There is no substitute for the maternal. There’s an understanding there that the maternal is second to nothing.
In Hindu art, Parvati is the daughter of Himavat and embodied in the Himalayan Mountains. She is a consort to the god Shiva and is represented with a trident to demonstrate her power.
On the other side of the world in South America, Pachamama is a goddess known to ancients of the Andes. She is the mother to Inti the sun god and Mama killa the moon goddess. In Peruvian culture there is a subtle distinction between Mary and Pachamama. Mary is a human incarnation of Mother Earth. They have even depicted her in pyramid forms. Mary’s dress was in the form of a pyramid to entomb the womb of the earth.
In other words, everything that is great is born of woman.
Mary is revered for being a container for all that is great in the person of Jesus. She is the one who holds the presence of God and presents the gift of humanity back to itself. In other words, all things come from the maternal. The human figure of God was born from the womb of woman. If you don’t think that women hold a major place in our church, you are not recognizing the importance of the maternal.
In Genesis one, man and woman are placed within the context of the creation of the earth. True, all things are equal, but man and woman are created from Mother Earth. They are molded from the clay of the earth in Genesis 2.
Great Peruvian artists tap in to this supreme expression of love. Creation and death comes from the earth and returns to the earth. There is a dance between life and death. When men and women die, they are mummified to encase the power of their lives. They are held in the sacred balance of eternity and time and placed in the pyramid or the tomb of the womb of Mother Earth.
The maternal is that supreme expression of love between mother and child. It is that love that protects and nurtures, molds and monitors, cultivates and empowers, and even sacrifices for the life of her child. It is a sacred expression of storge. Storge is the greek word for “affection.” It begins with the love a mother has for her child.
A mother will give herself to the love of her child. A pelican is an image that contains the power of this idea in Christian art. Pelicans represent self-sacrifice in the name of love. In a time of famine, a pelican mother pierced her breast in the name of survival of her progeny. The infant pelican sucked on the blood of the mother in order to survive.
The archetypal image of the mother’s influence is inherent in ancient art. The child who will be King sits on the lap of the mother. Horace sits on the lap of Isis. Jesus sits on the lap of Mary.
Great artists know the power of a mother’s positive influence. In his poem, a Christmas Carol, G. K. Chesteron writes the following:
“The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)
The Christ-child lay on Mary’s breast,
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)
The Christ-child lay on Mary’s heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world’s desire.)
The Christ-child stood at Mary’s knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at him.
And all the stars looked down.”
Mothers come in many forms. I’ve known great women who have served instead of mothers who have gone before their children. Adopted mothers whose spiritual intuitions serve their children with extraordinary selfless measures. Their maternal instincts are no less than those of birth mothers and their trust as spiritual advisors have served in powerful capacities.
Great spiritual mothers are attuned to the power of grace to serve the spiritual needs for all who are placed in her care.
Joan of Arc never gave birth to a child, but she understood implicitly the call to be the symbol of courage and strength for men and women facing adversity in France. In Spain, St. Theresa of Avila inspired her nuns to be “the eyes, ears and hands of God.” In India, Mother Teresa never had children, yet she understood implicitly the power of love to heal. Hindus believe that she was an incarnation of Kali with her “shakti” or “divine energy.”
Too often we take the feminine for granted. It is the maternal that births life. It is the maternal that shapes the hopes and futures of generations. The maternal is the blessed light of faith.