Friday, March 13, 2015

Limitations of the Christian Trinity (God as Mother)

As promised, an excerpt from my paper on the Christian Trinity. A few things to consider:

I am generally familiar with, but was never indoctrinated into a Christian tradition and I have been Pagan most of my life. The majority of what I have learned has come from my own personal study or from my time at Iliff. So if my tone denotes a certain naivete on the nature of God, it is with good reason.

This assignment had certain limitations--number of words, pages, etc. This means as the student we write to the assignment. As much as I would like to expand on certain topics sometimes, such are the rules...

This was an opinion piece. I wrote it this way intentionally to generate critical thinking and constructive dialogue. If this piece offends you, I would stop and ask yourself why before you put your thoughts to the keyboard.


The Gender Limitations of the Trinity
            “O Lord, our God, we believe in you, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. For the Truth would not say, “Go, baptize all nations in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19), unless you were a Trinity” (McGinn 2006). For many Christians, the Trinity is the ultimate source of comfort and solace, and represents many aspects of the face of God. Of the many examples of mystical practices this quarter, perhaps the most compelling for me was utilizing the imagery of the Trinity to symbolize internal phases of the souls’ journey to God consciousness. This resonated with my own personal tradition in ways I had not thought of prior to this course. The importance of the Trinity and what it represents cannot go unnoticed—however I would argue there are limitations to the symbology that only includes male representation. As a scholar I have to question who are we excluding when we present this view of divinity. What are we losing when we limit ourselves to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
            The key example I want to highlight for this is Julian of Norwich’s account of Christ as mother. When I read her depictions, I had to stop and gauge my own reaction: “Our Mother in nature, our Mother in grace, because he wanted altogether to become our Mother in all things, made the foundation of his work most humbly and most mildly in the maiden’s womb” (Walsh 1978). Coming from a polytheist, mystic feminine tradition I wasn't sure what to make of her statements at first. I do acknowledge the challenges of her time and her role in that society. Her message rings clear and distinct during a very dark and tumultuous time for humanity—“God is love.” Indeed, the editors of the text we read summarize her aims as “The underlying concern of Julian is that of the totality. What she develops is not the idea of femininity as opposed to or distinct from that of masculinity, but that of the motherhood of God as complement to that of his fatherhood…She conceives the quality of a mother as present in the Trinity, as well as that of a Father, a Son and their Spirit” (Walsh 1978). We see these aspects in her writing, especially when she describes Jesus as Mother feeding us with himself, laying us against his breast, and loving us despite our faults as human beings for all of eternity. His sacrifice on the cross is likened to child-birth, and he is the Mother of mercy where man has his “reforming and restoring” (Walsh 1978).
            As an outside observer of the Christian tradition, I see Julian’s words as being vital in so many ways to establishing meaning and purpose for life during her lifetime, but more specifically for women in a predominantly male world. By incorporating the aspects of Mother as merciful, graceful, sure, and always present for her child, we see Julian carving out a place for the feminine to exist in unity with the masculine in the totality of the divine. I applaud Julian’s passion in her message—however I cannot internalize this message. I feel our world which demonstrates the functional balance between masculine and feminine is in need of divinity which embodies both of these aspects in their completeness. By incorporating the Mother under the role of Jesus (the Son), it demonstrates an appropriation of that which belongs to women. The crucifixion is a terrible and beautiful phenomenon that demonstrates the love Jesus has for the world and humanity, but it cannot be drawn in parallel to growing another human being and bringing them into the world, and I paused when I read her statement on physical birth: “For though it may be so that our bodily bringing to birth is only little, humble and simple in comparison with our spiritual bringing to birth, still it is he who does it in the creatures by whom it is done” (Walsh 1978). Is it a byproduct of her time that would cause Julian to see childbirth as such a low achievement? I have often asked in my coursework—why don’t we ever ask how Mary felt when she brought Jesus into the world? Was she in pain? Was she afraid? Surely to be acted upon by male deity is nothing new in the world of mythos, but I feel it is a grave injustice to the story of women throughout time to allow the Trinity to represent and summarize the totality of the human story. I understand also that throughout time man and the religious institution has struggled to define God, and Julian is functioning within the context of the acceptable image. But, standing where I am in relation to these histories, I feel compelled to ask why is the voice of woman silenced so? I am a mother, and for me the experience of bringing new life into the world is a holy experience. It is also an experience that deserves to be claimed as a cherished and sacred rite of women. If God chose Mary to be the vessel that brought life to the Son, then why is she not the example of Motherhood?
            “Listen and hear me; for none can escape me. It was I who gave birth to you, and in the depths of my earth, you will find rest and rebirth, and I will spring you forth anew, a fresh shoot to greenness” (Crowley 2003). I listen to the call of my Mother who is also a Trinity, and wonder if there will ever be room enough in this world for both. Can we find truth in the meaning behind the language we use for the divine? I truly believe Julian of Norwich was a visionary of her time, but still limited by the views and powers of the institution. I resonate with the power and beauty present in the Christian Trinity, but refuse to accept the limitations of confining deity to one gender. I feel this discussion is crucial to our work of understanding ourselves and the divine, along with cultivating those relationships that sustain us in our faith over time.  

Crowley, Vivianne. 2003. Wicca: A Comprehensive Guide to the Old Religion in the Modern World. London: Harper Collins .
McGinn, Bernard. 2006. The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism. New York: The Modern Library.
Walsh, Edmund Colledge & James. 1978. Julian of Norwich: Showings. New York: Paulist Press.


Friday, December 5, 2014

A Pagan Parenting Dilemma on Christmas

I had an interesting encounter this past weekend. As expected, the minute Thanksgiving is over we are inundated with Christmas--everything from music to shopping and decorations, etc. I was washing dishes and my son was watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, one of his favorite shows. Well...the episode just happened to be about Mickey and the gang saving Santa so that he could deliver presents to all the good children of the world on Christmas.

Now, my family celebrates Christmas. I also happen to observe Yule in my own ways, and have included my family in some ritual traditions over the years. As my son gets older I fully plan to continue observing both holidays for the coming together of family and the joy of the season. But this encounter with Mickey and Santa has me perplexed. I mentioned to my husband that I'm not completely convinced I want to lie to our son about Santa--as in, this fat old white guy flies all over the world and delivers presents to good children. The arguments against perpetuating such a lie are well summarized here:

(I'm also not a fan of the elf on the shelf, but that is for another post) I realize as a Pagan parent in our modern American society there are common cultural influences that we are exposed to regularly. I listen to classical Christmas choir music, which is eternally about the miracle birth of Christ our savior even though I am not Christian. I get that Santa is something that my kid will encounter and I'm working on formulating how and when I can navigate these conversations (both baby Jesus and Santa) while giving my son the space to choose what he wants to believe. In the end that's my ultimate goal: how can I maintain my authenticity as a Pagan parent while allowing my son to do the same? Any constructive feedback on the subject is welcome.



Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Intricate Web of Power

I had a cold, hard reminder of power dynamics on Saturday.

I just spent a week in Denver, in a group environment dedicated to identifying and calling out systems of oppression and how they function to keep the status-quo.

I had even done some additional work to name and work through my own privilege--how it manifests and how I can become more aware of it and hopefully use it to help others.

Then I was a victim of sexual aggression.

Just that simple, someone else who thinks they can so something does because in their mind it seems like a great idea. They didn't ask my opinion. They didn't stop to think how it would make me feel. And for me, all the times I've ever been violated and all the faces of perpetrators come forward to remind me that I am a woman in this society.

A man can look at me any way he wants. He can talk to me any way he wants. He can text me sexually explicit material just because he wants....and somehow this is my fault. I asked for it.

I have a vagina, so this automatically means I asked for it.

Be aware of your power. Be aware of your privilege. Are you hurting someone? Check yourself.


Friday, October 10, 2014

Sermon on John 6:48-59

Sermon: John 6: 48-59

“May you never hunger...” is a statement that is uttered during a ritual honoring the connective relationship between man, nature, and the Gods. It is a phrase I have said many times as I hand bread to a person next to me and they receive it. In many ways, bread symbolizes life for humanity. In a literal sense, bread can sustain us when we are hungry. The act of grinding grain, mixing it with water, and applying heat is a process that both uses energy and provides energy for the body to utilize. From a spiritual perspective, bread is the embodied representation of deity.

But what is the significance of the act of offering something to another? When I reach out my hand to offer bread to another, and by uttering the words “May you never hunger,” I’m not intending to say “I hope you never experience hunger again” in a literal sense because we all experience hunger on a daily basis. In some way I’m saying I hope you will never want for sustenance to sustain you—both physically and spiritually. I want you to always have your fill—your connection to humanity and the divine.

John 6:58 states: “This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

In this statement Jesus is referencing himself as the bread of heaven and the way to eternal life. In a sense, he is offering himself the way we offer when we reach out our hand with bread to another.

I want to backtrack a little to the statement of “That which your ancestors ate.” Two Greek terms are used in reference to eating in John 6: 48-59. The first is phago, meaning to eat, devour, and consume. It is a singular destructive action and we see this term in words like phagocyte and phagein. The other term is trogo, meaning to gnaw or chew, and stresses the slow internal process of taking in.

When the ancestors ate (phago) the manna given to them by God in the wilderness, it sustained them in a physical sense. It cured the temporary hunger that is part of the human condition. But it did nothing to sustain the spiritual hunger, or the connection to the divine and to each other. Each person gathered what they needed to sustain their physical form, but this distills each day to a process of gathering and consuming which brings no true satisfaction and fulfillment.

When Jesus says “The one who eats this bread will live forever,” he is using the continuous form of eat (trogo) to delineate the human need for continuous connection and the long, slow process of internalization that is not simply satisfied by a one-time encounter. Additionally, he is offering himself as one offers bread to another around the table of fellowship—building a relationship which is sustained over time. The act of internalization (trogo) provides the building blocks our body uses to renew itself over and over, creating a new and energized body that can focus on the world outside of the individual need to consume.

We are all familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and how food is one of the first, basic foundational needs in order for us to survive and scale the pyramid to self-actualization. But what if, instead of a pyramid, our needs form a circle that is continuous and life affirming. When we reach a hand out to another and offer bread, we offer physical comfort as well as the connection to each other and to the divine that allows us to become the best version of ourselves. Instead of climbing over each other in an effort to reach the top of the pyramid, we are joined in the reminder that we all have needs—we hunger, we thirst, and we need each other. This is how I take Jesus’ words to heart, and why I feel it is the act of offering himself as the bread that is the connection. So in closing, I say “May you never hunger.” So mote it be.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

When Crossroads Intersect

There is something to be said about pain. Not the physical kind necessarily, though that does deserve its own acknowledgement. I'm referencing emotional pain.

What is it about the capacity to wound without causing physical damage to another? How can we directly measure the level of pain we cause purposefully, much less inadvertently?

Do we worry about going through life intentionally trying to avoid pain? And can we grow as human beings without it?

I would argue pain is a byproduct of our capacity to love. When we love something or someone the last thing we want to do is hurt them, but in the end we might hurt them worse than anyone else.

It is in the midst of this pain that real growth happens. It is in the time of darkness that we truly grow to appreciate the light. I try and sit with this pain. Understand it. Acknowledge it and give it space to exist without judgement. What is my pain trying to tell me? How is pain in another manifested? Where do the two intersect?

If I cause you pain, is there a place where the mending makes us stronger?


Monday, June 16, 2014

The Space Between

Many things have changed recently, one of the most notable being my acceptance into a ten-week intensive CPE internship at Johns Hopkins. I can't say enough good things about the hospital's stance on religious pluralism, and how they incorporate spiritual health as a benchmark of overall health for the patient. Here's a bit from their homepage:

Many people have asked me if it's an issue for me to exist in a primarily Christian institution (JHH has approximately 20% Catholic patients overall) and my answer is somewhere in the middle. On the one hand, I have willingly inserted myself into this system knowing that my spiritual beliefs fall into a minority category. However, for me the crucial piece revolves around the meaning of healing for the patient. If when I am praying with a patient and we have entered into a sacred space where our theological understandings meet, I feel the encounter holds positive merit. I do feel odd sometimes not disclosing my faith to patients. But then I have to ask myself, does that really matter? If we are all human and need love, and if I am bringing love to another person does it matter if I am doing it in the name of Jesus or the Goddess?



Saturday, March 29, 2014

My Breastfeeding Journey

Few topics incite so many opinions or stones to throw as breastfeeding. There are adamant opinions on both sides of the fence (both for and against) and it seems now a days very much like the topic of how many children you should produce, people feel it is within their realm of expertise to comment on how you should be feeding your baby.

I'm going to write about MY journey. Not because I feel I am any type of expert, but because I believe it is important to acknowledge that each mother/baby pair is different. And while many many years ago the convenience of formula was not available or illness would make the situation much worse, we thankfully live in a day and age where a woman can choose for her and her offspring the method by which she will feed and nourish her child. Whether she is a stay at home mom or returning to work after six weeks, it's time we all left our collective egos at the door and acknowledge that no decision is ever taken lightly when it comes to the mother/baby bond.

I was hell bent and determined to do two things on becoming a mother: give natural birth and breastfeed my child for as long as he wanted to. I was blessed to at least get my first request. Unfortunately, post-partum depression, sleep deprivation, traveling for work and for school every month, a thyroid disorder, and stress has taken its toll on my milk supply. At three months I seriously considered weaning him to formula but I couldn't bring myself to do it. I kept up the good fight despite only making three, maybe four ounces a feeding and having to supplement with formula if he wanted more, not to mention not being able to pump enough to have a full supply for when I was out of town (which is often). I have made it past six months, almost to seven, and I must now begrudgingly admit it is time to wean him to formula. This is one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make and it goes against everything I believe in concerning natural child-rearing.

There is of course the guilt and the questions of why can't I do this if so many other women can? There is the shame of feeling like less of a mother. There is the pain of not having that bond with your child, not to mention the comments or looks when you're feeding him a bottle in public. (To be clear, these also happen when you're trying to breastfeed in public. See first paragraph) I'm in the middle of transitioning him, so of course the feelings are the most intense at the moment. I've had several well-meaning people tell me this is no big deal, he is perfectly healthy and I'm being silly. But let me reiterate: this is my journey. Mine and my son's. We decide what is best for us and I feel because of external factors I have had that chance taken away from me. Will this be the end of my world? Of course not. But don't demean my experiences in the name of trying to make it all seem trivial.

I am taking this step by step, day by day. I know with time this too will pass.