The Deep Feminine
Tuesday, June 11, 2019
I think Christians of the first thousand years understood Mary as the feminine incarnation on an intuitive and allegorical level. But by the time of the much-needed Protestant Reformation, all we could see was “She is not God.” This is entirely true, but we lost the ability to see in wholes and understand that, even better, “She is us!” That is why we loved her, probably without fully understanding why.
Much of the human race can more easily imagine unconditional love coming from the feminine and the maternal than from a man. In the many images of Mary, humans see our own feminine soul. We needed to see ourselves in her, and say with her, “God has looked upon me in my lowliness. From now on, all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48).
If Christ and Jesus are the archetypes of what God is doing, Mary is the archetype of how to receive what God is doing and hand it on to others. In art, she is invariably offering Jesus to the observer or inviting us to come to him. We Catholics used to say “To Jesus through Mary” in the 1950s. It was poor theology but very effective psychology and pedagogy for many.
In Mary, humanity has said our eternal yes to God. A yes that cannot be undone. A corporate yes that overrides our many noes. This is why Mary was commonly called the “New Eve” who undid the corporate no of the first Eve and is often pictured in art stepping on the snake that tempted Eve (Genesis 3:15).
Today we are witnessing an immense longing for relational, mutually empowering feminine qualities at every level of our society—from our politics, to our economics, in our psyche, our cultures, our patterns of leadership, and our theologies, all of which have become far too warlike, competitive, individualistic, mechanistic, and non-contemplative. We are terribly imbalanced.
Unfortunately, the feminine has often had to work in secret, behind the scenes, indirectly. It’s to the church and culture’s own detriment that women haven’t been recognized as leaders. Yet they have still had a profound effect. We see Mary’s subtlety of grace, patience, and humility when she quietly says at the wedding feast of Cana, “They have no wine” (John 2:3b), and then seems totally assured that Jesus will take it from there (John 2:5). And he does!
Like the Christ Mystery itself, the deep feminine often works underground and in the shadows, and—from that position—creates a much more intoxicating message. While church and culture have often denied women roles, offices, and formal authority, the Divine Feminine has continued to exercise incredible power at the cosmic and personal levels. Many of us in the U.S. Catholic Church feel that the culture of faith was passed onto us much more from the sisters than from the priests. Feminine power is deeply relational and symbolic—and thus transformative—in ways that many men cannot control or even understand. I suspect that is why we fear it so much.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 124, 127-128.