Saturday, July 19, 2014

Finding My Inner Goddess by Erin McKelle

Feminism was definitely not a part of my faith tradition, or my family’s values, during my childhood.

I was raised in a Christian household as a Lutheran. I went to Church every Sunday, attended Lutheran school, and my Mom was even my Sunday school teacher for a few years. Even when my parents divorced, it was always important to my Mom that faith be a central part of my life and would make it a point to take me to Church and Sunday school even on the weekends I was staying with my Dad.

Through this, I learned that I should never, ever sin, always have faith in Jesus, and repent in order to get into heaven. I also was taught (both implicitly and directly) that sexuality was shameful, that women’s roles were to primarily be wives and mothers, and that those who indulged in the pleasures of the Earth would be damned in hell for eternity.

Because I went to a religious school everyday, all of this was very much a part of my thinking and my life. Almost all of my friends I knew through some sort of a religious means and I wasn’t involved socially with anyone who wasn’t Christian.

Fast forward to when I was 13 with my dad’s family on vacation in Myrtle Beach. I had brought along a book called Conversations with God for Teens (an adaptation of the original based on teen’s questions) to read while I was there. As I cracked open the book by the pool one day, the whole world opened up right before my eyes. As I was reading that God wasn’t angry with me for using their name ‘in vain,’ or wanting to have sex and explore my body, or even questioning God themselves, I started to question everything I’d ever been taught about my faith.

Soon, I began reading more books and expanding my field of vision as much as possible. I wanted to learn everything there was to know about religion and theology. I realized that there were so many different religions to explore and faith traditions to learn about. Since I was taught that questioning God or my Lutheran faith was wrong, I had never learned about other types of belief. I now knew I had been missing out. I read books about Taoism, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Jainism….anything I could find!

As I was reading and learning, I saw my faith in Christianity crumble before my eyes. I didn’t understand how one religion could declare itself to be the truth and deny the obvious beauties and truths present in others.

I also began to see the ridiculousness of a lot of the supernatural aspects of the Bible, especially in regards to the Devil and Hell. I couldn’t see how any logical, rational human being could take these things seriously. It was so obviously created to scare and I didn’t understand how no one else could see that. If God was love, why would they ever damn anyone to Hell? If there was a God, I knew that the Christians were wrong about who they were.

This all happened during the summer before I started eighth grade, my last year at my parochial, religious school. I wished I could never go back, but I knew I didn’t have a choice. If I told my Mom about my change of heart regarding religion, I knew she would be upset with me. If I told my Church, teachers, or peers at my school, I knew they would judge me. I felt trapped, with no way out. I had to keep the truth inside of my heart and force myself to not shout it at the top of my lungs.

This time in my life really inspired my feminist work that was to come. I felt called to live wholly and to love everyone, and I saw the hypocrisy many in my faith lived (by claiming that Jesus accepted all, but actually judging anyone who they deemed imperfect). I knew that wasn’t who I was and I didn’t want anyone to feel that they could lead a life of judgment and scorn or have to fear that God was judging them. This really sparked my love for all people and my strong sense of justice. I wasn’t willing to let anyone be discriminated against or shunned for who they were.

I also began to see the ways in which women in my school were treated, which was nothing short of sexist. They weren’t allowed to be Pastors or leaders in the Church and were policed to almost no end, it seemed. I remember how the boys in my class would get away with cursing and talking about sex, but when I would do it, I would be punished. Most of the other girls didn’t curse or talk sex at all, I’m guessing because they knew what the consequences would be. I started to become really angry as I noticed these things and my inner feminist Goddess started to become awakened!

Because of my anger, I started to veer spiritually towards agnosticism. As I read books written by people who all assumed to know all of the answers, I became frustrated. I knew I couldn’t claim to have that kind of truth about the universe or the divine, and I felt that those who did were either full or themselves or buying into indoctrinated ideology. As Socrates once said, the wise know that they are ignorant.

My agnosticism lead me to care more bout the planet and its inhabitants well being though. I realized that everyone on Earth had to work together to sustain it, since we could not assume there was a God or Goddess who could do so. It was our job to make life beautiful. We had to take ownership.

Taking charge of my life is exactly what I did. As time went on, I realized I was living in a very toxic way. I was battling an eating disorder, abusive relationships, and felt like I could never truly be happy. I was walking self-destruction and I was destroying every beautiful thing in my path. While I was starting to work for others justice and humanity, I couldn’t even acknowledge my own.

This caused me to spiral downward personally, but as an activist I began to thrive. I pushed myself to the limit, taking on as many projects as possible, to fill the gap in my heart. I felt like I had nothing to give other than my work, which I was good at. While it took me very far professionally, personally it was more than I could take.

When I went away to college, I reached a breaking point. My eating disorder got out of control and emotionally, I was a wreck. I was working myself out of an emotionally abusive relationship, which took a lot of strength and energy. I was soon burnt out and felt more hopeless than ever.

I was lucky to find the strength within to keep going. I knew that there was something better at the end of the tunnel and I kept going, no matter how much I wanted to throw it all away. Self-sabotage has long been a friend of mine and I knew that if I wanted to get anywhere, I had to cut her off.

It was then that I started recovery, in every sense of the word. I found my soul again, which had been buried in year’s worth of shame and self-deprivation. I put my all into therapy and healing and although I made some mistakes, I saw myself doing better than ever. I was truly thriving.

I started to feel like there was an inner-Goddess inside of me who was guiding me towards the truth I was meant to live. It wasn’t like a person, but more like an emotion, a state of being. It represented balance and truth, compassion and love.  The more I listened, the better things got. One day I was walking home from school and I remember thinking “If there’s a God, this is what it must feel like.” Then I realized, maybe that was God.

While my faith has been all across the board, one thing has stayed the same; my inner-Goddess. Even though I haven’t fully discovered her yet, she’s always been there. When I started to question my faith in middle school is when I really started to feel her. The voice sounds like my own, but what’s underneath is something exquisite, divine, and perfectly imperfect. In essence, it’s me, but it’s the enlightened version of myself. I believe every one of us has this within, but until we turn within instead of outside to seek truth, we will not find her.

Being a Goddess has allowed me to become a fearless feminist and live my life without remorse. The power she holds inspires and motivates me everyday to do better.

Now the question
is, what will finding your inner Goddess do for you?

by Erin McKelle from the upcoming Girl God Anthology, Whatever Works: Feminists of Faith Speak.

Celeste Gurevich, Whatever Works Contributor

 Whatever Works is a unique collection of writing by feminists of diverse faiths from around the world. This anthology combines personal essays, poems and academic musings with the goal of sparking conversations among women of all faith backgrounds. Religion plays a key role in defining and maintaining value systems, and yet it is often disregarded within feminism itself. This book shares the stories of highly diverse women with the hope that we can find collective solutions to the global problems that plague women and girls living under patriarchy.
Available late March - pre-order here.

Painting by Elisabeth Slettnes

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