When I was growing up in the forties and fifties, in the Christian church things were pretty much set in concrete. One was a Presbyterian(like my family) or Catholic or Methodist or Baptist or Episcopalian. We didn’t entertain other beliefs, we didn’t visit other churches, and certainly if we were Protestant, we would never enter a Catholic church. The prohibition was even stronger for the Catholics. There was a need to conform and conform we did to our own kind of Christianity.
Today there is a fluidity about Christianity that I really enjoy. We still have a lot of denominations, but there is no longer the sense that each individual one is discreet, not touched or influenced by the others. I belong to a Baptist church here in Charlotte and we have former Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, Catholics and even, yes, Baptists. In my adulthood I have also belonged to a Presbyterian church and to a United Church of Christ church. When I moved here three years ago, I had the definite sense that God wanted me in this Baptist church, so that’s where I am. If I move again, I will join the church that I feel God is calling me to.
I have been drawn to some of the beliefs of Catholicism; I would say that I have a devotion to Mary. A dream of a Black Madonna years ago opened up a whole new area of belief and practice. I have not become a Catholic, but I do feel now that the Reformation threw out the baby–Mary–with the bathwater–indulgences, etc.
A Jungian told me that the Black Madonna appears when healing is needed. I certainly needed a lot of healing. I read all I could find about the Black Madonna and purchased a book on their locations throughout the world. When my husband and I celebrated our 30th anniversary we traveled to Italy and Switzerland where we found two of the ones listed. It was in the abbey church at Einsedeln near the south end of Lake Zurich that we sat in her chapel and thanked her for the healing she had brought into our lives.
I can’t go into a Catholic church today without lighting a candle and saying prayers. I like that ritual. At times I have felt Mary’s influence in my life. Several years ago I felt drawn to attend a three-week program at the Mexican American Cultural Center in San Antonio that developed an appreciation for Mexican culture and spirituality in the participants. When I arrived for the first session, I felt sure that Our Lady of Guadalupe, another Black Madonna, had called me there. I learned about the very familial feeling that Mexicans have about God—“Papa Dios,” Jesus—one of the family, Mary—a very caring grandmother or aunt to the family. Unlike our very heady American type of religion, the ones the Mexicans worshipped were as close to them as their own family members.
Another year I spent a month in Oaxaca in Southern Mexico at a language school. I decided that the Minister of Culture must be the most important person in town. Every weekend in the Zocola, the main town square, there were concerts—a whole range of music from classical to mariachi to rock, there was dancing, there was a clown entertaining the children, there was a play on the steps of the church, there was a gathering of the girls competing for the title of “Miss Oaxaca.” These were only the beginning—they were all free and the attendees were Oaxacans, with only a few tourists.
Then there were the official celebrations. The first day or two I was there in mid-November they celebrated the Mexican Revolution of 1910. And then there were the feast days. Our Lady of Guadalupe’s feast day is December 12th. That weekend there was a big carnival in the park and a huge procession with bands and marchers that was led by a large statue of the Guadalupe. During the next week, every day there was a smallish procession with a band and the statue marching through the streets of Oaxaca. At the head of the procession was a banner declaring which bank or hotel was sponsoring that day’s parade of the Virgin.
The patron saint of Oaxaca is Our Lady of Soledad, whose feast day is December 18th. For this celebration people brought flowers and other gifts to the statue of Soledad outside the main cathedral in the city. The lines went on for hours. And there was a carnival again.
I was only in Oaxaca for a month, but I was captivated by the celebratory climate there. Five years later I am still musing on how to get more celebration and ritual into my life. I have made progress on the ritual end. I’ve set up an altar in my bedroom. I open and close my day with Yoga Sun Postures, light a candle, express gratitude, sprinkle a little water on me as a reminder of my baptism and anoint my forehead with a little oil to remember the commitments I’ve made to the Lord. There’s a prayer box on my altar filled with the names I pray for, there is a small two-stone marker that reminds me of my commitment to a contemplative life and a small token that speaks of gratitude to me.
Since I began these rituals, there is a feeling of satisfaction in me that helps keep me on track the whole day. I feel that my life is more integrated. I especially like the Sun Postures that bring my body into the ritual. I plan to get some incense in order to engage my senses more. These rituals bracket my day, enhance the spiritual practices I do, make my life a more cohesive whole of body, mind and spirit.
Now I just have to work on celebrating more. I am thinking about how to celebrate various triumphs, small and large, in ritual. I’ll see where that takes me.