This week’s reflection might be a bit of a challenge for some to consider, but hear me out.
It is an early summer morning, just after 6 am, as I sit on the deck for my morning centering prayer session. The sun is waking up, and along with it, the rest of creation. There is a palpable humid stillness in the natural world around me. It is going to be a hot day.
I try to do this every day, sit outside in the morning and the evening, to still myself and listen. It doesn’t always work out that way, but success is not in attaining perfection; rather, it is in showing up every day, and allowing oneself to be transformed by the Creative energy from which we were formed.
This morning, for the first time, perhaps ever, on the periphery of my consciousness, is the awareness that this Presence I sit in, has a distinctly feminine quality to it.
I feel nurtured, calmed, held.
I feel loved with the love of a gentle, wise, strong, sensitive, protective, all-knowing Mother.
I feel her all around me, enveloping me, encompassing me.
Having grown up in a traditional Christian ideology, the concept of God has always been that of a trinitarian male figure – Father, Son, Holy Spirit. While some other traditions equally recognize the “masculinity” and “femininity” of the Divine, many others also teach an uneven representation of the masculine to the feminine in the Divine. Others, meanwhile, do not assign a gender to the Great Mystery at all.
Some consider the Holy Spirit to be the feminine aspect of the Divine, and in fact, in the Scriptures, the Greek word for wisdom is “Sophia.” There are other “feminine” names for the Holy Spirit, such as “Shekinah,” but, by and large, those who grow up with a Christian understanding of the Divine, grow up believing what we call “God,” is masculine.
This, despite the Scriptures indicating all of us – male and female – are made in the image and likeness of this “God.” At various points throughout the Christian Scriptures, “God” even likens “his” qualities to that of a loving, nursing mother, or a hen that protects her little ones, and so on. If this is so, then while “God” certainly is the perfect “masculine,” than “God” certainly is the perfect “feminine” as well.
As an aside, in my opinion, to classify “God” as “masculine” and/or “feminine,” as we understand those terms, or anything else, for that matter, is to severely limit the infinite nature of this Being. “God” is, by nature, ineffable, beyond perfect grasp.
This Divine Being cannot be pigeon-holed, and we shouldn’t even try to do that. But, human nature being what it is – always on the search for meaning and understanding of the world in which we live – that imperfect “naming” we do of everything is just a part of the way we do things.
As far as my personal search for the Divine (and, I am speaking from where I am now, knowing that search never ends), since I was a young adult, I have had this innate need to understand the Divine in feminine terms, to try to wrap my little hands around Her big fingers.
This need has only grown stronger with time, and as I am now firmly in midlife, I have come to learn it is not unique to me, and often only grows with intensity and conviction as we age.
The reality is that those born under the guise of what is traditionally considered female, experience their spirituality in a much different way, than those born male.
A feminine spirituality is, in general, all-inclusive, fully embodied, intuitive, holistic … a feminine spirituality is grounded in her body, grounded in the world, grounded in creation – with a deep sense of wonder and reverence for the mystery in which she lives and that surrounds her.
Anyone who has ever given birth to another human being (I have not) can attest to the messiness, but more importantly, the HOLINESS of being the vessel through which a newly embodied soul has been nurtured and received into this world, this existence.
To put it bluntly, this is something a traditional male understanding of the Divine, just cannot understand.
And, further, even in those women who never do give birth to their own offspring, there is a mothering instinct to greater or lesser degrees. In my own experience, I have “mothered” many people and things around me throughout my life, but especially as I’ve matured and embraced and grown into my distinctly feminine nature.
If “God” is not in some way “feminine,” then why and how do women, in general, basically know how to love and nurture other humans and other living beings?
That instinct of motherhood has to come from somewhere, and if we are all made in the image and likeness of “God,” than “God” is not only a “Father,” but “God” is equally a “Mother.”
And then some.
To conclude, this week the Christian church celebrated the life of St. Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’s closest disciples, and an often misunderstood, and misinterpreted figure in the gospels. In a uniquely earthy, feminine and mothering way, Mary Magdalene had gone to Jesus’s grave to tend to his body, only to find his grave empty and a man she did not recognize, who she initially thought was a gardener, nearby.
The reality is, Mary Magdalene was the first person Christ appeared to in his resurrected glory. SHE was the first person he entrusted to go share the news with his other disciples, male and female, that death did not have the final word in his crucifixion.
If this risen Christ, who, it should also be noted, treated every woman he came into contact with in his earthly life with deep respect, CHOSE to initiate this risen ministry through a woman, than we should all recognize how women are uniquely qualified and gifted to be spiritual leaders and teachers, and treat them as such.
· SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column that examines spirituality. Contact Jerrilyn Zavada at email@example.com to share how you engage your spirit in your life and in your community.