Tag Archives: grace

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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Where’s The Grace?

A quick perusal of online comments, letters to the editor, talk shows, and news commentaries reveal that forbearance for the sins of others is in short supply. Politics and many businesses appear to have expunged mercy and generosity from their operations.
Theologian Miraslov Volf in his book, Free of Charge – Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace, writes, “Mainly we’re set up to sell and buy, not to give and receive… To give is to lose.”  We do not know how to receive our lives. We try to earn our worth, or demand it because we feel entitled to it. We see the other as either a potential rival or a target market. We are quick to blame, slow to forgive, and eager to sue. Getting and spending, beating and winning, we are oblivious to the ocean of care and delight in which we have been placed by the sheer goodness of God.
You guessed it. I have been watching television and reading newspapers too much. Our culture distracts us from the truth of the totally unearned, undeserved gift of our precious lives. In contrast to the world, faith teaches us that we are not here to achieve our own purposes, but rather to be instruments of God’s grace and peace.
Volf closes his book with a long series of questions:
So why do so many of us take the “sword” into our hands so readily? Why do we visit vengeance on our enemies, when we should, inspired by the cross, forgive?….Why have many of our Christian fathers and mothers throughout history, greedy and vengeful as they were, left so much suffering in their trail?… Why do we refuse the God-given bridge that would transport us from selfishness to self-giving, from vengeance to forgiveness? That’s a mystery that should make us tremble – tremble before the God who gives to the ungrateful and the God who forgives the ungodly.
These are huge questions, questions that need to be asked and considered. However I think the way out of the morass of human resistance to grace is probably not in looking at our tangled, twisted selves, but rather in lifting our eyes to the Transcendent Goodness in our midst. Gazing on love, mercy, and justice cleanses, refreshes, and  re orders our priorities.
And here in Topeka, Kansas you may receive such a grace filled vision, actually free of charge. The Sunflower Music Festival is in town. For nine evenings you can listen to some of the world’s best musicians play Mozart, Beethoven, Ives, Gershwin, and others.
Little kids, youth, and the elderly, bussed in from care centers, will sit hushed in the packed concert hall each night. We watch the conductor lean over his orchestra, calling forth lilting melodies of heart breaking beauty and thundering power. We fall into the wonder of the pianist’s hands, the French horn’s smooth haunting call, and the sobbing sweep of violins.
We take part in the miracle of humans cooperating, denying themselves, as they lose their lives to create together something larger, finer, than any one of us could do alone. We surrender to the gift of grace among us that is manifested as we give and receive, bend and bow, rest, and watch the hand of the one who can weave out of our lives together on this earth something that thrills, frees, and heals.

The Miro Quartet

Where’s the grace? Why right in your own back yard. And here in Topeka at the Sunflower Festival, it won’t cost you a cent.
Read more about prayer at  www.fromholyground.org Tracking Holiness – Newsletter
Contact the author at lross@fromholyground.org, www.fbook.me/sanctuary
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To Err Is Human, To Forgive Divine

This Week’s Puzzler!

Name a three letter word, which will stop a conversation. Say it and watch people avert their eyes, stiffen, and slip away as quickly as possible. Psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote a book about whatever happened to it.

You’re right!  The word is sin.

Here is Menninger: But first I must return to the promise to review the events in the recent rapid decline and disappearance of the word “sin,” not because any particular word is so important in itself, but because its obsolescence may be a clue to fundamental changes in the moral philosophy of our civilization. (Whatever Happened to Sin? 1973, p 27)

Thirty seven years later, sin sounds even more archaic. Sin grates against the ear like some antiquated puritanical rant. In a culture with license to say any swear word or expletive one can come up with, the taboo word is, ironically, sin.

Part of this may be due to a trivialization of the meaning of sin and the distortions we bring to it. For many, sin carries negative connotations of judgment, intolerance, hellfire and brimstone. However, sin is not a moralistic judgment. Sin, which is separation from God, is a description of the condition of creation, a condition of alienation and estrangement from our highest good.

Eugene Peterson writes, Sinner means something is awry between humans and God. In that state people may be wicked, unhappy, anxious, and poor. Or, they may be virtuous, happy, and affluent. Those items are not part of the judgment. The theological fact is that humans are not close to God and are not serving God. The Contemplative Pastor

As reasons for the decline of sin as a category for understanding the human condition, psychiatric nurse, Norman L. Keltner, cites four factors: First, the influence of psychology on our understanding of human behavior. Second, the erosion of personal responsibility.

A third factor is the focusing away from behaviors to one’s feelings about those behaviors. .. The implications of such views were that if individuals could get in touch with their feelings and understand their motivation, then many unacceptable behaviors were acceptable. While not totally devoid of some standard, the overwhelming move to openmindedness blurred the lines. When coupled with the growing philosophical view that right and wrong are better conceptualized as personal values than as community values, tolerance of once frowned upon or forbidden behaviors occurred.

Keltner finds a fourth tendency in our society’s whole notion of individualism. As Robert Bellah and his colleagues (1991) note, “… individualistic achievement and self-fulfillment make it difficult for people to sustain their commitment to others, either in intimate relationships or in the public sphere.” Whatever Became of Sin – Revisiting Menninger’s Question

A world view that includes both God  and sin, assumes that persons are responsible for their behavior, that some behaviors draw us closer to God and other behaviors lead us away.

Without sin as part of our understanding of human behavior, we are left with explanations that fall short and miss the mark of a satisfactory remedy. Without sin we do not need God, Jesus, or that nasty thing called religion. Without sin the crucifixion is just one more state execution and Easter, an interesting ghost story.

Without a serious reckoning with sin, we fashion a god and a religion which suits us, which condones the behavior we want, and urges us to satisfy our desires at others’ expense. The word for this, another taboo word, is idolatry. Without sin, we delude ourselves into thinking that we have accomplished what Adam and Eve were hoping for, when they succumbed to the temptation to disobey and replace God with themselves as sovereign in their lives.

As St. Paul wrote, “If we say we have no sin, we are deluding ourselves and strangers to the truth.” Avoiding the word, does not remove the reality of sin. Denial of sin does cut us off from the remedy – the mercy and grace of God, which free us from the crushing burden of guilt, shame, and having always to be perfect and right.

We, alone, cannot extricate ourselves from the mess of human existence. We can fight about whose fault it is. We can politicize and theorize. We can gather all the brilliant thinkers, artists, and scientists of the world to bring their expertise to bear. We can possess all the wealth of the world, yet we, on our own, cannot save ourselves. We cannot defeat the greed, the lust for power, the envy, the deceit, and the selfishness of the human heart. So we flounder, cry out, slashing at one another, bent over in pain and fear like souls in torment lost in a maze of fun house mirrors.

To see oneself or another as a sinner is like the child telling the obvious truth that the emperor had no clothes. There is wondrous freedom here to be honest about who we are and to be healed and forgiven. As Eugene Peterson writes, “To call a man a sinner is not a blast at his manners or his morals. It is a theological belief that the thing that matters most to him is forgiveness and grace.”

Read more about prayer at www.fromholyground.org
Contact Loretta at lross@fromholyground.org, www.fbook.me/sanctuary
Follow at http://twitter.com/lfross
Become a fan of the The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer