Category Archives: Prayer

Mary Full of Grace

annunciationlily

Hail Mary full of grace,
blessed art thou among women
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners now
and at the hour of our death.
Amen

As I made my way through congested traffic to finish up my shopping, this prayer started up, unbidden, inside of me. The Hail Mary or Ave Maria is one of the prayers and scriptures on my inner playlist.  In odd moments I become conscious of it. For a moment I am lifted out of my self- preoccupation to discover myself occupied by the Spirit praying within.

I have always loved this prayer. The first two lines are the greeting of the angel Gabriel to Mary as found in Luke 1: 28-30. I recall memorizing it, as I walked along the sidewalk of the campus at the University of Northern Iowa in 1966.

This entreaty to Mary as Mother of God is for some Protestants a “Catholic accretion” and considered unbiblical and theologically unsound. Some will say that we do not need Mary’s intercession, when we can go directly to God on our own. Such views ignore the power and influence of mothers throughout the Bible, as well as their privileged status before God as persons of God’s particular compassion and love.

The scriptures contain numerous images of God as feminine. The Hebrew word for Holy Spirit in Genesis is a feminine noun. My Hebrew teacher liked to translate Genesis 1: 1 in this way:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was without form and void, and as for the Spirit of God, she was moving over the waters.

Of course, God is much more than what we may consider as feminine or masculine attributes. God is beyond gender. Yet Christians believe that two thousand years ago God came into our midst for a time dressed as one of us with gender. God condescended to enter into our cultural biases, racism, sexism, bigotry, and sin to bring truth and freedom and radically change the world. If the form God chose had been a woman’s, would the outcome have been the same? Given the culture then I doubt if a woman would have ever received the same attention or regard. Instead God chooses a woman to enable God to become one of us.

No matter how hard some scholars may have tried to stamp them out, the feminine dimensions of divinity in whose image both men and women have been created make their way into our consciousness in one form or another and seek expression in our faith and worship.

Personally, I like the notion of God having and/or being a mom, a generating source. I know it makes no sense for some, but  the image of God as a fecund nurturing womb, engaged in creative, life-bearing activity, a Spirit “brooding” over the waters like a hen expands and heals  my soul. Acknowledging the feminine in God is an important balance to patriarchal images and wholly masculine notions of Holiness, which leave many women feeling excluded, and have been used as a rationale for the disregard and abuse of women for centuries.

469px-Wga_Pompeo_Batoni_Madonna_and_Child

We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace?  ~Meister Eckhart

I learned the Hail Mary prayer in college, when I converted to Catholicism. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was looking for feminine imagery and feminine gifts in the expression of my faith, which were largely absent from the rational Presbyterian worship of my childhood. I was Catholic most of my young adult life and found there opportunities to worship with more than my mind and my voice. Incense, kneeling, bowing, colorful statues, many of which were women, saints, guardian angels, rosaries, a veil perched on my head, a small prayer book to carry –  all allowed the imagination and passion of my yearning heart to find expression. I am very grateful for the gifts of the Catholic church.

Yes, my Anabaptist and Quaker ancestors were probably turning over in their graves. Yes, it was patriarchic. The singing wasn’t the best and Biblical study nonexistent, but I arrived with plenty of that preparation. To find a woman, no matter how sentimental and passive she may have been depicted, prominently figuring in worship allowed me to feel that this was a place, where I belonged.

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So out shopping, I pondered Mary being full of grace. What does it mean to contain nothing, but grace in one’s being? The people I encountered seemed full of many things instead of grace – anxiety, impatience, and weariness. There were some exceptions, like the insurance salesman who works on weekends at Orscheln’s, paying off medical bills and some credit card debt. He had a lot of grace inside himself. Some of it spilled out on the receipt he handed to me, and I have carried it in my purse all week.

Mary is full of grace, because her womb is full of Christ, who offers grace to all. Parking in front of Best Buy, I decided to take a look at what in me might be crowding out the grace of God.

Here is what I found:

  • That deep wound I get out sometimes and pick at
  • The steady current of mindless, slightly hysterical, anxiety which makes me critical, paranoid, and assume things about people which are not true
  • The nagging expectation of catastrophe that hides under perfectionism
  • A to-do list telling me I am way behind, lazy, and going to be counted tardy
  • Insecurity and self-doubt preaching that I am getting too old and that my writing sucks

What in you is not graceful, kind, forgiving, loving? How do you delete these freeloaders from your inner playlist?

Not by being mean and harsh.  I think we need to handle the negatives in ourselves gently with kindness, mercy and forgiveness. Love the little boogers. Say, “Hello, To-Do list! Come here. It looks like you need a hug.”

Here’s the secret. It takes grace to be full of grace. The way to make room for grace in our lives is by being graceful to ourselves first. Then grace naturally flows from us to others. To forgive others we must forgive ourselves.

What would it be like for you to be full of grace – stuffed to the gills with mercy and forgiveness?  Why not try it? Pretend! Imagine you are full of grace.  We  cannot achieve what we cannot concieve. So conceive grace, see yourself full of grace. Got it pictured? Feel it in your body? Let it it soak up and soothe all the ungraceful parts of yourself.

Next perform some task , errand, or if you are really brave, spend a whole day committed to being full of grace. See what happens. What do you notice and learn about yourself and grace?

So little grace is present in our national discussions and relationships with one another. We hold grudges, harbor resentments, and take a perverse delight in the missteps, failures, and sins of one another.

In an NPR interview Rabbi Shaul Praver, who spoke at the anniversary observance of the school shootings at Sandy HookElementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, offered these words:

We have found the cure for the social disease of violence, hatred, and bigotry, and that cure is good old-fashioned loving kindness. When everyone practices that, it does change the atmosphere of a room, of a town, or a community, of a state and a country. And so, it is not of only local value, but it is of universal value.   Newtown Rabbi Offers A Cure For Hatred : NPR

Grace – unmerited, undeserved, unearned. The hope, the first budding of such loving kindness is growing in Mary’s womb.

 Holy Mary, Mother of God, may it be so for all us sinners. Amen.

marymotherofgod

 Learn more about the Hail Mary prayer

Dear Praying Life readers,

Thank you so much for your support. Your donations and subscriptions to Holy Ground – Quarterly Reflection on the Contemplative Life help make this blog possible. Please consider subscribing to Holy Ground and making a donation today here.

May your Christmas be full of grace, as my heart is full of gratitude for each of you!

Holding you in the womb of God’s love,

                                         Loretta F. Ross

What the Trees Said – Stay Where You Are

Cedar Trunks © Sheila Creighton 2013 Images of LIght used with permission

Cedar Trunks © Sheila Creighton 2013 Imagery of LIght used with permission

 It is true. We are not going anywhere.
“Stabilitas loci” as the monks say.
How boring you think.

But have you seen willow dance?
Letting the wind have his way with her
whooshing up her dress tail
bending her backwards in his arms
shimmying her long trembling limbs
in that torrid way?

Spring Willow in the Wind © Sheila Creighton 2013 Imagery of Light Used with permission

Spring Willow in the Wind © Sheila Creighton 2013 Imagery of Light Used with permission

Stabilitas loci: to remain in one place; monastic vow of stability

What the Trees Said – Where Prayers Go

eagles nest

Your prayers
birdwings
flutter among our leaves
settle in the crotch
where eagle builds her nest
cushion and cling
to the little talons of her brood
who carry them off to towering
cliffs, broad rivers, wetlands, tundra,
borne on ascending thermals
to deliver your hearts’ longing back
to your frail lives
transformed,
untamed, fierce,
windswept.

eagleflight

A bald eagle’s nest weighs on average 1000 pounds, but can reach 2000 pounds.

What the Trees Said – Coyote

coyote

Last night coyote,
whose mother
raven said
was hit
on the highway,
turned himself
three times
scratched
sank
midst the gnarled
knees
of grandfather oak
tucked his face
beneath his tail
and slept til dawn

May we all find among the trees resting places for our sorrow.
Go out among trees today.

What the Trees Said – The Invitation

Northwest Temperate Rainforest

Give up.
Stop fixing,
yearning,
grasping.

As I am in you be
in me.

This effort
to separate
distinguish
yourself
is so
hard
on you.

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery. Galations 5: 1, NEB

I am off to spend some time listening to trees. Perhaps I will bring back messages. In the meantime, you might consider what you are trying to fix, hanging onto, or hungering after, that, in truth, you have already been set free from, or possess in great fullness. At least that is what I aim to do.

So Full of God Is Every Creature

StFwolf

Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things. Every single creature is full of God and a book about God. Every creature is a word of God. If I spent enough time with the tiniest creature – even a caterpillar- I would never have to prepare a sermon. So full of God is every creature.  Meister Eckhart                                                                 

My black lab whinnies with a high pitched cry outside my door when I start to meditate. I get up and let him in. He turns in circles on the rug several times then lays down with a thud, head between his legs, and sighs deeply.  Before she died my cat always turned up to settle herself in my lap. Animals are often present with us as we pray. Dogs, cats, rabbits, snakes, herons, fish, coyotes, possums, deer, cows, a wild boar, turkeys, quail, even a mountain lion showed up a time or two to speak of God to me.

A few weeks ago the neighborhood fox paid a call at 4:00 am. My dog was out guarding and began to bark excitedly. When I went to the window I saw the fox, close to the fence, and Elijah on the inside quietly looking at each other.  No more barking, just eyes meeting. After while the fox turned and walked out to the middle of the street and lay down under the streetlight. The two continued their silent communion. I stood at the window wondering what was going on. Then the fox stood and walked to the neighbor’s front yard, curled himself up, and appeared to go asleep. What was communicated, what information exchanged, what dog and fox questions had been answered? It was a mysterious encounter that likely would not have happened if I had been outside with Elijah. Would the two had shared that long gaze and the peace that gathered up between them?

Eli 5.13

If I were alone in a desert
and feeling afraid.
I would want a child to be with me.
For then my fear would disappear
and I would be made strong.
This is what life in itself can do
because it is so noble, so full of pleasure
and so powerful.

But if I could not have a child with me
I would like to have at least a living animal
at my side to comfort me.

Therefore,
let those who bring about wonderful things
in their big, dark books
take an animal – perhaps a dog-
to help them.

The life within the animal
will give them strength in turn.
For equality
gives strength in all things
and at all times.   Meister Eckhart

St. Francis prays over the animals Bensiger

Animals participate with us in our shared life, exchanging their sensory awareness with our own. As we interpenetrate each other’s awareness, our communication results in shifts affecting each other. German philosopher, theologian, and mystic (1260-1327), Meister Eckhart writes of receiving strength and life from a child or an animal. Children and animals possess a kind of innocence and presence to their awareness, which adults may lack.

A Rabbit Noticed My Condition

I was sad one day and went for a walk;
I sat in a field.

A rabbit noticed my condition and came near.
It often does not take more than that to help at times –
to just be close to creatures who
are so full of knowing,
so full of love
that they don’t – chat,
they just gaze with their marvelous understanding.
   St. John of the Cross in Love Poems from God

Chambers_bosseron_charles_c_b_St_Saint_francis_assissi_animals_thumb

How do animals enter your prayer and contemplation? What do they teach you? What shifts happen in you as you commune with them?

In my book, Letters from the Holy Ground, I took a look at the presence of animals in our lives and prayer:

From the beginning, animals had figured in my journey, but now they began to show up more in my writing. And they were not content to simply add color and amusement, the dear things wanted to speak. The animals developed a following among some of my readers. The dog, cats, and rabbits even received occasional cards and inquiries. I seemed to have struck a chord.

What did whimsical animal fantasy have to do with spiritual formation? Did the creatures serve a purpose beyond a literary device and medium of revelation? I became curious about why animals held so much joy and interest for me and my readers. I think it is because animals naturally possess the poverty of spirit I was seeking for myself. Gerald Vann observed that the condition for happiness is a deep sense of our creatureliness. I think part of becoming ordinary is the discovery and deep acceptance of the joy and freedom in our creatureliness. The animals help ground me and remind me that I, like them, am subject to One larger and greater than myself.

Contemplation, consolation, ecstasy, may have a tendency to inflate a person. Being entrusted with the spiritual care and nurture of others, likewise, may puff up our egos. The animals seemed to call me back to the earth, to simplicity, to surrender and trust.

But ask the animals and they will teach you:
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth,
and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.  (Job 12:7–8 )

Animals do not lie or pretend. They do not sin. They seem to know that God’s omnipotence undergirds everything. Animals disarm our logical defenses and help us overcome our human resistance to grace. I even came to identify a state of being in myself I called “rabbit power.” Rabbit power meant humility and the wisdom, balance, and earthy connectedness of an animal that lives as a prey species, close to the ground and mindful of its vulnerability. I connected rabbit power with taking off my shoes and walking barefoot. In my experience, no rabbit has ever appeared to pine after being something other than it is; rabbit power was a place where I could gratefully be who I am and therein find deep delight and peace.

Finally, communion with animals reflected my desire for union with God. To cross the chasm from one species to another and find communion and a sense of mutual respect and regard seemed to mirror my longing to connect with God. To establish a connection, an understanding, however slight with something wholly other than oneself, is to participate in the eager groaning of a creation seeking wholeness and unity with its Creator.

Spend some time praying with an animal this week. Let me know what you  learn. I would love to hear about some of the marvelous understanding creatures give to you.

 Seal on lap

Here is a wonderful complement to this blog post.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hdUCzbCuYk

Severed

sea

Drawing her arms
through the salt sea
legs straining
giving her body
to the task

she swam among
the floating limbs
reaching after them
before they turned
to sink slowly down

to shocked shipwrecks
astonished clams
coming to rest in a cloud
of silt, the softly yielding
residue of other remains.

She heard no sound
but her breath
and the slip slosh of sea
as she ploughed the
surface of their sorrow.

She thought
she could retrieve them
gather the fragments
siphon up the spilt blood
return to all donors

bring mothers
their sons and daughters
reborn,
wrapped in seaweed

take this leg, uprooted,
to the young man
Here it is yours, she’d say.
I found it in the sea.

So deep, so wide the wound
of flesh and bone
so piercing, urgent the ache
to be re- membered.

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for those whose lives have been blown apart
for those who must pick up the pieces

Loretta F. Ross, 2013