taking the words of Jesus seriously

I am not a Catholic, but I’m praying to Mary … with Mary, through Mary … for the Mothers of Gaza. 

I am not a Catholic. In fact, I was raised in the charismatic, protestant church in Scotland. A faith tradition which taught us that, “praying to saints” (especially Mary) was idolatry. 

This morning however, just after my husband read me the news about the escalating situation of war in Israel, Gaza, and Iran, I found myself praying with, and even to, Mary the mother of Jesus. 

For some years now, beginning in a time of deep grief, God has been “turning up” for me … with me … in me … beside me … as my Mother. The tender, loving, yet incredibly fierce and creative Life Force, which birthed our universe and our existence. An Eternal Womb in which I’m always held. This has been a wonderful “widening out” in my understanding of God and has brought great healing to my deepest wounds; in a way which only incredible intimacy can. 

But, unlike many others – who are also currently discovering the Divine Feminine Presence of God – I’ve honestly never given much thought to Mary of Nazareth, the earthly mother of Jesus. 

That was, until recently, when I spent some extended time in Mexico and found myself entranced – and frankly enchanted – by the incredibly abundant images, literally everywhere (murals, graffitied walls, bumper stickers, tattoos) of Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

For those of us without much knowledge of Catholic faith traditions, Our Lady of Guadalupe is a “Marian” apparition. That is, an appearance of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who came to an indigenous man, San Juan Diego (Cuauhtlatoatzin – Talking Eagle – was his indigenous name) in Mexico, 1531. 

The story tells us that after several divine meetings between the two: San Juan and Guadalupe. Meetings which took place over a period of several days. Meetings in which she beckoned, encouraged and instructed him; Guadalupe’s image was miraculously imprinted on this ordinary man’s cloak. This miraculous “painting” is still with us today and is available to view at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in modern day Mexico City.

Here’s the thing … I, as a good protestant girl, wasn’t raised to be intoxicated by the smells and bells of Catholic “superstition”.  I was taught, not to use saints as intermediaries, but to address the Divine directly and on my own behalf. In the faith tradition of my childhood, we weren’t permitted to pray to an image, nor worship idols … but, suddenly here I was, surrounded by endless, almost omnipresent, images of this Mexican-indigenous “Mary” and I found myself enamored by her. 

I snapped photos of her on every walk and at every stop sign, until my phone and Instagram account were full. I found myself sketching her over and over in my journals; researching the meanings hidden in the symbols of her dress, her pose and her face. What could this alluring … comforting … almost protecting image possibly mean!? Why did it strike me so much? How had it inspired such incredible devotion in the people of Mexico? 

As I began to allow myself to surrender to the call, I found that in drawing her … piece by piece … again and again … I was sketching out a map of God.

Much like my ancestors – the ancient Celts – with their “three leafed” Celtic knot describing the mystery of the Trinity, I discovered that the people of Mexico had also been given a symbol to aid them in their understanding of the Infinite. This map came to them through an image of Mary … a poor, brown, pregnant, unwed, teenage, praying girl.   

Of course, my firmly western, pragmatic, protestant brain could hardly handle this kind of mystery! Mary was a human girl … like me. Not God. Not the Divine one. Not even the Holy Spirit, who I had come to know, so tenderly, as Mother. I wrestled with the “either – or” of the whole situation and rubbed my eyes again and again in frustration at this new vision of oneness that God was so kindly showing me about Herself and her saints; her dearly loved ones. 

During the last couple years this oneness has sunk into my heart, where my brain couldn’t receive it. I have begun to let go and trust. Christ is the Vine and I am one of the branches. I cannot find the line where God ends and I begin, so why should I feel such a desperate need to draw that line anywhere else? 

This morning, as we listened to the news coming out of the Middle East: that war may escalate and more  mothers will be torn from their children, more husbands may lose their wives, more babies may be blown up, orphaned  and abandoned, I found the words of the Hail Mary prayer … a prayer which I learned accidentally, growing up  surrounded by Catholic neighbors in a nation which was fiercely divided by religion … I found the words of Hail Mary, tumbling through my mind and out my mouth. 

Mary, that most Middle Eastern of mamas. She who knows the terror of occupation, the constant threat of murder. She, who watched her dearest child be ripped from her life by political mob violence. 

Mary, this Mary, who still dared to call herself “blessed” in spite of it all. Mary, who trusted in the resurrection long enough to see the crucifixion through. 

I found myself praying to Mary, with Mary, through Mary and with the Holy Spirit which binds us both together as children of God … praying for the mothers who are caught in this awful war. 

“Hail Mary”   

Mary … my heart salutes you, my heart salutes your heart … and through your heart I acknowledge and  listen … to God, who is our Deepest Mother. 

“full of grace” 

Through you I see the grace that is ours 

You who said, “let it be” 

You who opened yourself wide, in deep trust 

who gave your “yes” to God

Your yes to pain, your yes to joy, your yes to life and your yes to death … even the death of your own son 

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus” 

This part of the prayer makes me choke with tears, 

because you are a human woman, a mother, a fruitful womb 

just like me, just like our sisters 

a woman who lived under the fierce violence of Occupation 

an Occupation which killed children and tore babies from their mothers 

You, like so many, had to flee to save your child’s life, 

to save him from a deadly force, breathing out violence against you, 

threatening to take his life – his tiny, precious life – away. 

We look at the horror unfolding in your homeland, and we wonder, “How could anyone slaughter children?” Oh Mary 

Oh dear Mother-God 

You know the fear and terror the mothers of Gaza and Israel face 

And yet still, 

still you called yourself, “Blessed”! 

You, whose very name, Miriam, means “sea of bitter tears”. 

You, whose son was murdered by mob-violence 

by an absurd system, calling itself just! 

You who knew agony as deep as the sea 

You named yourself, “Blessed”. 

You even foretold that we would call you “Blessed”. 

By doing this, you teach us 

To call ourselves 

To call all mothers … 

To call all children, fruit of our wombs 


“Holy Mary, Mother of God” 

You, who carried God in your womb 

who, like all of us, carried the Divine within you 

who, like all mothers, grew and bore, loved and raised, a child of the Creator. 

“Pray for us, now and at the hour of our death” 

Pray for us …now and in all our deaths 

our daily deaths and losses 

our minute-to-minute worsening griefs 

too deep for words 

pray for us. 

Holy Spirit pray for us … within us … around us … over us. 

Your hand is always on our eyes – to light the way 

Your hand is always on our hearts – to still the storm of panic   

Your hand is always at our backs – to catch us as we fall 

You, Spirit, Mother of all mothers, hold us, carry our wounds. 

shed our tears and grieve our deepest grief   

Pray for us Mother, 

As we pray with and for the mothers, the sisters, the daughters, in Israel and Gaza, who are all your children. They are all us

We are all them 

within your holy love 


Let it be. 

In closing, please allow me to share with you why I feel it is such an incredible gift for me, as someone raised protestant, to feel invited by the Spirit to meditate on the words of the “Hail Mary” prayer.  

The place in which I was raised, the west of Scotland, was incredibly divided for generations – politically,  socially and religiously – between Catholic and Protestant. As you likely know, Northern Ireland, just thirty miles across  the sea from us, experienced decades of life-wrecking violence. After generations of hatred and loss – peace,  reconciliation, understanding – these things just seemed impossible. Yet in recent decades they have miraculously arrived.  

This Easter Sunday, just a few weeks ago, my parents sent me pictures of their Easter gathering in Scotland.  Starting at the local Catholic church, members from various denominations walked together from church to church,  singing, sharing and celebrating the resurrection together.  

It’s not just that it’s easier, or more pleasant, or a better life for all, when we have peace – but to feel actively  encouraged by the Spirit to engage in and understand one another’s prayers, surely this can bring us one step closer to  seeing an answer to Jesus’ own prayer for the human race: that we might one day, be one, and find ourselves empowered  to truly love one another.  

This must be our prayer too, not just for Israel and Palestine, but for the whole world. 

About The Author


Esther Sparks is a singer, songwriter, visual artist and storyteller from the west of Scotland; she was raised in an intentional, spiritual community in the rolling hills near Loch Lomond. For eleven years, Esther and her family lived in New Orleans, where she worked with numerous musicians, wrote and recorded three albums and worked as a singer in the evenings, and a mom during the day. In 2009, during the fallout from the great recession, the Sparks family lost their income, and then their home. Subsequently, they lost their sanity, their sobriety and their faith. Esther’s sixth and most recent album: ‘Drowning, Rising & the Space In-Between’ chronicles her journey through that loss, recovery and rebirth, and is now available at all major online outlets. Esther lives in Colorado with her husband and three grown kids. She loves to make little sketches and films for her songs, and you can find these on her YouTube channel. https://www.youtube.com/@EstherSparks

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