Note: This blog is not an attempt to assign spiritual meaning amid a global pandemic but rather an attempt to uncover existing spiritual truths while experiencing meaninglessness.
It’s no secret our society is built upon doing: performance, accomplishment, attaining wealth, gaining power or influence, cultivating growth, and, overall, forward motion. These are not necessarily bad things. Our relentless drive for success has sparked innovation and competition, inspiring autonomy and work ethic, moving us forward into new frontiers.
This idea of success, however, has been idolized by our culture. We often judge others (and perhaps unconsciously) based on what they have or do not have. One of the first questions we often ask one another is, “What do you do?” We often judge ourselves through the lens of our performance or forward motion.
A recent pandemic-related story titled “We’re all monks now” in America Magazine notes how power and wealth often give people meaning to existence, but in all actuality, as Trappist monk Father Michael Casagram is quoted as saying, “power and wealth create an illusion of meaning and purpose while undermining our spiritual destiny.”
Idolization births illusions. And this pandemic has exposed our illusions.
All the doing came to a halt. The world seemingly ceased from spinning. Even a raging economy stood no chance against nature’s chaos. We were all, in some way, forced into liminality. America was thrust into a state of discomfort…stillness.
Pre-pandemic, the animating force in the lives of most Americans, it seems, was more of a masculine kind of energy. In his book Eager to Love, Richard Rohr references psychiatrist Karl Stern’s comparison between French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre and St. Francis. “The Way of the Dynamo, (productivity, rationality, critical thinking, and effectiveness)” Rohr quotes, is a masculine way epitomized by Sartre, whereas “the Way of the Virgin (relationality, subtlety, and interiority)” is the feminine way demonstrated by Francis, and Clare, of course.
We were trapped in the belly of a whale—in our illusions of success—and were spit out onto the shoreline of the sacred feminine, invited into relationality, subtlety, and interiority; to explore parts of ourselves that have perhaps been repressed in our frantic chase for success.
If God lives in us and we live in God, we must not only discover God as Father but also God as Mother. My dear friend, a poet named Brooke Lehmann who continues to guide me in my understanding of the divine feminine, recently told me that, without downplaying the sufferings and collective groaning this pandemic has caused, this desert phase does have the potential to serve as a sacred reset, not only individually but collectively.
Whereas the masculine mind often gravitates toward performance, winning or losing, hierarchy, and tangible results, the feminine mind, the nurturing mind, knows there is nothing like abiding intimacy and presence. We begin in the womb, and we are welcomed back to this kind of mystical union each day. This kind of connectedness was never lost, only forgotten in our rush to accomplish and attain something that can be measured. As Julian of Norwich once wrote, “The mother’s service is nearest, readiest, and surest: nearest because it is most natural, readiest because it is most loving, and surest because it is truest.”
I’m admittedly a novice in understanding the divine feminine but I can feel its call.
Relationality, subtlety, and interiority is “not rising but settling” within, as Brooke recently phrased. Suddenly I find myself, instead of canceling plans in my busyness, wanting nothing more but to be with my family and friends—through Zoom calls, through online games, through virtual beers—even pining for physical touch, something I’ve never really cared about. I find myself living more within the moments of the day rather than always rushing off to the next one—savoring the different subtleties within nature as I walk my dog, how it blooms and comes to life at this strange time, as if reminding me that I’ve already been gifted every spiritual blessing in Christ and that it is mine, not to own, but to taste and to see, to experience and enjoy, without extracting meaning from it. I find myself, in the vulnerability of stillness, forced to go inward and name that which is rising, that which can no longer be suppressed or pushed to the side, masked by doing.
Many of us have not dared to explore God as Mother because we are trapped in a masculine God-perception. Our God-views are byproducts of our culture. This has been the case since religion came onto the scene. People in biblical times, believing to have lived in a three-tiered-universe (heaven above, the earth in the middle, and hell below), strived to appease the gods above through devotion and sacrifice. This was not without its benefits. The model served its purpose, cultivating order and awareness. But it’s no wonder patriarchal cultures ended up worshiping a king-like deity.
We no longer need this kind of king yet continue to cling to him. Perhaps you’ve read some of the articles claiming that God is deliberately punishing us or testing us or re-centering us in some way through this pandemic. (Process theologian Catherine Keller wrote a great article critiquing these notions.) Attributing this kind of meaning to the suffering, in my opinion, reflects the hyper-masculinized God-perception I just referenced—an age-old spiritual paradigm where God sits on his king-like thrown casting down commands and judgments, allowing some things and planning others, based on our own spiritual performance.
We need archetypes, models, symbols, and art because they help us to understand the unexplainable. But we sometimes rush to explain, it seems, based on one particular archetype, in this case, God as Father. Healthy movement in the world must contain both yin and yang, being and doing, the feminine and the masculine, but what has been suppressed? Where are we being invited back into our inherent wholeness? We need the divine feminine to break open what we’ve idolized and open us up again to authentic spiritual encounter on a personal level and holistic, integrated movement on a collective level.
As Sue Monk Kidd wrote in her incredible book The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, “Divine feminine imagery opens up the notion that the earth is the body of the Divine, and when that happens, the Divine cannot be contained solely in a book, church, dogma, liturgy, theological system, or transcendent spirituality. The earth is no longer a mere backdrop until we get to heaven, something secondary and expendable. Matter becomes inspirited; it breathes divinity. Earth becomes alive and sacred. And we find ourselves alive in the midst of her and forever altered.”
In his seminal work Original Blessing, Matthew Fox wrote that integrating more of a creation-centered and divine-feminine spirituality is where imagination, creativity, and play is born, where we learn to be children again, which is what Jesus told us to do if we want to enter into the kingdom or “queendom.” Just as Mother God birthed an ever-expanding universe from nothing, this nothingness, too, in our own lives, is where “creation and expansion” might unfold, where our imaginations roam free, where we resurrect the child within, empowered by the Mother, whom we were connected to from the start.
How will we emerge from this space? How will we be different?
The systems birthed in our illusions were not working for everyone. Care for the planet was neglected in our race to attain wealth and power. When relationality, subtlety, and interiority are not cultivated, we become disembodied creatures, disconnected from one another. Our individualism has often blinded us to the suffering within the collective. We are finally realizing the effects our actions might have on the most vulnerable in our society.
This stillness has forced us to consider how to nurture the Body of Christ. We have an opportunity to, like Mary, approach reality relationally, nurture what is within, despite our unknowing, and give birth to something that might change the world. The creative and imaginative energy of the divine feminine animated the incarnation: the birth of creation and the birth of a savior. What else will it inspire?
As Sue Monk Kidd wrote, “If such a consciousness truly is set loose in the world, nothing will be the same. It will free us to be in a sacred body, on a sacred planet, in sacred communion with all of it. It will infect the universe with holiness.”
This post was inspired by my interviews with Mark Forrester and Brooke Lehmann in the Butterfly Net Interview Series.