Archive for June, 2019

June 27th, 2019

God Interrupting
Thursday, June 27, 2019

Brie Stoner shares her experience in the Living School as a mother of young children:

I was sitting in the women’s bathroom between sessions and had exactly thirteen minutes before the next talk to pump and dump my breast milk. [1] Every woman walking by me would smile and exclaim how sweet it was that I was there, ask how old my baby was, and offer some kind of encouragement for the Herculean effort of simply being a mother.

I was so excited to have been admitted to the first class of the Living School and determined to somehow make it work even with a toddler and a nine-month-old at home. But as each day proceeded, the more uncertain I became: sure, I could have uninterrupted prayer sits here . . . here where the meals were provided for me and the dishes were picked up and cleaned by not-me. Here where I slept in a hotel bed (a whole bed to myself . . . just for me, with no one needing me, ever). Here where I had access to these wisdom teachers and a peaceful path through the Cottonwood bosque with a view of the Sandia mountains.

Finally, during one of James Finley’s sessions I couldn’t take it anymore.

“Jim, can we talk about how much harder all of this is when I’m back home? Because I get up sometimes at 5:00 a.m., desperate to have one prayer sit, and it’s like my kids have radar and inevitably one of them wakes up ten minutes later. I mean, where is the icon of the mystic with one baby on the hip, a toddler crying at their feet, cooking dinner with one hand, trying to finish work on a laptop with the other? Because that’s my real life.”

Jim said, “Ok, you be you and I’ll be God. And since I’m God, I’m watching you get up exhausted every morning, and I’m so touched that you want to spend this time with me. Really, I am! It just means the world to me. The thing is, I just can’t bear how much I love you. It’s too much! And so at a certain point I rush into the bodies of your children and wake them up because. . . .”

Jim paused. “Because I want to know what it feels like to be held by you.”

Yes, the interruption is the presence of God that I was so desperately trying to access in moments of stillness and silence. With or without the luxury of stillness and silence, God comes to us disguised as our very lives (as Paula D’Arcy has said). In my case, Jim helped me to discover how my path as an exhausted young parent was the monastery of my own transformation. If I learned to let my heart open enough, I just might begin to recognize each cry, each diaper change, every choo-choo play time request . . . all of it, as the startlingly stunning, diaphanous infusion of infinite love colliding into the small shape of my very finite and ordinary reality. There, at the intersection of everything, is God with us . . . wanting to be touched, noticed, nurtured . . . held by us. All we have to do is behold.

Many Paths to Contemplation

June 25th, 2019

Conscious Parenting

Many Paths to Contemplation
Tuesday, June 25, 2019

After recently visiting Mexico and some of the refugee centers along the Texas border and seeing so many children and babies with their parents, I was reminded that contemplative Christianity’s rather monastic, solitary, silent approach just can’t be adequate to describe contemplation for most people. It can’t be, or many of God’s children could never know God. Contemplation is simply openness to God’s loving presence in “what is” right in front of you—which is what I saw these parents do. This presence to Presence can be cultivated in many ways that don’t require sitting on a mat for twenty minutes.

Experiences of great love and great suffering can and will lead anyone to union. Every time you let your kids pull love out of you or when you let a relationship pull suffering out of you, you are present and surrendering to the flow. I think Catholics have also over-emphasized the celibate path which is a “luxury,” it seems to me. I know I enjoy that luxury—the Franciscans provide for all my needs, but most people I know have a mortgage or rent to pay and food to put on the table. So, I think it is really important that we broaden the definition of contemplation to a Trinitarian understanding of God—God as flow—and learning how to allow and participate in the flow. It’s not really about detachment but healthy and unitive attachment.

If we expect the same disciplined practice of twenty minutes of silence twice a day of everyone—for example, busy parents of young children—I think we’re setting ourselves up for delusion. When you keep allowing love to flow toward you and toward others, that is a contemplative life. It is not as easy as it seems. Many laypeople are far more mature in the spiritual life than those of us who have all the accoutrements of celibacy, quiet, and protected solitude.

Those who have a long-term object of love, like a spouse or children, grow through their commitment. I don’t have an object of love like that. Now, I had Venus, my black Labrador, for fifteen years, and then she passed. I do have a wonderful staff who I think love me. I surely love them, but, I don’t have to love them. I can go home and shut the door. But if you are a parent or a partner, you can’t go home and shut the door to your loved ones. For all of us—whether we live alone or with others—the invitation is to open ourselves to the needs and suffering around us.

Hidden away in the middle of Parker Palmer’s recent book, On the Brink of Everything, is a wonderful, simple definition of contemplation: “Contemplation is any way one has of penetrating illusion and touching reality.” [1] I think that’s brilliant. There are things that force you toward a contemplative mind (for example, your mother’s death), because they force you to face reality, and that can free you from lot of illusions. I’m still grateful to the monastic and Buddhist teachers. But sitting in silence isn’t the whole enchilada. Life is the whole enchilada.

Giving Ourselves

June 24th, 2019

Conscious Parenting

Giving Ourselves
Monday, June 24, 2019

Can you let others convert you to the Love that you truly are? Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, in her book Nurture the Wow, asks:

What is love, anyway? And what does it mean to love? . . .

The feminist theorist bell hooks . . . claims [that love is] the “will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” [1] “The will to extend yourself”: to push past your comfort level; to . . . work really hard. That means doing things you never thought you’d do, and may not particularly want to. But you do them. You stretch and extend, because someone needs you to, so that they can grow. . . .

Extending the self is about the moment when the tantrum is going down right as you need to be getting somewhere and you realize you have to slow down and pull, from underneath your annoyance and your desire to just physically force the child out the door, some compassion to help dial down her out-of-control feeling. It’s about the willingness to get out of bed at two a.m. to be with the child who’s totally shaken by a nightmare. . . . It’s about enabling our beloveds to feel secure, enabling them to be able to do the work they need to do. It’s about enabling them to feel the warm rays of our attention on their skin, even when we kind of actually want to just zone out. . . .

Fred Rogers, the Presbyterian minister behind the TV show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, said once that “to love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” [2] . . .

That moment when we say, I accept you—even though being with you is awfully hard right now—that’s love. It doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences—we don’t have to accept terrible behavior. But part of how we love our children is in choosing, again and again, to take the whole child. . . .

If all our spiritual efforts are aimed at loving these people better—well, that alone is and should be enough. And, as it happens, if we’re able to go deep into that specific, aching love for these particular people, with these smiles and that laugh and that sweet face—something else might happen as a natural consequence of it. Maybe, as our hearts overflow, we find that love can, naturally of its own accord, extend wider, until it encompasses caring for all things, and connection to everything—until our love becomes Love itself, the very flow and force of the universe. [This is what I mean by accessing the universal through the particular. —Richard]

The Heart of the Universe

June 21st, 2019

Conscious Love

The Heart of the Universe
Friday, June 21, 2019
Summer Solstice

John Welwood (1943–2019) was an American clinical psychologist known for integrating Eastern and Western psychology and spirituality. In his books Love and Awakening and Journey of the Heart, he wrote about the lifelong challenge and gift of conscious, committed love, drawing insights from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955):

If the bad news is that we can know another, and be known, only as deeply as we know ourselves—and coming to know ourselves can be a long and arduous journey—the good news is that love helps and inspires us to develop this deeper self-knowledge. . . . For this reason, relationships can help us face and understand ourselves more rapidly and profoundly than any other aspect of worldly life. Seen in this light, love becomes a path of awakening—rousing us from the sleep of old, unconscious patterns into the freshness and immediacy of living more fully in the present, in accord with who we really are. This is the source of a deeper kind of happiness, which goes far beyond pleasure and comfort, and the only real basis for healthy and satisfying relationships. [1]

In its final outreach, conscious love leads two lovers beyond themselves toward a greater connectedness with the whole of life. Indeed, two people’s love will have no room to grow unless it develops this larger focus beyond themselves. The larger arc of a couple’s love reaches out toward a feeling of kinship with all of life, what Teilhard de Chardin calls “a love of the universe.” Only in this way can love, as he puts it, “develop in boundless light and power.” [2]

So the path of love expands in ever-widening circles. It begins at home—by first finding our seat, making friends with ourselves, and discovering the intrinsic richness of our being, underneath all our ego-centered confusion and delusion. As we come to appreciate this basic wholesomeness within us, we find that we have more to give to an intimate partner.

Further, as a [couple] become[s] devoted to the growth of awareness and spirit in each other, they will naturally want to share their love with others. The new qualities they give birth to—generosity, courage, compassion, wisdom—can extend beyond the circle of their own relationship. These qualities are a couple’s “spiritual child”—what their coming together gives to the world. . . .

From there, a couple’s love can expand still further, as Teilhard suggests. The more deeply and passionately two people love each other, the more concern they will feel for the state of the world in which they live. They will feel their connection with the earth and a dedication to care for this world. . . . Radiating out to the whole of creation is the farthest reach of love and its fullest expression, which grounds and enriches the life of the couple. This is the great love and the great way, which leads to the heart of the universe. [3]

Love is a Mirror

June 20th, 2019

Love Is a Mirror
Thursday, June 20, 2019

For true love is given to mirror and manifest God on earth, and not for self-realization and personal happiness. With the acceptance of those terms, the path comes into being. —Cynthia Bourgeault [1]

Love is the ultimate reality. We can probably see this only through the inner dialogue we call prayer. For love is first of all hidden. We don’t see it unless we learn how to see more deeply, unless we clean the lens. The Zen masters call it wiping the mirror. In a clear mirror, we can see exactly what’s there without distortion—not what we’re afraid of or wish were there. Wiping the mirror is the inner discipline of constantly observing my own patterns, what I pay attention to and what I don’t pay attention to, in order to get my own ego out of the way, until I can be held by a foundational goodness and acceptance.

St. Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582) admonished: “For the most part all [our] trials and disturbances come from our not understanding ourselves.” [2] This is also the way St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873–1897) practiced her “science of love.” She was always aware of how her own thoughts and feelings could get in the way of her “vocation” of love. We must learn to observe our own stream of consciousness and see how it blocks the natural response of love.

Actually, one could say that love is like a mirror. According to Zen masters, the mirror is without ego and mind. If a face comes in front of it, it reflects a face. If a table comes by, it reflects a table. It shows a crooked object to be crooked and a straight object to be straight. Everything is revealed as it really is, without self-consciousness on the part of the mirror. If something comes, the mirror reflects it; if the object moves on, the mirror lets it move on. The mirror is always empty of itself and therefore able to receive the other. The mirror has no preconditions for entry, no preconditions for acceptance. It receives and reflects back what is there, nothing more and nothing less. The mirror is the perfect lover and contemplative. It sees as God sees.

Love alone is sufficient unto itself. It is its own end, its own merit, its own satisfaction. It seeks no cause beyond itself and needs no fruit outside of itself. Its fruit is its use. I love simply because I am love. That is my deepest identity and what I am created in and for. To love someone “in God” is to love them for their own sake and not for what they do for me or because I am psychologically healed and capable.

Our transformed consciousness sees another person as another self, as one who is also loved by Christ with me, and not as an object separate from myself on which I generously bestow my favor. If I have not yet loved or if love wears me out, is it partly because other people are seen as tasks or threats instead of as extensions of my own suffering and loneliness? Are they not in truth extensions of the suffering and loneliness of God? And really of the whole world. There is only one love and only one suffering, as so many of the saints say. We are all participants, willingly or unwillingly.

Love the Contradictions

June 19th, 2019

Conscious Love

Love the Contradictions
Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Struggling with one’s own shadow self, facing interior conflicts and moral failures, undergoing rejection and abandonment, all daily humiliations, experiencing any kind of abuse or form of limitation, can be gateways into deeper consciousness and the flowering of the soul—if we allow them to be. These experiences give us a window into our naked nowness, because very real contradictions are always staring us in the face. Except for God, nothing is perfectly anything. Even as we set necessary and healthy boundaries, we are also invited to forgive what is, to weep over and accept our own interior poverty.

In facing the contradictions that we ourselves are, we become living icons of both/and. Once you can accept mercy, it is almost natural to hand it on to others (see the story of the unforgiving debtor in Matthew 18:23-35). You become a conduit of what you yourself have received. If you have never needed mercy and do not face your own inherent contradictions, you can go from youth to old age dualistically locked inside a mechanistic universe. That, in my opinion, is the “sin against the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 23:31-32). It cannot be forgiven because there is a refusal to recognize that you even need mercy or forgiveness. You have blocked the conduit that you are.

John of the Cross (1542–1591) consistently wrote of divine love as the template and model for all human love, and human love as the necessary school and preparation for any transcendent encounter. If you have never experienced human love, it will be very hard for you to access God as Love. If you have never let God love you, you will not know how to love humanly in the deepest way. Of course, grace can overcome both of these limitations.

To put it another way, what I let God see and accept in me also becomes what I can see and accept in myself. And, even more, it becomes that whereby I see everything else. This is “radical grace.” This is why it is crucial to allow God and at least one other person to see us in our imperfection and even in our nakedness, as we are—rather than as we ideally wish to be. It is also why we must give others this same experience of being looked upon tenderly in their imperfection; otherwise people on either side will never know divine love. I pray there is at least one person before whom you can be imperfect. I have several in my life, and they are such a relief and joy to be around.

Such utterly free and gratuitous love is the only love that validates, transforms, and changes us at the deepest levels of consciousness. It is what we all desire and what we were created for. Once you allow it for yourself, you will almost naturally become a conduit of the same for others.

Can you let God “look upon you in your lowliness,” as Mary put it (Luke 1:48), without waiting for some future moment when you believe you are worthy? Consider these words inspired by John of the Cross: “Love what God sees in you.” [1]

Laying Down Our Life

June 18th, 2019

Conscious Love

Laying Down Our Life
Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Cynthia Bourgeault continues reflecting on authentic love, distinguishing it from infatuation or romance. She begins by sharing insights from Scottish psychiatrist Maurice Nicoll (1884–1953), offering a basis for understanding union within the Gospel framework. Nicoll suggests that laying down one’s soul for our neighbor “is the supreme definition of conscious love.” Cynthia explains:

That is to say, through a life of conscious love—the persistent practice of laying down one’s life for the other, of the merging or union of wills in the effort to put the other first—the conditions will gradually come about for the creation of one soul. As long as the life goes on, in a renewed union of wills, one may speak of one soul, “for the soul is the image of the life.” [1]

This union of souls cannot be done out of sheer romanticism, that initial rush of erotic attraction that is all most of us ever know of love. It is not a product of attraction, but rather of purification: the commitment with which the partners adopt the spiritual practice of laying down their lives for each other—facing their shadows, relinquishing old patterns and agendas, allowing all self-justification to be seen, brought to the light, and released. In other words, without a mutual and conscious commitment to bring one’s human love into sympathetic vibration with the sacrificial and giving love that is the font of all creation, there is no union of wills or souls. The willingness to die, on whatever level, for the other’s becoming is the practice that gradually transmutes erotic attraction into a force of holy fusion. . . .

Love calls forth the reality of the beloved, and the act of loving calls forth our own most authentic and dynamic center. The result is a mutual thrust deeper and deeper into becoming, the unfolding of the wonder of each person. . . .

If there is a secret to love’s transforming power, surely it must lie in its uncanny ability to call forth who we truly are. “Love always seeks the ultimately real,” says [Beatrice] Bruteau [2]; it has an infallible knack for pushing though dim outer shells and inner dark places and bringing the essence of who we are into the light. Love always brings an increase in being, and it does so by giving us the courage and power to live out who we truly are. . . . Love actualizes essence.

One fact that contemporary psychology has made eminently clear to us is that wholeness can come about only if we embrace the whole of ourselves—not only what is highest in us, but the shadow as well. For majesty to grow in us, all must come to the light, both the dark parts of oneself that need healing and the light parts that need birthing. [3]

Conscious Love

June 17th, 2019

How We Love
Sunday, June 16, 2019

How we relate to someone we love . . . provides an extremely clear and accurate mirror of how we relate to ourselves. —John Welwood [1]

Authentic love is of one piece. How you love anything is how you love everything. Jesus commands us to “Love our neighbors as we love ourselves,” and he connects the two great commandments of love of God and love of neighbor, saying they are “like” one another (Matthew 22:39). So often, we think this means to love our neighbor with the same amount of love—as much as we love ourselves—when it really means that it is the same Source and the same Love that allows each of us to love ourself, others, and God at the same time! That is unfortunately not the way most people understand love, compassion, and forgiveness—yet it is the only way they ever work. How you love is how you have accessed Love.

We cannot sincerely love another or forgive offenses inside of dualistic consciousness. Try it, and you’ll see it can’t be done. Many pastors and priests have done the people of God a great disservice by preaching the Gospel to them but not giving them the tools whereby they can obey that Gospel. As Jesus put it, “cut off from the vine, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The “vine and the branches” offer one of the greatest Christian mystical images of the non-duality between God and the soul. In and with God, I can love everything and everyone—even my enemies. Alone and by myself, my willpower and intellect will seldom be able to love in difficult situations over time. Many folks try to love by willpower, with themselves as the only source. They try to obey the second commandment without the first. It usually does not work long-term, and there is no one more cynical about love than a disillusioned idealist. (This was my own youthful generation of the 1960s.)

Finally, of course, there is a straight line between love and suffering. If we love anyone or anything deeply and greatly, it is fairly certain we will soon suffer because we have given up control to another, and the price of self-extension will soon show itself. Undoubtedly, this is why we are told to be faithful in our loves, because such long-term loyalty and truly conscious love will always lead us to the necessary pruning (John 15:2) of the narcissistic self.

Until we love and until we suffer, we all try to figure out life and death with our minds; but afterward a Larger Source opens up within us and we “think” and feel quite differently: “until knowing the Love, which is beyond all knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19). Thus, Jesus would naturally say something like, “This is my commandment: you must love one another!” (John 13:34). Authentic love (which is always more than a heart feeling) initially opens the door of awareness and aliveness, and then suffering for that love keeps that door open for mind, body, and will to enter. I suspect for most of us that is the work of a lifetime.

Love in Service of Transformation
Monday, June 17, 2019

Cynthia Bourgeault, an Episcopal priest and one of the Center’s core faculty members, calls Jesus’ teaching and way of life “the path of conscious love.” She writes:

“Conscious love” . . . emphasizes the life-affirming and implicitly relational nature of the path, and the word “conscious” makes clear that the touchstone here is transformation, not simply romance. Conscious love is “love in the service of inner transformation”—or if you prefer, “inner transformation in the service of love.” Either way, this is exactly what Jesus was about. [1]

The words “conscious love” ring true for me (Richard) as a definition for our life’s purpose and the goal of all spirituality. When we’re conscious, we will always do the loving thing, the connecting thing, the intimate thing, the communion thing, the aware thing. To do the unloving thing is always to somehow be unconscious at that moment. Cynthia describes what this means:

The first requirement of conscious love is, of course, that it has to be conscious—or in other words, anchored in a quality of our presence deeper than simply egoic selfhood. Nowadays we would identify this quality of consciousness as unitive, or nondual, awareness. . . .

For Jesus as for all teachers of conscious transformation . . . the work with a partner is in service of this goal. It is not intended simply to fulfill physical or emotional needs, but to accelerate the process of awakening. [2]

The Buddhist psychologist John Welwood (1943–2019) wrote: 

Instead of looking to a relationship for shelter, we could welcome its power to wake us up in areas of life where we are asleep and where we avoid naked, direct contact with life. This approach puts us on a path. It commits us to movement and change, providing forward direction by showing us exactly where we most need to grow. Embracing relationship as a path also gives us a practice: learning to use each difficulty along the way as an opportunity to go further, to connect more deeply, not just with our partner, but with our own aliveness as well.

By contrast, dreaming that love will save us, solve all our problems or provide a steady state of bliss or security only keeps us stuck in wishful fantasy, undermining the real power of love—which is to transform us. For our relationships to flourish, we need to see them in a new way—as a series of opportunities for developing greater awareness, discovering deeper truth, and becoming more fully human. [3]

That’s why I believe deep friendships, family, sexual intimacy, marriage, and even celibacy are not given to us to solve our problem, but actually to reveal the problem. All of these life stances show us that we still don’t know how to love. At the same time, if we are conscious and aware, they give us the daily practice and opportunity to try one more time! [4]

In summary, Welwood wrote:

A conscious relationship is one that calls forth who you really are. . . . Regarding relationship as a vehicle or path that can help two people access the powerful qualities of their true nature provides the new vision our age so urgently needs. [5]

Summary: Week Twenty-four

Feminine Incarnation

June 9 – June 14, 2019

God and Christ are beyond gender, and all humans are a blend of masculine and feminine traits. But because Western Christianity and culture have primarily worshipped male images, I believe it’s important to reclaim and honor female wisdom. (Sunday)

Mary intuitively symbolizes the first incarnation—or Mother Earth. I am not saying Mary is the first incarnation, only that she became the natural archetype for it. Humans produce in art and story the inner images the soul needs. (Monday)

Today we are witnessing an immense longing for relational, mutually empowering feminine qualities at every level of our society . . . which have become far too warlike, competitive, individualistic, mechanistic, and non-contemplative. (Tuesday)

In blessed Mother’s view, all are lovable; all souls are accepted, all carry a sweetness of heart, are beautiful to the eyes; worthy of consciousness, of being inspired, being helped, being comforted and protected—even if other mere humans believe foolishly or blindly to the contrary. —Clarissa Pinkola Estés (Wednesday)

My God is an incarnate feminine power, who smells like vanilla and is full of sass and truth, delivered with kindness. She’ll do anything for her creation; her love is fierce. She weeps when we do and insists on justice. She is God. She is Love. —Jacqui Lewis (Thursday)

The feminine . . . is shifting the global paradigm from one of dominance and individualized salvation to one of collective awakening and service to all beings. —Mirabai Starr (Friday)

Wise Women

June 14th, 2019

Feminine Incarnation

Wise Women
Friday, June 14, 2019

Today’s reflection is by Mirabai Starr, drawn from her article in the Center’s spring newsletter and her new book Wild Mercy:

As you have undoubtedly noticed, the feminine is rising at last, overflowing the banks of every landscape, from politics to religion, from the world of entertainment to the fields of peace and justice. She is unconditionally loving, and she is deliciously irreverent. She is shifting the global paradigm from one of dominance and individualized salvation to one of collective awakening and service to all beings.

Her wisdom has been hidden in the heart of each of the great spiritual traditions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and all Indigenous wisdom ways. Access to these jewels has required excavation, but the treasures that have emerged are transfiguring the soul of the world, offering medicine for the broken heart of humanity and the materials needed to mend the torn fabric of the earth.

Ever since I was a young girl, I have been irresistibly drawn to every religion I encountered. Born into a non-religious Jewish family, I had embraced multiple spiritual traditions by the time I was twenty and integrated them into my daily life: a deep devotion to an Indian saint, a daily Buddhist meditation practice, initiation into multiple Sufi lineages, a reclamation of the ancient beauty of my ancestral home in Judaism, and an unexpected friendship with Christ through the mystics, whose words I have since translated. Each of these paths has comingled in my being, creating a rich and robust spiritual soil.

It is the Christian women mystics who have become my most cherished spiritual sisters and role models. The sixteenth-century Spanish mystic, Teresa of Ávila [1515–1582] has shown me what it looks like to cultivate ecstatic intimacy with God in the center of my own being and also find my Beloved “living among the pots and pans.” The medieval Rhineland visionary Hildegard of Bingen [1098–1179] praises God’s greening energy in every particle of creation, helping me to glimpse the face of the One in all that is. The English anchoress Julian of Norwich [1342–1316] had a near death experience in which Christ revealed himself as an unconditionally loving Mother who continuously breaks herself open and pours herself out to her children, endlessly forgiving and enthusiastically adoring us.

Through each of these wise women, I have come to recognize the holiness of incarnation. There is nothing in this gorgeous, messy world, not a thing in my own imperfect perfection, no place in the scope of the human predicament or the majesty of the natural world that is not, by its very nature, blessed: the chosen dwelling place of the One we love. [1]

Our experiences of embodiment may not always correspond with idealized images of holiness, but these preconceptions derive from masculine standards of perfection. Such paradigms have caused great harm, and they are no longer valid. I invite you to abandon your efforts to fix yourself and instead reclaim your innate beauty and worth as a luminous cell in the body of Mother Earth. [2]

She Is Love

June 13th, 2019

Feminine Incarnation

She Is Love
Thursday, June 13, 2019

Why not? Why not pretend for now that the Absolute (the Great Mystery, the Ground of Being) sometimes expresses itself in the body of woman? Pretending God’s a dude hasn’t exactly worked out for the vast majority of the human family, let alone the animal and plant communities or the air or the waters. —Mirabai Starr [1]

Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, an African American pastor and author that I greatly respect, spoke at CAC’s recent conference on the theme of racial and gender inequity. Not surprisingly, some white folks in our audience were very uncomfortable. And that’s okay! Discomfort is a teacher; it’s an invitation to learn and grow. As unpleasant as it may be, we must face the truth of Christianity’s complicity in creating and supporting systems of oppression. It’s more than time for all of us to reimagine God.

Keep your heart open as you read Jacqui Lewis’ vision of God:

It makes sense that because white men created so much of religion, the image of God was an old white man with grey hair. However, this image needs a makeover because he’s no longer working.

My God is a curvy black woman with dreadlocks and dark, cocoa-brown skin. She laughs from her belly and is unashamed to cry. She can rock a whole world to sleep, singing in her contralto voice. Her sighs breathe life into humanity. Her heartbreaks cause eruptions of justice and love.

Of course, because God is a mystery, we don’t know everything about Her. So out of our imaginations and our yearnings, our hopes and our fears, we make stuff up. At our best, we project goodness, power, kindness, and love onto God. At our worst, we create a God who is punitive, angry, judgmental, and harsh. We do this because we are those things, and we think they make us safe.

Projection itself is not the problem. The problem occurs when we don’t examine those projections with a critical eye, with a hermeneutic of suspicion. The issue is that we write laws that codify the shadow parts of the god we create, in order to diminish others, to abuse others. The trouble starts when our god is too small, when we reduce our worst projections to fit in our pocket and keep this god on our team. When we neglect to confront this created god, we get the Crusades and the Doctrine of Discovery; the murder of indigenous people and Jews; apartheid and enslaved Africans; sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia—all in the name of the too-puny god that is the worst of ourselves.

I know I’ve got my projections. They are inspired by my imagination and by textual studies. In Hebrew, the words for womb and mercy have the same root, and the word for spirit is feminine: ruach. In Greek, the word pneuma [breath or spirit or soul] has a feminine article, the word Sophia stands for wisdom, and the word agape—God’s love for us—is also a feminine word. Therefore, my God is an incarnate feminine power, who smells like vanilla and is full of sass and truth, delivered with kindness. She’ll do anything for her creation; her love is fierce. She weeps when we do and insists on justice. She is God. She is Love.