Joan Chittister: What is the Divine Feminine?

Where does this notion of the Divine Feminine come from? Is the question of the Divine Feminine simply a current fad? A silly notion of even sillier feminists? Or could it possibly have deep and ineradicable roots in the tradition itself?

However much we mock the idea, the truth is, ironically, that every major spiritual tradition on earth carries within it, at its very center, in its ancient core, an awareness of the Divine Feminine. In Hinduism, Shakti–the great mother, the feminine principle–is seen as the sum total of all the life-giving energy of the universe. She is the source of all. In Buddhism, Tara is seen as the perfection of wisdom, and, in Buddhism wisdom is life’s highest metaphysical principle! Tara is considered the light and the prime source of Buddhahood and so of all Buddhas to follow.

And in the Hebrew scriptures–the ground of the entire Abrahamic family, Jewish, Christian and Muslim–the spiritual foundation on which you and I stand–the God to whom Moses says, “Who shall I say sent me?” answers not, “I am he who am;” not “I am she who am;” but, “I am who am.” I am Being! I am the essence of all life, I am the spirit that breathes in everyone: the source that magnetizes every soul. I am the one in whose image all human beings, male and female, Genesis says clearly, are made. “I am” is, in other words, ungendered, unsexed, pure spirit, pure energy, pure life. And that assurance we have, note well, on God’s own word: “I am who am.”

Let there be no mistake about it: woman or man, man or woman–the full image of God is in you: masculine and feminine, feminine and masculine godness. Hebrew scripture is clear, and the Christian and Islamic scriptures, as well. God is neither male nor female–God is of the essence of both and both are of the essence of God.

Actually, lest we be fooled by our own patriarchal inclinations to make God in our own small, puny, partial male images, the Hebrew scriptures are full of the female attributes of God. In Isaiah (42:14) the Godhead, “cries out as a woman in labor.” To the psalmist (131:1-2) God is a nursing woman on whose breast the psalmist leans “content as a child that has been weaned.” In Hosea (11:3-4) God claims to be a cuddling mother who takes Israel in her arms. In Genesis (3:21) God is a seamstress who makes clothes out of skins for both Adam and Eve. And in Proverbs, God-she, wisdom, Sophia, “raises her voice in the streets,” “is there with God ‘in the beginning,'” (8:22-31) “is the homemaker who welcomes the world to her table” (9: 5) shouting as she does, “Enter here! Eat my food, drink my wine.” Clearly, after centuries of suppressing the female imagery and the feminine attributes given in scripture in order to establish the patriarchy of lords and kings and priests and popes and powerbrokers as the last word and only word of every failing institution in humankind–no wonder we are confused about who God is. But God is not! Scripture is clear: God does not have–and clearly never has had–an identity problem. Our images of God, then, must be inclusive because God is not mother, no, but God is not father either. God is neither male nor female. God is pure spirit, pure being, pure life–both of them. Male and female, in us all.–Joan Chittister, OSB

From Joan Chittister’s chapter “God our Father; God our Mother: In Search of the Divine Feminine” in the recently released, Women, Spirituality, and Transformative Leadership: Where Grace Meets Power (Sky Lights Paths Publishing)

Second Wednesday in Advent

"The Holy Thing" by Bruce Manwaring
“The Holy Thing” by Bruce Manwaring

“Everyone should open their heart very wide to joy, should welcome it and let it be buried very deeply in them; and they should wait the flowering with patience. Of course, the first ecstasy will pass, but because in real joy Christ grows in us, the time will come when joy will put forth shoots and the richness and sweetness of the person who rejoiced will be Christ’s flowering.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, ‘Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.’”Luke 1:26-28

The eight-day Jewish “Festival of Lights” called Hanukkah just concluded. It commemorates the victory of the Maccabees in reclaiming the temple in Jerusalem’s from the Greek-Syrian ruler Antiochus IV. As the people prepared to dedicate the temple, they realized they only had enough purified oil to kindle the menorah for a single day. Miraculously, the light continued to burn for eight days. Each evening of Hanukkah one more menorah candle is lit with a special blessing. The candles are not to be “used” for light, but only for enjoyment, savoring their beauty.

“We will prevail through the dark night,” sings Rabbi Shefa Gold in her Hanukkah song from Zechariah, “but not by might, and not by power, but by Your Spirit. These are the words of God.”

Jewish midrash tells an interesting story on how the first menorah was made. Apparently, Moses had a difficulty remembering God’s instructions on menorah making. Every time Moses left the mountain he would forget the pattern, so God engraved the design into the flesh of Moses palm. Torah scholar Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg says that after this experience Moses’ hands took on new power. Later, when Moses instructs Joshua to lead the Israelite force against Amalek, Moses does not direct with his staff but only his open hands. “In this gesture, according to one midrash,” writes Zornberg, “ Moses models prayer to his people fighting below. In a surrealistic description, their involvement in battle is refigured as a miming of Moses’ prayerful gestures: ‘they saw Moses kneeling down, and they knelt down, falling upon his face and they fell upon their faces, spreading their hands to heaven.’” Whenever the people modeled Moses, they prevailed.

What a powerful image of nonviolent resistance! In the midst of a battle, all the Israelites knelt down to pray as Moses instructed them. “As long as the Israelites gazed upwards and submitted their hearts to God in heaven, they would prevail,” says the Mishna Rosh Hashana, “and if not, they would fail.”

What healing of the masculine to you need in your life?

Ad … vent. A d v e n t (slowly breathe in on the “Ad” part and out on the “vent” part)…There! You prayed today. Keep it up!

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print..