This article is in process – and will continue to be revised. But since it is Christmas, and Mary’s time is being honored – I wanted to share this writing. Merry Christmas!
WHERE IS MY BLESSED MOTHER?
Ever since I encountered the sweet presence of holy wisdom that comes from choosing to be in relationship with the sacred feminine, any spiritual journey that lacks her presence, lacks substance for me.
Once she was present, I truly wondered how I lived without knowledge of her so long. I was 22 at the time. I had heard of the Goddess and her many names, and the Virgin and her many names, but neither context ignited for me. I can only speculate why I did not reach for the hem of Mary’s garment sooner, but it is plain to see that her presence has been intentionally hidden from our eyes for thousands of years. She has always been with us.
My journey of getting to know Mama Mary over these past 16 years has been filled with sweet joy, comfort, illumination, revelation, connection and pain over her absence in our lives. Over the years I have evolved from a Christian feminist promoting the Divine Mother to where I am now: peacefully, consistently, sharing the gift of her presence in my own life through my art, writings, and a few select teachings. She is not my agenda, she is the ground of my being.
When I gave myself the permission to consider Mary as my Blessed Mother , as a real divine parent with the Father—I had an awakening “experience” that changed the way I think and feel about myself, and the world. When I thought of her not as a figurehead of feminine and metaphoric wisdom, not as a poster girl for being good, and not just as a mere “vessel, it was then that her essence entered the very fiber of my life. Removing the fettering taboos of the Christian story as it had been taught to me, even for moments or hours at a time, created a space for her to reveal her precious and powerful presence.
The words I share are my personal journey of exploration. I do not claim to know how it “really“ is, only how it really is for me, at this moment. After encountering her, and beginning to live life within a context that recognized her, I became the artist that I am today, using creativity as medicine for the soul. My experience is that she opened my eyes to the medium of “art” as my gift, and my assignment on earth. My calling to share art as sacred practice sprung up from my relationship with Mary, who instilled in me an unquenchable desire to service and to love. Her work in me, guides me to attempt to live out the Gospel teachings of Jesus.
I have argued with Christians and Goddess folk on both sides of the fence. Many of the Goddess folk, with whom I am very close, cannot abide the Son. Many Christian folk cannot abide the Mother as anything more than the lady in Silent Night, yes she gave birth to God, but ‘really she has no part in the unfolding plan of salvation’. ‘Why do you need to add Mary, they ask me, isn’t Jesus enough?’ That is not the question. The question is, does she have an important role in the Christian story, today, or not?
I hope that those who know me might consider the Blessed Mother simply because I love her, and how she has transformed my life. Though I will not spend my life making a case for her, I have spent a considerable amount of my life, painting offerings to her, writing prayers to her, and sharing my Mama Mary prayers.
In the words of this African spiritual, written by Martiniano Eliseu de Bomfim in 1936:
Run, Mary, run I say
You got a right to the tree of life.
Little Mary you got a right
Weeping Mary, You got a right to the tree of life.Cross is heavy, but you got a right
Children gone, but you got a right
You got a right to the tree of life.
In a traditionalProtestant world-view context, however liberal, there is usually no place for Mary to lay her head except at Christmas while nursing the baby, so successful has been the campaign to root the Holy Mother out of the tree of life. Imagine that—the one who gave birth to God being merely a placeholder, an obedient vessel and no more. I felt utterly sad and a bit duped by the patriarchal overlay that made even a free-thinking woman like me wait so long to wonder: where is the Mother in this story? There is a Father and a Son, but no Mother? What? Something is wrong in this picture.
Upon embarking in a relationship with the Blessed Mother I asked my Grandmother Eden, a Christian with no specific denomination to tell me what she knew of her. Her reply: “Mary was a nice girl who obeyed the will of God. A nice girl? Not what I was looking for.
My Grandmother Helen, however, was raised in the Russian Orthodox Church and had at least an icon and a painted egg or two in her home. Though my grandmother had never mentioned Mary to me, when I asked, she revealed Mary as Theotokos, the God-bearer, did play a role in her childhood faith, and that she was “always there.” I asked if she had a relationship with Mary and she said, “Of course!” Although she never spoke of it to me. She showed me pictures of her home church, which my great-grandfather Demetri Yarosh, the priest with the big gold crosses in the photos, had a hand in building 100 years ago. The church was filled with images of Mary, the central one being huge, the main icon of the Theotokos enthroned on the seat of Wisdom with her child. Surely this must mean Mary at one time had a powerful role to play in the Christian story? It would be years until I would walk into a church that looked like this for myself…
This is an excerpt from a 6th century Akathist (hymn) by St. Romanos the Melodist singing Mary’s praises. The original goes on for pages and pages and can still be heard sung on feast days in honor of the Theotokos at Orthodox Churches.
Rejoice, branch of an Unfading Sprout:
Rejoice, acquisition of Immortal Fruit!
Rejoice, laborer that laborest for the Lover of humankind:
Rejoice, Thou Who givest birth to the Planter of our life!
Rejoice, cornland yielding a rich crop of mercies:
Rejoice, table bearing a wealth of forgiveness!
Rejoice, Thou Who makest to bloom the garden of delight:
Rejoice, Thou Who preparest a haven for souls!
Rejoice, acceptable incense of intercession:
Rejoice, propitiation of all the world!
Rejoice, good will of God to mortals:
Rejoice, boldness of mortals before God!
Rejoice, O Bride Unwedded!
I wanted to know – what was Mary’s job now? Was she with the other apostles, dead and awaiting resurrection or was she, as pictured in the icons, participating in the life of her Son’s work in some way, in real time, here on earth. Was she “available “ to hear our cries?
At the time, back in 1993, there was not nearly as many books about Mary and ways of including her in our faith as we have now. In my daily walk, I worked to discover her active role in life on earth, if she had one. Now at least she is a political figure, with numerous Facebook fan pages and many more Sanctuary Candles from Mexico at Safeway. And in truth, she is the most painted figurative subject in the world.
I searched for her in art and found much that inspired me on my path with her. Still, nothing quite expressed what I felt, but then, that is why seeking spiritual answers is a personal path! There had to be more – and, there was! Thousands of years of holy mother and holy fathers have written of her, her lineage of love has been documented and I am just now finding it. I am grateful.
At one point, having had an experience of the Virgin de Guadalupe and including her as a primary image of the Mother in my life, I had a playful vision of the Holy Mother’s Dressing Room. Over the arched door with beaded curtain a sign read, Mama’s Closet: Private. I could imagine her going in there, and from hundreds of gowns and crowns she would select an outfit, persona, and even skin color in which to make her rounds. She would get Jesus dressed in a matching outfit and off they would go dispensing mercy.
I found it fascinating that throughout the world, the images and appearances of Mary were consistent with the geography. The colors, flowers, and symbols of whatever place she was “visiting” appeared in images artists made to describe what was seen, felt or known about a miracle that had been attributed to her there. In Lourdes, she is French, with light skin, a white dress, and gold roses on her shoes. In Częstochowa, her gown is dark and ornate, and her skin is black and so is her baby, Jesus. I imagined her emerging from her dressing room and dashing off to provide healing waters and miracles to the next destination. Sound outrageous? Any more outrageous than a heavenly family with no mother?
Say to wisdom: You are my sister, and call understanding your kinswoman. Prov. 7:4
How to share a faith with others that does not include a mother? A friend of mine had a rough time of it in life, having been in foster care her whole childhood until she eventually phased out of the system. She never had a family to call her own. I asked her once what she thought of Christianity. She was plagued with guilt and shame, unrest and anger, and I thought she could use the balm of forgiveness Jesus promised. She said, “Why on earth would I want to spend eternity with a dad and a son?” She never ceased to pine for her earthly mother. Her earthly father had set himself on fire and died.
Our conversation occurred before my encounter with Mary, and so I had nothing to say that made any sense in answer to her question, But the question was one of the beads upon my rosary, strung bead by bead over the course of my life. In my work with women, the question continues to be a bridge to understanding, especially considering the number of abused women whose experiences with men——have done deep damage to their spirits.
For years I thought the lack of the feminine in our religions perpetuated the abuse and neglect of women. That if we just had our Holy Mother, that would not be the case…right? This theory was disproven again and again. No, the presence of a divine feminine in a spiritual tradition did not eradicate the abuse of women, and how could this be? I struggle with this one,I give it to my Lord and Mary in prayer, never ceasing to work on behalf of women and girls.
“What’s wrong with the world, Mama, people acting like aint got no mamas” Black Eyed Peas
Because of the lack of the feminine and equal rights for women, At times I have considered leaving my Christian faith and looked in to everything from Buddhism to the Hare Krishnas. I have done my due diligence to find a way to continue to be a Christian, despite the bad press and equally bad reality of how many of us Christians have behaved. I actually spent years, recalibrating my relationship to the Christ story and have decided to remain, with Jesus. Forgiveness is just one of the reasons; another one is that the plan for salvation for us and our world being presented on earth is that of a Mother and Child and Father—in essence, a family.
While I am here, on earth, I desire to have a spiritual path, and to learn and live the teachings of wisdom available on that path. For me the path is called Jesus and Mary, and (for lack of a more expansive term) Christianity. I know the good, the bad, and the ugly of it. I have chosen and feel met by my faith to this point on my journey. Loving Jesus is radical. Loving the Blessed Mother is also radical, but loving both is considered extreme in some parts of Christendom.
“In my hour of darkness, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of Wisdom, let it be.” John Lennon/Paul McCartney
Recently, I made a journey to my own family roots, into the Orthodox Church, where Mary still sits front and center, her steady gaze and position radiating across the sanctuary with unfaltering power. They say icons are made to inspire you to pray, that upon gazing at them, you are supposed to just want to pray, and so it was with me. Here her image is an icon for her heavenly presence, a key pointing to the open door. She dwells high in the dome, huge, seated on the throne of wisdom, dispensing grace and answering prayers. Her child, a toddler God sits comfortably on His mother’s knee, holds out His hand to us, calling us to love one another, no matter what.
In deep inquiry I found that thoughts I believed I had dealt with were still ruling my life, without my conscious permission, this is a always a wake-up call! In the Orthodox Church where I am now studying and worshipping, Mary is alive, and praying to her is permitted and promoted. Even though I was already doing just that, I sighed with relief to find that somewhere, however patriarchal, where calling on our Mother is encouraged. I feel at home because of that, despite other challenging views I wrestle with on my journey.
What do I say? In my heart of hearts, while I honor people in all their faith traditions, not having a mother somewhere in the story just does not make sense, to me.
I will just have to take my chances with the rest of the revolutionaries who do things against the established norm, sharing my thoughts on Mama Mary with the world and risking what may ensue. She has not ceased to be included in the Christian story by billions of people world wide for over 2000 years. I didn’t even know, while growing up that there were Christians who included her in their faith traditions. How could that be?
Despite the evidence in certain traditions which honor the feminine and yet still lack true equality, I still believe, that honoring the Blessed Mother also, will be a part of the transformation of the world. Call me a dreamer.
As a child of an earthly father and mother, I shall continue in my loving of a Holy Father and Blessed Mother. Bold, unafraid, I shall hold out my lantern so I can see where I am going. And as they have asked me to, I shall reach towards the suffering where I am able, and call Mary what she asked me to call her: Blessed.
“From henceforth, all generations shall call me blessed.” Mary
Shiloh Sophia McCloud