Thursday, 12 February 2015

Confession / Circonfession

A long post here, but something to relate at the end, if you get there. Those who know me, know I have an inexplicable, devotional relationship with the figure of mother Mary. I am not Catholic, and was raised in mostly non-religious homes. Though my grandma was a quietly practicing Anglican, and my matrilineal line were Quakers. Being in France is like a field day for me in terms of visiting Mary, en pluriel! I am also fascinated by the presence of the black madonnas that populate this land. Ancient mothers I have previously written of, in the context of goddess studies. That being said, this fact of my devotion to the Mother as Mary is at odds with how I feel about, and understand/critique, the traditional patriarchal and dogmatic institution of the Church, with its one-sided gendered language of text and liturgy (and more, in the history of female suppression/oppression).

I am deeply drawn to an earth-based spirituality that honours women, and the female/feminine on Earth, a sense of generative life-giving/shakti, birth-giving-ness, following yearning, celebration in body/feeling, interconnection through the web-of-life, incorporation of our trauma/woundings through healing. Some things don't 'heal,' but we learn from them, and how to live with them. ‘Mary’ came to me you might say. So I go along, in my own paradoxical way. Not being raised in the Catholic tradition, I somewhat naively go about my own Marian devotions when I visit cathedrals or churches. I spend time with the icons, statues, and the presence of Mary, silently conversing, as so many others do, in simple meditation, or holding questions of my life, or prayers for others. Sometimes I cry, other times I feel awash in joy, or I hold gratitude in sensing gentleness.

As I related in the blog post “J’arrive,” I just visited Notre Dame cathedral. Wandering around inside Notre Dame with the many others visitors, I walked past an area where two people were sitting on a bench, waiting for confession. Confession it seems is no longer confined to dark wooden boxes, with strange hidden priests inside them all day, like I’ve seen in old movies. The priest is in view, in a glass cubicle with only a bit of privacy. You see him praying with the confessed. People kneel or sit next to him. Anyway, it got me pondering the condition, and the ritual, of confession. Something I do not have insider experience with. I wondered at the impulse of confession (indoctrinated or self-driven), and how or if it relieves suffering? I associate the ritual itself as anxiety provoking, perhaps from Italian films or Irish literature (Joyce?), and the insistence on sin. From events in my own life of the last years, I can understood how one can feel overwrought in regards to an/other, in front an inner 'jury,' trapped in the ethics of harm and non-harm in relationships. I thus pondered the suffering that may have brought people to confession that night. I thought it might be nice to pray with someone, for reconciling trauma, healing illness, sending good wishes to oneself and others, or asking for world peace. I have experienced this affirming kind of prayer in women's circles. 

Onwards - yesterday I went to rue de Bac. Home of the Miraculous Medal, where Mary appeared to Catherine Labouré in 1830. I went there unplanned, as I was in the area. A chapel sits on this site, and receives the faithful down a long open corridor. This opens into a large vaulted space with two major sculptures of Mary on view. This chapel is truly a place of prayer. The pews were almost full of people sitting in contemplation, and waiting for the mass to start. There wasn’t room for me to sit in view of the main statue of the Mother. In this, her hands extend downward with open palms. The centre of her palms pour healing light/shakti to all. She stands on a globe and a snake, apparently vanquishing the snake, but one might make other interpretations. She is crowned in gold, a Queen. This crown does not appear in her small medal image, the little charm you take home with you to wear for devotion, remembrance and protection.

This is a long story, due to all this background, but I go on. I actually wanted to touch upon Derrida’s text, Circonfession (on Cixous’ seminar reading list). Given the telepathic signal of this week related to my new curiosity about “confession,” and Cixous’ seminar reading list, I feel directed to read this. In life writing and narrative research, we tell life stories, relating incidents of some meaning or other - in one sense we "confess." Especially in telling stories never before told, or stories we can only articulate in a certain time and place, once events have come to pass. There is a 'secret' aspect to confession - what you otherwise would not tell. More generally, in our life stories, we are the 'heroes/heroines' of the tale, finding ourselves and others to be the cause of various happy events or fatal misfortunes. Misfortunes at the hands of others (or ourselves) are the topic of testimonials. As I understand it, Derrida takes up the testimonial side of confession, in terms of the “self” that is related, and the “selves” we make of others in telling our tales. I want to look more into this.

Back in the chapel of the Miraculous Mother, I sat for some time near the front, in a pew with praying women. I just sat there really, with no particular thoughts in my head. Just being in this space of contemplation, though wondering about that too. I was thinking about the space of prayer itself, and the function of the church and religion, how it goes on in our human story. I wanted to move to a seat where I could take in the full view of the gigantic Miraculous Mother. So I went to the back of the chapel, and spied an empty edge of a bench. This bench is attached along the whole back wall of the chapel. It too was full of people, with this one corner empty. I took it, and was able to admire the gigantic Mother for a few moments, until a woman approached me, asking if this was the line up for confession? I then noticed the glass confession box to the left of me. My neighbour quickly directed her to the bench next to us, and the end of the line, which was many, many people down from us. It turns out I had completely jumped the queue! No one had said a thing. I was directly headed for confession.

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