Posts Tagged ‘feminine’

The Brea(st/d) of Heaven

August 30, 2014

A group of girlfriends, including our priest, humbly shared Communion around a circle. One mother of three small children handed the consecrated bread to the woman next to her and said accidentally, if appropriately, “The Body of Christ, the Breast of Heaven”. Much laughter ensued. I was moved by the potential meaning held in her unintentional substitution for the word “bread” – it remains an unforgettable Eucharist.

I wonder what it is like to breastfeed from God, to experience mutual need and devotion, intimacy and sustenance unlike any other. Do I already? Could I intentionally?

My son’s favorite part of church is what he calls “God’s Dinner”. It may be because he gets to move his little legs and see lots of people on our way up front, or it could be that he gets a snack. I think, however, he senses something more is happening. He seems in sweet awe as he holds his two-year-old palms up to receive this spiritual food. He has a skip in his step afterwards. Back in our pew, he always asks for more.

I experienced breastfeeding my son as a kind of sacrament, an “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace” (Book of Common Prayer). In the wee dark hours, more than calories was transmitted. “Take, eat, this is my Body, which is given for you.” (BCP, Eucharistic Prayer II) It wasn’t my grace that flowed; it was the purest of God’s love feeding us both, and a passing of Peace between mother and babe.

It is no small feat to feed a child from your own body multiple times a day and night for weeks, months or years. During the harried moments of raising a baby into a toddler, it was within the calm of nursing that I remembered the profound nature of the mother role and what a privilege it is. A lot transpired in the 12-inch world we created between us in our blue denim rocking chair. It was there that my son rolled toy dump trucks and excavators across my chest, it was there we chanted about Sita and Ram during my yoga teacher training, and it was there we gazed into each other’s souls and fell deeper and deeper in love.

I often wonder, as I look at my son, if God loves me that completely. There were a few days last winter when I found myself saying, “I’m not a good person” because I had been bitchy, ungrateful, impulsive, and negative. These are the moments when I most want to contribute to God’s kingdom rather than take from it, and yet, I need time at the Breast of Heaven in order to right myself. I need to be held, to connect my soul with God, and to feel loved despite my shortcomings, maybe even, inclusive of them. Then I can be nudged towards what could be.

In the Hindu scripture The Bhagavad Gita, Krishna, the charioteer and teacher, gradually reveals himself to the warrior Arjuna as the Divine and as Arjuna’s immortal Self. Near the end of the story, he tells Arjuna that he loves him, that he is dear to him. I found this so touching. Could God also be this Self within me offering tender love and forgiveness to my imperfect, small “s” self?  

When people say “God loves you,” it feels like fluff to me, until I give credence to God’s love as I experience it – a surrounding presence within which I “live and breathe and have [my] being” (Acts 17:28). It is a healing energy that works its way into the inner reaches of my heart. It is as if I were a nursing baby and whenever I cry for my Mother, or even make a peep, She is there. This there-ness, that’s love to me.

Do we wean from God? As happens in a breastfeeding life cycle, I know that I have received highly personalized-for-each-stage-of-my-growth Divine nourishment. Sometimes I wonder if it is time for me to stop asking God for so much, and give what I already have. I don’t think, however, that I will ever grow out of needing to hear about Jesus’ vision of justice or tap in to his meditative presence. Nor can I imagine being beneficial for my family and the world without continually accessing a power greater than myself.  

I’m heartened that when weaning a child, allowing him to continue becoming his own self, his need for his mother is no less strong, and her love for him is no less fierce and no less present. This, I suspect, is how it is with God.

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A New Way Forward

March 14, 2012

I am 37.5 weeks pregnant. As I gradually become a mother to this growing babe and soul within me, my spiritual life has both deepened inwardly and been thrown off track outwardly.

I’ve only been to church a few times in the last nine months. I miss it, yet when I go to regular services, I wish it were different. Since taking part in this new creation, I want now more than ever to hear the feminine honored in church.

When I worship in community, I want to hear “Mother”’ as much as I hear “Father.” (I believe this would make a significant difference in how women are regarded politically, in this country and around the world. But that’s a topic for another day.)

Early in pregnancy and after reading Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon, I had a dream that the Mother Goddess, wearing khakis, came to visit me. In the dream I felt torn, as if I were abandoning the Christian God for the Mother. Doesn’t the all-encompassing entity I believe in include the Mother?

Some have said to me, “What a shame you can’t get past the words.” Yet the words I speak aloud in prayer or proclamation are important to me. Authenticity, especially in my relationship with God, is my lifeblood. It’s made me wonder if most others believe God is male or the words just don’t matter to them. I acknowledge that Jesus of Nazareth was a man. But beyond the span of that individual life, I don’t know. I hope Jesus Christ, the representative of God, is something entirely larger than mere male or female.

For Christmas, my brother-in-law gave me the New Zealand Prayer Book, an Anglican Book of Common Prayer that is intentionally and respectfully gender neutral. In the introduction, R.G. McCullough writes:

“We have gradually been compelled in our pilgrimage to start searching for ways to address God in language which is other than masculine and triumphal… Even new words are only a vehicle for the worship of God, so that we might reach for the things beyond the words in the language of the heart.”

My spiritual unmooring isn’t just about church liturgy. During pregnancy I’ve had to surrender control over my body to the mystery taking place inside me and to look there for God. During the first five and a half months of growing this baby, nausea kept me off my yoga mat, a sacred place that had previously helped me stay grounded and calm in my daily life. Once the nausea went away, I was able to resume a new kind of practice surrounded by 15 other round-bellied women one evening per week. Especially now that my days are quite busy preparing for my maternity leave from work, I’ve needed the permission to go within and connect with myself and with my baby.

I’ve been working on this posting for months, wondering all the while when it would say what I meant to express. I had a sense that I shouldn’t post it until after the recent WomanKind conference – a glorious, deeply meaningful day of 500 women exploring and celebrating their faith and their questions, led by wise female clergy and lay volunteers. Even while worrying about the impact of my changing spiritual places and practices, I’ve consistently felt protected by a power greater than myself and I knew that the day would hold answers for me.

Reverend Lauren Winner, Assistant Professor at Duke Divinity School and author of the beautiful Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, surmised in her closing WomanKind sermon that perhaps God was saying to us through the Exodus story, “You have already done more than enough. Now I simply want you to be with me.” Perhaps I’ve done enough in pregnancy simply by being a vessel for this Divine new creation. Perhaps now I can just be with God for the last weeks of this spiritual, physical and emotional journey.

Thankfully, when I meditate in the morning, God always shows, sits with me, and says to me, “It’s all going to be OK. I love you. I love that baby. I’m right here.”

This journey of pregnancy is almost over. Two more weeks to wait seems very long, though, now that my belly is big, my walk is slow, and my muscles ache. Yet there is still fat to add to my sweet boy’s body, cells still to develop in his brain, and tiny lungs that need more time to practice before they take their first breath of air.

Ten years ago, I took a Zen writing and painting workshop. During class, I drew an ink painting of a mother’s pregnant belly with a round melon-like baby inside. Along the curve of the belly, I inscribed a quotation from the Zen Buddhist teacher Dogen that reads “You should understand the meaning of giving birth to a child.”

I don’t yet, but I believe I’m on my way. When it comes time, I’m excited for my God-designed body to take over and birth not only a son, but a mother, a father, a family and a new way forward.

Wrestling With It

March 9, 2010

My priest recently told me I didn’t have to be an expert in Christian scripture to begin incorporating it into my writing and workshops when I feel doing so would deepen the experience. He told me to “just get in there and wrestle with it”. His advice came as a huge relief, because I’ve been feeling uneasy about bringing in passages from the Bible – the whole of which I’ve not read. I don’t even fully understand the literal interpretations of what I have read. However, some of its words have been speaking to me at a deeper level and I’m using my weekly writings to work out their meaning in relation to my life and soul.
 
For the past 13 months, I’ve been on a journey with this platform. What started as a marketing tool transformed into an offering. I decided to start giving what I had to give. I believe God asks us to share the resources we have – money, food, inspiration, courage or care – whatever our wealth of the moment may be. The intent of this blog is to share what is opening my mind, body and spirit, in case something I’ve experienced could be of value to your heart. And vice versa: for you to share your wisdom and questioning with me.
 
Because God has played a central role in every significant growth period of my life, I want to acknowledge what I believe is the golden ticket to personal and spiritual development. I’d like to explore not only my understanding of God, but yours as well.
 
I’m scared, though. I’m afraid you (and my family) will think I’ve become a crazed evangelist. Even worse, I fear sounding like an amateur evangelist because of my lack of expertise in the teachings of Jesus and God’s other messengers. I’m considering attending divinity school to be able to base my work upon a vast history of knowledge and inquiry, yet for now, I’m simply diving in and “wrestling with it.”  
 
My heart and thinking will continue to be influenced by meditation, yoga, innumerable books, the moving worship traditions of other religions, and the Divine Feminine. For me, God is everywhere.
 
The Jesus I believe in is anything but limiting. I’m beginning to think he was and is far deeper and more magical and mystical than usually portrayed. One of my girlfriends said the other night, “What’s the point of it all without the magic?” I love that perspective.

That is what I’d like to explore with you, going forward. Where is the magic of God found in your life?

Wow, what a sight!

February 15, 2010

This weekend I had the immense pleasure of participating in WomanKind, an interfaith exploration of women’s spirituality hosted by the visionary St. James’s Episcopal Church in Richmond. It would not do the experience justice to recount all of the nuances here (such as the gorgeous Botticelli-inspired décor). However, I will share the most memorable moment for me.
 
It happened at the beginning of Saturday afternoon’s healing service. As I watched a parade of women, old and young, black and white, clergy and attendants make their way up the center aisle to the front of an estrogen-filled church; my eyes grew big as did my smile. Soon, the altar filled with women ministers and priests. I swallowed hard in disbelief and tears filled my eyes at the sight. There it was – ancient wisdom in feminine form. 
 
After years of wondering if I would find a resonant place in a tradition about a man, a doctrine historically dictated by men and churches led predominantly by male clergy, the altar scene yesterday was startling and life-changing. I have been greatly inspired by masculine messengers and interpreters of God, including a recent embrace of the Ultimate Messenger. Nothing, however, has ever moved me more than this scene of my own kind – woman kind – delivering spiritual guidance in Christ’s name.
 
I know it sounds predictable coming from me to want to see women clergy. I wonder what it was like for the other 399 or so women in attendance – many of whom seemed to be followers of the Christian tradition. I believe that few would deny the lack of feminine spiritual role models held up for us to learn from, respect, and revere. The dearth of women spoken about in the Christian church was a major stumbling block for me in surrendering to this path, until I realized that Christ himself is the embodiment of what I consider most gorgeously feminine: care, love, compassion, service and community. 
 
It isn’t that I don’t value what men bring to relationship, leadership and spiritual practice – I do, very much. Yet to surrender my heart, body and will to God is such a personal, vulnerable experience. If I am to do it within a particular tradition, I need to trust that I and all women are considered as valuable and valid as men in the eyes of the church. I’ve no doubt that we are equal in the heart and mind of Jesus, yet much of what has been built in His name has called into question the institution’s reverence for women.
 
Nothing can adequately convey the heart-opening power of seeing wise, white-haired female ministers with their warm smiles and distinguished voices sitting amongst an interracial mix of intellectually fabulous, young priestesses. Garbed in white robes with beautiful stoles, these women shared delivery of the Gospel and God’s spiritual food.   The first prayer began, “O God, Mother of endless generations” – that alone would have sold me. The service went on to speak of “God in the midst of her” in Psalm 46 and to analyze the unconditional, deeply intuitive understanding of Christ’s power by a very poor, very sick woman as written in Mark 5:25-34. (Thanks to the flawlessly crafted and moving sermon of Dr. Linda Powell Pruitt.)
 
I had the intimate joy of witnessing this with my mother, an early 70’s feminist, who raised my four sisters and me to believe that something different from what she had lived as a young woman of the 50’s was possible for us. We both wondered how much more welcoming church might have felt to her as a girl and to independent young women today were this service their first experience of Christianity.
 
Even when the Christian church develops more balance of spiritual leadership, I will never forget my first time – yesterday at WomanKind – realizing what is possible and being sure that I belong.

Let It Out! A Story of Hips, Drama and PMS

January 10, 2010

As you can imagine, I’m a big believer in the potential of aches and pains to reveal more than physical ailments. It’s no surprise that my sister thinks I do a lot of navel gazing. I’m trying to figure out what’s in there! What am I storing in that tight, lower left back of mine? I’m quite sure my body is trying to speak (sometimes scream!) some fabulously useful information to my heart and mind. I, for one, think it’s imperative (and fascinating) to listen. 
 
And let me tell you, my hips have been doing some talking lately. Despite regular yoga classes, I haven’t been able to discern on my own what they were saying. So yesterday I had the great fortune to experience the gifts of Bev Johnson, a practitioner-in-training of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy (PRYT). “Through assisted yoga postures and non-directive dialogue, PRYT guides clients to experience the connection of their physical and emotional selves.” (Contact Bev this month for a half-priced session!)
 
Boy did that little right hip flexor have a lot to say! In 90 minutes, out came pouring a virtual storehouse of vision, emotion and deep knowledge about who I am, what I’m becoming, and what I need to leave behind.
 
I’m sure you know by now that I’m also a big believer in the transformative power of tears. Let that river flow, I say! So many women try to tamp down their sensitivity. They apologize for their emotions. Perhaps you are one of them. Perhaps you believe your God-given, feminine, feeling self is an unwelcome burden on loved ones, colleagues, and pets (I’m no dog expert, but the few I’ve come to know are pretty amazing in the face of a crying human.)
 
You may believe that others are not interested in the depths of your heart. Well, I am! Your body is! And I’m quite sure God is. I’d venture to guess that those who love you most are too – even if they’re unsure of their own capacity to be your witness.
 
In the online dating world, there are some men who profess rather loudly that they want “NO DRAMA” (and they usually capitalize it!) To that, I respond with a DELETE! I believe these men would be better off dating their own kind for a while. In my opinion, an evolved man has grown his ability to hold space for a woman’s emotions. While he might not understand or even like her in that state, he honors the part of her that feels deeply, the same part that has the capacity to love him without end. Stuff one; you stuff the other.
 
I’m not advocating reckless wielding of the emotional torch; yet, I am encouraging all women to feel. It is just fine to do so. Really, you were made this way. Who cares if it is PMS induced? Open the flood gates! We can do our best to consciously minimize the impact of our darker emotions on others, yet by some means, we must let them out. Otherwise, they get stored. We’re going to feel them one way or another.
 
I used to cry a lot more. My Colorado friends lasted through many a tear-streamed hike up and down Arbaney Kittle Trail. There are pews across America soaked because I was moved by words, ritual, and the coaxing open of my heart by a power greater than I. Nowadays, I can predictably count on at least one massive bawl-my-eyes-out session per month. It usually happens in the car. Sometimes mildly prompted by the day’s events; more often brought on by a good country song like Keith Urban’s “Thank You“. Sometimes I think I’m losing it; until two days later when I remember it is part of the territory of me as a woman. Part of the territory of me as woman.
 
Being a woman is not something to be contained, altered, fixed, or managed. In the words of our esteemed 43rd President, bring ’em on! Bring on the PMS tears, the church tears, the weeping at family goodbyes and the moving realizations of greater truth. Trust their capacity to cleanse and inform. Trust that your rawest self is a grace and power to behold.

Who Speaks to You?

November 24, 2009

Yesterday, I was introduced to Rob Bell by way of his Open video. I then proceeded to watch Flame, Whirlwind and She. (see NOOMA for downloadable full length versions.) I may be the last person in America to have heard about this hip and controversial Christian thinker. Let me say, it was instant wow and deep regard. Perhaps even infatuation (I admit I have a weakness for big thinking, cool-glasses-wearing, idealistic guys.)
 
He’s the evangelical pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and… a graduate of Wheaton College (note: they don’t dance there.) Hoo boy! Bible church, no dancing, and evangelical… that trifecta is more like “lions, tigers and bears” for liberal, pole dancing, multi-faith me! 
 
Yet I took it as a good sign that conservative bloggers blast him. In a Boston Globe interview he says the word “evangelical” has been “hijacked” by the political right. He offers instead, “I embrace the term evangelical, if by that we mean a belief that we together can actually work for change in the world, caring for the environment, extending to the poor generosity and kindness.”
 
He’s written a book called Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections between Sexuality and Spirituality; he honors the feminine qualities in God (that alone makes me want to move to Michigan) and he likens God’s care to that of a mother’s fierce, lay-down-her-life love for her children. He speaks with palpable commitment, yearning and gentleness. And most importantly for doubters like me, he struggles with having no answers to unanswerable questions.
 
I’m not writing about him so you too will think he’s great. I bring him up simply to say that this unexpected “evangelical” voice went straight to the heart of someone who feels closer to God on a yoga mat than dressed up in a pew.  
 
Who does that for you? Whose integrity inspires you? Whose passion speaks to the deepest questions in your heart? Whose values make you feel ah, yes, there is hope?
 
As you can tell, I love people who speak up about what they believe. People who say, “This is what I stand for. This is what I suffer. This is how I yearn to love and live.” By letting you know exactly who they are, they give you permission to take or leave them.
 
Richmond yoga teacher Aimee Yowell is another one who really goes for it. She is pure embodiment of what she teaches. With the spirit she exudes and the devotion to something greater that she brings to her teaching, each 1 hour and 15 minute class feels like a 3-hour journey to the core of it all. She is unabashed in moving as if the life of her soul depended on it. It’s infectious and it is an invitation to discover what frees my own soul. I love her willingness to put out there exactly who she is and the gift she offers.
 
Tell me, who turns you on to life? Who inspires you to rise up and participate with all you have in this magical, mystical ride? Tell me. Tell them. Tell others.

Trust on a scale of 1 to 10

October 4, 2009

“I felt the strong bond that women have with each other regardless of how well they know each other, the compassion we have toward one another and the capacity at which we can whole-heartedly give and receive of ourselves.” – Women’s Circle participant

In a workshop a few years ago, we were asked to stand in front of a woman we didn’t know and sense how much she trusted other women on a scale of 1 to 10. I hesitantly yet honestly rated my partner a 4; she gave me a 9. Was I naïve to trust so willingly? No, I intuitively knew it was a gift from growing up with my own built-in women’s circle of four fun and devoted older sisters and a deeply loving mother.

My trust of the feminine has also been infused by my experience in a college sorority (I know, it’s true, hold your smirks), being witness to the strength and raw emotion of thousands of teen girls in Girls For A Change, and spending countless hours in women’s workshops opening my soul to be seen and felt by fellow travelers.

It was painful to so viscerally feel the walls inside this woman in front of me and wonder where her mistrust was born. Perhaps from an early experience of being abandoned – emotionally or physically – by a significant woman in her life who lacked the capacity to fully care for a child. Perhaps from the betrayal of adolescent girlfriends trying to mask their own insecurity. Or perhaps she found it difficult to trust the depth and tenderness of the feminine in herself, leading her to mistrust it in others and in the world.

While I’m grateful for my experience with the women in my life, I do understand what it’s like to have a hard time trusting what is unfamiliar or unknown. Just today I wondered, on a scale of one to ten, how much do I trust God’s will for me? It’s always a 10 in hindsight! Or easily an 8 when, conveniently, God’s will seems to match my own. However, it is certainly more of a 0 to 3 when I don’t yet understand, the answers aren’t clear and I feel I’m in a holding pattern (more like a cell!) with my yearning and confusion.

At those times, it takes all of I’ve got in mind, body and spirit to surrender to this something which “passes all understanding.”

I’m learning though, through gradual experience, that trust is indeed a more magical, empowering and tender way to live, a way that heals old fears. For me, practicing trust goes hand-in-hand with learning to receive. Opening my heart to another’s inherent goodness or to the care of a power infinitely greater than my human self, allows me to discover just how deeply I am seen, held and loved. It’s a moment-to-moment choice I choose to make again and again.

“let the soft animal of your body…

July 24, 2009

…love what it loves.” – Mary Oliver

I was reminded of this line from my favorite Mary Oliver poem “Wild Geese” while reading a New York Times article on Provincetown where she lives. In it, the journalist quotes Ms. Oliver’s words from a 1991 essay,

“When will you have a little pity for/ every soft thing/ that walks through the world,/ yourself included?”
 
Every soft thing that walks through the world. Isn’t that gorgeous? I exhale just reading it. It reminds me of August and the soft feeling of a fading summer. By contrast, July, to me, is the energy of beach traffic and fireworks. It’s yang to August’s yin. 

I liked July in 1976 when I rode my fabulously decorated bike in Village Green’s Bicentennial parade. And I once had a really fun date on July 16th in San Francisco. That’s pretty much the extent of my love affair with the  seventh month.
 
July is stressed-out friends frantically readying for vacation and bemoaning piled-up work upon return. August is relaxing with my sisters and a pitcher of freshly made pina coladas as the sun goes down on the Chesapeake Bay. 
 
The wise ones say we should live in the present and that patience is a virtue. Unfortunately, neither is my strong suit. (Only 7 days to go!) 

So I’ve decided to just let the “soft animal of [my] body love what it loves”. I’m creating August in me right here on July 24th. Exhaling, loving, and appreciating the dog days as if they were the last days of summer.  
 
I facilitate the Women’s Circle for anyone who needs a little August in your body and soul…  anyone who yearns for an extra dose of yin to your yang life.

What is your August? What does “the soft animal of your body love”?