Here, where women stand behind the altar, break the bread and bless the wine, where we are bishop, priest and deacon you would think that Holy Woman would be known, her name on every lip and yet, and yet. I never knew her in my youth, only Father, Son, and He who Spoke.
Perhaps we lost Her when in the split from Rome, when we lost those strong Spanish grandmothers, romance pouring from their lips, the Lady in their eyes, when we lost the old Italian grandmothers moving in clouds of black, fingernails stained with Her work. When we lost the Nahuatl grandmothers wise with old words and old ways, when we became frozen, bleached and same. Holy Mother faded, thinned, wavering and milky behind the mists of Avalon that should have been her own so powerful veil, but we’d erased our own fierce grandmothers’ voices.
Not that truly, she ever left us; for no mother would, certainly not that One. She would, I think have laughed, like the ocean roaring through a gorge at tide turn, but for our sake, alone and shivering beneath the weight of rule and words, she grew still and terrible. Her waiting was the waiting of the oyster, down deep in its bed of sand and rock, deep in the dark stillness below the waves weaving life and something precious where no one can see, guess. Her waiting was the tiger, high in dark branches, eyes wide; still but coiled, oh coiled with such expectant power.
We’re getting them back, the grandmothers, and Her with them. I’ve met them in the little over heated houses and chlorine drenched hallways, blasted by air conditioning to make the nights merely sweat inducing; in the gnarled hands of Josefina and Maria, beads clicking in their hands and a fire in their eyes; a fire that looked down deep into the soul of me and called out vámonos Josefina! I didn’t understand at first, but they saw Her, behind my shoulder, bare feet and arms full of roses in those too bright halls and those kitchens crowded with brothers, fathers, sons and daughters. They grasped my hands, tight, tight and stared into my eyes with the force of Her, teaching me to pray all over again.
I of course was a slow learner, mystified by these women who veered it seemed to me so close to heresy. But She followed me home, though she’d always been there, hands on her flour stained hips, hair like a dark halo speckled with stars, waiting for me to wake up. She moved in, without my asking, but how could I have said no? The Mother knows where she is needed, sees and shakes her head at her daughter’s choices, but stays; waiting. And slowly I learned to see her, as when something darker, fouler followed me home from those antiseptic halls of healing on a not cleaned hand, or a fleck of spit and I lay on the cold tile floor shaking and emptying my whole being into the ice white porcelain she got down on her Holy Knees and held her cool gentle hand against my forehead and did not, because She is Forgiveness and Love, ask who was the heretic now?
She is waiting for the soul to come home, bruised and scratched and stubborn even while she licks her rosy thumb and scrubs away the marks of the world, brushes back my hair, sighs and laughs all together, who has known me from my birth. And now She appears in every beloved, wrinkled smile, the mischievous glint in the eyes of women who have seen enough to know that life needs laughter, and hard headed stubbornness. In the high white brow of the mountains veiled in cloud, in the boom of fathoms deep water touching so gently to shore and there scattering treasures to delight the child heart within us all. In the dark silent eyes of the leopard seal surfacing into the world for long enough to see he belongs back with Her below.
And now I laugh at my old self, because I love her. But laugh indeed that she had gardens full of roses, covered in snow and did not know Our Lady by their blush, by the gentle scent of them in those impossible mornings.