Mary feasts always stir ambivalence for me, because I resent and resist portrayals of her on a pedestal, unique and alienated from real women. I simply cannot relate to a porcelain image, yet I long to connect with this extraordinary female of my faith tradition. In To Dance with God, Gertrud Mueller Nelson provides an appealing alternate interpretation for the feast of the Assumption. Trained in Jungian thought, Nelson emphasizes the symbolic, poetic meaning of the teaching that Mary was assumed into heaven, body and soul. She sees it as “the ultimate celebration of the feminine – not just of Mary or of women, but of every aspect in nature and in our experience that carries the Yin element of our Yin-Yang totality.” In particular, she views it as a symbolic return of mother earth to heaven, parallel and balancing to the incarnation of Jesus having brought the divine to earth. Such an understanding, if fully grasped, will inspire active love and care for all of creation, especially the soil itself and the plants that grow in it.
Interestingly, an ancient practice associated with the feast of the Assumption, especially in Germany and Eastern Europe, is a blessing of herbs and fruits. Families gathered them from their own gardens and brought them to the church where they were placed on the altar and then sprinkled with holy water, a ritual blessing that was part of the Roman Ritual since the 10th century, though seldom done in the United States. In this time of renewed emphasis on eating local, seasonal produce, such a rite might be well-received here. I find it meaningful today in particular as we pick up our weekly distribution from the CSA we belong to. Hoping for more basil and tomatoes! Nelson offers a version of the Roman Ritual prayer that beautifully articulates her vision of this feast:
Lord, at your command you created for us this heaven and this earth, seas, lakes and rivers, all that we see and cannot see. You adorned the earth with plants and trees for our use and to feed every one of your creatures. You arranged that each kind bring forth fruit in its kind, to be the nourishment of all creatures and a healing medicine to our bodies when we are sick. Bless this variety of herb and fruits, flowers and grasses which we bring before you today and also bless those which we have left behind n the field to live out the full cycle of their service. Bless this holy earth on which we stand. Bless the farmers of this soil, the tenders and harvesters of your bounty. Without them and their diligence we would not know this richness. Bless us, Lord, and transform all the natural powers which we gather together in our offerings here and in our hearts and with your grace transform all life with your blessing. May we be nourished by the fruits of this earth, share them with all humankind, and use them in peace.
Holy Mary, Virgin Mother, whose assumption we celebrate today, your crowning in heaven crowns all nature with a blessedness that makes heaven and earth one. Your own human nature which was the font itself of God’s own Son, Jesus, fruit of your womb, is proof that what surrounds us is holy and a worthy carrier of the redemptive. Let us never misuse this sacred earth, her fruits, her soil, her adornment, life or riches. Let us always return to her soil worthy nourishment to replenish and not poison her. Let us never misuse those who tend the earth. Their work is holy and noble. May we take from earth’s offerings without greed or waste. Let us share with earth’s people, her gifts in full justice and love. Amen.
Photo courtesy of David T. Jones via Flickr under a Creative Commons license