Lent 2023: Tuesday Lent Week Three

The photo accompanying this week’s reflections shows a statue of a solitary Mary looking out over a vast, beautiful natural emptiness in County Cork, Ireland

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One wintry day while I was walking the hills over a stretch of Irish wilderness, I met this presence of Mary appearing out of the fog. Her statue stood looking over the bleak valley as the mist rolled around her. It moved me by its solitariness and the image of heart-felt compassion with both powerful detachment and all-embracing gentleness that was also almost impersonal. It recalled for me the deep reverence for Mary and the divine feminine in the Irish psyche through centuries of spiritual devotion and foreign occupation.

Many reports of apparitions, which don’t admit rational explanation, share common elements such as direct appearances to simple and poor young children, rather than priests or bishops or devout adults, and her call to social justice and peace as well as always to deeper prayer. Often these appearances have taken place in times and places of conflict. Characteristically at first the children’s reports are rejected by the ecclesiastical authorities. (I like the story of one child telling what she had seen to the bishop who rudely dismissed and tried to humiliate him. The girl replied ‘she told me to tell you what I have just said. She didn’t say I had to convince you’.)

For many people this stuff is hard to understand, partly because it cannot be rationalised or even psychologised. In fact it points to another dimension of reality and is an authentic element of a possible religious response to life. In the 1970’s when thousands of displaced Vietnamese were fleeing their war-torn country in small boats on dangerous seas many never made it to shore. One boat survived a vicious storm and on landing the passengers described an apparition of Kwan Ying, the maternal Buddhist goddess of compassion, comforting and accompanying them at the worst moment of the storm when they were about to sink.

To survive our present storm we need realignment of the feminine in a global patriarchal culture. Deepening our sense of reality and of the living God is essential but it involves more than changing language (although that is a necessary step). There is no single word, except the rather anonymous term ‘parent’ to convey the Father-Mother-hood of God. Another word to be conveyed to silence.

On All Saints Day 1950 the less than liberal Pope Pius XII announced the dogma of the Assumption. It had been a belief, now institutionalised, and long held by many Christians . For many it might have seemed out of date. Carl Jung saw it of supreme symbolic importance – the ‘hieros gamos (sacred marriage) in the pleroma’ which presages the future birth of the divine child. He saw the announcement as an attempt, no doubt unconscious, of the Catholic Church to move away from the ‘purely’ spiritual and masculine. Recently I realised that another great mind of this era, Jean Gebser, also thought it was a ‘renunciation of the excessively emphasised fatherhood of God that is itself a reduction of the divine and a reinstatement of the maternal principle to its rights’. Is this what Mary in the Irish Lenten wilderness was looking for?

The important insight is pointing to a future birth of humanity as a new ‘mutation’. A precondition of this, which needs immense maternal love, is to recognise the total failure of our present stage of human existence.

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