The History of the Heart of Mary Prayer Circle
The Heart of Mary Prayer Circle first gathered as an interfaith, interracial group of three women in December 2017. We were two Christians and a Muslim woman, two African Americans and a white woman, each of us leaders in our faith traditions and communities.
We met weekly on Sunday evenings for the month of December 2017, which is recognized as Advent Season on the Christian calendar. Together, we focused our prayerful attention on the most vulnerable citizens in our city and in our world: our children, and the still tender, vulnerable girls living bravely inside us in an increasingly frightening word. This tiny circle of women praying and sharing from across lines of faith and race birthed a powerful sisterhood… and brought forth a new infant entity called The Family Spirit Center.
The impulse to gather began over a year before in Autumn of 2016, when Mother Mary surprised me (Angela) by showing up with shocking clarity in my otherwise normal time of prayer. He presence was the most nurturing, strong and tender presence I had ever felt; I knew instantly that this presence was what I and we in our hurting world most ached for.
As surprising to me as the strength and clarity of her presence was the fact that she came to me in prayer at all. Born and bred a protestant Christian, I never even considered prayer that would included Mary, the mother of Jesus. I might have even thought this idolatrous! But I knew then that Mary was coming for me, perhaps for all of us, to offer a mother’s love for healing as no human mother could possibly give.
That began my learning about how far and wide is Mother Mary’s reach. I did not know before then that through the centuries, Christians, Muslims, and people of no faith and every faith had come to revere Mother Mary…. A young, poor, Jewish woman who did what she knew to do when she became unexpectedly pregnant in an unknown land: she prayed in the way of her ancestors. If what I experience as her whispers in my heart are in fact those of Mary, I would say she has never stopped praying from and for the heart of every woman, every mother, every parent, every person who has ever dared to love a vulnerable child in our vulnerable world.
In November 2016, shortly after the results of the presidential election that year, I began painting images of Mother Mary simply because I could not not continue to conger her face and the feeling of her nurturing, powerful presence. It was how I continued to survive, loving myself and my child as bravely as I could in an increasingly frightening family and world situation.
I soon discovered a circle of women who had a deep tradition of painting Mother Mary together. I knew I needed to join them in their year-long course for 2017, and I asked my parents and family members to pool money for my birthday in January 2017 so that I could attend. The painter who holds the Red Thread painting collective is none other than the Bay Area’s own Maestra Shiloh, a friend of friends and beloved by many people I already knew and admired. I painted in her circle for a year, though they never knew how important their company was for me because I had so many technical difficulties I only rarely managed to share my work with them electronically.
In Spring of 2017, Mother Mary visited me again in prayer, this time with a message that felt especially clear: she was planting her heart in a new way in the Bay Area. On sheer whim, I googled “Heart of Mary” and discovered that there was a new East Bay women’s mosque called Qal’bu Maryam, Arabic for “Heart of Mary.” I was stunned to discover this, and felt it was confirmation of what I had “heard” in prayer.
What I did not know then was that the founder of the Qal’bu Maryam, Rabia Keeble, had graduated several years after I did from my own seminary, Starr King School for Ministry. I had not visited Starr King for nearly ten years when in November 2017, following a “heart nudge” (I assumed from Mother Mary), I stepped through the doors of my alma mater to request the use of the school’s chapel for Advent 2017. I discovered then that the Qal’bu Maryam had been having their services at Starr King for the last several months. Mother Mary had led me there to request the use of the school’s chapel to host an interfaith/interspiritual prayer circle for the season of Advent 2017.
When indeed we gathered for Advent prayer, the founder of Qal’bu Maryam, Rabia Keeble, was one of the three of us who became the original “triad of Sisters in Mary,” who gathered to pray for Advent 2017, ushering in the new life Mary was incubating in and through each of us and beyond. The third “sister in Mary” was Minister Ursula McClure, of City of Refuge UCC, my colleague, friend, and mentee, and longtime beloved friend of my husband, Chaplain Niels Teunis.
My husband Niels, who behind the scenes in every part of this story, made it also possible through his care of my child and utter love, devotion, and faith in me. He was and is my Joseph, and a spiritual giant in his own right.
May Mother Mary make use of the prayers of all of our hearts, now and through all time, to bring nourishment, nurturing, and justice for all children, in us, of us, before us, around us, and yet to come.
Amen and Blessed Be.