Both Scripture and Tradition offer metaphors of God as female, having feminine qualities, or fulfilling traditionally female roles. This week, we consider the implications that the Divine Feminine has in our lives. Father Richard describes Mary as a feminine symbol for the divine presence:
Although Jesus was a man, the Christ is beyond gender, so it should be expected that the Big Tradition would have found feminine ways, consciously or unconsciously, to symbolize the full Divine Incarnation and to give God a more feminine character—as the Bible itself often does.
Why did Christianity, in both the East and West, fall head over heels in love with this seemingly ordinary woman Mary, who is a minor figure in the New Testament? We gave her names like Theotokos, Mother of God, Queen of Heaven, Notre Dame, La Virgen of this or that, Nuestra Señora, Our Mother of Sorrows, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and Our Lady of just about every village or shrine in Europe. We are clearly dealing not just with a single woman here but a foundational symbol—or, to borrow the language of Carl Jung (1875–1961), an “archetype”—an image that constellates a whole host of meanings that cannot be communicated logically but is grounded in our collective unconscious.
In the mythic imagination, I think Mary intuitively symbolizes the first Incarnation—or Mother Earth, if you will allow me. (I am not saying that Mary is the first Incarnation, only that she became the natural archetype and symbol for it, particularly in art.) I believe that Mary is the major feminine archetype for the Christ Mystery. This archetype had already shown herself as Sophia or Holy Wisdom (see Proverbs 8:1–3; Wisdom 7:7–14), and again in the Book of Revelation (12:1–17) in the cosmic symbol of “a woman clothed with the sun and standing on the moon.” Neither Sophia nor the woman of Revelation is precisely Mary of Nazareth, yet in so many ways, both are—and each broadens our understanding of the Divine Feminine.
Jung believed that humans produce in art the inner images the soul needs in order to see itself and to allow its own transformation. Try to count how many paintings in art museums, churches, and homes show a wonderfully dressed woman offering for your admiration—and hers—an often naked baby boy. What is the very ubiquity of this image saying on the soul level? I think it looks something like this:
The first Incarnation (creation) is symbolized by Sophia-Incarnate, a beautiful, feminine, multicolored, graceful Mary.
She is invariably offering us Jesus, God incarnated into vulnerability and nakedness.
Mary became the symbol of the First Universal Incarnation.
She then hands the Second Incarnation on to us, while remaining in the background; the focus is always on the child.
Earth Mother presenting Spiritual Son, the two first stages of the Incarnation.
Feminine Receptivity, handing on the fruit of her yes.
And inviting us to offer our own yes.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (New York: Convergent, 2019, 2021), 122–124.
Explore Further. . .
- Read Richard’s poem “It Can’t Be Carried Alone,” written in response to the suffering of the Ukrainian people.
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Toni Frisell, Nuns Clamming on Long Island (detail), 1957, photograph, New York, public domain. Jenna Keiper, Untitled Rose, (detail), 2020, photograph, used with permission. Annie Spratt, Women farming cassava in Sierra Leone (detail), 2017, photograph, Sierra Leone, Unsplash, free use. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States.
This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story.
Image inspiration: Divine expression comes in many forms. The Divine Feminine meets, nurtures, and is in us all, regardless of gender. Like a rose in a forgotten window, She Is and continues to be, despite attempts to neutralize her fragrance.
Story from Our Community:
I have found the divine feminine in my healing from abuse by both parents. She holds me when I am shattered, calls to me to see her in all created things, and enfolds me when I get lost. She also calls me to grow and become the person she sees me to be. We travel together daily and I feel so blessed to have found her.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.