Winter Solstice: Mary, Mother Earth, and the Stories that We Tell

In the end, all we have is nature.

My teacher offered this wisdom during my healing class a few weeks ago, and only by going in the opposite direction, by dipping into myth and stories and ideas have I begun to understand the profundity of this statement.

I was blessed with the most incredible, nourishing Winter Solstice I could have possibly prayed for. The snow continued to fall while the Christmas lights glowed all day in the cozy house. I had the luxury of spending hours in my sacred little room: lighting my Advent candles, meditating, drawing, writing, discovering new territory in the realm of spirit.

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This December has offered me previously unimagined insight into the power of both the Solstice and Christmas.

For some time now, I have been experiencing visions of Mary. In them, she tells me that she is not just that silent, blue veiled vessel with the alabaster brow. She is the Mother who carried the weight of the world between her hips and who gave birth to a God. She is not some distant creature to be locked up in churches. She is a vital ally, a friend to all life. Mary is the supreme realization of the Divine Feminine.

Never before would I allow myself to get close to Jesus’s mom. A girl who got tangled up in all that Biblical stuff just because she was passively filled with angel dust? Not my style. Instead, I sought the Goddess in myth and legend, rock formations and prehistoric art. The statues of the blessed virgin that graced the churches I passed were just dull marble decorations that helped other kinds of people through their day.

But Mary has been insistent, and I realize how foolish I have been to refuse her. I now allow myself to drink deep her story.

Two phenomenal posts that I came across today, both based on today’s Gospel reading about the Annunciation, opened new doors of understanding for me: Christine at Abbey of the Arts and a blog that’s new to me, Magdalene’s Musings.

The more deeply I fall into the stories of the Annunciation and Jesus’s birth, the more overcome I am by their power. Suddenly it makes sense that these events would form the basis of a faith that endures 2,000 years later.

At the same time, my understanding of these miraculous moments is colored by the new “relationship” that I have with Mary herself. As she becomes something other than an iconic character for me, and instead emerges as a face of the feminine aspect of God, I realize how the stories that bind her to history are just that: stories.dsc01518

The time I spent soaking in Paganism and Celtic magic left me with a strong understanding of the way the Church strategically scheduled Christmas to coincide with a holiday as old as the earth itself: the celebration of sun’s return around December 21. The overlapping events and the connections between them are becoming increasingly clear to me:

The earth is tilting back on its axis so that the sun shines longer in the sky each day.

Mother Earth is offering up her Child, the Sun.

The Feminine Divine is making way in order to give us the Divine in human form.

Mary gives birth to the infant Jesus in a manger.

When I fully realize that the nativity story is not about shepherds and stars, but is instead a beautiful allegory for the cycles of the seasons, I arrive on a new plane of respect for Christianity and for all of nature. The interconnectedness of humanity’s stories with the basic laws of this earth make me stop and allow tears to fill my eyes for the incredible beauty we are all permitted to be a part of.

Did those events in Bethlehem really happen? I would not deny it. And if they did, I believe it was because God knew humanity needed to watch the power of his love enacted in human form. The passing of the seasons and the miracle of the earth’s rebirth of the seasons is too abstract a miracle for us to understand. What genius and power, to give us these holy beings, Mary and Jesus, to guide our story-loving souls.

solstice sun setI stood outside as the sun set on this shortest day, and I understood completely that the only sure thing is the natural world. The ideas, the living beings, the manufactured things, they will all fade away. Only the mountains and the seas, the sun and the moon will remain.

But still, I know I feel more connected to God and to the rest of this beautiful world better by holding in my heart these stories that we tell.

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Imbolc and Revising My Sacred Calendar

Sacred PathOn this unusual solitary Sunday I found myself in in a noontime twilight when I yearned to fill fruitful hours with reading and writing and meditation but instead wandered between rooms, giving a few minutes to a novel before remembering I had left a cup of tea steeping in the kitchen a half hour before. Though I often resist the wisdom that tells me to pull on some boots and get outside, I looked out to the melting snow and realized that I had to leave my cocoon.

I was tempting nature to glitter through its bleak February palette with unmistakable manifestations of the divine even as I consciously settled for the mundane beauty that is a false spring: forty degree sunlight air hanging over mud and snow that will invariably freeze in a few short hours. Really, this is how I gaze upon life much of the time – resigning myself to reality but coloring it all with a sense of hope I am sometimes unwilling to admit. As you will see from the picture above, this ended up being a much more sacred journey than I might have expected; it seems that there in fact must have been some magic delighting in the sunshine.

Gradually I was able to release the expectation of revelation and even stopped chanting the vaguely frenetic mantra that was intended to shape this tramp through the woods into a productive walking meditation. I pulled back the layers of ego until I was simply a woman on a path on a warm winter day. Soon, I started noticing sounds beyond those of the crunching ice and the squelching muck beneath my galoshes. I pitied myself and the wonder of the earth for a while; our perfect communion was marred by distant shots from the gun club and the low hiss of the thruway – destructive neighbors that I so rarely acknowledged. For a time I let these impostors excuse my neglect of the natural world: being outside barely worth it when any signs of wildlife that hadn’t been hunted or pushed into oblivion by human incursion were drowned out by all that human noise. But eventually even those pretexts melted away as I watched blue jays chase one another from birch to birch and realized that the little movements at the corner of my vision were due to an underbrush alive with busy squirrels. All of my intentions of really being present in nature were forgotten in the act of actually being there.

Everything I “should” have been thinking about melted away under the flame unmediated experience. My thoughts turned to flowing wax that was free to drip through my consciousness to form new shapes, loosed from their old forms and patterns. Finally my sense were opening wider so that I remembered to take a deep breath of the sweet fresh air. It tasted just a little like spring, and I remembered that in Ireland the weather had seemed to turn at the first of February in celebration of Imbolc.Brigid

That is when I stopped to stare dumbly into the middle distance. It was February third and I had not even thought of the festival of Imbolc, Brigid’s Day. For so many years the feast of goddess/saint whose image I had worn around my neck had been deeply important to me, marked by rituals both public and private. I remember so clearly the first Brigid’s Day of the millennium when I hung my cloak out in the damp Galway night so she could pass by and bless it.

What does it mean that I had been thinking of how to make Lent more meaningful but had not remembered what I had always considered what I thought to be the most important day of the Celtic year? I have been so disconnected from the relationship of time and nature that I don’t even know if Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow (just Googled it, he did). As I began walking again I marveled at strange new focus my awareness has taken – Catholic traditions treasured over pagan rites? Who was I? I mourned a bit for all it seems I have forgotten.

But then I realized how artificial our calendars are, how arbitrary our scheduled holy days. Certainly the winter solstice is a moment in time, but unless you are standing in the inner chamber at Newgrange how can you know for sure? When celebrating Brigid’s qualities such as fire and home and healing and poetry, does the divine care if we are off by a day or two? After all, time has proven to be a plastic thing when we remember that the Church imposed December 25 upon the newborn Jesus.

After that walk through a wintertime awakening, I am feeling graced with a deep peace to realize that I remembered Brigid not Bandiabecause I turned the page on the calendar, but because I heard the whisper of the earth.