We Are Not Alone: Embodying and Re-enacting Ancient Wisdom by Carol P. Christ

A few nights ago, on the way to dinner, two friends and I passed by a small church near the old fortress in Ierapetra, Crete. The liturgy was broadcast via microphone and a crowd of people gathered outside the church. “Must be some kind of name day,” one of my friends commented, but I could not think of a saint celebrated on August 1.

We decided to light candles and make our prayers. I asked one of the Greek women the reason for the ceremony. “This is the first night of our celebrations for the Panagia,” she responded, referring to the Assumption of Mary that would occur on August 15. I looked around and saw that indeed many of the women were wearing black. “Of course,” I thought to myself. Continue reading “We Are Not Alone: Embodying and Re-enacting Ancient Wisdom by Carol P. Christ”

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).

Image from: http://www.fisheaters.com/images/marialactans160020.jpg
Image from: http://www.fisheaters.com/images/marialactans160020.jpg

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!
Continue reading “Truly Our Sister by Laura Grimes”

Coming Together to Honor the Mother by Carol P. Christ

petra churchcarol-christFrom the evening of the 14th through the day and night of the 15th of August, thousands of pilgrims ascended the Holy Rock of Petra to honor the Panagia—She Who Is All Holy. 

There is “something really beautiful”* in being among them.

Six of us set out from Molivos at 7:30 on the 14th to meet in the square of Petra to ascend to the church.  Petra was already full of so many pilgrims that police had forbidden traffic in the main square and were directing cars into a nearly full parking lot in a field.  When we got out of the car, the two others who came with me and I had a perfect view of the steady stream of pilgrims climbing the rock, which was already lit up in the twilight.

When we found the others, I said that we would climb to the church on the top of the rock where we would light candles and approach the icon of the Panagia to silently pray or express a wish for the coming year.   The others followed me through the square into the winding streets lined with stalls and gypsy beggars to the bottom of the rock.  While we waited for our turn, we saw the sign advising pilgrims of proper dress (read carefully).


Continue reading “Coming Together to Honor the Mother by Carol P. Christ”

Hidden Meanings in the Rituals of the Assumption by Carol P. Christ

carol-christ“[T]he Old European sacred images and symbols were never totally uprooted; these persistent features in human history were too deeply implanted in the psyche.  They could have disappeared only with the total extermination of the female population.” Marija Gimbutas, The Language of the Goddess, 318.

August 15 is known to Greek Christians as the date of the Koimisi, “Falling Asleep” or Dormition of the Panagia, She Who Is All Holy.  December 25 is a minor holiday in the Orthodox tradition, while Easter and August 15 are major festivals.  The mysteries of Easter and August 15 concern the relation of life and death.  In Orthodox theology, both Easter and August 15 teach that death is overcome:  Jesus dies and is resurrected; Mary falls asleep and is assumed into heaven.  These mysteries contain the promise that death is not the final end of human life.  Yet this may not be the meaning of the rituals for many of those who participate in them.

In Christus Victor, Gustaf Aulen argued that Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Catholic and Protestant) traditions understood salvation differently.  The Western Church focuses on salvation from sin, while the Eastern Church focuses on transcending death.  This contrast is not absolute, as for the Western Church sin is the cause of death and when sin is overcome, immortal life is restored.  While Orthodoxy has strong ascetic and monastic traditions, it does not teach ordinary Christians to focus on sexual purity and impurity as Western traditions have done.  Nor is there a strong emphasis on transforming collective sin in movements for social justice.  Significantly, though Roman Catholics and others consistently refer to the “Virgin Mary,” Orthodox Christians prefer “Panagia,” She Who Is All Holy.

In Greece the ordinary rhythms of life are disrupted at Easter and in August.  During lent, many women (and some men) fast, while in August women named Mary and Panagiota–as well as others who wish to honor or petition the Panagia–wear black for two weeks.

Assumption1Throughout the first 2 weeks of August, Greek Christians focus on the death of the Panagia.  According to theology, her Son appears after her death and “assumes” her into heaven.  The Orthodox icon depicts Mary surrounded by the Apostles, while Jesus holds the assumed body of Mary depicted as an infant wrapped in swadling clothes.

When she first saw this icon, my friend Naomi Goldenberg commented that it is an example of the widespread attempt on the part of men to appropriate the power to give birth.  The icon reverses the symbolism of the nativity where the baby wrapped in swadling clothes is held in the hands of his mother.  Christian baptism described as re-birth through the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is another version of “male birth.” Continue reading “Hidden Meanings in the Rituals of the Assumption by Carol P. Christ”

%d bloggers like this: