Note from Sister Julia, Messy Jesus Business host: This little corner of the internet is devoted to the messiness of religion and spirituality, as it relates to radical Gospel living. Part of being a follower of Jesus includes creating radically inclusive spaces, spaces that allow for the intersection of different spiritualities. That’s why I am excited to include the voice of a new Messy Jesus Business writer, Callie Bates, who identifies as “spiritual but not religious, on the new age fringe” and not as a Christian. Certainly those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus ought to be influenced by interactions with those who encounter the mysteries of our faith. Their reflections on our Traditions are a gift to us and the wider Church.
They always turn out the lights on our small regional airplanes when we begin takeoff. That rising rumble; the rattling of various plane-matter; the sudden flicker into darkness as you’re pushed back in your seat. I had not flown in a year and a half, and a double mask pillowed the lower half of my face. A worm of anxiety fingered my breastbone. As we grumbled into the sky, I tugged out the rosary I’d wrapped around my wrist. It was my grandpa’s, and now it is mine. Black beads worn from decades of caressing. The metal links keep giving out. I’ve replaced the crucifix with a bird. Maybe it represents the Holy Spirit, that descending dove; maybe it is the prehistoric bird goddess worshipped by my Neolithic European ancestors. If you don’t object to the conflation, I’d say it is somehow both. That is what I like about it.
I had never used the rosary in a public place before, and even though I was with one of my closest friends, I felt self-conscious. But as the plane winged upwards, emitting goodness knows how much carbon dioxide into our already overloaded atmosphere, saying the familiar words steadied me. The beads felt like an anchor to the earth below. When I looked out the window next, a thrill ran through me. It seemed to me that I was not only looking at the body of the earth, glorious in itself, but the body of the Holy Mother — she who dwells in everything.
I may not seem a likely rosary devotee. I am spiritual but not religious, on the new age fringe. When the other kids in my grade-school class were at CCD, I was reading novels by Tamora Pierce and Diana Wynne Jones, or being herded out into old-growth forests by my parents. (Arguably a spiritual experience of the purest sort.) I like churches and the sweet atmosphere of prayer that inhabits them, but all the rules and books filled with onion-skin paper make me itchy and rebellious. One could easily say I have issues with authority figures and also conformity.
So why the rosary?
A book called “The Way of the Rose: The Radical Path of the Divine Feminine Hidden in the Rosary” by Clark Strand and Perdita Finn crossed my path last year, but it was not until this summer that I turned to the prayer path it advocates, following disillusionment with the meditation practices I’d adopted. The book argues passionately that we need the rosary now more than ever; that you do not have to be within the traditional church to pray with it; that we can re-wild the rosary and the Lady to whom it is dedicated; that the way of the rose is for all.
I turned to it, in honesty, because I wanted a practice that connected me with my own ancestral tradition. I wanted the words to be in my own language. I did not want to appropriate or to colonize. At the same time, I did not want to become Irish Catholic like my grandpa. I wanted a way of meditative prayer steeped in my lineage, but I also wanted to make it my own.
I am still new to the rosary. I have only begun to go through its doorway, to lean into its mysteries. Yet I find that it has held me in a way I have not felt held before. Perhaps it is the words themselves: pray for us, now and in the hour of death. How shocking it is at first to speak the word death in prayer — especially when you are coming from new age land with its relentless focus on light and positivity and manifestation. To descend into the depths of the rosary is a revelation. A circle of prayers that can meet us in any state, even at the threshold of life itself? A practice that not only acknowledges the vast cycle of the human experience but in fact exists to honor and become at one with that cycle? I had not imagined anything like this before — and I had not understood that I needed it.
My spirituality is experiential. I guess I am panentheistic, a word I only recently learned. To me God is in everything and is also more than the sum of our parts. As a contemplative human, I used to be more into the transcendent part of that equation, but more and more I feel that I’m here for the immanence. We are in human bodies right now because, I’m fairly sure, we incarnated to be that — to be human.
Each mystery of the rosary — joyful, sorrowful, glorious — forms a turn on the spiral path into the heart of our humanity. From happiness to horrors, we arrive at this conundrum: that we are both human and divine, a soul embodied and a body ensouled. Even when I come to the ascension, I find myself envisioning the rosary as a descending path. In the assumption, I can’t quite imagine Mary going “up” to heaven. What if, rather, heaven is already within and around us, tangled through the threads of our beings and the pulsing of our hearts? If that is the case, is Mary in fact taken in? Into the earth, into the trees and the birds, the sky and the bears, the water and the plants. Into the humming life which exists within and among all things. Into the unknown; into the mystery.
If that is the case, then she is with us now and can be felt — whether you call her Mary or not. It is simply that the rosary can open us to her presence in a way we may have forgotten but which may feel like remembrance.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Callie Bates is the author of the “Waking Land” series, a fantasy trilogy published by Del Rey, as well as various essays and short fiction of diverse nature. An artist and harpist/harp therapist, when she’s not marshalling words she can often be found spattering paint or letting her wandering feet guide her to new places. Callie met Sister Julia at a NaNoWriMo event in 2016, and they became instant friends; their connection forged in deep mutual respect and love for each other’s way of experiencing spirit (plus long hikes and good laughs over beverages).