Saturday, July 19, 2008


Mother Mary (2008) by Tina Karagulian
Donated to the Our Lady of Częstochowa, Church of the Black Madonna

About sixteen years ago, two years before I awakened to my spiritual adoption by the Yoruban goddess Yemaya, I ran across China Galland’s book Longing for Darkness, in which she chronicles her journey away from Catholicism into Eastern spirituality, then further into the sacred feminine dark (the Sufis’ radiant dark), only to have the dark goddesses of the East lead her full circle back to Our Lady of Czestochowa, also known as the Black Madonna. This was a time of deep spiritual exploration for me as well, and the sense of radiance in a sacred darkness, holiness in the dark, resonated strongly with my journey at the time.

As China circled back to the unexplored underground caverns of her own Catholic traditions, she wrote at one point about a Black Madonna shrine in San Antonio. I was living in New Orleans at the time, but I became obsessed with finding the shrine the next time I visited my home town. No one I knew had ever heard of the place, and this was still four or five years before I discovered my ability to find at least scraps of anything I might be looking for on the internet.

But find her I did, in east San Antonio, on tiny Beethoven Street, in an oddly shaped chapel, surrounded by a half dozen cottages in which lived a community of Polish nuns dedicated to living in her grace and the peace she inspires. And on the morning of March 13, 1998, while standing in the gorgeous blue-stained light of one of her stained glass windows, Tina and I felt so blessed by her grace as to feel married in her sight. Our civil ceremony in Walden, Vermont in August of that year, while blessed in its own right—well, we consider the Vermont ceremony our renewal vows.

When we moved to San Antonio in 2002, we sought out Mary and her sisters in all the places where she and they are honored in this matrilineal wellspring of a city. It seems our pilgrimages were part of an old unconscious calling, too: my mother, for whom Our Lady of Guadalupe is as resonant as the Black Madonna is to me, told me that when I was but a babe, she used to take me all over town to the grottos and shrines of devotion to the Blessed Mothers.

Here’s local Tres Leches poet-extraordinaire Naomi Shihab Nye in a poem I read a few days ago:

I Feel Sorry for Jesus

People won’t leave him alone.
I know he said, wherever two or more
are gathered in my name…
but I’ll bet some days He regrets it.

Cozily they tell you what He wants
and doesn’t want
as if they just got an e-mail.
Remember “Telephone,” that pass-it-on game

where the message changed dramatically
by the time it rounded the circle?
People blame terrible pieties on Jesus.

They want to be his special pet.
Jesus deserves better.
I think he’s been exhausted
for a very long time.

He went into the desert, friends.
He didn’t go into the pomp.
He didn’t go into
the golden chandeliers

and say, the truth tastes better here.
See? I’m talking like I know.
It’s dangerous talking for Jesus.
You get carried away almost immediately.

I stood in the spot where he was born.
I closed my eyes where he died and didn’t die.
Every twist of the Via Dolorosa
was written on my skin.

And that makes me feel like being silent
for Him, you know? A secret pouch
of listening. You won’t hear me
mention this again.

I know, it’s not really about Mary, but it struck a chord. Much as I like to blab on till midnight, my spiritual path is lit least when I am talking. I fall prey to thinking and, worse, over-thinking. I am fully capable of pulling apart something beautiful and fine and deeply important to my soul if I start talking and thinking about it. I love the idea of Naomi’s “secret pouch of listening.” It’s what I have for Mary and her sisters all over the world. I don’t theorize or adjudicate Mary: I simply sit with her and feel myself go deeper, way past the way signs of all my frittering days. When it’s time, and it’s usually not more than, say, three times a year, we head out past the tamale stand, take a left at the always closed menudo shrine, and slip through the portal into Mary’s world. As we did this afternoon, and in silence, sat.

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Blogger San said...

Beautiful words, Paschal. And Tina's painting is beautiful. How appropriate that it graces (pardon what sounds like a gratuitous pun) the Tres Leches Chapel of the Black Madonna. I envision Tina's Mother Mary, lifting her hand there in the blue-stained light (as you so gracefully described it), twisting that wry little smile of hers ever so subtly a degree or two, deLIGHTED by the destiny of residing (t)here.

I believe Nye's poem is an apt companion here. No, it's not about Mary. But it's about Jesus as Mary might talk about him. And I will look into the Galland book. A painter we represent did a series of Black Madonna portraits twelve or so years ago. And of course, Our Lady of Guadalupe figures very prominently in the spiritual tapestry that is Santa Fe. When, however, she emerges on the back of an astronomically priced piece of "Art to Wear," I look the other way in embarrassment.

9:11 AM  
Blogger jsd said...

the painting is beautiful...and i can't help but think that you've all found that space where one feels intamitely linked to within ones soul, an always coming home to space, that space you know you've left immediately and upon return release that breath you didn't realize you were holding.

3:17 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

San: I will pass your words on to Tina. I like your idea of Naomi's poem being written in Mary's voice: being a mother is as much a part of Naomi's voice as her many other facets.

jsd: You said it: the Black Madonna's "greenspace" in a quiet unassuming nook of the eastside is definitely a spiritual home.

4:57 PM  

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