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First Love

In Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945, a jar with 13 codices of Gnostic texts was found preserved in a cave. Those writings, after decades of being kept private and shuffled around the globe, eventually reconstructed our entire understanding of the early Christian communities. It was originally thought that most of the communities were fairly similar in theology and practice, but the reality was that there were significant regional differences resulting in very diverse theological and philosophical currents in early Christianity.

Gnosticism was one of those currents. It was a much more mystical understanding of God; it held that each person could experience the Divine not only around them, but within them. It was based more firmly in a loving God and this God was sometimes, unashamedly, portrayed as feminine.

The more “orthodox” church fathers saw the gnostics as heretics, and once the official canon of the Bible was established, banned and burned any gnostic texts they could find. Until these codices were found, all scholars had to go on were negative, vilified, accounts of the gnostics and their understanding of the Divine. But these gnostic codices showed a rich, mystical spiritual world that fed many people in the early centuries of Christianity.

For I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.
I am the mother and the daughter.

              ~ Thunder: Perfect Mind 1:5-6

In Cairo or Alexandria where Thunder: Perfect Mind was most likely written, the Egyptian culture, with its female goddesses, obviously had an influence on those in the Jesus movement. Thunder: Perfect Mind is a beautiful poem giving an expansive view of the feminine divine. Because it is impossible to put the Divine into words, a set of opposites is used. She is one who is honored and scorned, wife and virgin, alien and citizen, substance and no substance. Basically, she is not only one thing, but she is everything. And, she is not in any one place, but she is every place. She is the first and the last, existing from before the beginning and after the end.

This divine feminine voice has waxed and waned through the centuries and been known by many different names. As Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes, "She wears a thousand names, thousands of skin tones, thousands of costumes to represent her being patroness of deserts, mountains, stars, streams and oceans… Yet at her center is only one great Immaculate Heart. Since we staggered out of the Mist eons ago, we have had irrevocable claim to Great Mother. Since time out of mind, nowhere is there a feminine force of more compassion and understanding about the oddities and lovability of the wild and wondrous variations to be found in human beings."

Sadly, John Philip Newell points out, "we have divided the word matter from its Latin root, mater, which means “mother.” All matter – the matter of the stars and planets, the matter of earth and its fecund energies, the matter of our bodies and their deepest yearnings – all things come forth from the Mother. They are all conceptions of Spirit, which is to say that the matter of the universe is holy.”

Newell tells a story about how, as a young man, he went to India to spend time in an ashram. While there he had a dream that affected him for the rest of his life. In his dream, an unknown beautiful young Indian woman came to him, sat on the edge of his bed and, looking directly into his eyes, said, “My mother tells me that I have always loved you.” He woke up amidst a flood of tears. He knew it was a message from the unconscious, speaking to him of what he most needed.

You see, a part of him did not know that he was loved. Even though he had been blessed by the love of family and friends, even though he had been blessed with a religious inheritance filled with symbols that communicated love, a deep part of him still did not know.

Certainly, this is what we all need to know in our lives – that we are loved. That we have always been, and always will be, loved. Not just by family and friends, but by a deeper Source, without beginning and without end. This, Newell says, is our “only sure hope at moments of failure and crisis.”

He says, “We may believe that there is a Mater or Living Matrix form which the universe has come and that we should live justly and peacefully together on earth. Do we know too that the birthing presence at the heart of the universe is love?”

Henri Nouwen talks about that which seminary and theology didn’t teach him: how to love God and how to discover the presence of God in his own heart. That was a lesson that the disabled folks he lived with in L’Arche taught him. And they taught it so strongly that if he ever left the community for a teaching gig, he would take one of the community members with him, so he wouldn’t lose that sense of love in his heart.

Nouwen said that the L’Arche community encouraged him to stay in touch with the “first love.” In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, love God as I have loved you… first loved you.

Clarissa Estes tells a story about a small Catholic Church in north Denver called Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, serving mainly Latinos for decades. The Lady of Guadalupe is much more than  a legend about Mother Mary, she has truly become the protector, the compassionate heart, the first love, the brave, the bold, the tender goddess of many people, but most certainly of that parish. 

The entire front wall of this church was a beautiful mural, created by Carlota EspinoZa. It was a colorful scene of Mother Mary in her blue, gazing lovingly at Juan Diego, the man she appeared to, who is on his knees before her. The foreground is all roses, reminiscent of the story, and there were two large guardian angels and a few cherubs. In late 2009, after 35 years of being the beloved focal point of this church, to whom people could come and pray before during all hours of the day and night (for the church was never locked), suddenly someone decided to “remodel” the church without consulting any of the parishioners, and the entire mural was covered by a white sheetrock wall standing about three feet in front of her and encasing her in a long narrow closet in which buckets and brooms were to be stored.

Of course, the Great Mother could be visited, but only during a very few, inconvenient hours set by the church.

Interestingly enough, during this same remodel, a very large gray rock throne for the priests to sit in during Mass was purchased, replacing the humble straight-backed chairs from someone’s grandmother’s dining room set which had been lovingly cared for over time.

Eleven years later, despite floods of letters, many peaceful protests, a petition, and countless phone calls asking why this was done and could it be undone, please, the wall still stands. None of the questions were ever answered. The only pseudo explanation that circulated was that this all happened because someone complained that the mural was a “distraction” from “the real meaning” of Christianity.

And, as though to underline such thought, during a peaceful protest, an angry male church member aggressively approached the praying “women in white” who only wanted to wall to come down so they could sit and pray and be near their familiar and beloved Mother again. The man screamed at the praying women: “The only place for Mary is on her knees at the foot of the Cross!”

We’ve walled off the Great Mother, Sophia, First Love. Perhaps she has been walled off for us by a patriarchal church and society who wants to render her powerless. It's time to dust her off and bring her out of the closet.

I know Mother’s Day can be a very difficult day. There are mothers everywhere today who mourn the children they have lost, ache for the children they are estranged from, or worry about the children they are not with. And there are children (young and old) everywhere today who don’t know what to do with today because they have lost their mother, or their mother was abusive, or absent, or neglectful.

Perhaps this day can be somewhat redeemed by embracing the One who loved us first, the Great Mother, the Fertile Energy of the Universe, the Unconditionally Loving One, Mother Goddess, Our Lady. She is the one in whose lap you can curl up in whenever you need comfort, strength, clarity, and most especially, love.

Love & Light!

Kaye