My sense of spirituality is a swirling amalgamation, a collage of core truths borrowed from a whole spectrum of philosophies and experiences. When I am asked, my answer usually goes something like: “Well, you could call me a tree-hugging, ocean-swimming, Nature-loving pagan humanist, but I’ve also taken some ideas from Judeo-Christians (such as Jesus’ view and treatment of the disenfranchised), Muslims (submission to the power of the transcendent), Buddhists (the tenant of mindfulness), Hindus (the mystical poetry of the Upanishads), and other theologies. Plus, a big ol’ chunk of science.” A bit confusing to many people, understandably, but what feels truest is to call myself a student of this Wondrous Universe. I feel myself to be one connective strand in the Great Web of Life.
* * *
Drift Creek old growth, dappled sunlight through summerfat leaves. Scent of pine needle blanket at my feet, baby pinecone chickens fallen from Mother Tree’s nest of branches.
Embraced, by the warm breeze. Sister Chickadee and her daily greeting. Teaching me to speak Bird, coming to check my progress.
Stellar’s jays, robin, wrens, and the surprise of whee-dee, whee-dee above my head. Flicker, orange tail flashing fire, wants in on the conversation. Dialects. Music. So much to learn from my winged siblings.
Here, I can tend to my baby chicks, make a branch teepee on the soft, dry pine needles. Be hidden. Safe. I want to be a tree, a hen, or a squirrel.
This poem is a scene from when I was five years old, playing by myself in the forest abutting the Pacific Ocean on the central Oregon Coast. It took almost 40 years to put into language what I experienced that day, and much of my poetry is rooted in my intense relationship with nature.
I grew up in the last generation to run wild in relative safety through the abundance of wildness around us in Lincoln City, then a still lazy town of 6,500 people spread out over 15 miles. My single mother was a child of the ’60’s, not a full-on hippie, but with the same humanitarian ideals. And a very strong opinion that I learn about religion, history, and art, and most of all, the natural world first hand. “Go out there and search and watch and listen. You’ll know what feels true to you,” was her mantra during my adolescence.
My mother gave birth to me, just out of her teens, while the American Indian Movement occupied the island of Alcatraz in 1970, a few miles from where we lived. Her emotional connection with that community pushed her toward reclaiming the Cherokee ancestry that my grandmother’s family had successfully buried for generations. She was drawn to Native spirituality, as was my uncle who lived in British Columbia at the tip of Vancouver Island, with the Kwakiutl tribe. We spent the summer there after she divorced my father, and the experience had a profound affect on our lives. On the return trip south, we stumbled upon Lincoln City, Oregon, which also has a local tribe, the Siletz, who welcomed us at every gathering we attended. Mom decided to stay, and it was our home for the next fifteen years. I consider myself beyond blessed to have spent so much time with and be so accepted by these communities. They taught me about the world and how to be in it in ways I am still uncovering.
At the top of the list of blessings in my life is the privilege of being raised in the Pacific Northwest. The experience of having my entire being sculpted and infused with a thousand shades of green, year round. Swimming with seals while watching a bald eagle fish in the bay just yards away. Of living my adult life nestled between a rugged and majestic coastline on one side, and the dotted row of Cascade Range volcanoes on the other, in the juicy and fertile Willamette Valley. It is primary to who I am as a spiritual being. This land, this region, has been as much a parent to me as my mother. And more father to me than my own ever was.
I started to read when I was four, and have been a voracious reader ever since. Alice Walker, Nancy Friday, Carl Sagan, and Gloria Steinem became my teachers and as an only child, and their books were my beloved companions. When I was in junior high school, I was introduced to Joseph Campbell, and my fascination with comparative religion began. Not only was he the first male academic that I had seen even acknowledge sacred feminine mythology, but he celebrated the fact that, at the core, all of the branches of religion share a fundamental beauty and wisdom. That all of nature is Our Mother. That free and unlimited access to the Divine is our human right.
With my brain full of Campbell’s theories, I wanted to see the inside of organized religion. I started to go with friends to various churches around town, to the denominations that were available in that very Caucasian community: Lutheran, Catholic, Evangelical, Baptist. In these traditions I experienced only repetitious dogma, a dreadful lack of humanism (if there at all, it was the condescending, take-pity-on-the-savages missionary type), and no feeling of sacredness to be found. There seemed to be a disconnected boredom in most parishioner’s eyes, not a reflection of divine light. All too businesslike for me. And that business was built upon and thriving on fear, guilt and shame. Not for me. It was a short and frustrating experiment, but vastly illuminating. Whatever sacred truths were to be found in Judeo-Christian theologies, it was up to me to find them on my own. I would explore the texts themselves, without the layers of human application to sully the messages.
Undaunted, I continued to catch up with the enormous backlog of Campbell’s work, which lead me first to the big names in prehistoric and contemporary women’s history, and feminist spirituality: Marija Gimbutas, Zsuzsanna Budapest, Margot Adler, Merlin Stone. They provided a direct and visceral line back to my European female ancestors, who’s indigenous healing traditions I had been studying independently for some time.
I learned how women had been systematically denied access to religion and it’s institutions, proper education, and most of all, control over their own lives. I began to see the reality of the struggle for gender equality as something that didn’t just effect me, in the community where I lived, but as a global issue. And one of extreme importance. The realization hit me that until the balance begins to be restored, our species will continue to limp along, disconnected from our collective history. Never reaching our highest potential: Homo Empathicus, one who lives in a state of divine empathy. I believe wholeheartedly that this is our next crucial step in human evolutionary biology. We are all born from a mother, and we need to remember this.
The work of these fierce women wove a thread through Campbell’s mythology, my own Native American-influenced spiritual beliefs, and all the way to contemporary feminist politics. They helped to strengthen my ties to the planet and the connected web of life that She supports and nurtures, and to the Sacred Feminine innate in the Universe and my own body.
Shortly after my twentieth birthday, I gave birth to my child using natural methods, with assistance of a midwife, which drove home the lesson of how powerful our life-force and body machines are. Just eight months after that, my mother was killed in a car accident, only forty years old. Losing her taught me how deeply embedded my beliefs are about life, death, and what comes after. Both experiences fueled my determination to live a life as close as possible to the forests, rivers, and beaches that were the genesis of my intense connection to the natural world.
I’ve been able to achieve this, living in Portland, Oregon for over twenty years. I was fortunate to be able to raise my son here, to share my childhood loves with him. To expand his experiences beyond mine, of growing up in a very small town. In this city, my church has many names: Forest Park, Oaks Bottom, Reed Canyon, Tryon Creek. Powell Butte. For the past five years, the love of my life has magnified my sense of worship and awe with his own. We visit the trees to be renewed and recharged. The varieties of nature also come to us, our home. Raptors and Great Blue Heron fly over our house, and flickers hang out in the giant fir tree in the backyard. The abundant maple trees flame and die each Autumn, reminding us of the turning of the wheel of time, as midlife, our bodies are reminding us that we too are part and parcel in that cycle.
I will turn 45 years old just as the first Spring crocus buds show their purple and white faces. Many people, and especially women in American culture, have a hard time celebrating their aging. I look forward to it as I am learning exponentially about myself and the world with each year. The gift of nature I am experiencing through the roller coaster of peri-menopause brings as many new insights and freedoms as it does confusion and discomfort. It is a delight in my life to have a partner who is also determined to age with grace and gratitude, and honors the changes in us both.
It’s been challenging at times, living and trying to thrive in this culture. Regardless, I and my beloved have chosen to walk through our lives with our hearts and minds open, curious, searching. For the sacred in each and every one of us.
* * *
I am the cream-colored foam at the tip
of a salty wave, hurling toward blackred rock.
I am the racing heart of a chickadee,
I am the glint in the midnight eye of a harbor seal.
I am the keening cry of a bald eagle fishing the bay, perched on a log
seasoned by sun and time.
I am a pine needle on a wind-stunted tree,
roots holding firm at the ocean’s edge.
I am a shimmering drop of the mist dancing away from
the collision of wave and rock, toward clouds on high that will rain me back to
by Celeste Gurevich, a selection 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.
Celeste Gurevich grew up on the Central Oregon Coast and currently lives with her husband, Andrew, in Portland. After experiencing a trauma-induced decade-long writer’s block, she started taking writing and film classes at Mt. Hood Community College and experienced a literary rebirth. A Social Artist in training, her goal is to teach others about the transformative nature of sharing our stories with one another, and the collective healing that comes from revealing our deepest inner selves in community. Her work has appeared in: Perceptions: A Magazine for the Arts, The Manifest-Station.net, and The International Journal of Gender, Nature, and Transformation. She is currently a member of the Dangerous Writers workshop with Tom Spanbauer, and is working on her first book.