My mother-in-law is currently in hospice and expected to cross over any time now. My wife is with her. Those two sentences alone—since I am a woman writing this blog—signify historic/herstoric change. I am a woman and I am writing about my mother in law and I am writing that my wife is with her. We are in a sea change regarding gay marriage. I will be allowed bereavement to go with my wife, when the time comes, for the services.
What has not changed in my life is my dependence on traditional prayer. Although I am a witch/Wiccan, have done all kinds of meditation from Transcendental Meditation, and Buddhist chanting, to visualization, spell work, and New Age affirmation—when push comes to shove as they say, I get out the Rosary.
Is it because I am Catholic? Well, of course—or else I might not pray the Rosary at all. But I have dual citizenship with the United States and Ireland. My heritage is both Irish and Canadian. I grew up deeply Catholic—educated in Catholic schools until 10th grade—when I had to leave because of what it costs versus public school (I think that was the reason anyway, not having been given a choice at the time).
I adored the nuns.
And I adored church for the most part—the incense, the rituals, the singing…I was in choir, and I appreciated the form it all gave to my daily life. As an Irish person with a large extended family of relatives (my grandmother came from a family of 17 children born from two mothers) we had no shortage of relatives who were nuns or priests. My uncle was a missionary in the Philippines and China. Family gatherings might have someone in the crowd in religious habit.
My grandmothers both prayed the Rosary. My Irish grandmother had the glow in the dark version on her night post so she could find it easily.
One of the first gifts I remember getting was a purse with a Rosary in it for my first Communion. I remember my Canadian grandmother who was a member of the group of women who cleaned the Church every week, made fresh the flowers, etc. and who then chose to pray the rosary with her friends after their duties were done. And now, as a board member of the Ministry of Gay and Lesbian Catholics at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church—when I do go to Mass (which is not often) I am moved by the women who after Mass choose stay, to pray the Rosary together.
The prayers themselves—the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory be to the Father —all contain phrases that I find objectionable to my feminist sensibility. For one thing—what is sin? And I don’t believe in a Lord. And the phrase, “Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death” …? I don’t actually “believe” that I am a sinner. I don’t really believe in “sin” per say and have spent a lot of time analyzing the category sin… who gets to make that category and how harmful categorizing “sin” was/is to LGBT people (Baby, You Are My Religion: Women, Gay Bars and Theology Before Stonewall )
Yet—as my mother in law, a wonderful woman who I wish could stay with us longer, goes into her last days, I find myself praying the Rosary. It is comforting. It feels like I am “doing something” when there feels like there is nothing to do. I pray for her to be with us and without pain for a few more days. I pray for closure for my wife. I pray for consciousness and the ability for a little more time together.
In the end—that’s what we want—just a little more time.
I also have been known to drop to my knees in an earthquake and start praying. This does not mean that I don’t have altars to goddesses. I do. I am being ordained in the Southern Californian Temple of Isis this spring…and dedicating myself to the goddesses Freya (Norse warrior Goddess and Goddess of sensual love), Yemaya (Mother Goddess of the Ocean) and Elen of the Ways (the Green Lady and the mysterious guardian of the leys/the only horned goddess, wearing reindeer antlers and a female equivalent to the Green Man). It doesn’t mean that I don’t mediate—I do and have for years, using a variety of forms—most recently a mantra from my yoga teacher. I began meditating my first year in college, and to this day have never told anyone my first mantra as so instructed by my first meditation teachers in Transcendental Meditation.
So—again, why the Rosary? It’s obvious that I have other ways to connect to the sacred—and that I am connected to/ “believe” in other forms of the sacred.
What the Rosary means for me, I think, is that when the big major issues come—I want the Rosary. I turn to it—perhaps like a child. Perhaps in that kind of faith I was taught. . Perhaps like “lighting a candle in the darkness.” Perhaps that is cultural; perhaps it is habit; perhaps it is my heritage; perhaps it is example set by elders at a time when I was very impressionable—and in the end, I’m not so sure I want to even question “the mysteries” of the Rosary too much. Why? I guess, because…often they seem to work.
There are benefits of the Rosary, according to the Virgin Mary – for whom I was named (after my grandmothers). My Irish grandmother’s name was Mary, but I was named “Marie” which is Mary in French to also honor my Canadian grandmother. And, I have always felt close to Mary. As a Catholic school girl we were told Jesus and God were busy—so we should appeal to Mary first. Although this may sound very un-feminist—God is busy! Pray to his Mother!– the idea that praying to Mary can have benefits is hotly contested. I believe the nuns were feminist in many ways for their time—and praying to Mary was a feminist statement for many. It certainly, in retrospect, was for me.
So—I decided to refresh my Catholic school girl theology. What are the supposed benefits of praying the Rosary?
There are officially fifteen. Among them are receiving graces, special protection from the Virgin Mary, “powerful armor” against hell, obtaining for the “soul the abundant mercy of God,” and also the praying soul “recommends itself to Mary by virtue of the Rosary and shall not perish.” Additionally praying the Rosary is supposed to give one the help that one is “never [to] be conquered by misfortune,” and in death the soul will remain “in the grace of God.” Finally, if you pray the Rosary, the Virgin Mary promises that “You shall obtain all you ask of me by the recitation of the rosary,” and you “shall be aided by me.”
In terms of God being busy, the Virgin Mary promises that all those who pray the Rosary shall have as their “intercessors the entire celestial court during their life and at the hour of death.”
There are misconceptions about the Rosary.
And they are not explicated in the hotlink above to encourage praying the Rosary! This blog is for me an honest appraisal of my own survival strategies. But there are the misconceptions…and there are “official” Church answers to those misconceptions. However the answers that I was searching for were those that analyze how the Rosary is in fact, yes, meditative prayer—and delivers all of the benefits that “meditation” supposedly delivers.
The earliest monks and nuns found that while their hands automatically tossed away a certain number of pebbles, their attention stayed focused on the words of the prayers that they were addressing to heaven, to the exclusion of the world around them, while their minds stayed free to meditate on God’s goodness. Later, people started using strings of beads, which eventually took the form of the rosary beads we know today. Passing a bead through your fingers at every repetition helps ensure that you don’t get lost in hours of meditation, and running out of beads gives you a gentle signal that it’s time to get back to another kind of daily prayer, the prayer of work.
The Rosary is not contradictory to the Bible. Not that I would mind if it was—but as a feminist religious scholar (not however a Biblical scholar) I have witnessed much feminist exegesis and hermeneutics that serve to show how translations of the “Bible” have excluded women. Among one of the best would be Dr. Karen Torjesen’s When Women Were Priests: Women’s Leadership in the Early Church and the Scandal of the Subordination in the Rise of Early Christianity.
The Rosary is criticized by some as heretical because it elevates Mary. Some Evangelicals say it is blasphemous to call Mary “Holy.” I like to think about that as I pray the 50 verses of “Hail Mary” that all include the words “Holy Mary, Mother of God.” Mary is the “God-bearer.” There is evidence of early Christian graffiti, found in Nazareth, at the Basilica of the Annunciation, which reads Ch-eMaria,” an abbreviation of the Greek, “Chaire Maria”/ “Hail Mary.” This is dated to be between 200-300AD, left by a Greek Christian who visited the site of the Annunciation (Luke 1:28). Exegesis reveals that this was not meant as a greeting, i.e. “Hail.” Luke records Gabriel saying “Chaire Kecharitomenae“/”Hail, Full of Grace” (or “Hail, Perfectly Graced“). But, this is not what the inscription reads. Rather, it addresses Mary by name, showing that this early Christian had a personal devotion to her. It is the earliest record of the Catholic prayer, the “Hail Mary.”
As a Goddess worshiping, fairy (in all meanings of the word) loving, alternative and traditional meditative Catholic Wiccan, I enjoy this link to my lineage.
And finally—the LGBT question and Catholicism. I have been accused of being “ridiculous,” “archaic” and “What’s the matter with you?” by LGBT folks in regards to having a Catholic affiliation. On the other side, I have also been accused by fellow/sister Catholics. “You can’t be both!” “What’s the Goddess got to do with it?” “sinner” and more. In the end—I simply don’t care. As a woman, my whole life has been about creating my own path— one I feel comfortable walking on. A lot has been taken from me—and I don’t throw away what works. I recycle, re-use and re-cast. And so, I have done that with the Catholic Church apparently, and with its traditions, namely that of the Rosary.
As to the LGBT question. Yes—the “official” Church is against us—officially, supposedly.
But, as I said I am a board member of the Ministry of Gay and Lesbian Catholics. I believe in the primacy of conscience. I believe I have free will, as taught to me in first grade by the Notre Dame nuns. So be it. I am baptized. I believe, like Madonna (the Virgin Mary—as well as the singer), that I have free will, and the official Church can’t get rid of me.
When I perform a lesbian wedding I often use Ruth and Naomi (Ruth 1:14). And the astute hermeneutics in What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality have “saved” the Bible for many LGBT folks and their allies.
A quick Google search will also reveal things unknown (as the World Wide web was unknown!) to a Catholic school girl (me) growing up in the 60s in a small working class New England town. For instance there are explications of Gay Mysteries of the Rosary. And even Gay Rosary beads!
And, yes, keep looking and there are many feminist interpretations of Mary. I especially like Mary as “co-redemptrix” along with Jesus.
And, as I peruse all of these in preparation for this blog, I do “believe.” I believe somewhere a configuration of Higher Power/Saint/Goddess/God/Mother/My Best Self/Angel/Spirit Guide hears my prayers/intentions/affirmations. The Rosary promises that petitions will be regarded as coming “from the Seat of Wisdom,” from the “Motherhood towards all God’s (I would add: Goddess’ Higher Power, etc.) children,” and is the “Mediatrix of all Graces”.
Yes, something in me is ancient and believes. I believe that there is something out there/in here, and I can “call” that something many things. Let God be omniscient and benevolent—and not specific. Let Mary be God/Goddess—and also an emissary if needed. I confirm my faith and somehow it ennobles me. My own personal pathway of prayer…I choose to see it… rather to feel it, as powerful.
As the beads slip through my fingers, I pray for my mother-in-law, for my wife, for my family. This is the fourth parent we have lost this year. It is a time to reach out for me—and so I dive into that deep inward spring which bubbles up and then I move my fingers in chant.
Hail Mary…Holy Mary…Pray for us.
Marie Cartier is a teacher, poet, writer, healer, artist, and scholar. She holds a BA in Communications from the University of New Hampshire; an MA in English/Poetry from Colorado State University; an MFA in Theatre Arts (Playwriting) from UCLA; an MFA in Film and TV (Screenwriting) from UCLA; and an MFA in Visual Art (Painting/Sculpture) from Claremont Graduate University. She is also a first degree black belt in karate, Shorin-Ryu Shi-Do-Kan Kobayashi style. Ms. Cartier has a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis on Women and Religion from Claremont Graduate University.