Truly Our Sister by Laura Grimes


Laura GrimesMiriam of Nazareth, the fiery and courageous Jewish prophet who single-handedly enabled the incarnation of God/dess, is a profoundly ambivalent figure for Catholic feminists.  Her racist and patriarchal deformation as a sexless European Barbie has often been used to club and control other women.  Yet she refuses to be silenced or appropriated by oppressors, carrying the lost image of God/dess through the centuries and empowering women to know the sacredness of their own physical and spiritual life–giving labors in Her image.  I composed this hymn to celebrate the feast of the brown and pregnant Guadalupe/Tonantzin, and to mark the Marian feastdays of the Assumption (Aug. 15) and Queenship of Mary (August 22).  It reflects a long journey of exorcising the false misogynist Mary from my own mind and heart and claiming her as role model and mentor in my own call as thealogian, mother of four, and spiritual director.  It may be used in ritual or republished with the inclusion of author and copyright information (Laura M. Grimes, copyright 2010).

My original inspiration, after the birth of my younger daughter, was the traditional Litany of Loreto.  I came to love its eloquent images when I was studying in Rome and prayed it daily with the old Italian women who had the last liturgical word by leading it, in Latin and from memory, after each day’s mass.   It also includes key scriptural passages about Mary and many of the traditional mysteries of the rosary.  But the work’s gestation was incomplete until I became involved in an interfaith women’s spirituality church, the Goddess Temple of Orange County, and encountered the fourfold Goddess for the first time.  Rev. Ava Park, Presiding Priestess, has been a leader in the recent movement to add the missing image of the wise and loving Queen to the traditional Maiden, Mother, and Crone as a celebration of midlife and a model for women’s leadership.  The second through fifth verses of the hymn highlight Mary’s experience in each stage of women’s life and affirm every woman’s power and beauty as an icon of these four aspects of the Divine.  The title will be recognized by many as a reference to Elizabeth Johnson’s groundbreaking book on Mary—criticized by traditionalists for a cover depicting her scripturally as the mother of a large family!

The hymn is set to the familiar and lyrical tune Hyfrydol. For those familiar with Christian hymnody, this evokes the joyous words traditionally sung to it–“Alleluia, Sing to Jesus” and “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” The hymn begins with the Trinitarian invocation which begins all litanies, transformed with the feminine biblical images of Mother and Wisdom/Hokhmah/Sophia.  Jesus’ Jewishness is highlighted, as is the Johannine image of the Spirit as Living Water and the classical term for the mutual indwelling of the Trinitarian Persons, perichoresis (literally, dancing around together!)

Mother God, Wisdom creating, womb of the cosmos, have mercy on us;
Jesus Christ, Wisdom incarnate, lion of Judah, have mercy on us;
Spirit Sophia, Wisdom transforming, fountain of glory, have mercy on us;
Holy Trinity, God in unity, dancing in beauty, have mercy on us.

The second stanza highlights Mary’s realistic experience as a teen mother suspected of adultery and subject to stoning had the humble and compassionate Joseph not chosen to forgo his patriarchal privilege.  It also highlights her relationship with another powerful prophet, her crone-cousin Elizabeth, and Mary’s artistry and confidence in creating the Magnificat (often denied by patriarchal exegetes).  My daughter, who often sings this hymn with me as well as Mary’s Canticle—lit up with joy to learn that “Mama Mary wrote that?!”

Maiden most powerful, maiden most merciful, maiden most faithful, pray for us;
Unwed teenager, called by an angel, shamed in your village, pray for us;
Joseph’s beloved, friend of Elizabeth, singer of prophecy, pray for us;
Holy Mary, mother of God, cause of our joy, pray for us.

The third verse highlights Mary’s sacred physical labors and delights, shared with all women but misognyistically denied in traditional devotion that denies her labor pains and modern art which obliterates her breastfeeding, cherished in traditional art like the above image of Our Lady of La Leche. It highlights her priestly offering of Jesus in the Temple at his Presentation, acknowledged in medieval theology and art but long forgotten, and moves from joyful to sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary with her presence with other female disciples at the cross.

Mother most powerful, mother most merciful, mother most faithful, pray for us;
Riding to Bethlehem, shouting in labor, nursing the Savior, pray for us;
Off’ring your firstborn, seeking your lost son, pierced with a sword, pray for us;
Holy Mary, mother of God, refuge of sinners, pray for us.

The third verse is entirely composed of resonant images from the Litany of Loreto, and the fourth highlights Mary as wise and powerful older woman, present at Pentecost with many female and male disciples and appearing to the humble and oppressed of the earth in many cultures.  It sums up her ministry with a clear recognition of her priestly work in both physically and spiritually consecrating and making present the Body and Blood of Christ, as do many Catholic women clergy (both Independent/Old Catholic and Roman Catholic Women Priests) in service to the whole priestly people of God.

Queen most powerful, queen most merciful, queen most faithful, pray for us;
Mystical rose, throne of wisdom, mirror of justice, pray for us;
Ark of the covenant, star of the sea, vessel of healing light, pray for us;
Holy Mary, mother of God, help of Christians, pray for us.

Crone most powerful, crone most merciful, crone most faithful, pray for us;
Holy widow, crowned with sacred fire, speaking in many tongues, pray for us;
Preaching the good news, breaking the bread of life, reborn to heaven’s feast, pray for us;
Holy Mary, mother of God, first priest of Jesus, pray for us.

Laura Grimes, Ph.D. is a feminist theologian, liturgist and hymnwriter; spiritual director and retreat leader; and a wife and mother of two daughters and two sons.  She blogs at Christian Feminism Today.

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Categories: Catholic Church, Feminist Theology, General, Goddess Movement, Motherhood, Spirituality, Women in the Church

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4 replies

  1. This hymn is so beautiful and so needed. Thank you!

    For a portrait of Miriam that might resonate with yours see The Passion of Mary Magdalen and Bright Dark Madonna. I think you would get a kick out of the one I sometimes call Ma!

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  2. I love this!!!! Thank you. The accessible tune is especially appreciated.

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  3. Some years ago, I was a regular at the Goddess Temple of Orange County. I am the one who persuaded Ava to add the Queen altar when the temple moved to its current location. I also wrote a brochure for the temple that explains who the Queen is. The concept of Maiden-Mother-Queen-Crone was created by Donna Henes and me, working independently on opposite sides of the continent. (Donna lives in Brooklyn.) For true and correct information about the Queen, please read Donna’s book, Queen of My Self.

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  4. I knew of Donna’s book but not your own crucial work on the Queen, Barbara–thanks so much for sharing it.

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