Welcome and Introduction
PCS 310: Delighting in the Feminine Divine with Dr. Bridget Mary Meehan
What is God like? Can we speak of God in female as well as male terms? These are questions that people have asked through the ages. God, Yahweh, gave the people in the Hebrew Scriptures an intimation in the "I am who am" revelation of Exodus 3:14. Mar tin Buber translates this divine revelation to Moses as: "I shall be there as the one who will be there." To cite an exegetical discussion by Suzanne de Dietrich, this may be enlarged to encompass a nur turing connotation: "I shall be there for you. I shall remain the one whom you can experience, the one who acts, the one who comes to meet you."
The God of the Bible reveals him/herself as the one who promises to be there for us. There are no theological definitions given here out of which we may shape an idol. The second commandment, "You shall not make a carved image for yourself," warns against idol-making, shaping God according to human image. God is tran scendent beyond human comprehension, and any image we may use will have a limiting effect.
Beyond our wildest imagination is God's encompassing of the to tality of every good and perfect quality! Human language may at tempt to gain insight into God through metaphor, but this will al ways fall short. Every metaphor strikes our human intuitive awareness-level as, amazingly, both true and false of God. Yes, it is true that God's love for me is a mother's warm, unconditional embrace. But it is, simultaneously, false; for I perceive that God is so much more, that the original insight is dwarfed in the face of God's magnitude. This is one basis for the growth in our time of the apaphatic mode of prayer, which abandons any attempt of the intellect to grapple with the divine through images and adopts an imageless stance, centering and resting in the Divine Presence.
Yet, the Judaeo-Christian tradition of the West has always ex pressed its experience of God in human images and concepts. It has used language, images and concepts to describe the Divine Presence that include both masculine and feminine qualities. However, the masculine metaphors have been in preponderance, due to the world's overtly male orientation.
The Bible uses a variety of masculine and feminine images to describe the experiences of God's people with the Holy One in their midst: God is like a loving father, a courageous warrior, a good shepherd, a mighty king, a passionate lover. But, God is also a mother eagle, a woman in labor, a midwife delivering a baby, a nurturing mother feeding her suckling infant at the breast. The Wisdom of God in the Hebrew Scriptures is the feminine personification, Sophia. Unfortunately these feminine metaphors have been relatively unexplored, until recently. The women's movement and the publications of feminist theologians have only begun to catch the public's ear, and the richness contained in prayerfully exploring these feminine metaphors is only in its initial stage of sparking the imagination and raising consciousness. The impact of a fuller im aging of God and the naming of this experience empowers, trans forms and heals both women and men. "As women reimagine that which is feminine as being inclusive of strength, purpose, and personhood," Bernice Marie-Daly observes, "men conversely are reimagining that which is masculine as being inclusive of intimacy, vulnerability, and interdependence. No longer must women create only with their bodies; no longer must men create only with their minds. As this evolving convergence comes to term, human consciousness revisions and reimagines itself as whole and healthy indeed, as blessing."
Sandra Schneider goes further than this in her perception of the "healing of wounds" inherent in meditation on God from the perspective of feminine images. In her 1986 Madeleva lecture she warned that "religious imaginations must be healed of wounds inflicted on men and women alike by the distorted males-only image of a patriarchal God."
In Women at Prayer, Mary Collins suggests a cure for our one sided focus on a God-in-masculine-metaphor which has for centuries deprived human beings of an immense richness. She speaks of a needed "therapy of the imagination" and advises a tapping of the charisma of the "imaginatively gifted, who may have the resources for healing the psychic damage which is blocking living faith."
Today there is a new awareness emerging among women and men in our modern world that sexual equality and mutuality are the relational order presented by Jesus and the writers of the New Testament. This vision re-introduces the feminine face of God presented in Scripture, tradition and in mystical writings throughout the ages. There is a growing contemporary phenomenon evident in the widespread interest of the feminist movement in spirituality and in the actuality of women affirming their worth and dignity as divine images created in the divine image. The process of naming and reimaging God, using feminine images in addition to the traditional masculine ones, gives us endless possibilities for deepening our spiritual lives, and presents us with new hope for growth in wholeness and holiness. It challenges us to discover our self-image and our identity in the cosmos as human persons, women and men, called to equality and mutuality, sharing a sacred connectedness with creation.
One can assert that if the symbol system that patriarchy has given us of a male God is changed, our worldview could be radically altered. As we reimagine our divine beginning, we can incorporate a symbol system that reflects the feminine Divine and the experience of women as images of the Divine Presence. This will help all of us, women and men, to discover the beautiful dimension of the feminine and work toward a more balanced, integrated approach to spirituality and ministry.
This book is intended for women and men who are open to a new encounter with God and are prepared to journey into what will be for some uncharted waters, to plumb the depths of God's infinite love revealed in feminine images of God. Exploring the Feminine Face of God provides the imaginative reader with a hands-on approach of "praying with" and "reflecting on" different images of the Divine feminine in Scriptures, the mystics and contemporary writings. It presents a creative approach to discovering the transform ing power of women's spirituality through this reflection. The reader is invited to trust his/her own experience of God, and become a participator in a process involving prayerful reflection, journaling and sharing with others, as she/he seeks to contemplate the rich ness of feminine metaphors for the Holy One, in whose image all of us have been created. Women and men will find in this experience a new opportunity to reflect upon the Divine Feminine, and to articulate the wisdom of their spiritual experiences through a variety of approaches: story, poetry, song, dance and journaling. Each chapter begins with a quote from scripture, the mystics or a contemporary author which presents God from a feminine perspective. After each reflection a series of meditative steps is provided to help the reader enter into a mode of prayerful engagement with the image. Pray this book in a relaxed manner, noticing those feelings and insights that seem to reveal a new or exciting aspect of the feminine face of God. You may choose to use these meditations in order, or to skip around as your preference dictates, reflecting on one that interests or challenges you. Be open and receptive to any opportunity for the spiritual growth your reflections may bring. God may have some wonderful surprises in store for you as you explore the feminine images of God. This book also provides food for thought for spiritual development groups, who may use it as a basis for mutual sharing and enrichment.
Before coming together to discuss the book as a group, I suggest that each participant reflect on an image of God selected for the discussion. The group can then choose to do the prayer reflection either individually followed by a discussion or as a group prayer exercise. Some groups may wish to experiment by alternating these two approaches. It is in the sharing phase that each member has the opportunity to be enriched by the in sights of other participants. By exploring together the feminine face of God, the community of faith creates a fuller corporate imaging of God. As communities reimagine God, I believe that they will discover new ways to internalize a feminine consciousness in powerful images that reveal our cosmic connectedness and cosmic responsibilities. For in the beginning, we were in harmony with all of creation and we delighted in who we were, male- and female-created in God's image.