Mother’s Day seems the perfect time to muse once again on the power of the Divine Feminine and its influence in our lives. Too often we attach anything feminine to women and masculine energies to men, but in reality, and thanks to the work of Carl Jung, we know that both energies operate in each of us. So for this particular muse, I’m going to focus on the Infancy Narratives as the birth stories of Jesus are named and the action of the Divine Feminine in those stories.
In Catholic tradition, May is the month when Mary, the mother of Jesus, is celebrated and feted. May is also Mother’s Day in the United States. Cliff tells stories of when he was young and in Polish Catholic grade school. The girls dressed up in white gowns and heels, the boys in white pants, blue blazers, and hats with feathers, and they would parade around the square block surrounding the church, carrying flowers.
The photo at right is Cliff’s brother Ken, who looked about like most little boys looked when forced into silly hats with feathers.
Parishioners lined the sidewalks, waved at their kids, and took pictures. Parents have a way of thinking their kids look handsome and beautiful. Cliff, and obviously his brother, always thought he looked pretty silly. Everyone would gather inside Holy Rosary and the special “chosen girl” would walk up the steps on the side altar and put a crown of flowers on Mary’s head.
After a service of songs to Mary and prayers to Mary, they’d leave. Cliff went home and changed his clothes as quickly as possible after his mother took dozens of pictures.
He says one of the reasons he became an altar boy was so he could serve the service and not have to dress up in the silly hat anymore. This is Cliff as altar boy and his ever scowling brother, Ken.
And Cliff is now the presiding bishop instead of the altar boy – although he does still help me when I am presiding at services. Essentially, his ability to serve me when I am presiding just as I serve him when he is presiding, and our abilities to integrate masculine and feminine energies in our work and in our lives, is the foundation of how I understand and celebrate the Divine Feminine.
Looking at the Infancy Narrative of Matthew and of Luke, we really get two different stories – which in our Christmas traditions we mesh into one. Matthew, written to a Jewish audience, has the magi and the flight into Egypt; Luke, written for a Gentile audience, has the shepherds, the angels, and the birth in a manger. Reading them side by side makes me wonder about the underlying myths and stories that were familiar to each of those separate audiences and that required a different telling.
Matthew’s narrative is the more mystical and is focused more on Joseph. Jewish audiences would understand that whether or not Joseph was the biological father of Jesus, by his making Jesus his legal son, he was the father. They would also understand the geneology relating how the House of David came through Joseph’s lineage.
In Matthew, Joseph dreams. He dreams of an angel who tells him to accept Mary as his wife and to raise the child; he dreams of an angel telling him to take the child and the mother and flee to Egypt; and he dreams of an angel telling him it’s time to leave Egypt and return home although not to Bethlehem, where they lived previously, but to go to Nazareth. Throughout this gospel narrative, Joseph exhibits a gentleness and acceptance that might not be exhibited by many men who are faced with a pregnant wife not of their own seed.
Any time a man cares and nurtures, he is exhibiting the Divine Feminine energies at work. Any time a man receives dreams as truth and follows them, he exhibits the Divine Feminine energy.
The magi also exhibit those same Divine Feminine energies by following a dream and a star. After finding the family and honoring the birth, they are led by dreams to return to their homes by another way and to avoid going back to King Herod and telling him where the child lives.
In Luke’s Gospel, the focus is on Mary. The Lucan narrative, written for the Gentile audience, sets up the story in a very different pattern and in a way that Gentiles would understand its importance. The focus here is on holy kingship and miracles, but not on the mystical. The angel Gabriel appears. Not in dreams, but in person. Gabriel appears to Zechariah as he serves in the temple and tells him his wife Elizabeth, who is barren, will bear a son. Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her she will bear a son and that her cousin Elizabeth has also conceived a son. Mary travels to visit Elizabeth.
In itself, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth is a statement of how strong Mary was and how determined. Mary lived many miles from Elizabeth and had to travel across desert and wild country to reach her cousin. One must ask, then, how “feminine” that action of traveling across country, pregnant, appears! We have this picture in our heads of a docile Mary, surrounded by roses, sitting demurely listening to Gabriel, but the actuality of that encounter was probably something very different.
Instead, in Luke, we have canticles, ancient in construction and probably sung from times even previous to the birth narratives, that have taught women to be subservient. How much of that was dictated by the communities and times that Luke wrote in rather than in the actuality of the incident?
In recounting these brief moments and thoughts, it’s possible to see how both Mary and Joseph lived and combined a masculine and feminine energy. In ancient times, people understood that the Divine was represented by both energies; it’s only in the Common Era, and especially since the Roman Empire, that the rise of patriarchy came to overshadow the power of the feminine.
Healing the wounds that divide us, whether the divide is between men and women or between nations, will require a renewed vision and a deepening faith in our feminine energies as well as our masculine. We all know that change happens very slowly, especially when dealing with archetypal images of male and female. Perhaps in upcoming generations, men and women will learn to be inclusive rather than exclusive and to recognize that the Divine in us is both masculine and feminine.
So Happy “Mother’s” Day to all of you. And many thanks for the gifts of life you bring.