Tag Archives: Catholic

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

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Embarrassing Prayers

An Embarrassment

“Do you want to ask
the blessing?”

“No. If you do,
go ahead.”

He went ahead:
his prayer dressed up

in Sunday clothes
rose a few feet

and dropped with a soft
thump.

If a lonely soul
did ever cry out

in company its true
outcry to God,

it would be as though
at a sedate party

a man suddenly
removed his clothes

and took his wife
passionately into his arms.

~Wendell Berry – Leavings

Wendell Berry –  I love this Kentucky farmer and writer, with his deep affection for the land and generosity of spirit. I actually worry sometimes about his dying. He is getting older and I need him to keep going into his timber, where he observes Sabbath down by the creek. I need his passion for justice and goodness, which he keeps just under his worn jacket. I love it every time he tears off that jacket and strips down to show us the naked truth.

I used to say with the foolish assurance of someone newly in love with God, “If people knew how sexy God is, our churches would be filled.” Now I wonder if perhaps it is our churches themselves who don’t know how sexy God is, and that is why some are empty.

In the sedate worship circles I frequent, there are few passionate outbursts and everyone keeps his clothes on. If a God lover ever did rise up in some self-abandoned embarrassing expression of love, we would probably be appalled and call the police.

We have all heard those obligatory, studied prayers that rise a few feet and drop with a soft thump. I have prayed quite a few myself. I also confess I have been a perpetrator of prayers with an ax to grind: some pet notion or issue that wasn’t fully treated in the sermon or meeting, which the one praying attempts to correct. Perhaps, you have been assaulted with the prayer of someone, who is more concerned about setting you straight about some matter than entering into communion with the Lord of the Universe on your behalf. Then there are the quick and dirty nooners over lunch in a public restaurant, where you feel everyone is watching.

To the Holy One, I figure all our prayers are mostly childish babble, endearing scribbles in the sky.  I trust God loves them all, just as I still keep a box of my daughters’ childhood drawings and writing. Tell me, what are we, caged in our mortality, to do with this divine love, if not to slop it around like infants in a high chair eating our first plate of spaghetti? We are bound to be messy. More of us ought to be caught red handed in flagrante delicto with spaghetti sauce all over our faces.

Some Sundays I have an impulse to throw myself in an unseemly prostration before the altar on behalf of the people and the God I love so much that I can’t stand it.  I do not have the words to express the anguish, doubt, and fear I know some of the people carry. “Do something!” I want to scream at God. “Here take me, take my life, such as it is, ragged and tattered, and heal your people!”

Once, in a weak moment, overcome with love, I knelt in a Presbyterian church during worship. Presbyterians, as you may know, do not have kneelers in their churches or kneel as part of their worship. They express their passion by singing, something at which Roman Catholics, with their lovely genuflections and neat fold-down kneelers are generally less accomplished.

My embarrassment followed Holy Communion. After I received our Lord’s presence and love, I brazenly knelt right down in the First Presbyterian Church in Holton, Kansas. It was a little crowded between my seat and the back of my brother’s pew, but I just had to do it. Afterwards one of the elders of the church brought up my indiscretion at the session meeting, asking the pastor if what I did was “Presbyterian.” They haven ‘t kicked me out so far.

Saints, prophets, artists, and poets understand the passion of the human heart for the divine. These are persons, possessed and overcome with our Beloved, who often do and say things unseemly. Most people think they are a little kooky. Yet these same people, who hold mystics at arm’s length, regularly sing hymns with lyrics like:

Jesus, lover of my soul, let me
to thy bosom fly …

Come down, O love divine, seek thou this soul of mine,
and visit it with thine own ardor glowing…

Who do they think they are fooling? I know there are hearts aflame with God in more than one gentleman in the back row, not to mention the middle aged couple, or bored looking teenager pecking at his cell phone. Most us, including clergy, are well trained to keep our passion contained. Nobody wants to be embarrassed for heaven’s sake.

As Wendell Berry writes, there is public prayer, which can easily slide down the slippery slope into performance prayer. Then there is the Jesus-recommended private, shut up in your closet prayer. (Matthew 6:6) I suppose the closet prayers are the best kind for taking off your clothes. The only problem with hiding our passion is that people may get the idea that God is boring and that being a person of faith is only a matter of learning some doctrine and following a moral code of behavior.

Not for the faint hearted, a life of prayer is a perilous enterprise. One can pray a prayer so lame it is an embarrassment, or one can simply embarrass oneself. I believe God receives all our prayers, both the self-conscious thumpers, and the self-forgotten soarers. God, being beyond shame, is not embarrassed by either. Would we could all toss away our fig leaves and go walking in the garden with our Lover without a stitch.

I hope there is a place, where you can strip down to your naked, vulnerable, cellulite- encased, pocked-marked self and open your arms to your Beloved in a rush of desire and groping hunger for holiness, truth, justice, and mercy.

We won’t peek. Just go for it. Lame or passionate, pray an embarrassing prayer today.

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