | Archived Article
America Magazine
Religious devotion to the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, has grown and developed during the Christian era, but not without criticism. Recently, feminist-inspired critiques have claimed that Marian devotion is now and always has been counterproductive for women's flourishing-a serious accusation indeed. As a Christian feminist, I contest this indictment and maintain that love and reverence for Mary serve to further the well-being of women and the good of the church.

In my developmental perspective on the evolution of Christianity, Marian devotion serves a twofold function. First, to act as a compensatory witness to those Gospel values and truths that the official church is either ignoring or distorting during a particular era. Second, to confirm the good news and herald what is corning next in the church's pilgrimage.

When, for example, Christ's humanity and God's tender, loving, maternal mercy were obscured by a popular view of God as terrifying or impassive judge, Mary served as a compensatory embodiment of heaven's love and mercy, a metaphor of God's maternal compassion. Or again, when theology slighted the work of the Holy Spirit as mediating grace within the cosmos and the concrete world of human affairs, Mary's role as mediatrix flowered. She became almost symbolically fused with the Holy Spirit, the divine Sophia. When, after further reflection, a more balanced theological understanding of Mary and the Christian message develops, Marian devotions will change their emphases and coloration once again.

Hope springs from the fact that women's rising spirit takes place today within a groundswell of Christian movements dedicated to the plight of the world's poor and oppressed. Feminism is entwined with other emancipatory movements because in so many instances women remain the poorest of the poor, unjustly subjected to gender discrimination, sexual abuse and violence. On the threshold of the second millennium, Mary, the mother of Christian feminism, appears as an eternal sign of God's urgent desire for justice and peace in the world.

Surely, in the 21st century, the most grievous dangers facing the world will arise from abuses of power in their secular and religious forms. If we wish to struggle against the cruel laws of the jungle or the callous competitiveness of the marketplace, in which only the strongest survive, we do well to support the joining together of feminist and Marian ideals. But how to begin?

Here I can offer only the briefest outline of one way the Marian-feminist reconciliation and recovery project can proceed. I start with a sample of recent feminist indictments of Marian devotion and then offer counterarguments. From that defensive posture I sketch out ways that central feminist concerns converge with traditional Marian themes.

The Indictments
The most notorious recent attack on traditional Marian devotion has been mounted by Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong in his 1992 book, Born of a Woman: A Bishop Rethinks the Birth of Jesus. Bishop Spong is particularly upset by the traditional doctrines concerning Mary's virginity, her immaculate conception and her bodily assumption. He sees these doctrines as devices by which celibate males were able to create an ideal of womanhood that would "universalize guilt among women." With the Marian ideals of womanhood accepted and saluted the world over, "then at one stroke every other woman was and is rendered inadequate, incomplete, incompetent."

Bishop Spong adopts the same message as, and uses resources from, Marina Warner's 1976 book, Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and Cult of the Virgin Mary. Marina Warner gives a more sympathetic tour through the cultural and artistic history of Marian doctrines and devotions. But she also laments the fact that the Virgin Mary "became an effective instrument of asceticism and female subjection." Warner's title phrase, "alone of all her sex," is a line taken from a medieval poem, but she selects it to express her thesis: Mary's exaltation emphasizes her uniqueness and thereby excludes and damages the condition of the majority of women.

Other Christian feminists have agreed in part with Warner. While they may see Christianity as on the whole a liberating force in history, they assess Marian devotion as counterproductive for women. Even Carolyn Osiek in her irenic 1986 book, Beyond Anger: On Being a Feminist in the Church, says that Mary provided Catholic women an "impossible ideal to which no woman could attain, with whom all women are invited to feel inadequate." Another problem from her perspective is that Mary's chief qualification for exaltation is maternity. "Even for Mary, biology is destiny."

If such critiques sound familiar, it is because they echo the criticisms from that part of the secular feminist movement shaped by the anti-religious animus of Simone deBeauvoir, who considered the Judeo-Christian tradition "savagely anti-feminine." Many secular feminists took up her antagonistic stance to Western religions because traditional doctrines were deemed to define women as inferior. Religion seemed to condemn women to live as reproductive objects rather than as self-defining subjects. Beauvoir, for instance, thought that women would remain socially suppressed until they could throw off the biological bondage of their reproductive functions. For her, unmarried, and childless by choice, only the male model of permissive sexual eroticism sans reproductive consequences could provide women with true equality and freedom.

Modern American feminism arose during a decade or so of intense social upheaval. American society simultaneously experienced the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, the sexual revolution and the feminist movement. Unfortunately, parts of the feminist movement, while generally inspired by the human rights movement that advocated the equality and dignity of all persons, also adopted the worst of the period's permissive sexual ideologies and were generally critical of marital, religious and family commitments.

By the 1990's the culture had changed once more, and feminism along with it. Feminism has become multicultural and pluralistic and has moved on to a renewed appreciation of women's lives, history and traditional strengths-in their reproductive, familial and maternal roles. Today, in many feminist visions, the sweeping anti-religious dogmas of the past have been left behind. Forms of religious feminism have developed within every traditional faith-and outside of them as well. Now it can be recognized that the American feminist foremothers in the 19th century, like the contemporary abolitionists, were inspired by Christian doctrines of the equal human dignity of beings created in the image of God. Amid the pluralistic feminist reappraisals going on, a resurgent Christian feminist theology can confidently counter negative appraisals of Marian devotion.

Countering the Critiques
One common theme in explaining the rise of Marian devotion in the church has been to recognize that, with the spread of Christianity over the known world, newly converted Christians inevitably assimilated or sublimated pre-existing local cults. One of the strongest religious manifestations of the ancient pagan world was the widespread worship of the great mother goddess, appearing in the form of a multitude of female deities. The interpretation given these early historical developments will depend upon one's ideological or theological perspective, but no one doubts that Marian devotion was at the very least kindled by pre-existing pagan myths and goddess worship.

The relevant point here is that from a modem feminist perspective, worship of the great mother goddess and female pagan deities are not viewed as a means to subordinate women, but rather as symbolic enhancement of female power and a validation of women's experience. According to most feminists, when God was, or is, or shall be, symbolized with female images, ordinary women in a society will be better off for it.

Accordingly, modern women outside the traditional faiths have created neo-pagan goddess cults expressly aimed at vindicating and empowering themselves through feminine symbols and female-oriented rituals. So, too, Christian feminists reconstruct the tradition's female symbols, female-oriented spiritualities, women centered Scripture readings and ritual celebrations. A similar validation of women's power and importance accompanied the church's devotion and homage to Mary as the mother of God and powerful queen of heaven. These movements spontaneously rose among the people, particularly among women, and cannot be dismissed as a power play of celibate males. As the agnostic historian of the Middle Ages, Henry Adams, put it, writing in the beginning of the 20th century, "All the literature and history of the time" proclaim of Marian devotion, "how this worship elevated the whole sex."

On the one hand, there was the exaltation of Mary's feminine spiritual authority in the divine scheme, which worked as a counter-story to official statements of intrinsic feminine inferiority. On the other hand, there was a constant celebration and reliance upon Mary's embodiment and embeddedness in human affairs as a real woman concerned with domestic details like all other women. She was the great and powerful queen of heaven as well as the approachable Everywoman concerned with the daily needs of ordinary men and women.

Those who exalted Mary in liturgical worship, art and poetry used Scripture symbolically to identify her with Wisdom, the Holy Spirit, the new Eve, the valiant woman, the daughter of Zion, the figure of the faithful church. She received titles of reverence identifying her with all the virtues and all the beauties of nature. Litanies saluted her as Our Lady of Good Counsel, Refuge of Sinners, Seat of Wisdom, Mirror of Justice, Mother of Mercy, Queen of Peace, Mystical Rose, Star of the Sea. Can these female images of active power have invited women to feel inadequate, incomplete or incompetent? Not likely.

The Marian cult also excelled in elaborating on the goodness of Mary as a real, embodied woman. Not only was her womb called blessed but her breasts and milk were celebrated. Mary is shown pregnant or nursing her infant. Legends grew up of how she healed the ill by nursing them with her milk. Mary always offered concrete physical help, often coming to wipe the sweat from the brow of the dying sick poor. She opened the wombs of infertile women, helped brides without a dowry and attended women in childbirth. All of the phases of Mary's feminine life cycle were identified with and celebrated by women, as well as by men. The older sorrowful mother, in an agony of grief at the crucifixion of her son, was never forgotten. She mourned with humankind in every sorrow, but especially with women who lost children.

Mary's special concern, however, from medieval to modern times, was to champion the poor, the outcast, the oppressed, the ill, the marginalized and morally dubious. Her concern for physical healing of the sick produced great shrines and gave a witness to Christ's healing powers. These were early promissory notes for today's recovery of Christian healing ministries in the church. So too, long before modern liberation theologians voiced the idea of the "preferential option for the poor," Mary heralded this basic Christian insight by her activities.

Marian miracles and appearances favor the downtrodden, the lowly and those in need. The great, defiant Marian prayer-"The Magnificat"-shows Mary as the heir of the Hebrew prophets, a true daughter of Zion calling down God's justice on the rich and routing the proud of heart. Today, once again, in various movements rising up against oppression, Mary is invoked as: woman of the poor, unwed mother, widowed mother, political refugee, seeker of sanctuary, sign of contradiction, mother of the homeless, mother of the nonviolent, mother of the executed criminal, model of risk, trust, courage, patience, perseverance, wellspring of peace.

Henry Adams caught the spirit of the recurring reliance on and resort to Mary, although he confined his analysis to Marian devotion in medieval Europe and could not know of the surprising Marian developments that were to come after his time. For Adams, Mary is never passive, but instead: "Mary concentrated in herself the whole rebellion of man against fate." This Boston brahmin also asserted that "the people loved Mary because she trampled on conventions: not merely because she could do it, but because she liked to do what shocked every well-regulated authority. Her pity had no limit" (Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres).

Adams comes to conclusions exactly opposite those of Bishop Spong and Marina Warner. For Adams, the people "idolized her for being strong, physically and in will, so that she feared nothing, and was as helpful to the knight in the melee of battle as to the young mother in childbed." She excels in both masculine assertiveness and in tender feminine concern. I would claim that among other things Mary, like Christ, can be seen as implicitly witnessing to the basic Christian insight that in Christ there is neither male nor female. Doing the will of God, believing and obeying in love, the human person transcends gender identity.

According to Caroline Walker Bynum, a noted historian of religion, while misogyny existed in the culture, "in fact religious women paid surprisingly little attention to their supposed incapacity" (Gender and Religion, 1986). Religious women reworked gender imagery and effectively established their own internal sense of equality. Women mystics and devotional writers recovered many ancient Christian themes and spoke of Christ as mother giving birth to the church. God is also seen as maternal, like a nursing mother lovingly feeding the faithful on the Eucharist.

Today Christian feminists are working to uncover and articulate ancient, woman-affirming spiritual roots. When history is examined with newly opened minds, it will appear that different forms of feminism have arisen time and again-and just as often been suppressed. Late 20th-century secular feminism can be envisioned as another round in the struggle.

Modern Secular Feminist Themes
Obviously, feminists vary because they come to their feminist convictions from different starting points and inevitably retain their ideological allegiances to different worldviews. This leads skeptics to inquire whether there is anything at all that the different forms of feminism hold in common.

Yes, decidedly. There are core feminist affirmations. All feminists, from the most radical separatists to the most orthodox religious, seek to end harmful gender discrimination and unjust oppression of women. All advocate the social changes necessary to bring about gender equality and the well-being and full human flourishing of women. In this general emancipatory enterprise all feminists inevitably undertake a critique of the status quo.

Most feminists have emphasized the need to recover a relational view of the self, in contradistinction to individualistic male norms of isolated self-sufficiency. In feminist analyses human beings are acknowledged as concretely embodied and embedded in specific familial and historical contexts that should not be ignored. Women's hidden contribution to society and the making of "self-made" men must be acknowledged. Retrieving history from below, where women and others of lesser power have lived and worked, is an important feminist project. In the same way, most feminists have affirmed embodied human subjectivity as one in which reason and emotion cannot be separated.

Another central feminist concern has been the analysis of power and the ways social structures can oppress or emancipate persons in either crude or subtle ways. Women have so often been silenced and excluded. Feminists therefore employ a "hermeneutics of suspicion" and will always look to see whose interests are being served when gender definitions and gender arrangements are proposed. It becomes particularly important for women that gender justice and equality operate within the family and include childrearing practices.

Feminists hold that oppressors too are wounded by abusive power. Why should violent forms of domineering power be culturally glorified and women's nurturing creative work be discounted?

Finally, all feminists have claimed that women must no longer be thought of as sexual objects or reduced to the status of reproductive breeding properties in the service of either powerful males or the state. Women's sexuality and sexual autonomy must be respected.

Reappraising Present Marian Developments With a Feminist Eye
Today Mary and Marian doctrines are understood as they refer to and explicate the church's understanding of Christ and the Incarnation. Gender identity is transcended because theologians emphasize Mary's role as "the first disciple," and see her as the type and model for every faithful Christian believer, whether male or female. The doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are now understood as necessarily interrelated and implicitly derived from Christ's redemption of all humankind. Mary is the first fruit of Christ's saving act, which overcomes sin and death. Mary's "yes" to God made possible the redemption and through Christ every Christian may also say "yes," become pregnant with hope and engender new life.

Christian feminists will go further in a reading of the evolving significance of Mary: Marian devotion has preserved a feminine presence and recognition of feminine power within an officially male-dominated structure. One holy woman, at least, has never been forgotten, left nameless or banished from leadership in the church. Until God could again be invoked as Mother as well as Father by the faithful, Mary has stood witness to the divine Sophia and to the fact that gender is transcended in wisdom and faith. But if Marian devotions preserve the feminine heritage, they also prophetically prefigure new explicit developments of the implicit Gospel message. Seeds that lie dormant flower in the fullness of time.

Today the church is beginning to confront the worldwide feminist movement, and this soon brings to the fore deeper theological questions of embodiment, gender and sexuality. Mary's freedom from sin, her bodily assumption into heaven give witness to the goodness of the female human body and the truth of the promised resurrection of all bodies. But what are the implications for bodies and the body-mind unity of the human being here and now? Marian shrines have been noted for healing, but healing ministries have not yet become a central concern of the church.

Mary's active concern for the faithful on earth has also testified to the Christian belief in the communion of saints and the continuing solidarity of a human community of the living and the dead. But the Marian cult's implicit witness to the cosmic solidarity and communal nature of humankind has not been developed into a coherent theology. Christianity is in its infancy when it comes to the struggle for equality and justice.

Mary's embeddedness in the natural processes of procreation, her identification with nature imagery and her elevation as one with a cosmic care for the world can give heart to those seeking to develop Christian ecological awareness. But here again the work of mothering the earth has just begun.

In the same way the implications of Gospel peacemaking and nonviolence have not yet been developed. Modern Catholics in the peace movement turn to Mary as Mother of Peace, wellspring of peace, and are inspired to dream of new forms of peacemaking. A spiritual struggle for peace and the power of intercessory prayer are central in the traditional cult of Mary, but the theological developments of intercessory prayer and of nonviolent witness have not been adequate.

The ancient depictions of the dormition of Mary symbolize the sleep that characterizes theological reflection on the Marian themes. On the other hand, reported Marian appearances all over the world have been increasing. These curious and sometimes comic scenarios of sightings do little for the credibility of the church, but they do testify to the fact that simple people trust that Mary is willing to make an appearance in their backyard and desires to communicate with them personally.

The Convergence of Marian and Feminist Themes
It takes a slightly more sophisticated reading of the continuing Marian story to discern the ways Marian devotions and doctrines converge with core feminist concerns. Obviously, there is the common cry for justice and a desire for a general emancipation of women and the oppressed. Feminist concerns for peace, nurturing power and new movements of ecological feminism bent on mothering the earth find a deep resonance within Marian devotion.

Surely too, feminist emphases upon the importance of concrete social embeddedness are found in Marian devotion and doctrines. In the Mary cult, the self is always relational; no one, not even God, appears without recognizing the bonds to mother and family.

It is also a truism that Marian devotion has affirmed the human need for emotion, for poetic beauty and for the fusion of affect and reason in human expressions and reflection. Hyperrationalistic scholasticism may have reigned in parts of the church's life but not everywhere---certainly not in Mary's domain. If anything, the temptation of Marian devotion in the 19th century was toward an exaggerated sentimentality. But at least Mary has never been accused of being a champion of abstract, arid rules that produce slavish obedience to the letter of the law.

But what of the accusation that Mary's virginity made sexually active women feel inadequate or guilty because they could not be as pure as Mary? And was Mary, who is exalted in her maternity, conforming to a "biology is destiny" ideology? Of course it is possible that at times Marian symbols were used in a reductionist way. In certain church circles there lingered a gnostic, anti-sexual animus that identified sexuality with sin. Sex and sexual activity in some severe ascetic traditions were seen as polluting. But other elements of the symbols used in the Mary story seem more powerful.

Marina Warner herself reminds us that virginity in the ancient world of goddesses did not refer so much to sexual purity as to autonomy and free self-determination. Virgins such as Diana of the Ephesians or Pallas Athena were probably manifestations of the great mother goddess who was worshiped along the entire feminine sexual cycle, from virgin to married woman to wise old woman. The virginity of such female pagan deities signaled their complete freedom from subjection to a male or to a mate.

Mary's virginity and the virgin birth can be interpreted as symbols of her autonomy, signaling her direct relationship to God, un mediated through any hierarchically placed male, spouse or no. Virginity for both men and women also symbolized integrity, an undivided mind and wholly focused heart, signed in the untouched body. Significantly, the punishments of Eve were her longing for, and sexual dependency upon, her husband-a corollary of her subjection to him-and her pain in childbirth. Mary, the new Eve, was believed as virgin to be free of this sexual subjugation, as well as from the pain of childbirth.

While the Holy Family could not be a model of sexual fulfillment and procreative fruitfulness, from a feminist perspective this family demonstrated a liberating model of equal gender relationships. Mary is equal, in no way dominated by her spouse and completely free as a moral agent. Even in a misogynous age, all of Mary's powers and privileges, her strengths and virtues, were seen as independent of her status as a wife. Mary and Joseph and her name always comes first-exemplify an interdependent, equal relationship of mutual respect in a family. If any spouse is the designated "helpmate" in this marriage, it is Joseph.

Indeed, Christian feminists can go further in analyzing the symbolic narratives. Mary's "fiat" to the angel, accepting the birth of Jesus, was believed to be given in perfect freedom from any anxiety of sin-because of the immaculate conception. In the story of Christian salvation, Mary is not coerced by God (as if by Zeus), nor is she driven to reproduce-by her own anxiety, or by social influences, or by her husband's desires, or by biological forces. Mary's personal "fiat" produces a pregnancy and childbirth that can be seen as heralding a new era of human reproduction. A redeemed woman freely consents to cooperate with God and life as a responsible, responsive moral agent. Of all women in the world, Mary is the last one of whom it can be said that "biology is destiny."

The paradoxical symbol of the Virgin-Mother specifically contradicts the idea that a woman must choose between her personal mission as a moral agent of integrity and the privileges and joys of biological maternity. And the single woman who does not reproduce is as validated as the mother who does. Embodiment and reproductive power are affirmed without being absolutized.

I am also sure that in the next round of the feminist struggle for the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic Church, Mary's life and actions will be cited as the model of women's full equality and emancipation within the church. She who first brought Christ, both body and blood, into the human community can be invoked as the exemplar of women's priestly ministry among the faithful. There have been earlier movements advocating the priesthood of Mary, but they have never been developed. Once the church has grown, however, into a more balanced view of gender and personhood, women will surely be ordained. Gender, as seen in the life of both Mary and Christ, is a dimension of human identity but is not more important than charity and doing God's will. Marian devotion makes this clear by validating female human nature and female bodies while not allowing Mary's gender to limit the ways she serves God. Love of God and neighbor, like wisdom and truth, know no gender.

I predict that when women priests are finally welcomed and ordained in the Roman Catholic Church, Marian images will be used in the official documents of acceptance, and invocations to Mary will be featured in the ordination ceremonies.

Sidney Callahan is a psychologist and author of Created for Joy: A Christian View of Suffering.

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