Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Divine Feminine, Or Mary Is My Homegirl

I have no basis for The Virgin Mary. I was raised by an atheist father and an uber-Episcopalian mother. There is much that I love about the Episcopal Church. The open Communion Table. The liturgy. Female priests. The generally welcoming attitude to everyone, no matter how sketchy your theology.

But Mary was totally absent, save her one time appearance every year at Christmas.

When I joined (or was recruited into) the POS church in college, it was made very clear to me that as far as God was concerned, men were large and in charge. Women were to be secondary and submissive at all times.

When I left, I tried to be a traditional Christian that was, for the most part, still embracing traditional roles. I didn't find peace. In fact as time went by I felt that I was sliding deeper into the pit. I started having panic attacks in church.

It finally got to the point where I was sitting in my bathroom, crying uncontrollably. With the passage of time, my fear of God had dissipated to the point where the truth could come out.

I thought of Father God as an abuser, and I hated him.

If I could have honestly become an atheist at this point, I would have. But I knew deep down that there was something "out there". So my spiritual life looked like this: I believed in God, and God was a monster. A bad place to be.

It was in the middle of this struggle that I started reading "The Dance of the Dissident Daughter" by Sue Monk Kidd. Kidd was raised in a conservative Christian denomination (and was working as a Christian writer) when she started to investigate the "Divine Feminine", the female side of God.

Now, Kidd is pretty "let's dance on the beach under the full moon to celebrate our womanhood!" (No thank you), but there was so much that resonated in this book. I wasn't sure what to do with strange words like "Divine Feminine" and "Goddess". I heard angry voices in my head, yelling that to address God in the feminine was the most vile insult imaginable. God could never be female; invisible, inferior, incomplete.

Then I came to this section of the book, a prayer of Kidd's:

"Mothergod, I have nothing to hold me. No place to be, inside or out. I need to find a container of support, a space where my journey can unfold."

Mothergod. Mothergod. I could say this name, I could pray to this name, without fear or adrenaline rush or fists up or panic or anger.

And my Mothergod is Mary.

Kidd describes a moment with Mary in the book. She, like me, did not have a religious background that included her.

I was spending the night at the home of a Catholic family, and on the mantle in the guest bedroom was a porcelain statue of Mary. Standing upon a sliver of crescent moon, she was a mystery that called upon an inexplicable rush of feeling. I experienced what I suppose could be called a magnetic pull to the Feminine Divine. With a gesture of spontaneous adoration, I reached out and touched her, whispering the only words for her I knew: "Hail, Mary".

Mary whose female body kept God-on-earth alive. Mary whose words prompted Jesus to perform his first miracle (yes, I know he was a little lippy at first, but he came around eventually). Mary who was at the cross when most of the male disciples had fled (do you really want to argue that there were no female apostles? Really? REALLY?)

Mary is not quiet. Mary is not inferior. Mary does not glower at me with a list of rules, breathing fire and brimstone. Mary is not the monster.

Prayer is still weird for me, so I have a Virgin Mary candle instead. It sits on my windowsill along with my Episcopal prayer beads. It doesn't make sense, but Mary is ok with the prayer beads. She was an unmarried pregnant teenager. She gets that sometimes what is going on in your life looks odd to other people.

So I light the candle, and I watch it flicker in the window, and I know that Mary gets what is in my heart. I don't have to say.


  1. Growing up Catholic, I get this.

  2. Growing up nondenominational, I don't get this. But I guess many people see God as an abusive father figure, and look for a caring mother figure instead. It's interesting because there are a number of Bible passages that talk about God's maternal-like attention and care.

  3. An oldie-but-goodie in divine feminine reading is Swallow's Nest by Marchiene Vroon Rienstra. I like MVR 'cause she's spunky -- got an MDiv from a seminary in a denomination that wouldn't ordain her -- so she switched denominations and wrote this "feminine reading of the psalms."

    Looking forward to reading more on the blog. Your POS church experience is shared by too many people, and is one of the worst faces of "Christianity" -- I'm glad you survived. (Also, the pants thing from EE is spot-on.)

  4. @Jenny I definitely think God is both male and female, and at some point I hope to be able to have a healthier relationship with the male side of The Divine. Right now it's not possible.

    @episcotheque Thanks for the book recommendation!

  5. Growing up Baptist, I understand what you mean so much about having no basis for Mary other than the once a year Christmas story telling.

  6. @From Tracie It's sad. I'm grateful for the Reformation, I think it brought necessary freedom, but I wish the Protestant tradition hadn't lost Mary.

  7. Kat, Thank you for your honesty. I am still in the closet somewhat about my beliefs of the Divine being Female, as well as Male, as well as Neither. It was refreshing to see you take the risk and link up at The Saturday Evening Blog Post. I love that you are making your prayers as you can -- as am I.

  8. thank you for this post. while i don't ascribe to mary herself as being god, i definitely believe that the living God is as much female as male and i appreciate that you write about this.