Sometimes when I catch myself caught up in anger (at somebody, myself or otherwise), or anxiety, or self-pity, I will manage to recover enough to say, “You’re praying to the wrong God”. I mean that I can make a God out of any belief system; if my firm belief is that I have something to be angry about – somebody deserving of my ire – then that belief, and its expression, become the God I am praying to. Prayers always go toward a God. Thoughts and intentions and words and aspirations and actions are all prayers.
I have made some words here about my Catholic upbringing, either directly or indirectly. I was not hammered with biblical notions when I was young – simply brought to witness them playing out most (though not all) Sundays, and then during the special events: Easter, Christmas, my own Confirmation, and miscellany. I had a Catholic-Lite upbringing. My parents believe what they believe, and simply wanted me to be exposed to belief. I think that was wise of them. They chose Catholicism for me, because that’s what had been chosen for them. I think that was practical and also respectful of them. I have no complaints.
I ventured soon into agnosticism (as far as I understand it), and then called myself atheist for a requisite amount of time as a younger person. This seemed reasonable, and I (now) believe God approved of my leaving home, so that I could find my own way back again. The front door waiting for me was any door to any temple I might choose. Books too can be doors, as can doors themselves – they even look the same, with hinges of their own kinds. The Christian door (like many) happens to lead back to a book, and then a multitude of books written about it, from every possible point of view. All the more appropriate. Things coming home, and always about a Word (or more).
What I appreciate about Christianity (the teeny, tiny bit that I have seen), is that, with some very notable and numerous exceptions, it seems to welcome the constant, curious questioning of itself. The Christianity that I seek is really just about what Jesus was trying to say, and why it impacted so many people, and led to so, so many other things. You can continue to vilify The Church for all of its many sins, but that’s not the God I seek, and so I say, have at it. I am a fan of Jesus, the man. He’s made me think hard about why I’m here. He will continue to do so until the day I am here no longer. Many other speakers and writers have joined him of course, in an effort to assist me to grow – but everybody needs some kind of constant compass, and given that Jesus was given to be mine, I am happy to call him just that.
The issue I’ve now found myself in is the lack of a feminine figure in all of this. Christianity is rightly called out for being highly patriarchal, at least in its language and main characters – notably excepting some Marys and other women, named and otherwise. I do not wish to gloss over those, just to mention that they were not presented to me as being quite as important as the Father and the Son. These are unambiguously male monikers.
I am not trying to be a feminist about this for male reasons – but I suspect I have to fail in having reasons that are not male; I am male, I seem to think and feel like one. There is a spectrum of course, so I get that we all reside upon it together (though at different places, and at different times)… and I know my relationship to the feminine is not yours. But to not have a relationship to the divine feminine (as I have heard it called) is to be essentially incomplete. My greatest recent existential fear is that the male God I have been led to pray to up to this point would not approve of my seeking His feminine side – or more blasphemous still, considering that He might, on any given day, be a divine She instead (or in addition).
This conundrum is a quality of Christianity, as far as I can tell, and quite likely also an artifact of history, being what it was. Many in this world have a much easier time simply grasping this and moving forward than I have seemed to, so far. My cross to bear is anxiety over nearly everything, in spite of having every reason to be full of hope and joy. One small, first-world problem of the soul: How dare I think that God might also hold women up as examples of Himself? What if I’m sent to Hell for even thinking such a thing?
What the hell and the f*ck have I been thinking? This is small-mindedness and a waste of good spirit time. God Him/Herself is poking me in the ribs, and telling me so. Get over yourself – I am infinitely big, and so yes, I have a feminine side too. I have all the sides. Are you going to believe me, or believe the mortal men who tried to capture what I sought to tell them, back when men were the self-proclaimed centre of things?
This is what I fear I am not permitted to think, much less say to myself… and much less write to others. What if they are sent to Hell for reading this, and then considering it might be true? That God might have no gender, or else all of the genders? That God could at once have a Father’s righteous anger (when his children are hurting each other or themselves), but also a Mother’s gracious and unbreakable love? How dare I. How dare you for continuing to read this. We’re all Hell-bound. Right?
Well, to hell with Hell. It might be there, in some kind of metaphor (I think it is on Earth, when we are astray, and then really behaving that way)… but I do not feel that a thinking God would expect his thinking children to act out of love, simply out of fear of eternal punishment. Sainthood with a gun to my head is no sainthood worthy of the name. God would not approve of a good deed done selfishly, like that.
And so I have continued to read about Christianity, as written about by people with greater perspectives and better ideas than I. God would approve of reading about the Bible. There are worse things.
One book I have been slowly moving through is God in All Worlds : An Anthology of Contemporary Spiritual Writing, Edited and with Introductions by Lucinda Vardey. I am currently in chapter 7: Awakening the Great Mother. This could be crudely thought of as the “token feminism” chapter (I know I first thought of it that way), but of course it would be wrong to think that. This is just how I think, which is a different thing altogether. I entered the chapter with some apprehension, as though I would be even less able to understand it – I have had trouble understanding a good portion of the book so far – as I suppose I am still looking for Jesus (and His male Father) and this chapter by its very name seemed to promise stepping further away from the scripture I’ve become comfortable not fully understanding. What direction should I be going in, here? Toward tradition (and then, whose?), or away from it (and if so, toward what?).
But I wasn’t about to skip a chapter just because I felt vaguely unworthy of it, and so in I went. I can’t tell you what affect it will have on me until long after I’m done reading the book, in all likelihood, but I can say this: I went looking for God (via Jesus, and other stories) and this book ended up in my life. By all indications, its title promised I could find God everywhere. This did not seem then and does not seem now to be a sacrilegious act – the Christian God is simply an aspect of God, claimed by Christians. Or something. God wants to be found, and wants to find us. It’s us, looking for ourselves… but a greater version. I don’t know, I’m just making words now. That’s how it goes.
What I have been now given the permission to do (I had to ask for this of myself, in prayer to the male side of God) is to consider the feminine side of God too. Maybe seek God as Heavenly Mother for some time. After all, I have been calling God Him for most of my life. Would it be a mistake (even if it were mistaken) to call God Her for awhile, just to see if I got closer, or else further away? To see if it could better guide me home? Could that possibly be any “worse” than being an atheist for years, for wanting to believe Richard Dawkins had more answers (and better ones) than generations of spiritual seekers and contemplatives? How sexist have I been, in waiting this long to pray to a white-robed woman in the sky, instead of a white-bearded man?
And so I put a toe in the water just the other day (for largely the first time in my 50 years here), and gave myself permission to pray in some new direction (but really, the exact same one): to see God as bigger than gender, altogether. What a concept. I am late to so many parties.
What I can tell you is that my hope and fortune have so far not faltered – my house has not burned, my loved ones are still healthy. I have had no inner demons gain strength, I have had no ominous feelings of having made a grave mistake. I have in fact only felt generally less interested in self-flagellation, and somewhat more forgiven and understood on a fundamental level. Maybe just a little bit. As though the creative source from which I came was at least as caring and concerned as both of my own mortal parents, collectively, have been for me. God is bigger than mortal parents, but I have made Her (and by extension, Him as well) so, so much smaller. Mean, really. What a cruel trick to have played on ourselves.
I don’t mean to invalidate the need for penance, when penance is called for – but it is not a way to wheedle oneself out of some firey judgement brought down upon us by an angry single-parent; it is a way to build character. The kind of character we are meant to strive for in our short time here.
God’s anger has a purpose, like the anger of a parent watching their beloved child almost walk into traffic. I have subtly believed though in the Cosmic Stick rather than the Cosmic Carrot for a disproportionate amount of time. I am not at all done wondering where God is, and what aspects I am supposed to conceive of, and then say my words of thanks and prayers to, but I can see that my conception of God is still very informed by the limitations of human minds – including my own of course, but those of others as well. I can imagine all of the very-human reasons this came to pass, and continues to do so.
God (or whatever one chooses to call the Source, or the Here and Now) made us into beings that could perceive, think, discern, choose, and act. That is what we are and are meant to be and do. It is no sin to consider anew what God we are to pray to on a given day, since God is all of the gods – not a small and localized one, but the One, which includes us as well. This is of course my belief system, at present. What more could it ever be, to me?
If it were a sin to think God might be able to conceive us all on Her and His very own, then there is no escaping sin. I choose to feel I have much to learn still – and I have the permission, freedom, and responsibility to do it. I will let you know if catastrophe strikes, but I’m so far inclined to report that God is still hearing my prayers, just as well if not better, for having had them addressed to His better half, with greatest respect and even greater faith.