Healing from beyond the Grave by Carol P. Christ

Despite having thought that I had resolved my issues with my father, shortly after his death I fell into a lethargy accompanied by stomach flu and a cold. After about two weeks, the only symptom was a lingering cough. But I had no energy. I knew there were a number of essays to write or edit in the pending file on my computer, but didn’t have the will to do anything.

During this time, I came across the Greek Orthodox prayer rope (komboskini) that had been spontaneously removed from her person and given to me by the Mother Superior of the Paliani Convent in Crete a few years previously. Made of black wool yarn with one hundred intricately woven knots and a cross, it was not something I could easily wear in my everyday life. But as I was still lounging around in a black jersey nightgown, I put it on. I felt it on my skin and cradled between my breasts.

The Mother Superior, who was well under five feet tall to my over six feet tall, and I had known each other for over two decades, as I brought the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete groups to visit the convent twice a year. She always offered us coffee and cookies and sometimes holy bread in the convent’s refectory.

On most visits we sat together on a small couch, while she shared her story and the story of the convent with our group. She had asked to join the convent where her much older sister lived when she was only eight years old. She was made to wait until she was twelve before coming to live with her sister. When asked why she wanted to join, she sometimes spoke of God, but more often of the beautiful garden the nuns had created for the Holy Myrtle Tree.

After several of the older nuns who liked to join us in the refectory died, it became our ritual to sing the convent’s song of the Holy Myrtle Tree together at the end of our conversation. The Mother Superior knew that we were not Greek Orthodox, but she more than once commented that she loved to hear us “psalming” under the tree. Hers was a religion of love, not judgment, and she knew that I and the women who came with me to Paliani loved the Holy Myrtle Tree as she did. She and I came to love each other too.

This spring when we visited, I was told that my friend had died. The new Mother Superior, who had joined the convent in middle age after a career in the civil service, and who did not have the same spirit as the older nuns, had decreed that as our group was not Orthodox, we could no longer tie ribbons on the tree or sing under it.

I was heartbroken.

Another of the nuns who had known me for decades was outraged. “Isn’t the one God the Creator of all of us?” she kept asking. “Would anyone come to visit the Holy Myrtle Tree who does not love God?”

I wore the Mother Superior’s prayer rope for several days. As I was passing my time watching crime shows with forensic research units, it occurred to me that even though the Mother Superior had died, her DNA was on the prayer rope. She made it, she prayed holding it in her hands, and she wore it over her robes. That thought comforted me.

I took the prayer rope off after a few days when I got dressed to go out. The next morning, without thinking, I opened the pending file on my computer and began to work on the writing projects I had set aside. The cloud under which I had been living for almost a month had miraculously been lifted.

It took me another day or so to ask myself if I had been healed from beyond the grave by the Mother Superior’s love.

In memory of my dear friend, the Igoumeni Theopisti of Paliani (Siva, Crete, 1927-Paliani, Venerato, Crete, February 3, 2017), and in our shared love of the Holy Myrtle Tree and the Panagia, the Blessed Mother, Amen.


* * *

a-serpentine-path-amazon-coverGoddess and God in the World final cover designCarol’s new book written with Judith Plaskow, is  Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology.

FAR Press recently released A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess.

Join Carol  on the life-transforming and mind-blowing Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete.
A few spaces available on the fall tour. It could change your life!

 Carol’s photo by Michael Honegger

Photos of Mother Superior Theopisti by Ann Lemon



Categories: Feminism and Religion, Foremothers, Friendship, Healing

Tags: , , , ,

23 replies

  1. So very sorry to hear of mother superior’s death. Glad I was able to meet her and allowed to tie a ribbon and sing under the sacred myrtle tree.
    Nancy Henson

    Liked by 1 person

    • And the real sadness is that there is no one like her in the generations that came after. She grew up poor and during the Nazi occupation and Greek Civil War and she never was anything but poor, and yet her heart was open to everyone.


  2. Oh, what a moving and most beautiful account that you have written here – the loss of your father is written into a larger context that of the holy Tree of Life and women who understood that as women we weave those healing threads together through stories, prayer ropes, grass braids, baskets, rugs, whatever. Together it is possible to heal ourselves and each other. How unfortunate that the current Mother Superior is just that “superior” and exerting her power.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you so much for sharing the story of your friendship with the Igoumeni Theopisti of Paliani and the tree you both love.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am heartbroken, too, that the myrtle tree at Paliani is no longer accessible. It is the most beautiful and meaningful place I have ever been to, and I had so wished to return there. I’m glad I have my vivid memories, but I hope the new Mother Superior may relent.

    Yes, the physical tokens are important and comforting, especially in grief. What a lovely one, the many knots.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. When speaking of my time with the Goddess Pilgrimage, I always say that our visit to Paliani was the highlight for me – and it was all because of the Mother Superior. Her story is so different than anything I would experience in my own life. So serene and accepting and welcoming. RIP dear Mother.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Blessings to you and your friend. I can just about picture you and her standing together. Funny but touching image. Has the new Mother Superior yielded to custom and compassion yet?:

    It’s wonderful that you have the prayer rope and wore it during your healing. I’m sure you’re keeping it close at hand.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Such a beautiful story of loss and healing, Carol. Thank you so much for sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What a poignant story, Carol. Thank you for sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you, Carol, for sharing this deeply moving experience and your own deep insights. I do think it’s possible that the healing power of Igoumeni Theopisti’s love for you was able to reach and soothe you from beyond the grave. As you know, the myrtle tree at Paliani gave me an unforgettable experience of physical healing when we went there with your pilgrimage several years ago. How special it was to sing together with you and the Igoumeni Theopisti under the holy tree – I felt we were in the presence of tree worshippers descended from those of ancient Crete! – and how sad to know that she is gone now. Still I believe in the power of the tree – and I believe this ancient power is greater than the worldly power of the new woman who has taken her place as Igoumena. I am sure all the women who continue to visit Paliani, with your groups and on their own, will find ways to connect deeply with the power of the place even though the external forms are forced to change… just as Cretans, Greeks and so many others since ancient times have learned to do. Bless you!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Carol, thank you for sharing this lovely story of healing. Like one of the other women commenting here, Paliani was a highlight for me on the Goddess pilgrimage of 2006. The tree, its story, and the convent courtyard, which seemed so fertile with plantings and the buzzing of bees, and the floral fragrances, made me feel that I was in a very sacred, a very holy place. I remember just wanting to linger there, to sit quietly.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Dearest Carole, thank you for this beautifully written and timely post. Your post has given me comfort and ease in a time of pain of loosing someone I love as I type. You are inspiring me to braid, to give to my loved one to wear as they transition. Thank you…..


  12. I’m so sorry for the loss of both your father and your dear friend. The loss of a parent is so profound – I’m so glad you are taking care of yourself through healing acts like wearing the prayer rope. I truly do believe that those who love us can heal us from the other side. I remember when I was with my mother while she was dying all I could think of was the phrase “love is eternal” and I knew that our relationship would always continue in some way, just as I think your friend is still with you.


  13. Dear Carol I am so sorry to hear of the Mother Superior’s passing, and sorry for your loss of your dear friend. I was lucky to have been on one of the 2009 Pilgrimages and got to meet her, hear her story over tea and cookies, and sit with you under the Sacred Myrtle Tree. As we were leaving the convent the Mother Superior handed each of us who wanted one a prayer card with the Madonna and Child. I placed mine in my passport and it goes with me where ever I travel. It is written in Greek, I cannot read it, but I know it has her blessing about it. I have never forgotten that sacred space we shared,. Thank you for sharing your story, it brought back special memories of you both.


  14. So sorry to hear of the loss of your father and of the Mother Superior. Not only can her love help heal the grief you have for your father, you might find that with time your connection to him from the sacred beyond will grown and will heal some of the wounding from this life. That has happened for me after the loss of my father many, many years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Thank you for sharing your story, Carol. Just reading about your connection with the Mother Superior and the Holy Tree made me happy.


  16. I loved your story, too. Certain trees have been important to me thoughout my entire life, & in ways that I was not even aware of at the time.

    I believe that, not only can we be healed by others from beyond the grave, but that we can also heal our ancestors!


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