Growing up in the Catholic faith, I was willing to accept that miraculous apparitions of the Virgin Mary were reaching across time, as it were, to encourage us to lead good and holy lives. The notion of a heavenly realm beyond our comprehension seemed within reason given our limited comprehension of time, dimensions, matter, energy and consciousness. To my way of thinking, a “heavenly realm” describes both a memory of what was and what will be, provided we in this material world fully realize our innate potentials. If some aspect of our higher consciousness is reaching out to us from that potential, then it’s likely worth taking note.
I have always been drawn to the mysteries of the Mother Mary and the contradictions that surround her within the dogma of the Catholic Church.
I’ve come to imagine Mary’s mantle or veil as a multi-layered metaphor for the Divine matrix in which we live. Yet it has been cast upon her as an example of perfect obedience to a Church which seeks to define divinity in its own terms.
Growing up Catholic in the sixties and seventies for me meant going to Church on Sundays and Catechism during the week. It also meant my hours in front of a TV set were spent comparing my Catholic parents alternatively to Lucy and Ricky Ricardo and the Bunkers, Edith and Archie because so much of their behavior echoed what played out in our home every day. The role models on TV, at Church and at home all played out the same sycophantic soap opera.
Lucy’s constant attempts to carve out a niche for herself and consistently running afoul of her role as housewife and obedient mate were done with great humor but they served to reinforce the reality of the time. Watching Edith literally run at Archie’s beck and call and watching Archie revel in his own self-aggrandizement eventually felt way too close to home.
We would laugh when Ricky would scold Lucy. It was that nervous “glad that’s not happening to us” laugh. Though portrayed through the genius of comedy, she was like a child or servant or employee who had broken a rule and Ricky was the punitive authority figure. I came to understand that as a woman, she winced and tucked her ear to her shoulder because her partner was still in the role of the punitive male God and that the threat of a raised fist was always inherent in every raised voice.
What I also learned was that as a woman, manipulative behaviors were the survival strategies for permissions that would never be granted to the lesser of unequal partners. I was too fearful to even entertain the idea that this just couldn’t be the design of a real and conscious God.
Determined to meet the expectations that my parents and “Our Lady” had set for me, I received my confirmation in the Catholic Church and took Anne, the name of the Virgin’s Mother to add to my own. I considered, although briefly, entering a convent and becoming a nun. That lasted about five minutes, only as long as it took to consider that I would always be subservient to a man, be it the priest, a bishop, a Pope or the Church as a whole. In a patriarchal world view, God was always going to be exclusively and indisputably an authoritative and heavy-handed Father, a man with a capital M. Somehow, I had to fit in.
The iconic art images of the Blessed Mother and Child seduced me into a lifelong pursuit to know her, to understand her and in my heart of hearts, to rescue her from veiled subservience, and rescue myself in the process. Religious art drew me closer to the mystery of Mary and I continued to wrestle with the paradoxes that I was only beginning to consciously acknowledge.
It was more than the painful double standards that were by then being aired by the women’s liberation movement. It was the inherent recognition of a lie, a lie that was being perpetuated by the Mother of Jesus herself. According to the Church and the culture of the faith, it was Mary who voluntarily submitted her will to the will of the “Father” and would later be respectful to the point of subservience to her young son when He had gone missing and had been found preaching to His elders in the temple. More than that, it was the apparitions of Mary at Lourdes and at Fatima within modern times that perpetuated the Church’s portrayal of the obedient Mary as the mandate for my own behavior.
There it was, the source of my life long and blasphemous guilt. I had been born female, branded inferior from the start in a world of domineering men as if my birth was not an echo of a fairy tale blame game, but all by itself, a kind of original sin. I knew that God was no MAN as describe by any of the churches. I knew it was wrong for women to be treated as inferior to men. But to survive in a male culture, I had to believe and perpetuate the lie, even and most ardently to myself.
In the late seventies, the movement to allow women to become priests in the Catholic Church gave me hope. Women, after all, were leaders among the disciples of Jesus. Women had also been involved as leaders within the early Church before it devolved into patriarchy. As it turned out any redeeming hope for equality within the Church was to be short lived.
There are moments in our lives that stand out, memories that lock in a particular place and time because of an event or pivotal experience. The majority of people in my generation can tell you where they were the moment when they heard that President Kennedy had been shot and killed. We remember watching the riderless horse in the funeral procession and we saw young John Kennedy step forward from his Mother’s side to salute the casket of his fallen Father. Many of us also remember standing in front of our TV’s in awe, watching as man first walked on the moon. We each have memories of moments that changed our lives and our perspectives forever.
I was in college when John Paul ll became Pope. I remember walking from the Art Department to the University Library at UCD in 1978 mulling over the announcement that the Pope had determined that women should not be priests. Many of us had been hopeful that this new Pope would support and approve the ordination of women within the Catholic Church.
It would have finally meant the recognition of the errors of patriarchy for the centuries of exclusion and persecution of women. It would have meant the recognition of the women who had indeed been among the most ardent followers of Jesus and had likely been within the inner circle, those who understood His teachings and held services in their homes.
Ordaining women into the priesthood would have radically changed the status of women in Catholic homes because it would have once and for all admitted that the inequality dogmatic within all of patriarchy has always been at conflict with the teaching of the Christ and has always been wrong.
Given the bloody history of the Church and its long standing dictates that supported the suppression of women, I looked at the possible ordination as a reason to stick around a little longer, ‘give them one last try. After all, it had not been the mysticism that I rejected, nor was it the concept of a loving God, though I thought the Church was criminally hypocritical on this score. I was rejecting their rejection of me. I was rejecting their portrayal of Mary and of women in general.
I had no desire to be a priest, or a nun. What I did desire was fairness of a kind that my own heart told me we were all entitled to. My own inner knowing led me to understand that “God” was much different than the image that any of the “churches” had portrayed and certainly not the exclusive, vindictive, egotistical God of Abraham, Moses and the Roman Catholic Church.
If the Church wasn’t going to change, then I would. That day at the library in ’78, looking back in the direction from which I had just come, literally and figuratively, I left the Catholic Church.
I attempted to maintain my prayerful relationship with Mary, the quest for understanding of the “mysteries” of the church and with religion in general, though totally excommunicated of my own free will. I left the Church but not the quest to understand the mysticism of God’s consciousness. And try as I might, I could not abandon Mary.
Dr. Helen Khoobyar had been the philosophy and logic instructor at the community college I had attended before transferring to UCD. She also lectured off campus on issues pertinent to women and Christianity. Born in Persia, as she referred to it, Dr. Khoobyar was well versed in the languages of faith. Her research demonstrated the original intentions of words that had become misunderstood over time. What I remember most of all was her discourse on the meaning of the veil.
The meaning of the veil as a symbol of authority has been corrupted by the patriarchies of history. The ancient word for veil referred to the self-authority of the wearer, not the submission of the wearer to another.
The influence of Saul of Tarsus, the Roman who became Paul is what shaped what we call Christianity today. Paul, or those who have written under his name, Romanized the message of Jesus to make it fit the ideals of empire. What has been handed down through the churches bears little resemblance to the teachings of Jesus. In the letters of Paul and the gospels influenced by Paul, credited with the most anti-woman teachings of the Bible, there are clear clues to the manipulation of the words and the phraseology in order to give advantage to the male gender as the controller of the female.
It is not clear if Paul himself was intentionally anti-woman or if Paul’s writings were meant to be read as esoteric metaphor. It is also not clear that all of the Pauline doctrinal influences upon Christianity actually came from Paul. Nonetheless, the teachings of Paul, a late comer to the apostles who was not a direct disciple of Jesus, have been used to justify the subjugation of all women as the will of God.
Mary’s example is meant to be one of surrendering the independent will unto the will of God, totally and without reservation. The Church’s idea being the recognition that “God” is all and that without God, whatever we mortals think about our own importance, we are nothing. When comparing one human life to the infinity of God-consciousness, it seems that we can get caught up in our own arrogance and self-importance, but to accuse humanity of being nothing when it is the creation of humankind as extensions, children if you will, of the omnipresent consciousness of God, then each and every one of us IS important both as an individual and as an individual extension of that very God consciousness.
The Church isn’t satisfied with subservience to the will of God. The Church and all of its brother patriarchies see the “children” of God as carrying the stain of separation by the denial of surrender to the will of God. Not only does the blame for the separation fall largely upon the female for questioning authority in the first place, but they deny her creation as having been the original intention of God. In patriarchal tradition, Eve is pulled from Adam’s side as an afterthought to service Adam’s needs. This tainted creation, her decision to eat from the tree of knowledge and the leading of her husband to seek the same knowledge are the justification for male control and authority over women.
Relegating authority of every woman unto her husband in a hierarchy that developed the “rule of thumb” to measure of the width of the stick with which a man could beat his wife, the Pauline prohibitions on women’s behavior at home and at church and the murderous book, the Malleus Maleficarum that was used to justify the torture and burning of thousands of women and men as well, was all done in the name of the decidedly patriarchal God. More to the point, it was done in the name of the patriarchal power structure of the control hungry Church.
Patriarchal religions be they Christian, Muslim or otherwise are all out of balance, illogical and exhibit symptomatic evidence of a deeply damaged relationship with the feminine.
How could there be a totally male God when nothing in nature or in thought or even consciousness is totally male or female, light or dark, but a synergistic balance between the contrasts? Examples of gender in nature are obvious, even in the plant world. Fertility and abundance are dependent upon the relationship and interaction between genders. Consciousness, thoughts and ultimately ideas must also be tempered in a process of readiness, intuition, desire, discernment, exploration, reflection, refinement and hopefully, wisdom. Everything is synergy, relationship, a bringing forth of the best of, refinement and nurturing of, so that highest God conscious potential is drawn forth to fruition.
When an exclusively male hierarchy defines an exclusively male authority, then relationship cannot be imagined in a way that is coherent with its potential.
I don’t believe for one minute that the Jesus whose closest followers included women, who taught in parables about ethics and justice, who shared more of His wisdom teachings with His companion* Mary Magdalen than He did with Simon Peter would have condoned the injustice meted out against women by the Pauline Catholic Church.
According to legends about the Mary the mother of Jesus, she was born to a couple had long wanted a child but could not conceive. To honor the promise which her aged parents had made to God, Mary was delivered to the temple as a very young child, was raised and educated there until she was of age to be betrothed.
Many women who chose to become nuns today take the name Mary as part of their religious title and name to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary.
There were at least three women within the group of Jesus’ closest followers, not remembered in the bible as “apostles” but written of repeatedly who all shared the name of Mary; Mary sister of Martha, Mary Magdalen, Mary of Bethany and of course the mother of Jesus who was also Mary. Given the number of women in the bible who were closest to Jesus and whose names also included the name Mary, I have often wondered if it was really the case that Mary was just a very popular name or if it was even then a title of sorts, given by the temple to those women who, like the mother of Jesus, were raised and trained within the temple walls. If that is the case, then we have to ask if the “Marys” of the bible, constant and faithful followers of Jesus who stood unwavering at the foot of the Cross with Saint John, were also educated in the mysteries of the temple as well as in Jesus’ teachings.
We will never know with certainty if Mary, the mother of Jesus, or Jesus Himself were actually living and breathing people or if they are compilations of persons whose lives left impressions of the people of the times. Clearly the echoes of proceeding Gods and Goddesses have been incorporated into their Heavenly personas. We can either believe from faith, be it dictated by others or graced within our hearts that some essences of divinity finds its place among us in mortal form and does so to lead us to the divinity within our own hearts.
What we do know is that what we have been taught by the patriarchal religions, be they Catholic, Muslim, modern Christianity or otherwise is the perpetuation of obedience to a false and dangerously dystopian shadow of power and fear, not love for what should be a genderless or at least gender balanced God.
I cannot change the churches. I cannot “rescue” the Mother of God. What I can do it withdraw my participation and my own enslavement to the lies and misguided fantasies that I had complied with in order to receive the acceptance of my family, the Church and the culture of the faith.
My conversation is ongoing with the consciousness of God and I can hear things much more clearly without the interference of the Church.