Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mystery Post #1

[Here’s the first in a randomly timed but on-going series of Mystery Posts by Eberle, which will involve her exploration of Catholicism & ancient goddess poetry. I believe even those of us who are of a non-religious bent—myself included—can find a lot in these writings. A side-note: to read Eberle writing in a much different vein, please check out her Platypuss-in-Boots blog. Enjoy!]

For the past three years in September, I’ve traveled with Sister Beverly up North past Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint, across the lake where you can see the train-bridge described in Marilyn Robinson’s Housekeeping, to an old field campus where a group of women have gathered for twenty years now on retreat. Sister Beverly’s focus for the retreat last fall was: praying with the women of the Old Testament. Judith became an instant heroine of mine – rebel, warrior, poet/singer – her Canticle is stirring. When Sister Beverly suggested that writing a Canticle could be part of our solitary prayer, I thought: who could do that? And then I wrote this Canticle of Anna you'll find at the end of the post.

Sister Beverly spoke of Mary as the connection between the Old Testament and the New, and I thought quite a bit about Mary’s mother Anna - a vital and vibrant part of this connection as the Mother of the Mother of God. The Mystery called the Immaculate Conception (referring to Anna’s conception of Mary) is inaptly named or translated it seems to me. Such overtones of tidiness when it must have been the opposite to a pretty extreme degree – the union of divine and human, the merging of visible and invisible, all boundaries dissolving. Here’s part of a 12th century icon, the depiction of the Mother of God surrounded by the Holy Spirit, conceiving Christ.

Stories of women or g
oddesses conceiving divinely go way back – through Roman and Greek stories all the way to the first written literature, in Sumerian. It’s a thread in the Old Testament too. The other woman mentioned in this Canticle is Peninnah (a transliteration of the Hebrew word for pearl)- I took this word as one of my spiritual names, to reflect a devotion to this Mystery – but I didn’t know she was a figure in the Old Testament with a connection to divine conception until this retreat. I’ve learned that sometimes retreats are far from restful in any ordinary sense – I know some of the women stayed up most of one night around the bonfire – and others of us, like me, were writing alone, but with a sense of sisterhood.


Sing to God a new song, the song of Anna.
Sing with the tongues of night birds
and the squeaks of flocks hanging head downward in caves
Sing with the vaulted clicking of cicadas
and the wet throats of frogs mantled in shining darkness.
Make the night fragrant with your joy.

For the name of God flowers in her body.
The name of God unfurls like a woman
unbraiding her hair in flowing waters
For the name of God leafs out the trees
gathered on the shores of the river
and perfumes the wind that moves them.

Not in kings or heroes did the mystery open
Not in soldiers or commanders did the banner of light unfold
But in a woman who lifted up her body
like a cup of water trembling in her hands
sighing with delight.
In Anna did the God of Peninnah
Knit the pearl.

Eberle Umbach
© 2009-2010


  1. This canticle is just gorgeous, so full of lovely word pictures. I especially like the notion of the knitting of the pearl. I so enjoyed this piece! Thanks, Eberle.

  2. Dear Willow,
    I'm so glad you liked this, and thanks for writing. The pearl is such an evocative creation- it was soon after writing this poem that I decided to learn how to knit. I'm completely baffled trying to imagine people inventing knitting- weaving makes sense- but the idea of making something three-dimensional from a single string - I would never have thought of this myself.

  3. Eberle, this is beautiful. The language in your canticle and the style give this the feel of an ancient song with all the earth in praise. I have a special devotion to Mary, but I guess I have never given much though to her own mother, except to notice her in religious art. You have made me see her as the vessel. The image of the pearl is beautiful.

  4. Dear Karen,
    thanks so much! I know what you mean about Mary's mother - she has only recently started to become a focused presence in my life - with Mary too, I find that different aspects of her seem to come clear to me at different times. Today as I was writing this post I was thinking about the beauty of what we all share in the spiritual mother-daughter relationship through its many reflections...thanks again.


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