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
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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.

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.