Sacred Encounters with Mary
(Ave Maria, 2003)
 
by Dr. G. Scott Sparrow
initially published as Blessed Among Women (Harmony, 1997)



Reviews

Venture Inward: "Sparrow has made Mary accessible in a way she has never been before. He also articulates a synthesis of spirituality, psychology, and metaphysics which is rather profound and reminiscent of both Jack Kornfield's A Path with a Heart and William James's The Varieties of Religious Experience.

"This book keeps unfolding and deepening, like a loving relationship which is cultivated over time. It is obviously the fruit of the author's earnest and intelligent search for God."

Booklist: "As a non-Catholic, Sparrow did not find the search an easy one, but the power and kindliness he encountered at last made a believer of him -- if not in a specific religious tradition, at least in the reality of the feminine force called Mary."

Library Journal: "... Sparrow, a psychotherapist and Methodist who has had visions of Mary, retells the stories of some 50 encounters with Mary by other people. He interprets these messages as challenges that lead toward conversion on a personal level and provide comfort.... Recommended for public libraries."

Publishers Weekly: "Sparrow, a Protestant psychologist, takes a personal approach to understanding the importance of Mary in the lives of Christians today. His own visions of Mary led him to collect and interpret over 50 accounts of encounters with the Holy Mother.... Sparrow (I Am with You Always: True Stories of Encounters with Jesus) has written another provocative book that will appeal to many pilgrims on their spiritual journeys."




Introduction


                                                           
    Several years ago, a client of mine was approaching the end of her psychotherapeutic work with me. Through intensive individual and group therapy, she had resolved many wounds, including the trauma of having been raped by someone she had loved and trusted, and the corrosive effect of having been married to an alcoholic for 27 years. She had begun bringing me parting gifts that were symbolic of our work together, such as a woolen prayer shawl that she had obtained years before on a pilgrimage to India. But the greatest gift of all was a vision that she shared with me tearfully during one of our last hours together. It was her third encounter with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and it ushered her through the last stage of her recovery into the light of a new day. The first part of Rachel's vision is as follows:

I am pulled awake -- drawn out of a deep sleep. I see a little star through my bedroom window. I say silently, "Did you wake me?" I am loving this little star and thanking it for waking me up to enjoy the stillness of the night.
I am aware that the star seems to be growing -- getting wider. I reach for my glasses to make sure that I am really seeing this. I realize that I am seeing the moon, not a star, and that it is
a new moon, like a rocking chair. So now I am loving this moon. The moon moves and seems to break up. It becomes two moons, with a second one to the right and below the first one. I shake my head to be sure, once again, that I am really seeing this. Then the moon on the right pulsates and expands into an orb -- a brilliant, beautiful golden-white and silvery orb that becomes brighter and brighter. But it does not hurt my eyes even though it is more brilliant than a noonday sun.
I sit up to see better, and I am aware that everything in my room is also glowing and brilliant. I think at first that I must be dreaming, but then again I know that I am awake. I remember that I was reading your book1 before I went to sleep, and the last thing I said before I went to sleep was, "Yes, she was indeed blessed, and so are you for having written this book for her and for all of use who have come to love her.  I whispered, "Thank you" to both of you.
Then a huge shaft of light streams down from the orb and right into my chest! I'm surprised and so happy, and I'm afraid to move, thinking that if I move I'll lose it. And, whatever it is, I want it to stay. My eyes must be wide as saucers, and I'm saying, prayerfully, "Thank you, thank you, thank you." I don't move for a good while. I am aware that I am surrounded by my dear ones -- beings, angels that have been with me for as long as I can remember. And you are with me, too, as you often have been in the last couple of years.
I am feeling loved and supported by your presence, and unafraid. I am then aware of colors in the shaft of light, and that I can move in my bed without losing the connection with the light. I am giddy with love and joy. The colors are blue and green and gold and yellow -- all within a silver-white shaft of light. I marvel at this demonstration of the truth that all colors come together to make the white light. I say, "It's true!" I am in such joy, completely relaxed, and in no pain.2 I'm breathing gently, saying again, "Thank you, thank you."
Then the shaft of light says, "You used to wear white."
I say, "Yes."
Then the light says, "Wear white again. It is all the colors: Wear white a lot."
The voice is very beautiful, very familiar and so gentle and loving. I am crying with tears streaming down my face, but it doesn't seem to matter. I get out of bed and move around the room. I'm laughing and crying and marveling at the sight and the sheer joy I feel!
I get back in bed, and sit cross-legged; and I hear the sound. First, I hear a big bell -- bong, bong, bong. Then it gets softer as if from a distance; but it is still deep and clear. Then I hear the lovely, indescribable sounds of "crystal" bells as they seem to tumble and tinkle -- as if tumbling down a hill, along the gently rushing water, over rocks and stones. And then comes the sound of wind! And just as a the white light is comprised of all the colors, I experience that the great sound contains all the sounds -- the big bell, the small tinkling bells, the water, the wind, the music. The sound is also the One -- the One I cannot describe, but I know it already in my head and heart. It reminds me of a place I've been before -- not on earth, but I don't know where.
Once I hear the great sound, the One, my attention is completely steady. There is no wavering, no "brain talk." There is just the One and it is sound and light and colors and love; and it is truly indescribable. Once I am immersed in the sound, I am "caught up" in it for some time.
Then the orb above me becomes larger; and a girl comes floating down on a shaft of light.
I think it must be Mary, yet she is so young, maybe 15 or 16. As I reach out to her, I notice that my hands are young again. The girl and I are the same age, growing into womanhood. Yet we are still children who, it seems, have had to grow up quickly.
I hear her say clearly, as if it is the most natural thing in the world for us to talk together:
"This is what you have been searching for..."3

    Rachel's experience is what we have all been searching for, whether we acknowledge it or not -- an experience of a vast, encompassing love that will sustain us regardless of what happens in our lives. While this experience of Divine presence can come in many forms, personal encounters with Mary, the mother of Jesus, seem to be increasing even more today than when she began appearing during times of upheaval to unlikely visionaries on hillsides and in other rural areas of Mexico and Europe. Indeed, it is often the feminine face of God that shines through and consoles us in times of our deepest personal and collective need.

    Some say that Mary brings to us an awareness that we desperately need at this time -- a nourishing spirit of self-sacrificing love that might, if embraced more widely, help to reverse the tide of hatred and bloodshed that is spilling into many regions of the world today, including our own. In support of this idea, one can point to the timing of the major apparitions: They almost always precede, or coincide with, regional or worldwide upheavals, and unprecedented opportunities. As Janice Connell says, “When the Blessed Mother appears, great things happen on earth and in heaven.”4
    An old friend of mine,' who was a member of a women’s group devoted to the Blessed Mother, once had a vision of Mary in meditation. She saw the Blessed Mother as a nurturing, protective presence enveloping the earth.

        In October, 1988, I opened my meditation with a prayer to Mother Mary to bless the children of the earth. I then had a vision of the Divine Mother. I saw her as a deep blue mass moving over the face of the Earth. I saw her reaching out with silvery-blue cords of energy, and knew that these were touching children -- the innocent and vulnerable ones of the world whose lives were being sacrificed at the expense of the self-centered consciousness and destructive activities of mankind. Then I heard the words, "Children seven years 'fore and seven years hence.”  I understood that the arms of the Mother were protecting the children of the world who are at the mercy of abusive situations -- politically or environmentally or parentally. I also saw that her protection extended to aspects of the world’s threatened ecology. I experienced her presence for most of the day afterwards, and I felt an immense sadness and compassion. (C.N. #1).

    C.N.’s vision effectively captures the spirit of love -- as well as the sense of urgency and warning -- that has come to represent the Blessed Mother’s influence to people today. Her vision also portrays the Blessed Mother as a world-encompassing force of love that reaches into the lives of innumerable people at this very moment, blending with and expressing herself through the diverse religious and mythical forms through which the world has come to know her.
    Some of the Blessed Mother’s most recent messages, through the various visionaries who have disseminated them, contain warnings that may seem incongruent with the popular conception of Mary as a messenger as Divine love.  But Mary does not typically appear to people who live in relative comfort, safely removed from the chaos of regional wars and political reprisals. To the contrary, she usually manifests in areas of religious and social instability, and her messages draw our attention to the tragedies unfolding in these places, and to the remedies that we ourselves can provide, especially through devotional practice. She reminds us of the grief that she carries for children who have no one else to care for them, and for those who are bereft of hope and faith. We cannot turn to her without waking up to much of what we’d rather forget is going on in this world. Mary calls upon us to deal now with the ways things are, not merely to dream about the way we’d like them to be; and she points the way through these troubled times to the glorious promise of new beginnings.
    Mary’s consistently stated intent is to prepare us for Christ’s coming -- or the interior spiritual equivalent thereof. She tells us that unless we engage in more diligent spiritual practice, we may succumb to the trials and turmoil that might precede Christ’s reappearance, or his Spirit’s heightened influence within us.  Along these lines, some say that Mary models for us the ideal human response to the Divine: Through emulating her, we can enter into a dynamic relationship with Christ, carrying his purpose to fruition in our lives much in the way that she graciously consented to her role in the conception and birth of Jesus. In this vein, three hundred years ago, St. Louis de Montfort prophesied that Mary’s manifestations would not only be important, but would necessarily precede the second coming of Christ:
    In the second coming of Jesus Christ, Mary has to be made known and revealed by the Holy Spirit in order that, through her, Jesus Christ may be known, loved and served.5
    While one might accept the validity of Mary’s contemporary manifestations -- and the truth of messages that she has disseminated through those who have seen her -- it is another thing altogether to experience the profound presence that the visionaries report. Most believers remain on the periphery of such events, deriving faith and hope from a vicarious participation in the visionaries’ experience of Mary’s presence. While the apparitions appear to only a few, many who have visited the apparition sites can feel her presence, even years later. In making pilgrimages to these places, believers and non-believers alike may undergo healings, or experience other inexplicable events that exert lasting effects on their lives.  Although most of us remain blind to what the visionaries see, and removed from the ecstasy they have felt, the moving stories of their encounters, and the palpable presence that surrounds the apparitions sites,  convey a faith-awakening essence that the Blessed Mother clearly intends for us to experience, as well.

    In the following pages, you will read many accounts of those who have directly experienced a presence whom they believe was Mary, the mother of Jesus. As one might expect, the majority of the recipients were raised Roman Catholic; but many of them had ceased to worship as Catholics when Mary manifested to them. Others, such as myself, are non-Catholics who became open to the Holy Mother through their own spiritual journey. Regardless of their current religious affiliations, many of the recipients have expressed a broad appreciation for other spiritual traditions.
    Just as the historic apparitions have brought Mary out of the church into the lives of ordinary people, the accounts in this book will demonstrate compellingly that the phenomenon of the Blessed Mother's presence is becoming increasingly widespread and more personal -- extending far beyond the doctrinal boundaries of the established churches and into the dreams and visions of individuals everywhere. Consequently, the reader -- regardless of prior religious persuasion -- may find himself more ready and open to have an experience that once seemed beyond the reach of most seekers.
   
The Importance of Having a Relationship with Mary
    In virtually every modern apparition, the visionaries typically receive and disseminate a brief message from Mary after every appearance.  In contrast, most of the encounters that we will consider in this book reveal a Mary who remains silent or utters only a few memorable words. Indeed, some readers may puzzle at the contrast between the relatively quiet encounters in this book and the lengthy messages that have been reported elsewhere.
     Mary’s messages give us something that we can immediately understand and use to direct our lives. Yet, well respected authorities have noted that even the most widely accepted messages from Mary -- those derived from the major historic apparitions -- “merely” reiterate the enduring spiritual truths espoused by Jesus and other scriptural sources.6 If the message is so familiar, then why do they inspire so many people? I believe that we respond to her messages not because the information is new, but because they draw us into a relationship with her.  Certainly, Mary’s messages clarify the intent of the being who manifests to the visionaries; but a relationship with her is, perhaps, a far greater treasure for us to contemplate and to seek for ourselves.  For, in knowing and relating to her ourselves, we can come to feel her promptings: We can learn what God might require of us, and how a relationship with the Blessed Mother might transform our lives. Through this inquiry, we might ourselves enjoy an enhanced capacity to commune directly with Mary.

How the Accounts Were Obtained and Treated
    For the purposes of this book, I have defined a Marian encounter as any experience in which a person encounters directly the presence of a being whom they identify as Mary, the mother of Jesus. Most of the experiences included in the following chapters occurred as waking visions during meditation or prayer, in vivid dreams, or during apparent out-of-body experiences. A few were “locutions,” in which Mary manifested to the recipient as a clear, inner voice.
    The accounts were obtained from several different sources.
    First, a couple of the contributors -- such as Rachel -- were my counseling clients, whose therapeutic work opened them to experiences of Divine presence. Others responded to word-of-mouth notices and newspaper articles announcing this project, or to a magazine article that was published about my work.7 And a few contributors answered an invitation that was included in the back of my first nationally published book.8  
    Understandably, most recipients of encounters with Christ or Mary are interested in preserving their privacy in order to avoid the kind of scrutiny and judgment that such experiences sometimes provoke in unsympathetic listeners: These experiences are simply too sacred to risk exposing them to ridicule. To respect the privacy of the contributors, therefore, I have identified them with only their initials.             

The Common Theme of Love
    In researching encounters with Mary and Jesus, I found to my amazement that one can summarize the experience of meeting them face-to-face with a single word -- love.  The love they reveal to those who witness their presence is vast and unconditional. Their love encompasses a complete knowledge of the person’s history -- including strengths, weaknesses, and otherwise “unredeemable” characteristics and behaviors. In such encounters, they rarely offer advice and hardly ever express any judgment toward the witness. Their messages are typically brief if they speak at all. Indeed, they usually remains silent except in regard to the “bigger” issues in life, such as loving more and serving more. Concerning these larger matters, they remain firmly and lovingly uncompromising, as one might expect. But they almost always leave the person with the twofold experience of being completely known and completely loved. This experience, in turn, affects each person in different ways, depending on what he or she needs at the time. Sometimes, physical healing follows the manifestation; sometimes a sense of emotional healing; and sometimes a realization of having been taught something profound and life changing.
    To assist you in appreciating the dimensions of the Marian encounter, I have grouped the encounters according to discernible themes that unfold in the course of the experience. In addition, I have ventured a perspective on the aim or purpose that the encounter serves in the recipient’s life. While this approach runs the risk of overly inserting my own views, I believe it may help you examine the deeper purpose and practical relevance of such spiritual encounters.

Who is it, really?
    The question, Is it really Mary? will occur even to the most ardent believers as they read these accounts. For some, it will be hard to believe that these experiences have anything to do with a woman who lived and died two thousand years ago.  It is difficult enough for some of us to accept that Jesus appears to individuals today; but, at least his promises to manifest himself are clearly stated and reiterated in the Gospel of John.

        I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you...
        He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.    (John 14: 18&21)
 
    Clearly, the scriptures do not lay the same foundation for an ongoing relationship with Mary. She remained largely silent in the scriptural record: She made no promises to commune with us and left us very little through which we can know her as she was then. For better or worse, we must come to know the woman who was “the first of the believers of the new covenant”9 through the growing body of experiences with her, including -- if we are so fortunate -- our own. Instead of seeing this as limiting, we might regard it as an opportunity to embark on a personal quest to behold the Blessed Mother through our own experiences. Given the abundant devotional writings about Mary over the course of Christianity’s history, and her availability as a spiritual presence, we can see that Mary is as knowable as the heart is open to her.        Of course, any private spiritual experience bears the imprint of the visionary’s cultural heritage, beliefs and expectations, and one cannot easily subtract out these conditioning factors from the encounter. The Holy Mother does not seem to hold this against us, and seems willing to adapt her appearance to the person and context of her manifestation.
    For instance, when the archangel Michael appeared to the four girls in Garabandal, Spain, he eventually announced that Mary would appear to them as our Lady of Mt. Carmel -- one of many familiar ways that Mary has been depicted in the Catholic tradition.  In essence, the angel implied that the form of Mary’s appearance was only one of many possible ways that she could manifest to them.  Another apparition of Mary appeared over a period of several years to a group of young people in the St. Maria Goretti Church in Scottsdale, Arizona. When she manifested, she appeared to several young people at the same time; but she appeared differently to each one. 10 As Fr. Faricy observed,

        In each of her comings, Mary appears in such a way that the people to whom she comes can relate to her. To black people she is black. To Koreans she looks Korean...She comes as their Mother because that is what she is. Ours, too.11     

    Rather than considering the individual variations as distortions, we can treat the myriad of ways in which individuals experience the Blessed Mother as partial but invaluable information about a being who, ultimately, can only be known through the eyes and hearts of human visionaries, anyway.    
    With this in mind, let us consider the notion that by appreciating the various forms in which the Blessed Mother manifests to us, we may enter more deeply into a personal relationship with God, and gain knowledge of the unifying spirit that expresses itself in a myriad of forms. By suspending our need to separate subjective from objective -- and by feeling its presence -- we may draw closer than ever to the grace-filled being who impels us onward, and forever assists us on our journey.
    In practice, of course, as Fr. Pelletier says, “the degree of our devotion to Mary will be a matter of discerning the authentic promptings of the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit will attract some people to honor and pray to angels, others to this or that saint. And so, too, it is in regard to Mary.“12  But, as he goes on to say, “We must not be afraid of loving Mary too much.” C. S. Lewis agreed that it is far more important to worship God in whatever form appeals to us than it is to be offended by its degree of personhood. As he once wrote, “What soul has ever perished by believing that God the Father has a beard?”13
    Or, for that matter, a mother's touch.