Tag Archive | religion

She’s Always Here

A delightful recent post on the Feminism & Religion blog – “Let’s Try Creativity This Year” – reminded me of how often I turn to Goddess Saraswati for Her guidance and support. Every day, in fact, She is here … in the books I treasure that are everywhere in our home and in the books that I’m writing, the experiences and imaginative world that I’m compelled to share with love and compassion.

beneath monitor 5 JAN 2020 b

Saraswati is part of my morning devotions and Her image beneath my monitor inspires me to listen and create. I’ve written about Her elsewhere throughout this blog and will, I’m sure, continue to do so because She is part of me, of my life, of my world.

OM AIM SARASWATI NAMAHA

Magic as Worship

I’ve been researching the interconnection of religion/spirituality, science, magic, and history — a fascinating journey! From Greek metaphysics to the mystics of the medieval era, from magic to the scientific revolution, from the Renaissance to the Reformation, I can finally see how their intricate philosophical and emotional dance is situated within human perception and the context within which people were/are living. Deborah Harkness, Professor of History and Author of the All Souls Trilogy (paranormal fiction), says in her recent interview:

“When I think about magic, I think of it as a form of almost faith or worship. But so is science.”

Exploring this has helped explain my own unique path that began with a Christian foundation and grew to encompass so much more of miracle, magic, and the Divine. Deb Harkness provides a beautiful overlook for this in her brief interview between colleagues.

 

Unseen Beings

I recently came upon an insightful book about how we might conceive of the existence and beingness of angels; this book – The Physics of Angels by Matthew Fox and Rupert Sheldrake – is amazing. The authors explore angels through the writings of three mystics and in relation to scientific theories. I’ve had so many “ah-ha” moments throughout reading this book, not just about angels but about all the energies that we cannot usually see that are nevertheless interacting with us and the world around us.

angel in despair

One particular concept aligns so well with my own experiences of the unseen world around us, and how our minds are not substance, our minds are not the same as our brains – our brains are merely the receptors through which thoughts, ideas, and memories come into action. Fox and Rupert quote 13th Century St. Thomas Aquinas:

“The activity of understanding is wholly non-material. … The act of understanding is not an action of the body or of any bodily energy. Hence to be joined to a body is not of the essence of intellectual being. … Not all intellects are conjoined with bodies; there are some that exist separately, and these we call angels.”

Think about that for a minute and how profound this insight may be and the positive impact it could have upon our entire experience of the sacred, of the Divine.

 

Original Blessing

IMG_0955Did you know that Christianity has an entire perspective of path-working that celebrates and esteems Original Blessing rather than Original Sin as its foundation? That it focuses upon creation-centered spirituality rather than fall/redemption? Many spiritual or religious traditions approach the Divine in this way, but until later in my life, I had no idea that it also existed within the Christian worldview.

The Reverend Matthew Fox’s books on the subject are intriguing, stimulating, and enlightening, as well as being enjoyable and easy to read. And he’s been sharing his thoughts and beliefs on Original Blessing for forty years. There are more benefits than we can initially imagine when we flow within this wellspring; it is unifying and filled with compassion and awe, rather than punishment and fear.

The concept of Original Blessing and creation-centered spirituality taps directly into the lives and beliefs of many of the Christian mystics, from Saint Hildegard of Bingen to Meister Eckhart, and to modern believers such as the Society of Friends.

13th Century Women’s Communities

Kortrijk_-_Beguinage_and_Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk

Beguinage (Wikimedia Commons)

Researching the Middle Ages and Catholic mysticism, I came across a remarkable thing: the Beguines, groups of women devoted to furthering spiritual development for themselves (and others) while also living and working in the 13th Century world (the same time period in which St. Hildegard of Bingen lived). Further, the women were self-supporting in their intentional communities and weren’t controlled by the Church to the extent that nuns were. Sometimes the group was small, several women sharing a house (the original use of the word “convent” as in assembly), while at other times they created an entire “city within a city” that was called a “Court Beguinage” where often hundreds of women would live and work together, providing an infirmary and other services, including education for children, to the indigent of the larger city. I had no idea! I find it almost unimaginable that Medieval culture allowed for this to happen! Brilliant!

These communities were highly fluid, and welcomed women from all walks of life who wanted to commit themselves to spiritual inner work and remain interactive outside their walls. Once accepted into the convent or Beguinage, they took vows somewhat similar in many ways to nuns except that they could also leave at any time. At this period in history, monasteries required nuns to provide a dowry; many women were devout but had no dowry or money and the Beguinage offered a wonderful and rewarding opportunity for them. Acceptance into the group was based upon consensus, and it was relatively rare for a total stranger to join “until they were known and had become friends with the beguines.” The property of the convent or Beguinage was owned by the women, not by others, and they transferred it to other Beguines.

If you’ve become curious, I highly recommend the book The Wisdom of the Beguines: The Forgotten Story of a Medieval Women’s Movement, by Laura Swan, or this 1990 article in the New York Times “Ancient Beguinages of Flanders.” There are some lovely photos of the Beguinages in Ghent HERE.

Ownership

We don’t own the Divine. The rituals and religions and practices we build create systems of belief, usually based upon what some human said because that was their experience of the Divine. And this can be an exquisite, vital beauty in our world, but none of us possesses exclusive rights to the infinite manifestations and incarnations of the Divine. Humans have been warring for thousands of years now based upon belief systems, upon mental constructs that if we conceive the Divine in one way then all other people must be wrong. The Divine is LOVE … can you hear her cries? I can.

 

Self-Contained

LadySlipper3rdFound061403c_2In continuing my study of Saint Hildegard, Mary Queen of Heaven, and the Catholic Church – and admittedly I am not an adherent of this particular faith – I find the complexity of the story fascinating, and its changes from century to century mind-boggling, to say the least.

Most students of history will attest to the fact that, in ancient times of the word’s origin (it’s concept), the word “virgin” defined a woman who was, in essence, self-contained — it did not mean a woman who had not had sexual intercourse.

This ties in with a beautifully written paragraph – about Eve and Mary – in Barbara Newman’s book Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard’s Theology of the Feminine, which states that:

“No theme of Mariology is older or more universal than the contrast of Eve and Mary, a topos that dates back to the second century. Irenaeus, one of the first theologians to develop this theme, observed that ‘the former was beguiled into fleeing God, the latter was persuaded to obey God, that the Virgin Mary might become an advocate for the virgin Eve. Through a virgin, mankind came under the bondage of death; so also through a Virgin the bonds were loosed, and a virginal disobedience was balanced by a Virgin’s obedience.’ For the Greek father, the contrast between the two virgins had as yet no sexual connotations.”

This is pretty powerful stuff when putting history in context. It means that in the century when Christianity was being birthed as a religion, virginity was not a sexual term. So, Mary could simply have been a strong, independent, self-contained young woman whose belief in her spiritual path led her to accept the prophetic vision of becoming the mother of a son who many believed would be the incarnation of the Jewish God.

Newman continues the above paragraph with:

“But the Augustinian ethos, linking original sin with concupiscence, led to a practical redefinition of ‘obedience’ and ‘disobedience’ in terms of chastity and lust.”

So it wasn’t until the 4th Century that the reformed Augustine, later canonized (having lived the first part of his life loosely, including “parties, entertainment, and worldly ambitions”), began to assist in shifting the term “virgin” around within Christianity.

Imagine what it must have been like for Mary, imagine the pressure she was under.

Thankfully, there is a lot of research now to turn to that addresses the cultural lives of women in history (and in prehistory), which is marvelous.

The Hidden Divine

I am particularly intrigued by how the visions of Saint Hildegard of Bingen, in the 12th Century, seemed to embed the symbolism and perceptions of Christianity into aspects of what I understand to be the universal and cosmological vibrational intelligent energy that is the Infinite, the Hidden Divine that we as humans are incapable of comprehending.

In her book Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard’s Theology of the Feminine, Barbara Newman refers to one of Saint Hildegard’s visions and says that,

“With this memorable image, the seer reinterpreted the primitive notion of a hieros gamos, or marriage of the gods, to proclaim the oneness of the hidden God with his self-revelation–or, alternatively, one might say that this religious insight is ‘demythologized’ back into its primordial form.”

Reading on, my interpretation is that we are missing the truth of the Great Mystery when we focus only upon the inequality of gender assignments in religions. The “play” or “dance” between God and Goddess (Saint Hildegard refers to her by various names including Sapientia (Wisdom) and Caritas (Love), as well as Mary and Ecclesia) that we perceive are our projections of manifestation for That Which We Cannot Conceive. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with how our many religions express “the hidden” Divine, the Great Mystery or Infinite Spirit.

Saint Hildegard juxtaposes Creator and Creatrix, depending upon what her visions are revealing to her. That said, it’s good to recall that Hildegard is always seeing through the lens of Medieval times and Catholic constructs, when she falls back on the patriarchal authoritarian model (i.e., males in charge); she can’t not do this, even though many of her visions seem to point her away from it … just as none of us can take our own selves out of the temporal framework in which we live. Newman says that,

“It is surely no accident that, while masculine imagery of the Creator tends to stress God’s transcendence, feminine metaphors place the accent on immanence. As [Creatrix], Hildegard’s Sapientia is no unmoved mover, ordering the universe from on high or even–like the Creator in contemporary paintings–molding the nascent world in almighty hands. On the contrary, she creates the cosmos by existing within it, her ubiquity expressed through the image of ceaseless or circular motion.”

What I appreciate about the above perspective is that both transcendence and immanence are valued; in a wholesome, holistic cosmological spirituality, we don’t have one without the other, but they are partners in the dance of life.

 

Who was she?

I’ve been interested in learning more about Hildegard of Bingen — a mystic, healer, composer, and abbess of several monasteries in 12th Century Germany — for many years, going back to the time more than a decade ago, when I heard that she used to drape sheets over flowers saturated with morning dew in order to then lay the healing essence-imbued sheets upon people who were ill. Because of a project I’m working on, I felt compelled to do so now — this is the time. I will be spending July immersed in Hildegard’s world of the Middle Ages.St Hildegard of Bingen meme card

Hildegard received visions from the Divine and was instructed to write them down and share them. For instance, she wrote the following about one of her visions:

“I heard a voice speaking to me: ‘The young woman whom you see is Love. She has her tent in eternity… It was Love which was the source of this creation in the beginning when God said: ‘Let it be!’ And it was. As though in the blinking of an eye, the whole creation was formed through love. The young woman is radiant in such a clear, lightning-like brilliance of countenance that you can’t fully look at her… She holds the sun and moon in her right hand and embraces them tenderly… The whole of creation calls this maiden ‘Lady.’ For it was from her that all of creation proceeded, since Love was the first. She made everything… Love was in eternity and brought forth, in the beginning of all holiness, all creatures without any admixture of evil. Adam and Eve, as well were produced by love from the pure nature of the Earth.”

There is much about Hildegard to admire, and to recognize that prior to the Reformation, Christian Divinity was viewed quite differently than it is now. Hildegard had a deeply relational experience of the Divine as spiritual experience, which included a profound connection to the sacredness of Mother Earth, as described here when she transcribed a voice speaking to her:

“I am the one whose praise echoes on high. / I adorn all the earth. / I am the breeze that nurtures all things green. / I encourage blossoms to flourish with ripening fruits. / I am led by the spirit to feed the purest streams. / I am the rain coming from the dew / that causes the grasses to laugh with the joy of life. / I call forth tears, the aroma of holy work. / I am the yearning for good.”

Hildegard speaks often of the “web of creation” and an intense “power of greening” and says that:

“It is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord fills the Earth.’ This means that no creature, whether visible or invisible, lacks a spiritual life.”

I look forward to getting to know the unique woman who was Hildegard of Bingen.

Understanding Through Love

My spiritual journey this past year or so has been one of seeking understanding through love. Even though I was raised Christian, I rarely felt an affinity with that religion; I did admire Jesus and found fascinating many of the myths and legends of the Bible, putting them in my mind in the same category as the Greek myths I simg_0319o enjoyed. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties, after a disastrous first marriage, that I realized the harm imposed upon my female identity by the patriarchal stories of the Bible that denigrated women. For almost ten years, I abandoned all religion; my spirituality subconsciously became simply the animals in my life and Nature herself during the long hikes and walks that nourished my soul. Thankfully, nearly twenty years ago, I was introduced to a Nature path of spirituality that has been my touchstone ever since, and, though its essence shifts and changes, as do I, though we grow and die and transform into new awareness, I am content with my current path of faith, an eclectic or “barefoot” spirituality (that I’ve often written of here).

Perhaps because of the contentment and loving approach to all life that my own path provides (most of the time – I certainly fall into despair about our local and global situations as well, as do we all), I found myself desirous of understanding more about the Christian religious faith in which I was raised, as well as its sibling faith of Islam, both born from the Old Testament, both, along with Judaism, known as Abrahamic faiths. Our world is currently caught up in a maelstrom of blame and fear and confusion about Christianity and Islam, so I’ve been studying, reading, and reflecting upon these (and other) religions and/or spiritual paths. One thing that is readily apparent is how they are based upon men writing about their interpretations of what other men said and did; the men themselves, Jesus and Mohammed, apparently never wrote anything down. And, to further confound the teachings, the writings were done after these men had died, so they could neither confirm nor deny the messages. Then, there is placing the writings within the historic context of when they were written. Adherents are then expected to ignore their own inner light of perception to follow those after-writings. This remains a curious puzzle to me, though I understand how much simpler it is to follow dogma and laws than to turn continuously inward for divine guidance.

The fierce fundamentalism that is often part of Christianity and Islam, grounded as they are in patriarchal past and present, present a dire situation for the life of us all – not only humans, but all inter-related life with our Mother Earth and Universal Cosmos. The anger that is rioting within Christianity and Islam, and among the people who feel forgotten in an unfamiliar world culture of rampant capitalism and identity crises, is understandable – I can finally empathize with many of these people; empathy for those who are similar to us is relatively easy, it is the empathy for those who are different that is challenging – but this processing of the anger needs to be transformed by all of us.

We need to somehow learn to see into others, to make the time to go within ourselves, into our own subconscious belief systems, and recognize the implicit biases that we have. We need to understand the pain and fear of others. That’s the first step, and the one that many people I know resist, sometimes vehemently. It can seem quite frightening.

A wise woman* has said, in going beyond tolerance that,

“My favorite word is “understanding.” I know it’s somewhat colder than the word “compassion” or “empathy,” but my regular lab seminar, which is an ongoing course, is called the Understand Seminar. And it has many different meanings, of course. We’re there to understand, to understand the research, and to make our own. But we study a set of topics that I believe that when you understand, you are left with no option but to change in some way. And I like giving more complexity to the word “understand” whenever I have a chance.”

Imagine the possibilities that are inherent within truly understanding one another!

__________

* Mahzarin Banaji being interviewed by Krista Tippett at OnBeing.