Table of Contents
Also on this website:
Toby Johnson's books:
GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness
GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe
THE FOURTH QUILL, a
novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil
CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: Reclaiming Our Queer Spirituality Through Story
Books on Gay Spirituality:
Toby's review of Samuel Avery's The
Dimensional Structure of
Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"
The Gay Spirituality Summit in May 2004 and the "Statement of Spirituality"
You're Not A Wave
What is Enlightenment?
What is reincarnation?
How many lifetimes in an ego?
Emptiness & Religious Ideas
Experiencing experiencing experiencing
Going into the Light
Meditations for a Funeral
The way to get to heaven
Buddha's father was right
Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal
The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika
Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva
John Boswell was Immanuel Kant
The Two Loves
Be Done on Earth by Howard E. Cook
Pay Me What I'm Worth by Souldancer
The Way Out by Christopher L Nutter
The Gay Disciple by John Henson
Art That Dares by Kittredge Cherry
Coming Out, Coming Home by Kennth A. Burr
Extinguishing the Light by B. Alan Bourgeois
Over Coffee: A conversation For Gay Partnership & Conservative Faith by D.a. Thompson
Dark Knowledge by Kenneth Low
Janet Planet by Eleanor Lerman
The Kairos by Paul E. Hartman
Wrestling with Jesus by D.K.Maylor
Kali Rising by Rudolph Ballentine
The Missing Myth by Gilles Herrada
The Secret of the Second Coming by Howard E. Cook
The Scar Letters: A Novel by Richard Alther
The Future is Queer by Labonte & Schimel
Missing Mary by Charlene Spretnak
Gay Spirituality 101 by Joe Perez
Cut Hand: A Nineteeth Century Love Story on the American Frontier by Mark Wildyr
Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman
Nights at Rizzoli by Felice Picano
The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door by Chelsea Griffo
The Door of the Heart by Diana Finfrock Farrar
Occam’s Razor by David Duncan
Grace and Demion by Mel White
Gay Men and The New Way Forward by Raymond L. Rigoglioso
The Dimensional Stucture of Consciousness by Samuel Avery
The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love by Perry Brass
Review: Missing Mary: The Queen of Heaven and Her Re-emergence in the Modern Church
by Charlene Spretnak
Palgrave Macmillan, PB, 280 pages, $18.00
Reviewed by Toby Johnson
In the four decades since the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church has undergone tremendous change: the Mass in English, no more “fish on Friday,” more collegiality and democracy among the hierarchy, less mystery and magic, more attention to Scripture. Included in these changes —surreptitiously and in grave error, according to Charlene Spretnak in Missing Mary— was a diminution of the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Catholic devotion. In the interests of ecumenism—and making Catholic devotionality more palatable to Protestants—the elaborate and rich (and, certainly, sometimes superstitious-looking) veneration offered to the B.V.M. has been played down. Reverence to Mary, who was previously the “Queen of Heaven” and Maternal-matrix of the universe, has now been reduced to pious respect for the Nazarene woman who was the birthmother of Jesus.
Charlene Spretnak is a modern, progressive eco-feminist and spiritual/cultural commentator. She is author of such books as Lost Goddesses of Early Greece, The Politics of Women’s Spirituality, and (with new paradigm scientist Fritjof Capra, author of the classic Tao of Physics) Green Politics. She is currently a professor of philosophy and religion at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. Spretnak says herself that it seems a little surprising that she’d have become an advocate for old-time Catholicity. And, of course, she hasn’t.
(Full disclosure: Charlene Spretnak and I were in the same Honors Reading class at St Louis University during which we all discovered Joseph Campbell; I graduated in 1978 from the CIIS where she is now teaching. And I loved her book STATES OF GRACE; it changed my life a little. This review appeared originally in 2005 in White Crane Journal, of which I was Editor. )
Such doctrines as the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, the Virgin Birth (which is really about Jesus, of course, and only indirectly about his mother), and Mary’s role as conduit of prayer are still tenets of the Catholic faith, but they are being pushed into secondary status, looked on as holdovers from a more credulous past. In the name of demythologization and adherence to Scripture, Mary is reduced to the minor character mentioned only a few times in the New Testament and with virtually no role in the institution the Apostles founded.
But the faithful aren’t taking it. Even as the official hierarchy suppresses Marian doctrine, an artistic movement and popular devotion to such local incarnations of Mary as Our Lady of Guadalupe are revealing that Catholics liked having a “Goddess” in their religious pantheon, a expression of Divinity as maternal, loving, and helping (not just all-powerful, demanding and rule-giving). As Henry Adams observed in the famous 1904 essay “The Dynamo and the Virgin”—comparing the culture changing devotion to Our Lady which motivated the construction of the great cathedrals of Europe (palaces of the Queen of Heaven) with the electric dynamo displayed at the 1900 Paris Exposition—Mary has been a creative force in Christian culture just as vital and meaning-giving as the promise of technology.
Missing Mary is an interesting and readable blending of current, incisive religio-cultural commentary, historical analysis, personal spiritual autobiography, and even occasional discussions of new paradigm physics.
The heart of the matter is how religious and spiritual vision explain and give meaning to life. And central to life is the spiritual, mystical experience of the universe and material existence as maternal. (Notice the word “material” comes from the same root as “maternal.”) We are born human because we come forth from the creative body of a human woman. A Law-giving Father-God may be mythologized as the abstract Creator of all things, but it’s a mother who actually brings things into existence as flesh and blood matter. One of the strengths of Roman Catholicism historically has been its incorporation of the maternal principle into God in the character of Our Lady. Creation itself is a feminine power. Mary as both virgin and mother reconciles the dualities of male, patriarchal thinking.
For some disgruntled Catholics who want to return to the truly superstitious Catholicism of their youth with Latin Masses and lots of churchy hocus pocus, devotion to the B.V.M. is equivalent to dismissal of modern consciousness. For Spretnak, just the opposite, reclaiming Mary is bringing Catholicism into the psychologically-sophisticated, mythologically-aware, modern world. Spretnak keeps coming back to the cosmological dimension of Mary as signified by that title Queen of Heaven. It is in reclaiming Marian devotion as it manifests the deep layers of human consciousness (and universal cosmology) rather than as a nostalgic remnant of the old pre-Vatican II Church that Spretnak reveals her truly progressive and mystical vision. That’s how a student of Marija Gimbutas, an advocate of nonpatriarchal culture, an eco-feminist can have become a devotee of Mary, Queen of Heaven.
Interspersed within discussions of medieval theology, Lutheran objections to papism, Marian apparitions, peasant art, the history of the Rosary, the meaning of the Mysteries, etc, Charlene Spretnak tells of her own upbringing as a Catholic and her attraction to Mary as a sign of the place for women in religion. She recounts two specific, near-mystical experiences that are moving and memorable.
When she first visited the Cathedral at Chartres, she tells, she experienced herself drawn into the presence of Mary in an intensely palpable way, merging with the pilgrims who for 800 years have make pilgrimages to the shrine of the Black Madonna.
The Epilogue of the book tells how serendipitously she was offered the role of the Blessed Virgin Mother in a sort of living crèche and pageant scheduled for Epiphany at a Catholic Church near her home. She jumped at the chance; she was writing a book about Mary, how perfect to play Mary. In the month that passed between the invitation and the actual event, her grown-up daughter suffered a major health crisis. Charlene sat by her daughter’s bed in the hospital all through that holiday season, praying for healing, of course, but also experiencing being a mother watching her child suffer. Mary as Maternal matrix of the cosmos signifies the embrace and endurance, beyond the dualities, of the suffering of the world. She herself became the Mother of Sorrows. And so when she returned home, her daughter successfully convalescing, and put on the costume for the pageant, she was far more than just a performer. She was, as she says, “being Mary.”
This is what mythological awareness reveals to us about the great myths and traditions of religion. Their truth isn’t so much in historical events or Churchly declarations. As this reviewer’s own teacher, the comparative religions scholar Joseph Campbell, observed, their truth is in you, how you come to experience yourself as the current embodiment of consciousness, how you live a decent, rich human life.
Missing Mary is a lovely book that reminds us—Catholic and non-Catholic—of the profundity of myth to give meaning to our individual lives and to assist us all in placing ourselves in the context of the conscious cosmos. I came away from the book with a new appreciation for the feminine aspect of Divinity as it can be expressed mythologically. Recognition of Mary, Queen of Heaven, is progressive and modern.
This title is available from Amazon.com:
Missing Mary: The Queen of Heaven and Her Re-Emergence in the Modern Church
Toby Johnson, PhD is author of eight books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, three gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality. In addition to the novels featured elsewhere in this web site, Johnson is author of IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD and THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET (Revised edition): AN APPRECIATION OF JOSEPH CAMPBELL.
Johnson's Lammy Award winning book
SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of
Human Consciousness was published in 2000. His Lammy-nominated
PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature
of God and the Universe was published by Alyson in 2003. Both books are
available now from Lethe
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