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”

Hail Mary: The Rosary and Why I Keep Praying by Marie Cartier

MarieCartierforKCETa-thumb-300x448-72405My 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.

Why? Continue reading “Hail Mary: The Rosary and Why I Keep Praying by Marie Cartier”

Blessed is the Womb By Dawn DiPrince

Dawn, jpgAs a Catholic, a feminist, and the grown-up version of my third grade self who dreamed of being a priest (and eventually Pope), I am simultaneously elated and deflated by the promise of Pope Francis. His bold criticisms of capitalism and inequality are breathtaking. 

Yet, much like the eager waiting that marks the season of Advent, I (naively) hold my breath awaiting the papal inclusion of women on the altar — not merely as servants — but as leaders and interpreters of scripture.

Whenever women’s ordination is raised, the Church trots out the dusty and inadequate argument that men are priests because Jesus was a man. This seemingly irrefutable based-on-biology conclusion is really a simple argument based on a difference of body parts. This ideal — something I’ve labeled the St. Peter Principle — suggests that our penislessness means that women (by natural law, of course) are to be denied priesthood. Continue reading “Blessed is the Womb By Dawn DiPrince”

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”

The Flesh Made Word: Colm Toibin’s “The Testament of Mary” on stage and in print By Joyce Zonana

Colm Toibin Fiona Shaw Testament of Mary Ephesus Artemis House of the VirginBefore the play begins, the audience is invited on stage; we walk around, not quite knowing what to do, gazing at the props, uncertain.  A few chairs, scattered jars of honey, jugs of water beside a free-standing waist-high faucet, a tall ladder, a long table, a stripped tree trunk with a wooden wheel at the top suspended from the rafters, a menacing roll of barbed wire, and a live turkey vulture occasionally spreading wide its iridescent blue-black wings: such is the set for Deborah Warner’s searing production of Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary, a one-woman show currently in previews at the Walter Kerr Theater in New York.  In a large open-sided box, stage left, the actress Fiona Shaw, draped in blue from head to toe, arranges herself, then sits perfectly still, holding a lily and an apple.  We know this woman.  The Virgin Mary.  The Icon.  Incarnate.

Fiona Shaw rehearses for her role as the Virgin Mary in The Testament of Mary. Irish novelist Colm Toibin's one-woman play opens April 22 at Broadway's Walter Kerr Theater.
Shaw in rehearsal. Photo by Hugo Glendinning

But when we are all back in our seats, Mary casts off her robe to stand before us in a simple black shift, flowing easily over narrow brown pants. Her hair is cropped, her face haunted; wearing short leather boots, she fumbles as she searches for a hand-rolled cigarette to steady herself.   “I remember everything.  Memory fills my body as much as blood and bones.”  No longer an icon, hardly a virgin, this Mary addresses us with the piercing directness of the passion she has suffered: to have seen her only son crucified despite her efforts to save him. Now, interrogated by two unnamed apostles (John and Luke?) who want to fix the story of her son’s life and death and resurrection, Mary insists on reporting only what she knows:  “I was there.  I fled before it was over but if you want witnesses then I am one and I can tell you now, when you say that he redeemed the world, I will say that it was not worth it.  It was not worth it.”

Continue reading “The Flesh Made Word: Colm Toibin’s “The Testament of Mary” on stage and in print By Joyce Zonana”

Painting Guadalupe and Mary by Angela Yarber

As we feminists struggle to elevate Mary and Guadalupe, we sometimes forget that speaking of birth and gestation is not always empowering or even essential to womanhood. 

It is early morning on the Hill of Tepeyak on December 9, 1531 when a wondering peasant named Juan Diego first caught a glimpse of her presence.  Diego sees a vision of a teenage girl surrounded by light; the young girl asks that a church be built on the hill in her honor.  After hearing her speak and seeing the light emanating from her presence, Diego recognizes her as the Virgin Mary.  He rushes to the Spanish archbishop who insists on a sign as proof of Diego’s vision.  The young girl instructs Diego to gather flowers from the top of the hill, even though it is past their growing season.  Upon climbing to the top of the Hill of Tepeyak, Diego discovers Castilian roses—a beautiful flower otherwise unheard of in Mexico—which the glowing young woman arranges in his cloak.  When Diego returns to the archbishop, he opens his cloak to reveal the miraculous flowers and they fall to floor; in their place was an image imprinted on the fabric of his cloak.  It was the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Guadalupe is one of Mexico’s most popular religious and cultural images and her icon, now on display at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, is one of the most visited Marian shrines in the entire world.  On December 12, countless Christians—particularly Catholics—celebrate her feast day.  Her feast day occurs within the four week celebration of Advent, which is the period of waiting, expectancy, and gestation before the birth of Jesus at Christmas. Continue reading “Painting Guadalupe and Mary by Angela Yarber”

A Family Conceived, Lost, and Resurrected by Gina Messina-Dysert

As I had written about in a previous post, my husband and I had a very long struggle with infertility.  After nine years, multiple failed rounds of infertility treatments, and much heartache, we decided to look at alternative options to grow our family.  Once we had made the decision to adopt, I felt new hope.  There was a light at the end of the tunnel and I knew a child would be coming home to us before long.  I had a dream that Mary, the mother of Jesus, had come to me and told me that I would be a mother.  She promised that a child was waiting that needed our love and would arrive soon.  I began praying to a shrine of Mary at a local parish near my home; she became my source of strength and solace.

Not long after we had been approved for the adoption waiting list, we took a family trip to Italy to visit my father’s hometown and meet our relatives.  It was quite an adventure and during our excursion I stopped in every church we passed to say a prayer to Mary.  Half way through the trip we received a call that a child had been matched with us.  To say we were overjoyed would be a complete understatement.  We tried to catch an earlier flight home but were unable.  A once in a lifetime trip to Italy was suddenly of no interest to us as we sat around our hotel room looking at baby items, reading parenting info, and preparing for the homecoming of our first child.   Continue reading “A Family Conceived, Lost, and Resurrected by Gina Messina-Dysert”

Heavenly Mother and Theological Jealousy by Brooke Nelson

It was a sad day for me when I realized that I could never, no matter how hard I tried, be the Virgin Mary.

Putting aside her biggest claim to fame, I sincerely doubted that I was born immaculately, had never sinned (even in thought) or would be happy married to a much, much older man whom I didn’t get to pick. Growing up in a Roman Catholic household, however, the Virgin Mary was really the only model available for girls like me. When I realized I could never be her, I found myself wondering about who I could be. Was there even a place for people like me in a theological system that held up unobtainable goals as my only option?

That is when I started envying the Mormons. Continue reading “Heavenly Mother and Theological Jealousy by Brooke Nelson”

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