Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
On Monday, May 2nd we will be hosting a contemplative prayer service that will also serve as a launch of my new book, the companion album, and our wonderful new prayer cycle on Mary and the Wisdom of the Sacred Feminine.
In celebration of these resources being birthed into the world, I offer you an excerpt from my book Birthing the Holy on one of my favorite of Mary’s titles – Cause of Our Joy:
When the angel Gabriel visits Mary, he tells her to “Rejoice!” When Mary and Elizabeth meet while they are both pregnant, John the Baptist leaps with rejoicing in his mother’s womb at the encounter of the two women. When Mary prays the Magnificat, she says her soul rejoices in God. Mary says yes so that Jesus could come into the world to also bring freedom, homecoming, and joy. We describe Mary as “full of grace.” Grace is a gift offered freely that helps us to return to alignment with our Self and the divine. This causes us to experience joy.
There is a devotion called the seven comforts of Mary which consists of saying seven Hail Mary prayers to share the joys Mary experienced on earth: the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Epiphany, finding Jesus in the Temple, the Resurrection, and the Ascension (these actually vary in different time periods as sometimes other events are included instead). Mary is not just the keeper of sorrows, but also a celebrator of life’s joys and delights as well.
The Hebrew bible brings us strong themes of slavery and exile throughout its stories which lead to both freedom and homecoming. David Richo describes these both as archetypal experiences – bondage is when we are trapped in fear, attachment, or an overwhelming need to control events or people. Exile is what happens to us when we forget our profound communion with others and with the earth, when we get stuck in selfishness and self-directed desires. Mary guides us to both freedom and homecoming through her own modelling of choice and surrender. She leads us into joy.
Here at Abbey of the Arts one of our core commitments is shaped by words from St. Benedict in his Rule: “What is more delightful than this voice of the Holy One calling to us?” And then this invitation to continue on the spiritual journey with “our heart overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.” (Prologue) The commitment we make is to dance with creative joy.
Thomas Merton, at the end of his book New Seeds of Contemplation, concludes with a wondrous passage inviting us to follow in God’s “mysterious cosmic dance.” He says that we can take ourselves so seriously and forget the meaning of it all which is really to live in this state of wonder. We must make space for our grieving, but we must also enter into the dance of joy that beckons to us from the heavenly spheres.
Whether we dance literally or metaphorically, the dance is a symbol for forgetting our self-consciousness and letting ourselves be overcome with the joy and love that beat at the heart of everything. Our whole purpose in following a spiritual path and nurturing these practices in our lives is to expand our inner freedom which expands our capacity for loving the world. As we release the hold of expectations and disappointments, as we stop trying to live into the imagined life and live the one we have been given, we discover a profound inner freedom to make choices out of love, rather than obligation or resentment.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Image credit © Kreg Yingst