August 30, 2009

What feeds your soul?

Posted in feminine soul, Goddess, images of the Goddess, Spiritual Renewal at 2:39 am by LadySophie

I have finished coursework in Leadership Studies, but feel like I could use another three years to read all the additional leadership literature out there. I took comps two weeks ago and now get to wait…for the results. I had prepared my mind before I headed back for my test. I knew it would be hard to switch gears – having nothing to really study anymore. But it has been harder than I thought.

For a few days, I was restless and irritated. I tried to study for lit review but was not productive. All I felt was exhausted. I napped everyday and still wanted to sleep at night. I realized I could use the time to minister to my own soul. My feminine soul to be more specific.

I had a glimpse of her in my mind. She was a runner in a race and was worn out. She had kept up for the race, but she was done. Her head was down and she needed to rest. She was toned and in good shape – she had been a faithful companion. But now she needed something from me. Could I just sit and listen? When was the last time I did something that fed my soul?

What feeds your soul? I thought about lots of things that feed my feminine soul. A visit to the Getty museum, exploring the coast for unexpected beauty, a massage, dancing…chocolate ice cream. So that is what I will do…while I wait.

Interestingly, I had another image of my feminine soul almost a year ago. She was a slave, in chains, at the mercy of the task master. She was malnourished, neglected and in torment. I was struck by the contrast of the two images. Now, she may be tired, but she is powerful and strong. She grew from a slave to a powerful running partner. Lady Wisdom says “I am understanding, power is mine” (Prov 8:14). Find out what feeds your feminine soul – find that deep understanding and power. I would love to hear your comments about what you discover.

For more about the feminine soul – see Janet Davis’ book, The Feminine Soul: Surprising Ways the Bible Speaks to Women (2006).

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August 26, 2009

Recollections of a Catholic Girl-Womanhood

Posted in Faith Transformations tagged , , , , at 8:34 am by Gina Messina

Catholicism was a major part of my upbringing.  My entire family is Sicilian/Italian and from the “Old Country,” I was a first generation American; being Catholic was simply who we were.  I received the Catholic sacraments, attended Catholic schools, including graduate school, and was married in the Catholic Church.  When I was a child, being Catholic gave me a sense of pride.  I was mesmerized by the rituals and regularly had theological conversations with my father about why Easter was the more important holiday.  I felt very connected to the Catholic community and spent much time wondering why anyone would not be Catholic.  However, once I reached school age, everything began to change and slowly but surely I started to question everything I had been taught.

My brother, sister and I attended Catholic school and started learning about the Catholic faith in school in the first grade.  After my first week of school I came home terrified believing that Satan would burn our home down because we were good Catholics.  I still wonder why a teacher would be discussing concepts like this with first graders, but they did and I was traumatized.  I started refusing to get out of the car each morning because I was fearful of what I might learn next, I nearly failed the first grade because I had so many absences.

During this time it was still acceptable for the nuns to hit their students.  While we had some kind and compassionate teachers, we had several nuns who can only be described as being cruel.  My poor brother vomited every morning of his second grade year because he was so terrified of his teacher. I often wondered why the nuns did not have to follow the rules of the Church like I did, I also wondered if they acknowledged hitting us as a sin when they went to confession.

Growing up I distinctly remember thinking about the concept of the Trinity, acknowledging that it did not make sense, and then accepting that it was not my place to question.  I thought about faith quite frequently and what exactly that word meant, and for me it implied that I should always accept what I was told and never think about anything outside of it.  That line of thought worked for a while, but once I made my First Confession, I started to have questions.  By the time I was twelve I started to make stances.

In the Catholic tradition, you must confess your sins with a priest before receiving Communion.  Confession was a ritual that I found incredibly problematic. Why should I confess my sins to a man, priest or not, who was clearly also a sinner?  Why could I not simply keep my sins between me and God?  Confessing to God made much more sense to me and because of that I refused to go to Confession.  At the age of thirteen I was becoming a rebel in the Church. 

Receiving the Eucharist in the Catholic Church also became a major struggle for me.  My parents divorced when I was twelve and were refused Communion from that point on, I was devastated.  I felt that the Church had labeled my parents sinners and refused them the opportunity to be nourished spiritually and develop a closer relationship with God.  How could I possibly participate in this sacrament when my parents were being so unfairly denied?  After the divorce, our church attendance was scattered and did not spend as much time thinking about how I felt that our family had been rejected by the church or whether or not I should go to communion.

Although it felt as if my family’s relationship with the church changed following the divorce, my father still referred to himself as a strict Catholic and demanded that we maintain our Catholic identity and be married in the Church as adults; after all, a marriage would not be valid had it occurred in any other fashion.  My brother, much braver than I, chose to be married outside of the Church and had the wedding performed by his World Religions professor.  He and his wife had chosen prayers from different traditions and crafted an incredibly unique and beautiful ceremony. Rather than being appreciated for its spirituality and celebration of the bride and groom’s relationship, it was the gossip of our family for quite some time.      

I was married in the Catholic Church three weeks shy of my twenty-sixth birthday.  Naturally, we had to attend the Pre-Cana course before receiving permission to marry. I was shocked when I was told by the priest that it was expected by the Church that I quit my job and stay home to have children immediately, anything less would be frowned upon.  The work I was doing as an advocate for rape and domestic violence survivors was not nearly as important as bearing children to bring up in the faith.  On our wedding day, as my husband and I received the sacrament of marriage in the Catholic Church, a marriage that of course would be recognized in the eyes of God, my husband was denied the right to receive the Eucharist.  He had been baptized a Lutheran and therefore was not a welcomed member of the Catholic community. 

It is interesting to note that the priest who was supposed to marry us did not because he had committed suicide after two children he had molested came forward.  While the Church was very concerned with whether or not I was going to work or have children and that my husband not receive the Eucharist because of his Lutheran background, our pastor was sexually abusing children. 

Following our wedding, because I felt strongly that the Church clearly did not practice what it preached, repeatedly discriminating against its members and labeling them as it chose, I decided to no longer attend mass or receive the Eucharist.  With that action I let go of part of my cultural identity and wondered if I was distancing or perhaps even severing my relationship with God.  Regardless, I had to stand firm and not participate in a system that seemed broken. 

There were so many reasons I felt that I just could no longer be proud of being Catholic; the Church’s refusal to ordain women, its patriarchal structure, condemnation of the use of birth control, the sex abuse scandal, the new ultra conservative Pope Benedict XVI, and my list continues.  I began to question my faith and eventually felt comfortable calling myself an agnostic at best, but likely an atheist.  If truly there was a God, why is there so much evil in the world?  How could God stand by and watch the brutality, oppression, poverty, and death that transpired continuously?  I took my faith and put it in myself and believed that if I wanted to see change in the world I needed to act responsibly and be part of the process rather than saying prayers that fell on deaf ears.

 I did not receive the Eucharist again until my Great Uncle Stash’s funeral in April, 2007.  I attended the Catholic service and as I stood watching the lines for Communion form, I wondered if I could again partake in this ritual; if I could celebrate the life of Uncle Stash and commune in his honor.  It was at that moment that I decided that I did not have to abide by the rules of the Catholic Church.  It did not matter that I had not been to confession in more than ten years nor did it matter that the Church said that my parents and my husband could not participate in the ritual.  At that moment the Church had no authority over me and I received the Eucharist. I began to heal my relationship with God, not through the Catholic Church, but through my own agency. 

Agency to leave the Church and then reclaim a spiritual life on my terms is what has been my saving grace.  Coming to California gave me the freedom to explore Christianity outside of Catholicism and to explore spirituality outside Christianity.  I am still fumbling around trying to figure out exactly what spirituality in my life is.  I have found the Goddess tradition to be very redemptive in my personal struggles and honestly feel that I am in prayer when I am listening to a good DMB song.   I find that living in the question and continuously exploring my beliefs is where I need to be.  My graduate school experience and the community of women I have found here has offered me a greater spiritual awareness than I ever had in the years I belonged to the Catholic Church.  I feel that I am finally in a place where I can grow and evolve and although I still sometimes question my identity as Catholic, I know that I have an incredible spiritual journey ahead of me.

August 24, 2009

The Dawn and the Act of Becoming

Posted in journeys of the soul at 5:48 am by Eostre

I am (almost) the youngest member of our group. I came directly to grad school from undergrad, and as such I still feel myself to be in a very transitory state.

I spent most of my life defined in certain roles. I was always the liberal one, the feminist, the outspoken girl. This was my niche in the Evangelical Christian world I grew up in. I spent most of my life in the only red area of a very blue state, and only upon leaving it have I been able to evaluate how that shaped my life.

But I should start at the beginning. I am the youngest of four girls, and I grew up in a rural area. I lived in the same house my entire life, moving for the first time when I moved into the dorms at my Christian Liberal Arts school at the age of 18 (and then only 30 minutes from my parents). Up until that point I went to public school, but most of my friends were church friends, and most of my life was spent among people with similar beliefs. I considered myself very progressive, very liberal, because I was more progressive and liberal than the people I surrounded myself with. It didn’t take much.

I was one of only a few women in the Theology program at my university, and I once again found myself self-tokenizing, fulfilling the niche I had been in my entire life. I was lucky to have a professor who pushed me to go beyond the bounds that I, and others, had constructed for me. If he hadn’t, it is very likely that I would have ended up at Fuller Theological Seminary or a similar school, still acting out my part, and still thinking I was free of the bindings and stereotypes I had grown up with (and unwittingly internalized).

No, it was thanks to my professor that I applied to a school like Claremont Graduate, and by some twist of fate, I got accepted. You see, I am smart. I’m not bragging, and I don’t mean to sound puffed up. But this has it’s pitfalls, too. While my peers were learning the value of hard work and going the extra mile in regards to school work, I was skating by. I never really imbibed the work ethic needed for higher education, and that is a lack that I am still struggling to fill. All this to say that my grades have never been what they should be, and they probably never will. So how I got accepted to CGU I will never know, but I am thankful daily that I did.

You see, coming to a non-religious school and suddenly being surrounded by people at least as progressive (usually more so) than myself made me face the role I had been playing for so long, and see it for what it was: a false construct that I accepted as real. From the first day of classes I have been breaking down, brick by brick, that identity, and trying to discover just who I am, when all of those ideas and expectations are stripped away.

I don’t quite know, yet. My soul feels tender and sensitive, like it has just recently had a cast removed, and every sensation is heightened. I am so lucky to have a group of amazing women around me as I take the first steps toward this new understanding. Our group came together seemingly at random, but I personally think it was predestined. It is too good to not have been destiny, at least somewhat.

So who am I now? Eostre, the maiden, Goddess of the Dawn and new beginnings. Beyond that, well, I guess we will find out. Stay tuned.

August 16, 2009

The Christianities I’ve Lived

Posted in Faith Transformations, feminist theology, Relationships, religion, Soul tagged , , , , , at 9:54 pm by Lakshmi (LaChelle)

Since 6th grade, I have grown up in the protestant evangelical charismatic movement. For all of you who don’t know, or need to be reminded of what that means, well, for me at least it included the following: mission trips, FIRE (which was a 6 month period of no television, no music or reading not Christian-focused, and weekly meetings), Bible Quiz, youth church on Wednesday nights, Sunday morning and night services (where the night service was more Holy Spirit filled and might go on until who knew when), raising hands and falling slain in the spirit, speaking in tongues, dancing and waving flags around or whatever you wanted to do during praise time in the church, sorrowful deep weeping confessions, loving Jesus more than anything, revivals, big televangelists coming as visiting preachers, MY preacher on television, prosperity preaching (preachers with big beautiful white houses and large Washington D.C sized gated lawns), the Left Behind books, Christian romance, praying and telling other people about Jesus, speaking about abstinence at Youth Leadership Conference, listening to on the radio and singing at school talent shows CCM (Christian Contemporary Music), buying clothing at Mardel Christian bookstore, knowing that it was creation and not evolution that caused the world that breathed God, understanding the devil was a real entity that wanted to bring you down and especially would be after you the more you belonged to Jesus, being awed and terrified of my literal reading of Revelation, and reading the Bible everyday and everywhere, and praying/talking to God as much as I could.

Christianity, in some ways, is a culture with language and dress and behavior, definitely a worldview, of its own. Like a person from any country will have adopted and understand the codes of her country’s culture/society, the Christian culture has been inside of me, and I have not and will not probably reject it. That said, where I am at now in my late 20s is a very different place than I was ages 12-18. How?

UNDERGRAD: I went to a private Christian church that allowed my evangelism to pause since everyone around me was already a Christian (scotch-taping the “footprints” poem to the inside of bathroom stalls would be “sweet” and not subversive). And the conservatism of the school (women were not really allowed a leadership role, Christian music was actually of the devil) allowed me to see myself not as self-righteously more conservative/pure/godly (I just couldn’t be!) than those around me, but rather as more liberal. Which in a way, pushed me to a certain freedom to explore that liberality. Also, (thank godde), my professors were progressive Christians. They challenged me to question the assumed male gender of “god” and asked me to respond to the parallels between the stories from the Bible I had known to be sacred and absolute and the stories from classical Greek and Roman and even earlier mythologies; they allowed me to see evolution and sexuality as something other than a threat to my faith. And just being in college in general helped me realize that there were so many ideas out there and so much knowledge I didn’t know, uncertainties that were real.

GRAD SCHOOL: I moved from the midwest to the east coast and came into contact with people very different than me. My Christian undergrad was a safe place to start wandering around in possibilities because I knew that my professors and the people around me were exploring and they were so strong in their faith. In graduate school, I did not have any Christians around me. I was forced to look at people of different religions and views or no religion at all and see them as okay people, even good (whatever that meant), even more moral than I. Which was a new idea, because I had been taught growing up that it was religion, the Christian religion specifically, which made people moral. I took an interest, via my feminist classes, in feminist theology (I hadn’t even known there was such a field), and started to let myself be critical of my faith tradition, understanding that the sacred text was also a historical text in the sense that it was created in a specific time and has been used for specific reasons not necessarily inclusive or liberating for everyone. Graduate school was a rich time of awakenings and explorations, and so it was also a gorgeous time of fear and depression too. But it was something I needed to go through.

MY RETURN TO UNDERGRAD: But this time as a professor. And as a professor, I was to integrate faith and learning, which I enjoyed doing, especially since Christianity had started to become so nuanced for me. I tried out serious theological issues with my students and encouraged them to consider alternatives to what they had thoughtlessly assumed previously. During my time there (about two years), I realized that I wanted to completely focus on religion, but this time, from a feminist standpoint.

NOW, NEW GRAD SCHOOL: So here I am, in a Women’s Studies and Religion program, with girls and professors who are all together considering the endless possibilities of what godde, spirituality, Jesus, and our relationship to other faiths and people mean. I love this exploration, and it feels good and safe and right. And I want to continue to see where it leads. My theology now is more defined by social justice and Jesus not as one who wants to be worshiped, but as one who gave up being God for a moment to show us that idolatrous worship was not what he wanted. He demonstrated the message of liberation for the impoverished, for women, for all who are oppressed. And my theology is also pluralistic, because I feel, even though Christianity is the right path for me, other faiths carry a similar message. Evangelism is no longer a part of my Christian faith. That is just how it is, and I’m sorry if you don’t agree with it or feel that it is wayward or something. But evangelism does not feel ethical for me personally.