The Heart of the Black Madonna

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Amazing Grace




For the last several years, I have been wandering. Wandering in search of a new life, wandering in study, wandering for a new job, home and community. For many reasons, I was unable to stay in a situation that I had inhabited quite happily, largely and for many years. Politics, economics, injustice and cruelty all colluded to force major changes I never in my life thought I would have to make. I had finally found a temporary situation with some level of normalcy, then while writing this post, I was evacuated due to the fires in Northern California, with only the clothes on my back and my purse. Now, even though the fires have ceased, as the fates would have it, I am actually wandering again in search of a new life, where mundane is my goal.

When one has all familiarity taken away, the freedom is actually quite unnerving. Where to go, what to do, how to live out ones remaining years on this amazing planet are the questions with no real answers. The quest for rhythm in the mundane aspects of life becomes the ultimate luxury.

The current crisis involving the migration of people fleeing war and terror in the Arab lands has been more than upsetting for me.  I know all too well the desperation involved in trying to find a place to simply "be," the longing for normalcy, the anxiety associated with occupying other peoples homes and lives, having one's status erased, trying to be small and not disrupt, but needing to have a place to sit, to lie, to bathe and eat. 

As with the migrants, my situation resulted from decisions made without my consent. I watch on the news the mothers and children walking hundreds of miles in search of a new home, fathers holding screaming children simply wanting to board trains, treated like criminals, caged in like animals, told to behave, be quiet, to stop complaining.

When one has nothing to depend on from the external world, (home, family, money,) one is somewhat forced to focus on the non-material world. There is a closeness to spirit that comes from intense suffering, from being unsettled. There is an awareness that is usually dulled when one has the distraction and illusion of material security. The miracles are more evident when one is wandering into the unknown, because one has the full attention to perceive the natural world, to contemplate meaning and purpose. 

Some time ago I reflected that I had been living on pure grace, that every mouthful, every surface I slept on was pure grace, dependent on the kindness of others, and each day was a surprise. I thought to myself, I am tired of living on grace and would much welcome a home, a regular schedule, a job and place in society. After this insight, I shook my self and thought; but each and every breath we take is actually because of grace, regardless of the situation. The entire cosmos is filled with grace, every day regardless of the situation is in essence grace, I can no more live without grace than I can live with out air. 


My soul has always craved context and meaning. My miracles manifest in how people and insights come to me. Several books fell into my awareness which gave some insight to not only my own ordeal, the that of so many people on the planet at this particular juncture in history.

The cycle is entitled : Universal Spirituality and Human Physicality, Bridging the Divide.

This is a series of lectures given by Rudolf Steiner that have been newly translated into English from German. The lectures are very thought provoking, and often caused me to put down the book and simply say "wow." 

These particular lectures were first presented just two years after World War I. The world had never seen a conflict like that before, the devastation and the mechanization of warfare had entered a truly mind boggling level. Great thinkers of the time were searching for answers as to how the war happened and how to prevent another specter from ever happening again. We are living in a time now of the 100 year anniversary of this most terrible achievement of Humanity, that of a great world war of mechanized arbitrary slaughter and massive human displacement. 

I am also reading Testament of Youth, which talks about how a group of young friends had their lives shattered and youth stolen from "the great war." There were scores of migrant refugees moving about Europe during that time as well. Then as now, scores of people were either forcibly relocated, because of redrawn national borders, or simply because their lives were completely destroyed and they wanted to start anew in different lands away from the turmoil. My own ancestors emigrated to America from the Balkans because of this war. Testament of Youth was written within the same time frame as the lectures presented in  Universal Spirituality and Human Physicality, Bridging the Divide were given.


Refugees from World War I


There are immense goings on in the world that have their origins in spiritual events. There are great forces that are not interested in humans being aware of the Grace that surrounds them. Such forces are working hard to distract our attention from the deeper transformation that is happening, they distract us from the transformation that is actually for our own betterment. These forces do not want humanity to evolve and transform, they want humanity to be stuck, to be fearful and defeated.

One of the recurring themes in the Steiner cycle mentioned above, is how our actions in one life plant seeds for the future. Steiner talks about how the human being is made up of several bodies; physical, etheric, astral and the "I." He also talks about the three aspects of the soul life; thinking, feeling and willing. 

In relationship with the physical, these aspects of soul are respectively: thinking = the head, feeling = the chest or rhythmic system (heart,) and willing=limbs.


Black Madonna of Dorres
What is fascinating to me personally is how so many of the Black Madonna's have such huge hands.
Black Madonna of Marsat


Black Madonna of the Good Death

According to Lois Schroff in her book Color, Its Relationship to Soul and Spirit, she outlines that Black is the color of Cosmic Will transforming into Human Will.

As hands are aspects of the limbs and the soul life of the will, and action/deeds are the manifestation of the will which plants seeds for the future, all the threads seem to be weaving before me.

We are living in times of great transformation. In many ways, the times we are enduring in terms of geo politics and terror, the seeds for the future that were laid in the ashes of World War I. Many of the arbitrary borders set up in the Arab lands by foreign world powers started during the aftermath of this war. The arguments which started the conflict are still raging today, fueling the migration of millions of desperate people, walking hundreds of miles through hostile territory to simply have a normal life.

Many people have met the refugees with dignity, even when their governments shun those fleeing the violence. Stories abound of normal every day people bringing food and clothing to complete strangers at train stations, teaching people to ride bikes and speak the local language. One of the lesser known stories is how many current refugees are being welcomed by Christian communities, and such welcome is causing voluntary conversions to Christianity. There is much adjustment ahead, but in a major way, the refugees from very foreign cultures are being welcomed to the best of the ability of the communities to which they are assigned. In many ways, this really is a first for humanity.

During my refugee status last Summer, it truly felt like we were in a war. Fire was the enemy, firefighters were the soldiers going to battle, and people were streaming out of the areas escaping the violence. The air was acrid and yellow from the smoke, and there really was no where to go to escape the heat and ashes. A great unease blanketed the area as thousands and thousands of acres of beautiful forests were consumed.

In the midst of the evacuation centers, mushroom clouds and nervous people, the church I attend in the valley was laying stones for a labyrinth. The labyrinth had been a large project of the congregation for the last several years, and after great fundraising and design efforts, the stones had finally arrived. The ground consecrated and the construction began right as the fires started to rage. I found refuge in the local library, where I could sit in air conditioning and read. I walked to the church and watched the masons.

It was as if they were in a meditative trance as they tapped away, pouring concrete, laying stone, and measuring. What struck me was the silence which accompanied their work. Usually on construction sites, there is a radio blaring and jovial conversation. Not so with this project. What also struck me was the contrast of the masons activity with the turmoil that surrounded us in terms of sirens, smoke filled air, ashes falling and immense human suffering in evacuation centers just a few miles away.

There was so much loss of human endeavor, businesses, homes, churches, schools, but it seemed no matter what may come, this stone labyrinth would be finished and endure for generations to come as an invitation to develop one's inner strength, as a tool to connect with the Divine.

It struck me that the masons of old who laid the stones for the Cathedrals and labyrinths also completed their work in similar circumstances. No one can say that the Middle Ages were a calm period of history. This era endured climate change with a mini ice age, a plague that devastated almost half the population, endless wars, corruption, violence and displacement. And yet, the Middle Ages produced some of the most sublime art, architecture, music and poetry of all time. Most of the creative impulses of the age were put into the Cathedrals, which were seen as shrines of contemplation, renewal and inspiration. The Cathedrals were seen as the connector, the structure that offered direct access to the Spiritual world. If nothing else, one can see that the Cathedrals were great acts of will, it took immense levels of will and action to erect such structures.


Chartres Cathedral, Chartres France


During my last visit to Chartres in France, I had the luxury of spending several leisurely days in the Notre Dame Cathedral of that town. It is really the only way to experience this or any Cathedral because of the enormity of the structure and volume of art inside. I spent an entire afternoon climbing the North Tower, peering out of every window and looking at all the carvings which adorned every inch of the 113 Meter/371 foot tall structure. I wondered how did they get all this stone up this high back in the 12th and 13th centuries, and especially the tower which was finished in the early 1500's? 


The North Tower, Chartres Cathedral

View of the North Tower, Chartres Cathedral


What were they thinking, why did they do this, who were the people that made this amazing treasure? Nothing is known about the names or lives of the designers and builders of Chartres. Back then, all art was seen as coming from God, which is why we often do not have names associated with works of the period. What is known is that for generations, families of artisans would travel about, creating structures, carvings, sculpture and masonry that produced the amazing structures we have today. It took incredible will and actions to erect these gigantic buildings with rudimentary technology of the day, (mostly men, ropes, pulleys, chisels, hammers and horses.) These works were made with no electricity, no petroleum, no machines or computers. 

I began to see the beautiful Cathedral of Chartres as a pure act of will. I also began to see the cathedral as being built, actually for me and my generation. All the intricate carvings, windows and ornamentation was built for us modern humans. The cathedral was an act of will, planting the seeds of wisdom for the future.

The Knights Templar, a medieval order of Knights, were responsible for bringing many of the Black Madonna's from Palestine to Europe. They also helped to found and fund most of the magnificent cathedrals throughout the Continent. In addition to helping to fund the construction of Chartres in the 12th and 13th centuries, they also founded a mystery school at this cathedral. The Templars had many ideals, one of them was to create a culture that could contain the Christ. The school at Chartres was keenly aware that the age of wisdom was about to pass, that the old instinctive wisdom of the ages, the relationship between the Divine, Nature and Humanity was to change. Humanity was to enter into an age of freedom, where each person had to choose how to have a relationship with the Divine. The Templars knew this, and strove to honor freedom by funding the arts. They thought that the only way to invite people into a loving conscious and free relationship with the Divine was through beauty. The Templars planted such seeds with acts of will through funding artisans to create the art we enjoy today. The Templars put Black Madonna's in their shrines, cathedrals and houses as a part of this invitation into a loving relationship with the Divine. There are three Black Madonna's at Chartres, and the site has been associated with a Dark Goddess since the time of the Druids.


The Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral


There is a great labyrinth at Chartres. It is the inspiration for the labyrinth at Grace Episcopal Church in St. Helena, nestled in the Napa Valley. Last Summer as I watched the masons silently go about their tasks in the midst of historic fires, massive displacements of wild life and people, I thought of the masons at Chartres, working away in the midst of plagues, political upheaval and a changing climate. 

What an incredible response to turmoil; to create art. To plant seeds of hope, of invitation to connect with the Divine. What an amazing act of Grace to not be distracted from what is good, beautiful and real in the midst of great suffering, great turmoil. I thought of those who graciously helped me through my refugee sojourn, people offering me housing, food, money and prayers. I thought of those who are being displaced by famine, war, terror and climate change drought. I thought of the wisdom of the writings of Steiner in the midst of war, and the response of those I read about in Testament of Youth, (to work for peace and reconciliation between enemies.) 

We are living in a time of great spiritual awakening, we are ascending to co-create in a conscious way with the Divine. The Divine is knocking at our door. The great task is to actually hear the knock with all the screaming and bombs exploding. Such distractions, such "noise" can muffle the sound of the invitation from the Divine.  We are at a great choice point in Human history. Do we allow ourselves to be distracted from goodness and the Divine because of turmoil? What seeds are we planing at this juncture in Human evolution? What do we pay attention to, and how do we act in response?

Some amazing seeds for the future are being planted now by gracious will. Amazing gracious will through hospitality, through charity, through recognizing our global human family and our responsibility to care for one another. 

I heard a moving speech by activists trying to transform hate and fear that terror engenders. A young woman spoke of the need for "revolutionary love." 

This is what the Black Madonna represents to me. With her large hands and dark skin, she invites us to use our will, our action to plant seeds of Divine harmony and revolutionary love to create a culture that can contain the Christ, a Beloved Community for our collective future. In essence, these Black Madonna's and the cathedrals that contain them are not only symbols of Amazing Grace, they are inviting us to create such Grace with our deeds.

Blessings on your journey!