Monday, April 7, 2014

She Is, and She Is Here

Below is my submission to the blog Divine Feminine on, 
Thanks to Marg Herder for letting me know about the request for posts.

The Divine Feminine is popping up all over: 
among my Jewish friends, my singing friends, my Women-Church friends, my evangelical and recovering-evangelical friends… even at the annual women’s retreat of my Presbyterian church.

I see Her mostly in the faces of women but also in mountains, hills, streams, lakes, ocean shores, and in the starry skies.  She is Oriana, wearing a knee-length skirt and dancing near the Seven Sisters, whom the Japanese call Subaru.

I see Her in my friend Gilla Nissan, who teaches classes in the Hebrew letters (each of which is a she) and their powers.  The letter Bet, for instance, is about blessing and home and health (berachah, bayit and briut),   Gilla leads meditations in which we enter the Beth and receive her gifts to us.   “We are in Messianic times,” Gilla and her friends believe.  “More is available from above.”

I see her in my singing friends who meet for Sacred Emerging with Carolyn McDade, who has gathered circles of women around North America for 35 years.  Our group in Los Angeles area has met annually for twenty years.

I see her in my Women-Church friends.   Once a month we share a liturgy at Pilgrim Place in Claremont, CA, each time designed and led by a different one of us.  We address Holy Wisdom, Sophia, Mother God, the Shekinah, and our dialogue woven together becomes a sermon.  Many of us are crones, retired from serving and teaching around the country, including Grail women, UN women, former nuns, pastors, missionaries.  I see Her in these faces: Rosemary Ruether, Audrey Sorrento, Ann Hidalgo.

I see her at gatherings of Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus, now also called Christian Feminism Today.  We will celebrate the 40th anniversary of our founding this summer at a conference in St. Louis.  When Virginia Ramey Mollenkott is preaching or Letha Dawson Scanzoni is recounting how the Spirit led her in 1965 to begin writing a woman’s challenge to male patriarchy in the church, I feel the presence of the Divine Feminine.  Virginia is the author of a 1993 book, The Divine Feminine: The Biblical Imagery of God as Female (New York: Crossroad).

I was surprised to see Her speaking and moving at a retreat of eighty women from my Presbyterian church this past January.  Such events can be dominated by male language for God and can become mere social gatherings, but this one was Divine and Feminine, like an EEWC or Women-Church event.  Our guest speaker, Kobie Vermaak, pastor/wife/mother, spoke with vehemence about reclaiming our connection to a Jesus who interacted richly with women, even in the male-centered texts passed down to us.  It was awesome to listen with women who had never before heard “She” and “Her” repeatedly used to refer to God.

In the 1970s I bought an orange and bright pink felt mini-banner designed by Sr. Corita Kent with the message “He is, and He is here.”  About ten years later, I had to add the letter S to each of the God words to make it read “She is, and She is here.”

Back then I never expected to attend a Mass led by Roman Catholic women priests, to encounter Shekinah while attending a Kabbalat Shabbat, to meet she-roes like Rosemary Ruether or Carolyn McDade, or to find feminine language for God at my local Presbyterian church. 

Today I am more than ever aware of Her immanent presence in the faces of people I meet, in dogs and cats, in plants and layered rocks, in the vast expanses of space.  

Hearing Sr. Elizabeth Johnson speak last week was my most recent breath-taking encounter with the Divine Feminine (she’s the author of She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (New York: Crossroads, 2002).  In a speech titled, “Creation: Is God’s Charity Broad Enough for Bears?” Sr. Beth expressed God’s presence this way: 
“Plants and animals are profoundly related to God in their own right.... the natural world is the dwelling place of God's Spirit, able to speak in its own voice about the glory of its Maker.”
From a man, these words would have had much less impact on me.  From a Catholic theologian who is a woman, they echoed like God Herself speaking to a fallen world and a male-dominated church.

My journey has included much anger at the Christian church and at other religious institutions that oppress women and obscure God’s presence, but when I encounter the Divine Feminine in the faces of Elizabeth Johnson, Gilla Nissan, Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, and my own dog, I find hope for the future. 

I expect the Roman Catholic Church to be ordaining women by 2050, and I expect more of us to be taking ordination with a grain of salt by then.  The important thing is that we all learn to see our lives as ordered and ordained by a Divine Presence that is a birthing mother more than a judging father.  

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