Mother God

Marriage_at_Cana_by_Giotto

The Marriage at Cana, by Giotto

Sister Alma Rose Prays the Rosary and Other Snarfles of Information about Sister Alma Rose

I have decided to be Sister Alma Rose’s Boswell. Please do not snicker, it will make me very cross. Sister Alma Rose is an Exceedingly Remarkable Human Being, and almost everything she does is memorable, probably when she trims her nose hairs it is memorable, although (a) I do not know whether or not Sister Alma Rose has renegade nose hairs, and (b) if she does, I am not present when she trims or plucks or however one extracts nose hairs, and (c) I do not at all like the direction we are going here, enough about nose hairs.

Sister Alma Rose prays to Mary the Mother of Jesus

Rosary

Image via Wikipedia

Sister Alma Rose is not a Roman Catholic but she uses the Rosary in prayer, although not in the approved Roman Catholic fashion, which is very complicated and involves Mysteries (Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious, and Luminous). My friend Pablo is a Roman Catholic, and he goes to Confession as often as he needs to, even when he has ordinary sinful thoughts, such as, “I could just kill Yolanda,” who is his older sister, and who is so annoying that there are times when I could cheerfully strangle her with her own Rosary, though I believe that that is not an approved Roman Catholic use of the Rosary, and anyway, I only think about it, I would never do it, so how can it be so wrong?

Confessional

Confessional; image by celesteh via Flickr

I have asked God in my prayers to heal me of my antipathy toward Yolanda, who floats around in a miasma of piety and has been known to wear as many as three Rosaries and has consigned Pablo to hell for (a) saying “shit,” (b) refusing to make and serve lemonade for Yolanda and her equally annoying boy friend, Hans, (c) and so forth; but, as I have said, Pablo goes to Confession, and the priest, who undoubtedly knows Yolanda and sympathizes with Pablo, gives him, I don’t know, ten Hail Marys and ten Our Fathers as his penance, and Pablo, who knows more than the priest does of the depth of his loathing for Yolanda, doubles it.

Pablo and I suspect that Hans and Yolanda have had Carnal Knowledge of one another and we wonder if she has been forthcoming of this particular sin in Confession; I say no, Pablo says yes.

Hail, Mary, Full of Grace

An Our Father is the Lord’s Prayer, truncated; Catholics use trespasses instead of debts, and then they quit and start over, if they are praying the Rosary.

A Hail Mary is as follows:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen

Madonna and Child, Pompeo Batoni, 1742

Madonna and Child, Pompeo Batoni, 1742

Sister Alma Rose prays the Our Father and the Hail Mary when she prays the Rosary, but the resemblance to Roman Catholic tradition ends there. As we all know, Sister Alma Rose’s spirituality is somewhat eclectic, and her praying of the Rosary includes a litany of her own devising. If there were any who dared criticize Sister Alma Rose, they would be strict and solemn religionists and Sister Alma Rose would not care.

Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

Yolanda has been heard muttering words to the effect that Sister Alma Rose is profaning the Rosary, which is silly, because there are no Rosaries in the Bible and a Rosary is an inanimate object with only so much power as the pray-er invests it with.

Sister Alma Rose Q & A

Pablo and I sat with Sister Alma Rose on her wonderful porch one Saturday afternoon in October, drinking Mr. Truman LaFollette’s delectable dark chocolate cocoa with marshmallows because it was a bit cool for lemonade. I had my notepad and a Rollerball pen in turquoise, and I asked Sister Alma Rose some questions and she answered them.

Me: Why do you pray to Mary the Mother of Jesus?

Sister Alma Rose: Well, Miss Fanny, one of the reasons that the Roman Catholic Church has elevated Mary the Mother of Jesus almost to divine status is that many of the peoples whom the Church was trying to convert in the early days practiced goddess worship, often associating the goddess with the earth—and even today we speak of “Mother Nature.” Those long-ago Christian missionaries knew that the better they could weave pagan and Christian traditions, the more likely the pagans were to accept Christianity.

Pablo — consigned to Hell?

Pablo — consigned to Hell?

I believe that women, in particular, need a feminine presence to pray to, one who represents the feminine attributes of our Father-Mother God. Some people are reluctant to pray to God the Creator; he is too big, he is unknowable. So they pray to saints and angels, who have been blessed with intimate knowledge of God and who will carry the people’s prayers to heaven.

Me: Thank you, Sister Alma Rose. Now then, how do you use the Rosary in a way that is different from how Catholics use the Rosary?

Sister Alma Rose: Well, Miss Fanny, as you know, I pray Hail Marys and Our Fathers using the Rosary. The circle of beads and the repetitive prayers are a form of meditation, the Our Father or Hail Mary being a mantra.

I would not say that I go into a trance, precisely, but rather that I let go of everything, worries and regrets and anxieties, until I feel purified and made ready to present my prayers to God. Then each bead becomes a prayer, first of praise and thanksgiving, then of petition or intercession—prayers for individuals who are sick, who are in torment, who grieve for loved ones, et cetera—and for myself, to ask God that my endeavors be not willful or prideful but loving and pure. And then I offer prayers of thanksgiving, that God has answered my prayers, knowing my need even before it was presented to him.

Me: Do you feel that you are using the Rosary inappropriately?

Sister Alma Rose: Prayer is never inappropriate.

And thus endeth my interview with Sister Alma Rose, and she proceeds to place two packs of cards on the table because she has promised to teach us to play bridge, because Pablo’s parents and mine play bridge together, and we think it is very grown-up, and it must be fascinating and intense because during bridge is the only time my father smokes cigarettes and takes the Lord’s Name In Vain.

Miscellaneous Playing Cards

Image by incurable_hippie via Flickr

 

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The Mysteries

Was Mary a Virgin?

The Annunciation, by Fra' Filippo Lippi, 1443

The Annunciation, by Fra' Filippo Lippi, 1443

Sometimes when I ask Sister Alma Rose a question and she doesn’t want to answer, or (rarely) she doesn’t know the answer, she says, “Honey, it’s one of the Mysteries.” Usually it’s a question about God or the Afterlife. If it’s a scientific question, like why did God make cockroaches, Sister Alma Rose might take me to the library and we both learn about The Cockroach’s Place in the Ecosystem, and, even after I understand, I still think cockroaches were one of God’s Mistakes, like Muffy Shea, who picks her nose and eats her boogers ALL the TIME, even in French class.

Marine ecosystem near Hawaii, U.S. NOAA

Marine ecosystem near Hawaii, U.S. NOAA

Back when Pablo and I were 7 or 8 years old and we were playing Uno with Sister Alma Rose on her big wraparound porch with the grass-green floor and the grass-green wicker table and chairs, Pablo tells Sister Alma Rose that his mama and daddy have had a great big fight and they are not speaking to each other because Pablo’s daddy believes that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a virgin, exactly like it says in the Bible, and Pablo’s mama believes that Mary was absolutely not a virgin and that the Holy Spirit did not impregnate her, and the whole idea, Pablo’s mama says, is “sick and wrong,” and Pablo says it is getting so he hates the Christmas season because every year his mama and daddy don’t speak from the beginning of Advent until after Epiphany.

Adoration of the Magi, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 17th century (Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio)

Epiphany: Adoration of the Magi, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 17th century (Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio)

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her. —Luke 1:26-28

The Annunciation, from a mural in Ubisi, Georgia

The Annunciation, from a mural in Ubisi, Georgia

“Jesus wept!” says Sister Alma Rose in her Exasperated voice. “Honey, why can’t y’all’s mama and papa argue about money, like NORMAL people?”

She shuffles the Uno cards, making them bridge and then fall neatly into place with that snapping sound, which neither Pablo nor I can do and which we greatly admire.

Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

The week before, Pablo had asked Sister Alma Rose if Santa Claus was real. “Honey, ain’t nothin’ much realer’n Santa Claus,” she answers. But Pablo is not going to be put off with that. He has been hanging with the Wrong Crowd, which is to say, kids who don’t GET Santa Claus.

In fact, tears are welling up in Pablo’s eyes, and I have never seen Pablo cry, never, not even when he fell out of a tree and ruptured his spleen. “But Sister Alma Rose,” he persists, “who puts the Christmas presents under the tree and in our stockings?” He has noticed that the writing on the Santa gift tags looks exactly like his mama’s writing, plus last year she got careless and wrapped the Santa presents in the same wrapping paper she used for Pablo’s present for his teacher, Mrs. Blount, which was a cube of personalized sticky notes, the present, I mean, not Mrs. Blount.

santa_1881_thomas_nast

An 1881 illustration by Thomas Nast who, with Clement Clarke Moore, helped to create the modern image of Santa Claus

“Honey,” says Sister Alma Rose, “Santa Claus is one of the Mysteries. Do y’all want to take the mystery out of Christmas?”

Well, by now the tears have escaped and are coursing down Pablo’s face, making runnels in the dust that coats little boys’ faces when they have been playing outside. “No,” he sobs. “But someday I’m gonna grow up and get married and have children, and it’s gonna come Christmas Eve, and I’m not gonna know if I’m supposed to do anything or not!”

Sister Alma Rose promises Pablo that the Santa Claus Mystery will have been Revealed to him by that time, and Sister Alma’s promises are sacrosanct, so Pablo dries his eyes and we go to play in the dirt some more.

Many kinds of truth

But the following week, when we are playing Uno and Pablo is telling us about his mama and daddy’s annual argument, and Sister Alma Rose says, “Jesus wept!” and so forth, Pablo just looks at her and says, “So, Sister Alma Rose, who’s saying the truth, my mama or my daddy?”

“Honey,” says Sister Alma Rose, “there are many kinds of truth. Let’s say y’all called up your sister Helen on the phone right now — she’s still living in Connecticut, right? — and y’all asked her what time it is. What would she say?”

“Well,” Pablo says, “it’s one hour later there than it is here. What time is it here?”

“It’s ten-fifteen in the morning,” says Mr. Truman Lafollette, who is setting down a tray of spiced apple cider instead of his usual crisp, tangy lemonade, because it is cool outdoors and the sun hasn’t yet made its way over the porch.

“Then I guess it’s eleven-fifteen in Connecticut,” I say, stirring my cider with a cinnamon stick.

“Well, then, honey,” says Sister Alma Rose, “who is telling the truth: Helen, who would say it’s eleven-fifteen, or y’all, who’d say it’s ten-fifteen?”

“We’d both be right,” says Pablo, “but it’s because we’re in different places.”

Cinnamon sticks

Cinnamon sticks

“So, maybe,” says Sister Alma Rose, sipping her cider, which is still very hot, “y’all’s mama and papa are both right. They’re in different places, too, and speaking different languages.

“There’s story truth, you see, and there’s empirical truth, the kind you can prove in a laboratory. ‘Story truth’ is spiritually true, just as Jesus explained to the Pharisee named Nicodemus. Spiritual truth is eternal and everlasting and no matter how hard scientists try, they will never catch up with it.”

Some believe that Nicodemus was among those who removed the nails and took Jesus down from the cross; painting by Duccio di Buoninsegna

Some believe that Nicodemus was among those who removed the nails and took Jesus down from the cross; painting by Duccio di Buoninsegna

1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; 2 this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

9 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? 11 “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. 12 “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” —John 3:1-12

“Sister Alma Rose,” Pablo says, longsuffering, “you haven’t answered my question. Was Mary a virgin or wasn’t she?”

“Well, honey,” says Sister Alma Rose, “that’s one of the Mysteries, ain’t it? But if scientists could prove in a laboratory that Joseph of Nazareth was the biological father of Jesus, would it matter? Would it shake y’all’s faith? Would it make the Good News — that God came to earth and lived among us and revealed himself as Life and Love, and continues to do so, and, because he loves us, pays the price for our mistakes, so that we might, at any time and as often as we choose to claim his promise, be new and innocent again — would that Good News be tarnished and our joy be diminished? Not mine, to be sure; not mine.”

victorian_calendarsanta

“Cinnamon sticks” from a photo © Luc Viatour, GFDL CC

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