Our Lady of Lourdes Church sits at the foot of Haddon Hill by Lake Merritt. Haddon Hill is said to be where the first Mass in the Bay area was celebrated, on 27 March 1772, and a nicer spot couldn’t be found. As I admire this building, what strikes me is the timeless vision that it memorializes. The sacred Virgin appeared in 1858 to a French girl in an underground spring, the grotto of Lourdes. Such a thing is in keeping with the most ancient chthonic traditions of Europe, traditions that may date back to the Neandertals.
At about the same time, in 1859, Darwin published On the Origin of Species, laying out a theory of life that did not need the divine. The notion of a godless cosmos was in the wind at that time. But we demand a personal link with the cosmos, and for many that link is Our Lady of the ground, overseer of our births and deaths.
My own upbringing disposes me to forge my own personal link to the universal cycle. My Lady is the Earth, who brings us forth and takes us back in a marvelous sustainable cycle. My views are closely aligned with how Walt Whitman responded to the same Earth in 1860:
Now I am terrified at the Earth! it is that calm and patient,
It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions,
It turns harmless and stainless on its axis, with such endless successions of diseased corpses,
It distils such exquisite winds out of such infused fetor,
It renews, with such unwitting looks, its prodigal, annual, sumptuous crops,
It gives such divine materials to men, and accepts such leavings from them at last.
This is an entry in The Accretionary Wedge #8, Earth Day