27 November 2018

You gotta believe in something....

I find myself in the slightly unusual place of feeling as though I have nothing to say. It’s not as though there hasn’t been interesting things happening, either: the Womanspirit Rising conference I went to in early November in Christchurch was amazing, and there has been plenty of interesting things happening in other spaces. It’s just that …. I don’t have words for them. Maybe if I just try and reflect on stuff, words will come.

Womanspirit Rising felt like me finding my foremothers: all those courageous women who fought for justice and lived their spiritual truths in the third feminist wave in the 70s and 80s – and suddenly there they were, and there I was. I was the youngest by about 15 years (which was mildly depressing, in that I really hoped there would be other women my age finding their truth and journeying) but it was immensely inspiring to talk and be with women who have walked the same road I am walking. It has been so lonely at times over the last few years, exploring what it means for me for the Divine to not just wear a female face and form, but to BE the feminine divine, with all the change of emphasis and turning around that that has meant for me. At the conference, I realised I was not alone, but somehow I need to get other women travelling with me.

There were a mix of women from all backgrounds: christian, pagan, Wiccan, “nones” and “dones”, but all of us were looking for that great brightness who has come with so many names over the years: Inanna, Isis, Ishtar, Hekate, Kali, Mary the Magdala, Mary Queen of Heaven, Hine-anu-one, Hine-nui-e-te-po, Brigid, Dana – the dying and life-giving one.

For me, I think the gift of the day was the sense of connectedness with all of these women and their journeys and stories – the sense of weaving together the rope that is stronger than any one of us alone. It was kind of summed up in this gorgeous clip (Nina Paley You Gotta Believe):

I love the dancing Goddesses in this video - all those ancient ways we recognised her, grooving away in their own way. I especially like watching the Venus of Willendorf having her party, with all her wobbly bits grooving too. Such freedom in who she is!

So am I finding freedom in who I am? What a good question, and to be honest, I don't know yet. What I do know is that there is so much more below the surface, below that carefully-cultivated christian top layer. The "spiritual archaeology" my new director recommended is giving me the "permission" I think I still needed to look at those other layers: Grail myths, Egyptian mythology, music, storytelling, water - even endo and all its attendant lessons that I never wanted to learn but had no choice about. Who knows what will come of it? I don't, but I warrant that Someone does....

Just a last thought - I remember reading Mary Daly's quote that 'The word "sin" is derived from the Indo-European root "es" meaning "to be'. When I discovered this etymology, I intuitively understood that for a woman trapped in patriarchy, which is the religion of the entire planet, "to be" in the fullest sense is "to sin".'

What does "sinning" look like if it also means becoming or being? What might that look like? Now there's an interesting question!

9 October 2018

A little self-care

Tonight is the dark of the moon - last night I could feel the last of the moon "buzzing" and it was so unsettling. Tonight, after a long walk in the park in the sunset with daughter, I am collected and calm. I have kitty company and the silence I have craved all day. 

I've found myself making some interesting decisions lately. Making choices for me, to explore parts of me, or just do some things that make me feel grounded.

One of them is booking a ticket just for me for Johannes Moser's cello recital at St Andrew's on the Terrace this Sunday: he's playing three of Bach's cello suites (1, 3, and 4), which I completely adore. I am taking myself off to the concert by myself, as I am not going to miss a chance to hear (some of) the suites live. Yo-yo Ma has released a third album recording of them and is now touring the world with the suites again - if he comes here I'm going, no matter where I might have to go to hear them. My lovely brother sent me a live recording of Yo-yo Ma playing all six in a row as part of the Proms season in London a few years back and it is absolutely my go-to music. I love Bach in any form and for any reason, but the suites are special. I came late to them - I forget how I came across them but they have captured my heart. 

Other things are booking to go to the Women's Spirituality conference in Christchurch in November - the flight times are pretty ugly but I wasn't going to miss that one. I didn't ask anyone either: I just told hubby I was going! I have read some of the papers from the original conference 30 years ago and I really want to network with other women who are exploring what spiritual living might look like in the 21st century, when it seems that all we have gained in the last 40 years might be lost again. 

I've also joined a Tai Chi class at work - I did Tai Chi at a previous job and really liked it. This class runs in lunchtime once a week (which is better than after work for me) and the two I've done so far made me feel so energised and so grounded - I was sparkling full of energy and ideas in the afternoon! I may need to book out the afternoons after Tai Chi for project/high concentration work to make the most of that!

Hubby and I are continuing to enjoy Ceroc dance on a Friday night - we'd missed a few classes due to being sick and it was so good on Friday to get back to class, catch up with the friends we're making there, and get back on the dance floor! 

Another thing I've done is book out every Friday as a no-meetings day next year - either to work from home or do concentrated project-type work or study. With the pace of change heating up next year, it seemed the sensible thing - take control of my diary before other people got near it! I suspect those Fridays will become really important as my uni papers begin next year too - also a scary thought but another thing I am doing for me. 

The most interesting of those things is entering direction again.... I am really looking forward to company on the way, especially as I am travelling "home by another way". 

1 October 2018


My husband is awesome.

A few months ago, he came home from a gallery setup in great excitement (he volunteers at the local art society - he is a potter and photographer). The pottery exhibition he was setting up included a piece he thought I would like. He dragged me down to the final setup (he was protecting me from the exhibition opening - I loathe openings! Too many people in a small space trying to sound important and pretentious about art!) to show me something. One of his friends had made a copy of the Venus of Willendorf out of clay, mounted on a stone block. He bought it for me....

And then, for my birthday, he got me a singing bowl. I have been wanting one of them for so long - every time I went into TradeAid or anywhere else I was gently ringing all of the bowls... So now the Venus of Willendorf has a candle holder in front surrounded by a malachite bracelet, and a singing bowl, and a koru, and a huge chunk of amethyst geode that hubby has had since he was a boy, and flowers when they are fresh.... It's quite a lovely place on that part of the display unit, and there is something about ringing the bowl when I light a candle that brings peace like silent snow. 

The whole display unit is bristling with candles anyway, as we have our tending candles up there for when we Tend the Flame every 20 days from sundown to sundown, in honour of Brigid (St Bridget, Bride, Brigid - Celtic fire goddess, keeper of hearth and inspiration and also co-opted as a saint). We've been Tending for more than a year now as a family and it's something we all enjoy. We use an electric candle overnight and when we're out of the house but try to use a real flame the rest of the time. 

And in our room, I have a statue of Mary as Our Lady of Grace that I've had for years, and candles in porcelain pots, and alabaster pots, and it's all about intentions and honouring her. 

It's kind of odd actually. The Venus of Willendorf is earthy, ancient, fat and full of grace - not pretty, but powerful. Our Lady is porcelain and gold, serene, delicate, pregnant with possibilities, yet slim and beautiful. Quite different images, but both have such power, such courage. Brigid's Flame is fire - heat, light, inspiration, warmth. Earth, Air, Fire - maybe I am the Water? It is certainly my place of inspiration!

Planning ahead

I was doing something tonight I haven't done for many years - at least 8, maybe more. I was on a university website, working on an application to study. Victoria has just launched a Masters in Health (Workplace Health and Safety), with the inaugural students starting in 2019. I'll be one of them.

That's a fairly scary thought actually. I know I'm good academically and I know I've always done well at uni - and the last lot of study was 4.5 years part time through Massey doing my GradDipOSH. The scary thought is that I've got a demanding job, a busy family life, and all those other things going on in life. Looking back, I'm not quite sure how I fitted in my Massey study with a baby and a full-on consultancy job - thank heaven for hubby being at home! I guess I'll adapt but it's just a bit scary.

However, it's the right time to do it - it'll take about 5 years and that will still have me mid-career with about 15-20 years of practice left, so it makes sense to do it now. I've always wanted to do a Masters and for various reasons it didn't happen. There's a lot going on in the field that I need to keep up with to bring to my work, so it will be a good chance to refresh myself. So here goes - jumping in with both feet! Hopefully by March I'll have a few more things sorted at work so it won't be so busy...

15 September 2018

Sense of divinity

Last weekend was an interesting one. I went to the Progressive Christian conference held at St Andrew's on the Terrace. The Friday chimed with all of the work I've been doing on breaking stigma around mental illness at work, and preparing for Mental Health Awareness Week and the launch of all the resources we've been working on - but it was doing it from a different angle. I have only been in a church three times since the abortive St James' AGM in March and in that time my thinking has really shifted again, so I was a bit nervous about being with people that described themselves as Christians, as my experience of people who use that term are often anything but loving and compassionate.

However, I was pleasantly surprised - I met people that I could have genuine conversations with about issues that mean something to me: how we treat our Mother the Earth; how we treat other people that wear skin over their divinity; how we walk with kindness and gentleness in the world; how we find Godde, God, Goddess - the Greatness that is the Brightness of All - in the midst of all things and in everywhere.

The most interesting sessions were the one that Emily Colgan ran on reading the bible from the perspective of Earth, employing a hermeneutic of suspicion that I am familiar with from feminist theology. I found this helpful as I haven't touched the bible for months, preferring Matthew Fox's theology, the Gnostic Gospels, or Goddess writings. There may be a way back there for me, employing the hermeneutic of suspicion again.

The best session of all though was Sande Ramage's Jungian "releasing the Christian ties that bind" session. I cried - suddenly it seemed I had found someone else who has travelled the same route I am travelling, and is further along the road. When she talked about her experience of divinity as Goddess and swapped between he and she as naturally as breathing, it felt as though I had found what I had been trying for years to get into the church.

Not sure where this leaves me though. I will continue to read, to seek. Hubby and daughter gave me a singing bowl for my birthday, which now sits alongside the pottery version of the Venus of Willendorf that one of hubby's pottery friends made and we bought a few months ago. It is astonishing, the sense of divinity that comes when I ring the bowl and light a candle. Maybe that's all I do for a bit: small ritual actions, lighting candles, calling on her, singing bowls, breathing, walking on her breasts the earth. Smelling the jonquils in my garden. Sinking into the depths of the wonderful bathtub in our gorgeous new bathroom that hubby built. Being aware. Writing. Poems are beginning to bubble again....

17 April 2018

Discovering a feminine Godde

“And the Lord said…” preached the priest at the parish I was attending, and suddenly, everything changed.

“Why does it have to be “the lord”?” I thought. “We know God is above and beyond gender, but I only ever hear God referred to using male pronouns and male terms. Can God be Mother as well as Father? Can God be … Lady?” That thought was the beginning of the seismic shift in my theology, my practice, and my life.

Until that moment, I had lived my faith in a conventional (but hopefully courageous) way. I studied English Literature and Religious Studies in my BA, and then went on to complete a Bachelor of Ministries degree from the-then Bible College of New Zealand, with a focus on spiritual formation. During my time at BCNZ, I returned to my Anglican roots, and was Confirmed as an Anglican not long after I married my husband in 2001.  

I joined the Third Order Franciscans not long after we married, and I transferred my vows to a Benedictine community a few years later, as I found the Benedictine vows of stability, conversion of life, and obedience to God a much easier fit for a married woman than poverty, chastity and obedience! Our daughter, then aged 4, assisted me at my vows by vesting me in the Benedictine habit – she has grown up with a mother who works fulltime, is married and a nun, and is quite happy with all of that, as is my husband who is my strongest supporter!

Fast-forward five years. My small family were attending a small Anglican church and living our lives as a youngish couple with a small child. Everything was seemingly normal. I was reading voraciously, as is my lifelong habit, and one of the books I read around that time was Sue Monk Kidd’s The Dance of the Dissident Daughter. And then, from left field, comes this thought: why do I never hear God addressed by female names? And following on from that, what is wrong with being female, that (according to Augustine and other male early church leaders) means women cannot be seen as imago Dei, fully created in the image of God as women?

St Augustine said that,

“Woman does not possess the image of God in herself but only when taken together with the male who is her head, so that the whole substance is one image. But when she is assigned the role as helpmate, a function that pertains to her alone, then she is not the image of God. But as far as the man is concerned, he is by himself alone the image of God just as fully and completely as when he and the woman are joined together into one.”

I dived into the most serious theological and historical study I had ever done (including the six years I spent doing my degrees) – certainly the most fraught. This felt like a life-or-death situation – the life or death of my ability to respect myself as a woman, the life or death of my ability to connect with the divine.
Is there historical and theological support for calling God by female names?

To my great delight (and relief), there is ample biblical, theological and historical evidence for addressing the Most Holy by female names. I discovered that the translations made of the Bible had frequently changed female names for people, as well as mistranslating female terms and names for the divine. For example, the ancient Hebrew “El Shaddai” is usually translated “The Almighty”, assuming that the term derives from shadad, burly or powerful, or shadah, “mountains”. However, many Hebrew scholars now understand that El Shaddai derives from Shad meaning breast – El Shaddai therefore translates as the Many-Breasted One. The ancient habit of translating the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter name for God, as “LORD”, further reinforced the incorrect assumption that only male language was acceptable to name the Most High.

The usage of “Father/abba” to relate to the Holiest is only used 4 times in Mark, 15 in Luke, 49 in Matthew, and 109 times in John (the Gospels were written in that order, from around 60-120AD) - surely a sign of a growing community usage, rather than Jesus’ actual words. Given the Gospels had earlier sources now lost to us, it is possible that the term “father” was used infrequently by Jesus, and was then latched onto by his followers as a quiet and subconscious way of reinforcing the Graeco-Roman worldview of men as pater familias, the head of the household, and its use encouraged and strengthened through the years by those reinforcing male leadership and power.

I came to understand that, if we only use male names for God, then that subtly implies that only men are made in God’s image. When we use only male terminology for God and for people in our liturgy, worship, preaching and teaching, we subtly reinforce this incorrect, outdated understanding of God and imply that maleness is “normal” and somehow being female means we are less.

Theologically, we understand that God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, and as omnipotent and all-powerful, God will not be limited by gender, and nor should our language for God put God’s power and presence in a box of limited male terms. St Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) called God Mother in her sermons; so too did Julian of Norwich (c1342-1416). Yet despite extensive biblical, historical and theological evidence, including discussions within our own Anglican tradition in New Zealand and overseas over the last 50 years or more, we still continue to primarily name God by male names.

I began to look closely at the liturgy and Bible translations we use. I translated the entire Benedictine daily prayer cycle into gender neutral and expansive terms (where female and male names are used equally) for my own use as a Lenten devotion in 2014. I then tackled A New Zealand Prayer Book/He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa. I wrote a version of the Eucharistic liturgy p.404 that removed all male terms for God, replacing them with female or gender-neutral terms. Not being a priest, I was not able to use this, but it was an exercise in trying to find out what it might feel like to be in a liturgy where God was addressed openly as Sophia, Mother, Lady, She. I began to look for versions of the Bible where the names for God were not changed, and discovered both The Inclusive Bible, and even more powerful, The Divine Feminine Version of the New Testament, and began to experience the scriptures with a new voice.
I found that I could not keep silent about the explosion of love that I had felt since I had openly embraced calling God by female names – my favourites being She Who Is, following Elizabeth Johnson’s book of the same name that was the beginning of the strong theological backbone I needed, Sophia (the Greek translation of Hokhmah or Wisdom), and Mother or Lady. I began to think about Jesus as the incarnation of Holy Sophia in the continuation of the Wisdom tradition, which a lot of scholars had identified, and reflected that the Holy Child could be thought of as the Child of the Mother. I began to discuss my discovery of She Who Is with others.

And that’s where things got complicated.

There was a lot of support, often from older Christian friends that had gone through the second wave of feminism in the 1960s and 1970s, several of whom had been closely involved with the Anglican Church and the Prayer Book Commission. There was also stonewalling, accusations of heresy, and refusal to engage with the theology and history, particularly from some male priests who clung to patriarchy like a ragged, worn-out old blanket that they wouldn’t, or couldn’t, let go of.

I tried everything. I spoke, with love, to friends and acquaintances at churches – my own and others. I spoke with my husband and daughter, who have both journeyed with me on this discovery of She Who Is Godde (the term I now prefer for the divine – it is an old medieval spelling for the divine, and is completely neutral with no male connotations such as “God” has). I spoke with passion to our churchwardens and parish priests, describing my journey and trying to engage with them over the theological and historical information I had gleaned through at least five years of intensive study, prayer and reflection.

I felt unwelcome in regular church liturgy because I only ever heard Godde named by male names, and that no longer named my experience of her. I changed the words when I was singing hymns (first resigning from the church choir) and participating in liturgy, substituting she for he so I could be present in church. When I used a female name for Godde, Sophia, Holy Wisdom, when leading intercessions one Sunday in 2016, I was formally censured by my parish priest and removed from all rosters in the parish where I, and my dangerous ideas about Godde, might be expressed publicly. Patriarchy was rampant.

I did find allies – people that felt the same as me, who had sought Sophia/Wisdom and found her, as we are enjoined to do in Proverbs and Wisdom. They helped me keep up my courage. In the end, in desperation, I sought a meeting with our People’s Warden asking what I could do, as our parish priest completely refused to engage in conversation about this topic with us. The Warden recommended we put motions to our parish AGM – which we did, seeking removal of male terms when the whole of humanity was meant, and seeking education for the parish and changes in our language for Godde in church.

So how did it all turn out? Well, the parish priest would not allow the motions on the naming of Godde to even be put at the AGM (giving us no warning of this so we couldn’t even amend the motions) and refusing to allow discussion on the naming of Godde. I wasn’t even allowed to speak to the motion I was trying to put (which had been notified to the parish according to the correct protocol, three weeks before the AGM). The priest tried to undermine the motion on naming of people by putting a much weaker motion from the chair, but at least there is some intention to remove terms such as “mankind” and “man/men” when they are intended to refer to all people. The motion on educating the parish on the female names for Godde was passed, after my husband spoke with calm eloquence, identifying that his experience of the journey was that knowing Godde by male-only terms was missing so much of the richness of Godde’s nature.

And where does that leave me? I am still reading, still researching – trying to identify what it might do to the way the church treats people, the way Christians treat people, if we viewed Godde as our Mother. How might we respect her world, if we thought about it as birthed by her? How might we show love one to another, if all of our people could see and hear of Godde in terms that show that, no matter what flesh you are born into, you are fully born and bearing Godde’s image? I am still lighting candles of hope in her name, praying in the stillness of the night sky, walking the beach and hearing the water crash on the shore, filling her footprints left there by some other person who walked before me and carries her name.

I am calling out her name in the world, and naming patriarchy and misuse of male power wherever I see it.

I cannot un-see or un-know what I now know, the experiences of her love I have had. My image of Godde is forever changed – much bigger, wider, deeper, more beautiful, richer. I am a different person since I encountered Godde the Mother, Godde the Creatrix, Godde the Incarnate Child, Godde Holy Wisdom. I have found my image was in her all along – I just couldn’t see it, because the language we use for God told me that only men were made in God’s image. Women were only mothers, not fathers – but now Godde is my Mother I can find myself in her.

19 February 2018

Storm warning

Tonight feels a little weird. Ex-tropical Cyclone Gita is bearing down on us, and we're just sitting waiting for it to arrive. It will make landfall somewhere between Westport and Wellington, although current plotting looks as though it's going to hit on the west side of Golden Bay and head across the top of the South Island - which means Wellington will get hammered as well.

It's the impending feel I find nerve-wracking.

Cyclone Gita is just emphasising other storms that I feel I am facing - the same impending feel, the same sense of waiting for the storm to break - the only difference is that I don't know what will happen afterwards with the other storm.

And then there's my sweet lovely Storm, one of our little fur-cats - my particular boy, with the loudest purr I have ever heard from a cat. Snuggles are worth facing the storm for...