Friday, November 8, 2013

Gratitude #2: Mary.

One of my favorite categories of blog posts is the one I call "pagan at heart." For some reason, even though the are polar opposites, I lump my pagan proclivities in with my second-choice of religions: Catholicism (I mean no disrespect for the Catholic church in saying this; I just know that if certain parts of my testimony that keep me from changing religions ever changed, and if I were looking for another religion to raise my children in, it would be there.) So part of my excitement of going to Italy was knowing I would be spending time in centuries-old churches, wandering them, seeing their altars and saints and sculptures and basins full of holy water.

I read a book a few years ago called Expecting Adam. In the course of this book, the author has some very singular, sacred experiences while pregnant with her second child, who has Down's Syndrome. There is a moment in that book where she feels actual comfort from an angel that she can't see. In that moment, her heart cries out, wanting that comfort to come from a female angel. She immediately felt a change in the persona of the angel comforting her, and she knew it was a woman. Kind of strange in our world that doubts anglic visits, but in the context of this book, I have always sort of connected with the author in this desire of her heart.

Even being a non-Catholic, I see the draw of Mary. A female presence, a mother, a woman who can intercede on our behalf to the more patriarchal line of the Father and Son. There is a softness in Mary that speaks to my soul. And while I was in Italy, I saw depiction after depiction of Mary. Michelangelo's Pieta in St. Peter's Basilica is breath-taking, and seeing it was an experience I will always treasure. Additionally, I saw many representations of her in all her stages of life.

One of our final stops was in Bologna. I was having a rough day: the immense lack of sleep from jet lag had caught up with me; I  had stayed up late the night before talking with Amy and listening to an amazing thunder and lightening storm; and I had been late for the bus and made the whole group wait for me. We reached San Petronio's basilica in the mid-morning on a cloudy day. Bologna is a very northern Italian city; the countries to its north (Austria, Hungary, Germany) had a lot of influence in its architecture. Gone were the deep-set windows with shutters that you see in Rome. Heavy Gothic arches and windows are apparent everywhere. Further, it had been days since we had toured a church; most of the smaller towns all had churches that cost money, or we simply didn't have time to tour them. So it was a relief and a joy to tour another church, and such an interesting and historical one at that (the facade was never finished, and it fell a few years ago during an earthquake that rocked Bologna. Scaffolding covers the damage and shows a representation of what the church looked like before it was damaged). My emotional state led me to a side chapel in the church (San Petronio has 22 side chapels, 11 on each side, that each have their own art, relics, and saints) that had a beautiful statue of Mary wearing a golden halo ringed with blue stars.

I sat in front of this statue of Mary and had a Moment. She was so beautiful. Her posture showed her humility, her embodiment of the Sacred Female, her love for her son and the human family that his eternal sacrifice would redeem. I lit a candle for myself (the only one I have ever lit in a church; I so love the idea of lighting a candle, of giving light and hope to the dark world around) and wrote in my journal, tears streaming down my face. It was only 15 minutes, but they were minutes that I know will stay with me for the rest of my life.

This is part of what I wrote in my journal: "I am looking at Mary. She has a crown of stars. She is so kind and has such love. It reminds me I have a Mother in Heaven who loves me."

The next day in Venice, I found a glass pendant that had a ring of blue with stars in the center and I bought it so I could always remember that moment with Mary. I have scoured the internet looking for a photo of her, crowned with her stars, to no avail (imagine: no one has yet recorded all the art, sculptures, statues, and objects in a building that has 22 chapels. Lazy internet, lol.) I want to find a representation of her somehow. But, even with the lack of a physical picture, it's ok. I know how she looked in my memory. I know the pact that she and I made together as we watched my candle light up the darkness.

I am grateful for Mary and the hope she gave me.


heidikins said...

This is so beautiful, thank you for sharing this, my dear!


Amy Sorensen said...

I tried to find a book today that would tell you the name of that painting of Mary, or who painted it...but no luck!

I'm so glad you had this moment!