December 19, 2009

Female Language and Imagery of the Divine

Posted in feminist theology, God, God Language, Goddess, images of God, images of the Goddess, Mother God, names of God, Thealogy tagged , , , at 4:20 am by Gina Messina

According to Carol Christ, “If we do not mean that God is male when we use masculine pronouns and imagery, then why should there be any objections to using female imagery and pronouns as well?” What an important question. I was raised using only male language when talking about God and spent my childhood through my early college years (which I am embarrassed to admit!) believing that God was a man. As studying religion and theology has shaped my life, I decided that gender neutral language when talking about God was the right way to approach this issue. For quite some time I used the term“divine” to talk about God. It made sense to me. But then I began reading Carol Christ and some of her work has greatly affected my views. In particular, she argues that we must use female language to talk about the divine in order to have positive female imagery of the divine. Right now we are inundated with male language, we must balance that out. And so I decided that I must use female language to talk about the divine. To be honest, I feel comforted by talking about the divine as woman, as mother. In order to further develop my own imagery of the divine as woman I wrote a prayer that I wanted to share. It was a great exercise for me to describe the qualities I feel the divine possesses and it allowed me to feel a closer connection to Goddess Mother.

Prayer to Goddess Mother

Great Goddess Mother
Who is Immanent in All Things
Spiraling Life into Being
And Communicating through Nature
She Who is Compassionate and Merciful
Nurturing our Spirit
Her Benevolence felt Strongly
And Encountered through Humanity
She Who is Guardian
Cradling us with Affection
Her Protection Sensed
And Her Love a Source of Haven
She Who is Sustainer
Nourishing our Lives
She Who is Vivifier
Cultivating our Hearts
Great Goddess Mother
Guide Me to Have Faith in Your Wisdom
To Share Your Gentle Compassion
And to be Sincere in Spirit and Heart

October 15, 2009

Jesus was not white, and other reflections

Posted in God, Goddess, Jesus, religion, Soul, Spirituality at 4:29 am by Eostre

Growing up in the Evangelical Church, we knew who Jesus was, we had pictures of him! Jesus was white, quasi-attractive, and full of good ol’ Amerijesus playing keep awaycan pride (our Church had an American flag right next to cross, behind the pulpit).  And since, as we all know (and out Sunday School teachers showed us on felt boards every week) Jesus was more than just a man, he was GOD, the implications were clear. Jesus was just like us! And more than that, he might have lived in Ancient Israel, but apart from that small point, he was American!

Unfortunately, this Jesus was created out of whole cloth by the American Church and fed to little minds every week by well meaning (but maliciously misinformed) adults. I don’t know which would be worse, a concerted effort to do away with the Jesus of the Bible and replace him with this permissive, smiling, white man, or blinding ignorance. Either way, irreparable damage has been done to generations of Christian children, who grew up to be Christian adults who then went on to perpetuate the lie.

As I became aware of the glaring inconsistencies in what the Bible actually said and what was presented in Christian media, I was appalled. The lie is so widespread and so ingrained in Christian (and Western) culture, that there seems to be no way to counter it.  Suddenly, White Jesus was everywhere I looked. I couldn’t escape his bland, permissive gaze. Christian bookstore’s send me spiraling into depression.

So what do I do with this? How do I deal with this tangled, snarled knot of misconceptions and angst? I tried declaiming to anyone who would listen that Jesus probably looked more like Osama Bin Laden than Brad Pitt, but I soon discovered that it was a fruitless exercise. The lie was too prevalent, too ingrained in our collective consciousness.

So I gave up. Not completely, of course, I’ll still pull out the soap-box given the opportunity, but I can’t let it consume me anymore. I can’t fight the White Jesus, but he has ruined God personifications for me. I can’t try to imagine a human God without spiraling back down into the angst, so I have had to find a different way of imagining God. It wasn’t easy, and it still isn’t well defined, but now, when I care to, I imagine God as a sort of amorphous cloud that can envelope me in warmth, like laying on the grass in the sunshine when it’s not too hot, but just right, and you can see the patterns of the shadows of the leaves on your eyelids when you close your eyes. And all I want to do is curl up and rest. God, for me, now, is a feeling. God is safety and comfort and warmth, all encompassing and incorporeal, no gender, no race, God is both the sunlight that warms my face, the grass that cushions me, and the clean scent of rain that lulls me to rest. Simple? Yes. Uncomplicated? No.

October 12, 2009

The Mormon Goddess

Posted in feminism, Goddess tagged , , at 6:34 am by Gaia

Feathered Goddess by Emily Balivet

Feathered Goddess by Emily Balivet

One of the best things about being a Mormon woman is the fact that we do believe in a divine feminine, a Heavenly Mother.  This sets Mormons apart in the Christian tradition.

Unfortunately, however, our belief in God the Mother is a double edged sword, since we are instructed by our (male) leaders to not pray to Her. She is never talked about as having any kind of relationship with Her children on earth. She is never talked about at all, really. To mention Her in church is to draw worried looks. She is too sacred, Mormons surmise, to even mention.

God the Mother’s invisibility is a major problem for Mormon feminists. Is it better to have a feminine divine that won’t or can’t have a relationship with Her children, or is it better to not have one at all?

Despite the obvious problems and dangers with Her current status in the Church, I fall on the side of being happy we have Her. And because she is such a mystery, I can project on to Her all that I want her to be.

After reading an article on the feminine divine by Carol Christ, I was inspired to use some of Christ’s words and images to imagine my Goddess, my Mother. She is purposefully characterized against traditional, static, colorless Christian conceptions of divinity.

The Goddess
Her eyes the green of growth,
Her robe the red of blood,
Her hair the black of night.

She is earth, air, fire, and water.
Waxing and waning,
She is the power of transformation and change,
the elements of life.

Patroness of prophecy, inspiration and power,
She is wisdom, independence, personal strength, and self.
Passion and emotion emanate,
As she savors imagination, creativity, and experimentation.

A beneficent and autonomous power,
She gives just law, heals, writes and takes action.

As giver and nurturer of life
Dispenser of wholeness and happiness,
healing love and service to all
She is Goddess.

October 9, 2009

Coming to Know Goddess Mother

Posted in Catholic, feminism, feminist theology, God, Goddess, Relationships, religion, Spirituality, Thealogy, Theology at 6:07 am by Gina Messina

Goddess Mother

Goddess Mother

Growing up in the Catholic Church I always believed God was a man.  God was always spoken of as male, and although Catholic teaching states that God is genderless, as a child growing up in the Church I never knew this.  No one ever told me that God was genderless; I only heard over and over again God referred to as Father, him, he, himself, etc.  There was never gender neutral language, there certainly was never female language.  Why would I have thought any different? 

I was also very confused by God’s attributes.  Although I heard that God was benevolent, I also heard that God punished.  I found it very distressing that God had stricken Moses dead one step outside of the Promised Land.  I was also troubled by God allowing Satan to torment Job.  However, what garnered my attention most was the crucifixion of Jesus.  Why was such a violent and horrific death of the Son of God the only acceptable sacrifice, the only way to redeem humanity? These actions seemed cruel and led me to question God’s benevolence; I feared God.

I was in college the first time I was told that God could be imaged as a woman; it was a shocking revelation.  I had always pictured God as a man, looking perhaps a lot like what I had been told Jesus looked like (what I term the “Hollywood Jesus;” blond hair, blue eyes, nothing what the historical Jesus looked like).  What would a female God look like?  If God could be imaged female, would God’s attributes be different?  Since that time I have spent a great deal of time wondering who God is.  How should God be imaged?  What is an appropriate name for God?  What are God’s characteristics? Would a female God have demanded a blood sacrifice?

While it has taken quite a bit of time and while I am certain my thoughts will continue to evolve, I have come to know God in a very different way.  For me, God is no longer male and no longer vengeful.   Instead I have re-imaged God as Goddess Mother and Goddess Mother possesses attributes that allow me to have a loving relationship with her, a relationship I had not been able to develop in the past.   

I no longer feel disconnected and fearful of God.  Rather, I encounter Mother Goddess daily through my interactions with others and my experiences with nature.  I encounter her through the support and friendship I share with the women of this blog and through my husband’s loving embrace.  I experience the Goddess in the sun that warms me and in the water that quenches my thirst.  She is loving, nurturing, sustaining and continually present.  Although there were times that I felt lost and did not know who Goddess Mother was, I know now that I was never a stranger to her.

September 18, 2009

Finding the Goddess at a Dave Matthews Band Concert

Posted in feminism, Goddess, music, Spirituality at 7:24 am by Gina Messina

  Dave Matthews in concert

For quite some time it is fair to say that spirituality was missing in my life.  I always had questions about God and wondered what spirituality was.  Although I had gone to (Catholic) mass, prayed and focused on developing theologically from a very early age, I never truly had a spiritual experience.  I did not understand the point of prayer, if God didn’t need my prayers, then why I should I pray?  They certainly did not bring me any comfort, instead prayer and mass felt like chores that I had to do in order to make my way to heaven.  Didn’t any of my other deeds count?

By the time I had begun my MA program in Religious Studies, I was an “in the closet” atheist.  Attending a Jesuit University I was quiet about how my religious views had changed as a result of my research.  It was during this time that my love affair with the music of the Dave Matthews Band began.  I had always been aware of DMB’s music and really liked what had been released for air play but did not own any CDs and rarely spent time listening to any music.  Occasionally I would turn on the radio in my car when I was not rehearsing a presentation, reviewing concepts from material I had read for class, or talking on my cell phone and using my drive time as my only time to catch up with family drama and friends.  Other than that no music, much less the music of DMB influenced my life in any way.

It was my husband who first paid attention to DMB and insisted that I attend a concert with him during a trip to Boston at Fenway Park.  I agreed and while I would like to say that it was the best experience of my life, my husband and I had what was probably the biggest fight of our entire marriage that night (over absolutely nothing, by the way) and it left us with a memory that was soured. 

However, it was at that concert that I remembered how much I liked the unique sound of DMB and appreciated the meaning behind some of its songs.  Following our trip I kept a CD in my car and started to really analyze the music.  About a month later we attended a second DMB concert at home in Cleveland and it was truly a phenomenal experience.  My husband and I strongly connected over the music and I felt inspired by its overall message.  Going to DMB concerts became a spiritual event for us to share that offered a transcendent experience of holy community.  What I had been missing in church and did not feel fulfilled in with prayer I found in a concert with a band that promotes social justice through their music. 

It was DMB’s cover of the song “The Maker” that first allowed me to reestablish a connection with the divine.  I experienced the song itself as a prayer, feeling truly in communication with the divine when I listened to and felt the meaning of its lyrics.  When I had lost my mom to domestic violence, it was the song “Grey Street” that allowed me to experience the suffering she had endured during her abusive relationship.  The songs “Stay or Leave” and “Sister” described my devastation and grief over her loss.  Although it may sound odd to say, the music of DMB is what carried me through my grief process for what was likely the biggest loss I will ever experience. 

This past week my husband and I attended the DMB concert at the Greek Theater in L.A.  Of course we had been looking forward to the show for months and were excited for our yearly dose of spirituality inspired by music and community that we have found nowhere else.   The concert opened with “Don’t Drink the Water,” a song that describes the injustice experienced by the American Indians at the hands of the colonizers.  It was a strong and powerful opening, but I was surprised when the next song they played was “Stay or Leave.” I was overcome with emotion and openly wept as I felt a strong sense of accompaniment in my grief and loss.  Later they played “Grey Street” and “Sister;” I was surprised that of the many songs to choose from, including those from their new album, somehow, those that were most significant and comforting to me through such a difficult time were being performed all in the same night.  I felt my mother with me; I sensed her love in a way I had not experienced since her death.

At the close of the show, the band played a song I had never heard live before; in fact, it is a song that is very rarely performed, “The Maker.”  My husband was as stunned as I was; knowing the importance this particular song had for me, he leaned over and held me close as we experienced the melodic prayer together.  It was the perfect way to end the evening. 

For me, it has always been impossible to experience the divine in patriarchal mass and prayer, I felt stifled and unable to achieve a sense of spirituality throughout my time in the Catholic Church.  I was unable to fit into a religious mold that was dictated by structures I believe to be abusive.  Although I struggled for some time and even felt lost, I realize now that I have never been a stranger to the divine, I simply needed to find her on my terms…and I did…at a concert, in the music of an all male band, I found the Goddess.

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).