May and June and I take our mother’s Catholicism and mix in our own ingredients. I’m not sure what you call it, but it suits us.
August explains to Lily the origin of the Daughters of Mary, the female community that August leads. The Daughters of Mary do not represent a conventional religion: No priest or minister leads their services, and they do not follow a special text. Rather, the Daughters of Mary operates as a social club founded on shared history, culture, and religion of black women, a club in which the women share their stories and support one another. The Daughters of Mary exemplify an important theme in the novel: the importance of having spirituality in one’s life, no matter where that spirituality comes from.
Because when they looked at her, it occurred to them for the first time in their lives that what’s divine can come in dark skin. You see, everybody needs a God who looks like them, Lily.
After Lily asks August why she puts the Black Madonna on the labels for her honey, August replies. August’s response provides Lily with a very important lesson in spiritual identity. If black women can’t see themselves in the idols and representations of their religion, then they risk being disconnected from their own spirituality. With the Black Madonna labels, August makes an important symbolic statement to her feminine community that God looks like them and that she dwells inside them.
You will stand there and think, I am the center of the universe, where everything is sung to life.
Toward the end of the novel, Lily reflects on what she learned as a caretaker of bees. Lily assigns a mythic importance to beehives, likening a cluster of beehives to “the eighth wonder of the world.” Lily believes the driving, repetitive hum of the hives will draw your heart in to be swallowed up by its overpowering grandeur. Like many descriptions of spiritual experiences throughout literature and history, Lily describes a kind of “loss of self” that happens in spiritual experiences, brought forth by these dense types of vibrations of nature.
Our Lady is not some magical being out there somewhere, like a fairy godmother. . . . She’s something inside of you.
One of the main lessons August tries to teach Lily is the importance of finding spirituality inside yourself. Here, August gives Lily her final lesson. August explains that the Black Madonna, Jesus Christ, or any other representation of God is not a magical being that exists outside the self to be “obtained.” The Black Madonna exists inside the self as well as throughout all of nature. In the end, August becomes a spiritual mother to Lily, something much larger than just a stand-in or replacement for Lily’s dead mother.
And when you get down to it, Lily, that’s the only purpose grand enough for a human life. Not just to love—but to persist in love.
August teaches Lily that a life guided by love represents the grandest kind of life one can live. August further defines love as the Black Madonna, for love is ultimately what the Black Madonna represents. Love streams through human life and nature. August urges Lily to find love and ground herself in life. In the novel, this larger, more encompassing sense of spirituality is continually played against narrower religious versions, which especially prevailed in the South during the time of the story.