So ever since the fire at Notre Dame de Paris, I have found myself leaning into practices that come from my Roman Catholic background. One of our comrades from The Way of the River, Rev. Madelyn Campbell, prayed the Rosary with me on Good Friday.
More consistently, I’ve been finding myself praying the Salve Regina, the “Hail, Holy Queen.”
This prayer (or chant), is the culmination of the Rosary. The very last prayer that is said on the beads, and it is done on the medal, or central piece of the Rosary, between the “tail” where one begins the meditative prayers and the circle of the Five Mysteries on which one meditates while praying the Hail Mary.
Here is the beginning of the Salve Regina in Latin: “Salve Regina, Mater misericordiae; vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve!” In English, this opening translates to, “Hail Queen” (or, as it is usually translated—Hail holy Queen), “Mother of mercy; our life, our sweetness and our hope, hail!”
There are elements of theology in the prayer that are not what I live into these days, for example, “poor banished children of Eve” and “our exile,” on Earth. I have nonetheless found the prayer very consoling and connecting me to an aspect of my worship life/spiritual practice that I have been away from for some time.
As many of you know, I have sometimes described myself as a “Christian-adjacent Wiccan.” These days, I am finding myself more Marian in my reaching back to my roots, rather than truly Christian. While I appreciate the life, teachings, and myths surrounding Jesus, it is the Blessed Mother of God to Whom I find I am turning. And even when I pray, “poor banished children of Eve,” (“exules fillii Hevae”) I think of song-prayers like “Amazing Grace,” in which the singer describes oneself as a “wretch.” Sometimes we do feel like wretches, and maybe sometimes we do feel like exiles on Earth.
But it is more Mary’s titles, faces, Her aspects that I’ve been considering of late. Particularly, Mother of God. I often say, as an exclamation, “Holy Mother of all the gods,” and I guess that’s how I’ve been drifting back toward Mary.
Note that I capitalize, “Her” when discussing Mary. Well, I figure if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck. If She’s prayed to like a goddess, shrines are built to Her like a goddess, and She loves like a goddess, She probably is a goddess. Or as close as makes no nevermind.
So yes, the Mother of God… described in the Gospels as a (likely) teenager, betrothed to a just man, welcoming the coming of the Holy Spirit, and prophesying that Her bringing forth fruitfulness (Jesus the rabbi, teacher, and revolutionary) will “cast down the mighty from their thrones” and “fill the hungry with good things.” Just as Jesus is understood to be a poor, itinerant preacher, who is also simultaneously the King of Heaven, the Prince of Peace, and the One Who comes in glory, so is Mary both a young woman living in poverty, and also acknowledged as the God-crowned Queen of Heaven.
Mary is a badass.
Catholicism is complicated, folks. And yes, I am turning one aspect of it to my own purposes.
I am cherry picking, just as all of us who are religious and spiritual do.
I am deepening a relationship that calls to me and that is intensely personal, even though it also connects me to millions of people around the world. It especially connects me to Orthodox Christians who (according to my Orthodox friends) more often feel connected to “God the Father, Mary, and the Saints” than they do to Jesus. It connects me to my grandmother on my mother’s side, who regularly prayed the Rosary. It connects me to the complex relationship that indigenous people and people of the African diaspora have with Catholicism, indigenous religion, and syncretism/masking.
And so honoring Mary is an ancestral practice for me, even though the way I think about it is certainly heretical, as far as the Church is concerned. Probably even more so, evidence of my (well-earned) identity as an apostate.
I remember I ceremony I wrote some sixteen or seventeen years ago, with three other women, in which we aspected (a practice in which one takes on the character, the essence of a deity or other entity for ceremonial purposes) four Faces of Mary. They were Our Lady of Mercy, Our Lady of Charity, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and Our Lady of Sorrows. Each “face,” each aspect was a way of considering the Mother of God, a way of approaching Her and finding compassion, love, practical help, or consolation.
This morning, I wrote about the Mother of Mercy as she is called in the Salve Regina. I also thought about something later in the prayer: “Turn Thine eyes of mercy toward us.”
When I was growing up, I thought of mercy primarily in terms of forgiveness. God’s mercy balanced with justice—and justice seen as righteous punishment. I believed in Hell as a place, a separate, unknown, terrifying place which I had to live my life trying to avoid. And I believed in mercy as a compassionate forgiveness that could come if and when I acknowledged my own sinful nature.
Now things are more complicated and more simple at once. I certainly don’t believe in Hell. And I don’t think of mercy only as forgiveness.
Mercy, that great Sea of which the saints write, is closely related to the quality of grace. Showers of compassion from the highest heights of our understanding. The drenching Water of Love that comes from that Holiest of Wells that never runs dry and which reaches down, down, down to the underground River of love that runs through all of Creation and in our own hearts.
I’ve prayed for mercy this morning as I prepared to go to the pool. I’m just returning to a practice of gentle, healing, attuned movement/exercise. I love the water, but I’m afraid that I will “fail” at this project of being with my body in this loving, healing, strengthening way.
It is the Mother of Mercy to Whom I’m turning, Mother of the Compassionate Gaze, the Loving Eyes, the one who helps us give ourselves chance after chance, even when we feel like we’re failing over and over.
Perhaps you might think on Our Lady of Perpetual Help – the One Who holds out Her hands, offering the Her own love and the love of Her son the revolutionary, the One I’ve often found is great when I’ve got a problem I just can’t solve.
Or maybe it’s Our Lady of Charity, perhaps more rightly translated, “Our Lady of Love” Whom you need today. Do you need just to be held? Do you need to be in the lap of the Goddess, cradled, safe, understood?
Or maybe it’s Our Lady of Sorrows, the One Who knows all about the pain of the world, who contemplates the Crown of Thorns and what it meant for Her son to be killed as an Enemy of the State. What it meant for Her not to abandon Him, even in the last moments of His life on Earth. What it means to lose a child, to suffer the greatest losses we know as “poor…children of Eve.”
These are my thoughts today. I know that for many of you, those of you who don’t have the deep Catholic roots I have, this missive is not for you. But I also know there are others of you, other comrades at The Way of the River who work, even struggle, to reconcile or bring together the pieces of your religious past with the way your spirituality unfolds in the present.
May this note be a balm to you. A suggestion of sorts. A way into deeper truths than those we find on the surface.
May we be willing to go into the Deep places of our hearts and find there what is most nourishing.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Mother Mary, be with us, awake and asleep. Keep us safe in Your arms, and may your gracious countenance help us to see the Divine within our own selves.
Blessings on you, my loves, and on your houses –