|Painting by Arna Baartz|
Sisters, for far too long, you have been preached to about a God who is called Father, but never Mother. About a Jesus who called men, but not women, as his disciples. You have taken these words, spoken as they were from holy stations, into your hearts. They have shaped you and just may have kept you from fully living God’s grand and glorious plan for you.
Torrents of divinity, filtered through patriarchal dogma and doctrine, now only a trickle. Barely enough to quench your soul, parched as it is, longing to swim in the living water of a God that is equal parts Goddess.
But from the beginning, a golden thread of sisterhood existed. Yes, even before Eve, whose story has been twisted and told in ways that shame women still today. There is so much more to your story. To your spiritual heritage. Let us start at the beginning.
In Sophia, the first bearer of this golden thread, our story is born. In Proverbs she tells us:
I was there when the Almighty created the heavens,
and set the horizon just above,
set the clouds in the sky,
and established the springs of the deep,
gave the seas their boundaries
and set their limits at the shoreline.
When the foundation of the earth was laid out,
I was the skilled artisan standing next to the Almighty.
I was God’s delight day after day,
rejoicing in the whole world
and delighting in humankind.
(Proverbs 8: 27-31)
After Sophia’s poetic introduction, we are left with no choice but to sit in the mystery. Because there are no concrete answers to help us color within the lines crying out to be filled with a feminine face of God. Instead we are asked to embrace the unknown. To refrain from visualizing ourselves being embraced by the man in white robes and instead open ourselves to an indefinable presence who was there from the beginning and delights in us. Yes, delights in us.
Sophia’s name—Greek for wisdom—tells us that she is wisdom, in its purest form. Not to be confused with the intellectualized knowledge we are accumulating at an unprecedented rate, this deep wisdom transcends our ability to codify. It defies our attempts to disseminate it impersonally via our never-ending data streams. Even spoken language often cannot capture it. We must ask ourselves, as author Barbara Brown Taylor does, “Do we dismiss the body’s wisdom because it doesn’t use words?” If we do, how can we begin to do things differently?
We can begin by trusting messages that come to us unvoiced but full of truth. Our body is full of these unspoken messages. We can start by setting aside time to listen through silent practices that encourage such a dialog. Yoga, Qi Gong and Tai Chi are all contemplative physical practices. Walking a labyrinth is another. Even gardening can open us to truth that eludes our thinking selves. The list is truly endless. It is not important that we find the “right” practice. It is only important that we begin to awaken the wisdom in us that is separate from our cerebral default.
Another voice whispers to us—still before Eve. Do you know the story of Lilith? Suppressed and stifled by many, you must listen closely to hear her story. Hers is not a story that serves the prevailing power structure. It is not a tale of a well-behaved woman. Perhaps that is why I love it so. In the Lilith of midrashic literature, we find a woman who dares to claim equality with Adam based on the fact that they were created from the same earth. Early Jewish writings speculate that Lilith’s refusal to accept subservience and swift departure from the garden necessitated the second telling of Eve’s creation (and subsequent eradication of Lilith) in which, instead of earth, she was created from Adam’s rib.
Regardless of why or how she became an underground legend, her existence is a signpost to those of us seeking a God who empowers men and women to live alongside each other, rather than in the kind of hierarchical arrangement Jesus spent much of his time here on earth dismantling.
Sit with Lilith, with the idea that the first woman would not submit to man. How does that make you feel? Think about the areas of your life where some of Lilith’s strong female energy would help move you along your path. Next time you are tempted to give in or give up something truly important to you in order to please or appease another, remember Lilith. Have the courage to walk away or say no if it helps you embody your God-given truth. Even if those around you judge you for your choice. Remember, what they think about you is not your business.
What a misunderstood woman. Vilified in the New Testament in much the same way Eve was in the Old Testament, Mary Magdalene was upheld by religious leaders as a fallen woman, a warning to us all. In another twisting of truths, stories of many Marys were combined into one, depicting Jesus’ most beloved disciple as a prostitute in need of exorcism. We need to spend time getting to know Mary—The Magdalene, companion of Jesus. Read her gospel. Read books about her. Find her frayed end of the golden thread. Weave her back into your story as you ferret out your own truth about who she was. Then get our your journal and spend some time with these ideas and questions.
If your faith tradition transmitted the idea that a dozen men were Jesus’ chosen disciples and that women did not have a place in his inner circle, explore your feelings about this as honestly as you can. In your reading, do you find a different history—a herstory—that tells a different, more inclusive story?
In what ways have you limited or held yourself back because of the belief that you could not have the same relationship with Jesus—and with God—simply because you are not male?
After confronting these feelings and their affect on your spiritual foundation, write about ways you can live into the belovedness Jesus has always seen in you, as Mary lived fully into hers, at Jesus’ side to the end and beyond.
The most ambiguous member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit often gets pegged as the female part of God, as if femininity were a box to be checked, an attribute confinable to a third of God’s glory. And, yes, the Holy Spirit is yet another carrier of our sisterhood’s golden thread. The ephemeral nature of the Holy Spirit makes poetry a natural choice for revealing the Holy Spirit’s presence which I explore in this poem I call Indwelling:
Shekinah. Ruach. Parousi,
in you we recover our Mother God.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
your gentle breath completes the trinity,
in which we feared we’d been forgotten.
We see ourselves in your face,
and feel God through your indwelling.
Come, Holy Spirit,
sweet Shekinah, move through our lives,
a billowing brume,
veiling us in your sacred wisdom.
Holy Spirit is best understood, not through the intellect, but through the senses. To access the experience of the Holy Spirit moving through you, try a sensory meditation. You will bypass logic and go straight to experience.
Sit by candlelight and diffuse frankincense oil, creating an environment in which you are literally taking in holy sights and scents, letting them permeate you, much as the Holy Spirit does. There is no agenda for this meditation. Just as we can’t orchestrate the work of the Holy Spirit through the right prayers or right actions, we must sit and wait on Shekinah’s indwelling. Remove all physical distractions by ensuring you are warm and comfortable. This meditation works well after a warm bath or shower. If you like, use a few drops of frankincense oil in your bath, as well. This sacred oil—gifted to Christ by the wise men—is known for its calming and centering properties, and for its immune-boosting abilities.
Yes, Jesus was counterculturally affirming of women. He chose to reveal himself to women in ways that baffled his male followers and caused outrage among patriarchal pillars of the early church. But that is not what makes him a bearer of our golden thread. It is woven much deeper than that, within the very fabric of our understanding of Christ.
The vast majority of Christians approach Jesus with a soteriological understanding, which is just a fancy way of saying through a lens of salvation. Because of this very masculine, goal-oriented way of understanding Jesus’s mission, the aim of virtually all modern evangelical ministry is individual salvation. Ministries successes are too often measured by how many are saved. When we shift our gaze to a more sophiological one—a feminine, wisdom based way viewpoint—we begin to see Jesus as a path to true knowing, rather than one who came to save some and not others. In this golden light, Jesus becomes a lover of all, rather than an arbiter of our eternal fate.
In this more expansive, sophiological view, Jesus embodies the wisdom of Sophia who we met in the Old Testament. These two ways of understanding Jesus do not change any of the facts about his life, but they change everything about how his message impacts us today. I choose to see Jesus in the Sophia-infused radiance in which the light glints off the golden thread in his hands. It is a thread the connects not only all women, but all of humanity.
By Monette Chilson. An excerpt from the Girl God Anthology, Jesus, Muhammad and the Goddess.
Monette Chilson, author of Sophia Rising: Awakening Your Sacred Wisdom Through Yoga, has lived her yoga on and off the mat for 20 years. She writes and speaks about the melding of faith and yoga. She’s written for Yoga Journal, Integral Yoga Magazine, Om Times and Christian Yoga Magazine. Her book was recently awarded an Illumination Book Award Gold Medal, as well as the Hoffer Small Press and First Horizon Awards. Connect on Twitter and Instagram (@MonetteChilson) or explore her work at www.SophiaRisingYoga.com.