One Sunday in May, I was at Yellowknife United praying for Gaia, Mother Earth. The wilderness is everywhere there, so it’s easy to see her face. The next Sunday, I was in Calgary at Our Lady Queen of Peace Polish Roman Catholic church, sitting beneath the gaze of the Black Madonna. Two Sundays, two mothers.
That first Sunday, I had gone to Yellowknife to see my daughter and her family. As is my tradition, I kept the kids home from school and daycare to make art, jump on the trampoline, walk on Tin Can Hill and play street hockey in pyjamas. I enjoyed the (almost) midnight sun, reconnected with the land and worried with friends about rapid Arctic climate change, including the collapse of permafrost on the tundra. On Sunday, under a sunny sky, we headed up the hill to Northern United Place, a multi-purpose building that houses apartments, Aurora College and the Lutheran and United congregations.
Rev. Peter Chynoweth preached his last sermon as president of Alberta and Northwest Conference, a two-year term he found invigorating. He’d travelled a lot; geographically, the Conference covers Alberta, Northwest Territories, Yukon and northeast British Columbia. We focused attention and prayers on Slave Lake, Alta., where a wild fire had devastated much of the town.
I thought about the hot, dry spring in northern Canada, and floods in our south. I thought about the surprising mud flats I’d seen in Yellowknife, on the shores of the ninth largest lake in the world, Great Slave. As I left the north, I was feeling more than a little tender toward our planet mother.
The next week, back in Calgary, I visited friends. The conversation drifted to spiritual explorations of the feminine divine. I told a new acquaintance, a Roman Catholic, that I’d gone looking for Mary after a death in our family 20 years ago. “I guess I needed my mother,” I said. She replied that she’d always taken Mary for granted. Not I. “I’m a Protestant. We only allow her out for a couple of weeks at Christmas, and then it’s back into the tissue paper with the ornaments!”
I also told her I’d gone looking for the Black Madonna last year in the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Spain and Ireland, and that I’d concluded that she was an ancient merger of Mary, mother of Jesus, and Gaia, Mother Earth. When she told me that the Black Madonna resides in Calgary, too, I was surprised.
On Sunday, I walked up the hill to Our Lady Queen of Peace. I’d seen the spire from the TransCanada Highway, but hadn’t known that it was attached to a round church with a stained glass window of Pope John Paul II.
I entered the quiet, near-empty sanctuary as one mass ended and contemplated the Madonna’s image until the next mass began. Images, colours, thoughts and memories washed through me like misty reflections. I did not try to capture any of them.
Eventually, the pews filled, and the priest, altar boys and entourage processed into the sanctuary. My Polish is limited to dobra, good. It was enough. I left, knowing I will return.
Holy Mary, Woman of God,
What have we done to you?
Took away your laughter
Banished your tears
Never allowed you to age
Or lose your teeth
Or scream at your kids,
Or go through menopause.
Holy Gaia, Mother of all,
What have we done to you?
Claimed you were naught but dirt
Tore open your belly, polluted your veins;
Stopped listening for your sigh in the wind,
Your whispered comfort
Your silent kisses.
Our resisting fears
Caused us to put you away on
In attics or under cement.
We stripped you of your prophetic power,
Your courageous teachings,
Keep it free!
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