Our Lady of Sorrows

O Lacrimosa
-Rainer Maria Rilke 

Oh tear-filled figure who, like a sky held back,
grows heavy above the landscape of her sorrow.
And when she weeps, the gentle raindrops fall,
slanting upon the sand-bed of her heart.

O heavy with weeping. Scale to weigh all tears.
Who felt herself not sky, since she was shining
and sky exists only for clouds to form in.
How clear it is, how close, your land of sorrow,
beneath the stern sky’s oneness. Like a face
that lies there, slowly waking up and thinking

horizontally, into endless depths.

It is nothing but a breath, the void.
And that green fulfillment
of blossoming trees: a breath.
We, who are still the breathed-upon,
today still the breathed-upon, count
this slow breathing of earth,

whose hurry we are.

(Excerpt. Transl. by Stephen Mitchell)

This is a long post but I have been contemplating this over the past few days with the start of Holy Week, so read as much or little as you feel called. Blessings to all who celebrate this sacred time.

Most of you know I love Rilke and recently came across this poem which so resonates with my painting of “Mother Mary.” She was inspired by Michelangelo’s monumental-scale sculpture, the “Pieta”—where a very youthful Mary is seen weeping and holding the dying Christ across her lap.

Lacrimosa translates as weeping and refers to “Our Lady of Sorrows,” Mother Mary. It’s holy week for those of the Christian faith centered around the return of Jesus to Jerusalem, culminating in his crucifixion and resurrection. Death. Rebirth. It’s no accident that this season of Easter corresponds to the period around Spring Equinox. It’s well known among progressive theologians that the early writers of the Christian texts grafted their narrative over the pagan traditions of the time. Caves were popular places in the ancient world for spiritual awakenings and transformations (e.g., Muhammed). The womb of our Mother Earth. In Oregon, I attended Sweat Lodge ceremonies during the holy days and were always profound.

Probably like many of you raised as a Protestant, I did not have any relationship with Mary. It’s one of the few things I admire about Catholicism in that they revere Mother Mary. In my opinion, Luther threw the beauty and Sacred Feminine out with the bath water so to speak during the Protestant Reformation of the early 16th century. In my youth, we attended a Congregational Church that was simple and, being New Englanders, very spare with Puritanism running deep into the roots of our consciousness.

I’m no longer a practicing Christian, in part, due to the egregious interpretations of the scriptures that too often condemn the Other and denies the rights of women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community as we are witnessing in our world today. Though I have reclaimed the prophetic Jesus and his message of love, inclusivity, service, and social activism. Up to the age of about 30, I did believe in a benevolent Christian God that was somehow looking over my family and myself. But when my brother died of AIDS in 1989 and Christian leaders and politicians pronounced to the world that my brother deserved to die such a horrific death because of who he was, I was outraged. When my mother died suddenly nine months later, I couldn’t believe in a God who could cause so much suffering in my life. It was a dark period as many of you know who have followed my journey.

Fortunately, over time, my grief journey did ultimately culminate in a spiritual awakening and transformation that continues to inform my life. And I came to deeply appreciate Jesus and Mother Mary during my years in graduate school studying World Religions. I had read “Mists of Avalon” and seen the film version many years previously that ends with Mary becoming the manifestation of the Goddess in a new form which resonated for me. But it was during a Spiritual Direction retreat on the campus of Marylhurst University, Oregon’s oldest Catholic university and the first liberal arts college for women established in the Northwest, in 2006, that I had an epiphany.

I was walking around the property one morning, in reflection and contemplating this sacred time in community with other budding scholars, when I came upon a small sculpture of the “Pieta,” near a parking lot of all places. One might not have even noticed it, but there it was. What I saw was my own mother weeping over her dying son. In the early morning on the day he would die, after sleeping in the hospital waiting room, I walked into my brother’s bright room. My mother was sitting by his bed, weeping, and she said to me: “My son is dying and there is nothing I can do.” Mothers weeping over their sons, dying from a plague condemned by those in power. It was a powerful vision of love and a letting go of the anger I had harbored all those years towards Christianity though I would not return to the Church itself.

I don’t believe in original sin or that Christ is my redeemer but I celebrate that this Holy Prophet walked on this Earth—in the Garden, by the Sea, and in the Wildness—spreading a message of Love and was willing to die for that Divine calling. We can also celebrate the fecundity and beauty of the season and release what no longer serves us so that what needs to be reborn can find its way into our lives. And we can honor mothers who mourn.

May all beings know love. May all know peace.

Art: “Mother Mary.” 18×24”, Acrylic, 2010. ©Amy Livingstone. Original, prints, and posters available. www.sacredartstudio.net