Sunday, May 27, 2018

LOVELY LADY DRESSED IN BLUE—A VISIT TO WALSINGHAM

Our Lady of Walsingham, Pray for us.

On a recent trip to England my wife and I visited Walsingham in the northeastern part of the county of Norfolk. It was a most impressive and uplifting place. Indeed, I will never forget the place, for it left a very powerful impression on me. It was a combination of the beautiful countryside, the quaintness, old-fashioned religiosity and piety of the place, and an intangible something-or-other within me crying, 'I believe; help my unbelief' (Mk 9:24)). For the most part, my wife and I walked around the village in noble silence, with the knowledge and in the awareness that we were walking on 'holy ground'. Words are so useless at the best of times, but especially when talking about matters spiritual.

In this post I discuss several different lines of symbolism concerning Our Lady, each of which is devoid of superstition. I claim no originality for the ideas discussed, all of which are firmly grounded in esoteric and metaphysical Christianity. Now, the word 'esoteric' is often misunderstood. When used in the present context it simply refers to the fact that sacred scripture, mythology, folk tales and similar writings and ideas generally have an 'inner' and deeper meaning: cf Gal 4:24 ('Now this is an allegory'); 1 Cor 3:6 ('we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God'). The early Christian theologian Origen wrote that every religion has a body, a soul and a spirit and that scripture can be interpreted in three different ways, the first according to the letter (‘the body’) of the scriptural text, the second according to the allegorical meaning of the text (‘the soul’), and the third according to the esoteric interpretation of the text (‘the spirit’). Of course, there are some texts that can, sensibly, only be interpreted literally. However, some ideas only make sense when interpreted allegorically or symbolically.


Now, Walsingham. In medieval times the village of Walsingham was one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the world and a rival to even Rome. That changed after the Reformation, but a revival during the 19th century put Walsingham back on the pilgrimage map and thousands now visit Walsingham each year, especially at Easter time.

While at Walsingham I got to thinking about ‘Our Lady of Walsingham’. The latter is a title of the Blessed Virgin Mary venerated by Roman Catholics and some Anglicans associated with certain alleged Marian apparitions to one Richeldis de Faverches, a pious English noblewoman who was Lady of the Manor of Walsingham, in Walsingham in 1061. Lady Richeldis is said to have been requested by Our Lady to build at Walsingham a replica of the house of the Holy Family in Nazareth in honour of the Annunciation and as a place of pilgrimage where people could come to honour the Virgin Mary. So, Richeldis had a building structure named ‘The Holy House’ built in Walsingham which later became a shrine and place of pilgrimage. Nearby, in Houghton Saint Giles, there is the Roman Catholic Basilica of Our Lady of Walsingham, also known as the Slipper Chapel or the Chapel of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. The Orthodox Churches also have a presence at Walsingham.

The Bible tells us that Mary ‘magnifies the Lord’ (Lk 1: 46) and her spirit ‘rejoices in God [her] Saviour’ (Lk 1: 47). What are we to make of all that—especially those of us who have trouble with talk of the so-called supernatural and even God? Well, one thing I learned from my study of metaphysics is that the words ‘the Lord’ where used in scripture refer not so much to God per se but to our own understanding or concept of God which, for better or for worse, will have a great bearing on what happens to us and how we view it. Take, for example, the verse that says that ‘the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart’ (Ex 9:12). Now, God did not really harden Pharaoh’s heart. If you think that, you have a horrible concept of God. No, the truth is that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, by attaching his ‘I Am’, that is, his consciousness, to hard-heartedness, obstinacy and stubbornness.

So, let’s start with the word ‘God’ itself. Who or what is God? Some theological abstraction? Yes and no. For starters, the Bible tells us that God is love (1 Jn 4:8). Listen to these words: ‘Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love’ (1 Jn 4:7-8). The Bible also tells us that God is Spirit, that is, the very spirit of life (Jn 4:24).  Another way of understanding the spirit of life is as pure Being. All things come from the One Source of all Being. God is pure Be-ing—the self-existence and self-consciousness of life itselfand we have our be-ing-ness in God. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being' (Acts 17:28). 

So, if you think that God is a giant man 'up there' or 'out there', some supra-personal Being with a face, body, arms and legs and genitalia, you are horribly mistaken. In short, God is love, life, truth and power—and the very ground of our being. The English metaphysician and judge Thomas Troward referred to God as undifferentiated Consciousness—that is, the formeless awareness that creates by Itself and becomes that which It images Itself to be. I like that. That makes sense to me. If quantum mechanics has shown us anythingand it has shown us plenty—it has shown that consciousness or mind is fundamental, eternal and all-creative.

If God is love and life then Jesus is God in a form that we can understand. That's more than enough for me. He is Way-Shower, indeed the way to an abundant life (Cf Jn 10:10). Jesus is the embodiment of love and life. Is Jesus God’s ‘only-begotten son’ (cf Jn 3:16)? In a special sense, yes, but listen my friends. We are all begotten of the Only One. There is Only One – that is, the omnipresence and omnipotence of life itself – and everyone and everything is the only-begotten son, that is, the offspring of life itself. The spirit of life is forever taking shape and form as you and me and all other living things. 


Do you think that the Incarnation happened just once, some 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem, when Jesus was born? Think again. The Incarnation is forever happening! Yes, the spirit of life is forever being incarnated into new and fresh manifestations of life. The Roman Catholic archbishop Fulton J Sheen would often make that point in his sermons and writings. Some say that God spoke His final word in Jesus but the truth is that God, the spirit of life, is forever speaking. And God speaks just one word—his son—and God is forever begetting the son. God begot you and me and all other forms of life. Yes, we are all divine, being sons and daughters of the Most High. Even Jesus himself affirmed, ‘Is it not written in your law, “I said, You are gods; you are all sons of the Most High’’’ (Jn 10:34; cf Ps 82:6). So, despite what others may have told you over the years, the ‘only-begotten son’ is every son and daughter begotten of the One Father-Mother God. The son is your real self, the person that in truth you are.

Now, in Christian metaphysics the phrase  ‘only-begotten son’ refers to something else as well, namely, a saving idea, thought or desire in our mind or consciousness, the latter being the ‘father’, metaphysically speaking. Here is a simple illustration of this truth. Let us say that you are ill. In your mind (the ‘father’) you have a desire for health (the desire being your ‘son’). The realization of your desire is your saviour. So, we have mind (the Father), idea, thought or desire (the Son), and expression (the Holy Spirit). A metaphysical Trinity, analogously.

And what of Mary, the mother of Jesus? Is she a real presence in the world today? Well, as I see it, she is truly present in a special sense, namely, as the embodiment of something else that is very real indeed. You see, Mary signifies the ‘virgin soul’, the soul – that is, the mindset (both consciousness and personality) – that is in love with God and that has come to an awareness of things higher than the material. This mindset puts spiritual values and principles (eg the importance of love and family, courage and self-surrender) first and is completely concentrated and focused on those things. With the virgin soul there is a total orientation of thought, affection and will towards love and truth combined with humility, a lack of guile and a radical detachment from all earthly, material things. The virgin state of mind, signified by Mary, is capable of conceiving and producing countless conceptions of itself in the forms of thoughts and desires ('sons').

‘Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us’ (Mt 1:23). The virgin birth occurs by perception. In other words, we are changed, not so much by what we do, but by our willingness to be changed, our willingness to surrender, give up, and let go. This requires a real change in consciousness. In order to grow spiritually, we must be prepared to give up everything in our lives that holds us back and keeps us in bondage to our lower selves. Our lower selves are also known as false selves, being all those ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’ -- our likes, dislikes, views and opinions – that we wrongly take to be the real person each one of us is. Just as the Virgin Mary said, ‘Let it be to me according to your word’ (Lk 1: 38), so we must open ourselves to the possibility of growth—and to the action of a power-not-oneself. So, let us magnify the presence of the spirit of life (consciousness) in us, for in so doing we will find the solution to all our problems.

According to one great line of symbolism, Mary signifies our subjective self, that is, our subconscious mind. According to another, Mary signifies the great Deep, that is, the great Sea or the waters of space over the surface of which the Holy Spirit brooded and upon which It acted. Our Lady Mary is the Star of the Sea which is why she is almost always depicted in robes of the blue of the sea and the sky. The name Mary in Latin is, of course, Maria. The word maria is the plural of mare, the sea. More directly in origin, the word Mary is derived from the Hebrew mar, 'bitter', or 'the sea'. Water is a common symbol of the soul. There is a metaphorical bitterness in the soul being imprisoned in matter when its destiny lies elsewhere (as does our own), but the soul (the 'higher self') can escape from the bondage of flesh and limitation and give birth to a more exalted existence. Make of that what you will. Suffice to say there are a number of ideas here including the idea of the seas of virgin matter from which the universe was created and the idea of the birth of the Christ Child. Actually, these lines of symbolism are quite interconnected. The womb of the Virgin Mary, in which the as yet unborn Christ Child grows, and the waters of the deep (the sea of virgin matter) at the dawn of creation over the face of which the spirit of God moved are symbolically one and the same. On another level, Mary represents the feminine aspect of the Godhead, something Protestants tend to overlook to their detriment. On yet another level, Mary signifies the Spirit of Wisdom: ‘She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honour’ (Prov 3:15-16).


The Roman Catholic Church and certain other branches of Christianity teach the perpetual virginity and immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary. I am unable to affirm either of these dogmas in a literal sense, but allegorically they reinforce the notion of Mary as a symbol of the ‘virgin soul’. The first dogma – Mary's perpetual virginity – speaks of a lifelong commitment to, and communion with, God and as such symbolises our ongoing commitment to the spiritual life. The second dogma – Mary's immaculate conception – attests to the sacredness of human life as well as purity and innocence. Mary is immaculately conceived from her mother Anne because all life proceeds from one source, which is pure Spirit. Hence, all birth is immaculate for that reason. Mary is often spoken of as the Mother of all, the Virgin Immaculate, crowned with stars and clothed with the sun, for she signifies, among other things, that all manifestations of life proceed from and out of the ether of space. We start as virgin or immaculate matter, so to speak. According to this line of symbolism Mary represents the immaculate, unblemished presence of life (God) in us—indeed, our very I Am-ness. When we awaken to the truth of our be-ing-ness, our I Am-ness, the Christ Child is born in us. 

And what of the dogma of the Assumption? The Assumption of Mary into heaven, according to the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and parts of Anglicanism, refers to the bodily taking up of the Virgin Mary into heaven at the end of her earthly life. Once again, I cannot affirm the truth of that proposition in a literal sense. Indeed, I have a real problem with the whole idea of there being higher planes of consciousness and angelic hierarchies with Mary being the 'Queen of the Angels', but I am able to accept the idea of a completely purified personality symbolicially 'rising' in its nobility and beauty. 

However, I generally interpret the idea of the Assumption as follows. The Bible says: ‘Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it’ (Ecc 12:7). We come from God, we belong to God, and ultimately we shall return to God. Life is indestructible. There is only life and there is no place where life is not. We are life. Life is energy. Life is expression. Life is in all, through all and around all. It cannot cease because it is ceaselessness itself. Yes, we will change form and ultimately vanish from view but we cannot cease to be. We never cease to be—not for a moment. We cannot be separated from life. We cannot be less than life. And life cannot other than be.

Here is a truth—perhaps the most important truth of all. The One—that is, the One Source of all Beingbecomes the many so that the many may know themselves to be one. There will be a universal restitution or restoration of all things and people—that is, all things and people will eventually be restored to their source and original essence. This is referred to in the Bible, in Acts 3:21, as the ‘restitution of all things’ or the ‘restoration of all’ (apokatastasis panton). In Greek astronomical and philosophical literature apokatastasis refers to the actual re-establishment of the order of the universe. By what means? Another Big Bang or a series of Big Bangs? At some point, an ever-expanding universe will come to an end—unless there be another Big Bang to keep things in motion.

I will finish with the following poem-prayer by Mary Dixon Thayer (1889-1989) which has always been a favourite of mine. Fulton Sheen loved it as well and popularised it on his TV show and in his talks. The poem is very sentimental but I love it all the same:

To Our Lady

Lovely Lady dressed in blue—
Teach me how to pray!
God was just your little boy,
Tell me what to say!

Did you lift Him up, sometimes,
Gently on your knee?
Did you sing to Him the way
Mother does to me?

Did you hold His hand at night?
Did you ever try
Telling stories of the world?
O! And did He cry?

Do you really think He cares
If I tell Him things
Little things that happen? And
Do the Angels' wings

Make a noise? And can He hear
Me if I speak low?
Does He understand me now?
Tell me—for you know.

Lovely Lady dressed in blue—
Teach me how to pray!
God was just your little boy,
And you know the way.


Note. The photos in this post were taken by the author. The poem ‘To Our Lady’ is included in Mary Dixon Thayer's The Child on His Knees (New York: Macmillan, 1926). All rights reserved.




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