In celebration of Mother’s Day, this service honors the wisdom of the goddess, the mother of creation, and all mothers who taught us how to love. Let us together lift up their names.
I was thirteen when the Education Act was amended to include Title IX that prohibits any discrimination on the basis of sex in school programming and for me the impact was immediate. I was one of the first girls to join the key club, a club that develops leadership skills and one of the first to play on the high school tennis team, the closest I would get to my elementary school aspiration to becoming a professional tennis player. So, preaching about the Goddess and the power of the divine feminine in a culture in which the understanding of God and the divine is ubiquitously male is for me a Title IX sermon.
I was 40 the first time I heard the words of the divine feminine to describe Sophia, the female voice of wisdom in the Hebrew Bible. Something inside me softened. I felt both relief and possibility that I was part of the story. It was her voice that called me to ministry. In Proverbs 8 she says, “Does Not Wisdom Call, and Does not understanding raise her voice? On the crossroads, she takes her stand…at the city gates she cries out to you all people I call, and my cry is to all that live…from my lips will come what is true.” After 11 straight years of raising 4 kids, I was hungry for life, hungry for understanding, hungry to know my truth. Looking back, I was standing at the cross road of mid-life, estranged from my life as a mother and a wife, desperate to know what is noble in me. At just the right time, at a UU church, in a class called “Cakes for the Queen of Heaven” Sophia came to me and shared with me her power as I stood at my crossroads.
Once in seminary, I learned how inextricably linked Sophia was to the Patriarchy of the Hebrew God, a religion that demonized the rich goddess culture that existed in Canaan prior to the Israelites and I wanted to know this culture, and The Great Goddess—the Divine Ancestress— who had been worshiped from the beginnings of the Neolithic period over 9,000 years ago until the closing of the last Goddess temples around 1500 years ago. I discovered the work of Researcher Merlin Stone that revealed a geographically vast Goddess religion in Persia that was totally integrated into the laws of society and the morals and attitudes of the people. What had life been like for women who lived in a society that venerated a wise and valiant female Creator? Just knowing that a vast culture did so for thousands of years creates a wedge into the ubiquitous presence of today’s patriarchal god that has me wondering more about the qualities of the divine feminine.
The word feminine is ambiguous. Feminist philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir wrote in 1949 “we are told that femininity is in danger; we are exhorted to be women, remain women, become women. It would appear, then, that every female human being is not necessarily a woman; to be so considered she must share in that mysterious and threatened reality known as femininity. Is this attribute something secreted by the ovaries? Or is it a Platonic essence, a product of the philosophic imagination? It is frequently described in vague and dazzling terms that seem to have been borrowed from the vocabulary of the seers.”
My 23-year-old daughter, a blossoming videographer, asked six young women who identify as gay, queer, and pan-sexual about their experience of femininity. Would you be surprised to learn that Simeone’s words are still true nearly 70 years later? These women talked about how they learned their femininity. One said: “ever since I was a baby I was muscular, and as a teenager, I was so much like a guy, I felt like I couldn’t fit in with the girls. But really it was more about how people perceived me. I never felt like I was a guy. People thought that so that’s what I thought.”
Another said when “I was in the 8th grade, I cut my hair off. Hair is such a big part of being feminine. I remember coming in to school and my religion teacher said “I think we have a new student in our class today, we have a new boy.” She goes on to say, “I went to an all-girls school, it was so stupid, I still remember wondering what right did she have to talk about my choice like that? “I can relate for I have been mistaken my whole life for a guy, still today and after I went to a barbershop in 8th grade, it was my dad who said “we have a new boy in the family.”
Sandra Lee Bartky, professor of philosophy and gender studies at the University of Illinois says “To have a body felt to be feminine-a body socially constructed through the appropriate practices- is in most cases crucial to a woman’s sense of herself as female and, -since persons currently can be only as male or female- to her sense of self as an existing individual.”
Listen to the impact that living in a socially constructed body has on their sense of self.
One woman, who likes to wear dresses and high heels said “Most people didn’t see me as attractive in high school because I am brown. But being here at the university is the first-time people perceive me this way and that makes me feel vulnerable. It’s an identity I never had…I don’t want to be seen that way, it’s a distraction. On one side, you want to admire yourself but on the other side you hate yourself.”
Another spoke of the power of the male gaze on her sexuality. She said, “I was asked out by a man this weekend, and I said yes. I didn’t know how to say no. I am gay, I am so gay and I still didn’t know how to say no. And why? Because I know it’s still beneficial if he is attracted to me. I make sure I am perceived in a certain away, and when I do that I ask why do I still do that? And when I don’t, that’s why I know why I still do it, because I get shrugged off, I get ignored.” But then there is a shift in the testimonials and each of them in turn claim their power of femininity, a power I hear as divine. Listen to the woman who couldn’t say no to a guy who asked her out, she said “all the examples I gave you are the ways I play down my power, the way I feel helpless…but none of this needs to be associated with femininity. It just goes to show the weakness we have projected on femininity, the powerlessness of it. I am not going to let the femininity out there define what I am doing as wrong. I am going to coop femininity, define it. I think I wish…I could say I am constantly feminine.”
The woman who was taught to feel like a guy because she was muscular, says “femininity is more than physical it’s how you respond to yourself and how you respond to others. It’s when I am more kind to myself, and more kind to others. That’s how I see femininity, as an internal processing. That internalized acceptance and warmth of yourself that totally reflects out to others and spreads and grows. And another said “femininity is an expression of, well I was going to say womanhood, but it’s more inclusive, because men can be feminine. It’s finding that energy in you that wants to be shown in a kinder and softer way and making that your own.”
And the woman who cut off her hair in 8th grade, says understanding femininity as more fluid is helping us overcome structural barriers of the patriarchy, helping us to participate in in ways that reflects who we are, so we aren’t just doing things without question. We are choosing to participate with conviction.
These women help me to claim an experience I had as my own discovery of the divine feminine. Last year, I participated in a shaman training that celebrated the power of the earth spirit in each season. Our spring ritual centered around the energy of renewal, one in which we invested energy symbolically into an egg and then threw the egg into the ocean. This was complicated for me because of my twin brother. He was so present within that at first, I had to use two eggs. But when I threw just one into the sea, one wave caught up with another, just as the wave cradled my egg, and my dual identity merged. I was filled with a gentle peace. A friend noticed, and said, “roll gently on,” words that I keep front and center on my desk that call me to the power of my divine feminine.
I know now that my goddess identity is Hecate , the goddess who stands at the crossroads with a torch that luminates the past and the present to bring forth into the future the energy that is lifegiving and authentic. An energy beyond the constraints of gender and the power imbalance of patriarchy. What-ever your goddess identity, you are gifted this energy by those who see you and love you for who you are and teach you to participate with conviction. A love beyond labels, a love abiding. Join me in a prayer for those who have shown you this sustaining and nurturing love, the love of the divine feminine, the mother of us all. Let us lift up their names.
Holy love, mother of all mothers,
you too who we cried out with our first breath,
and whom we will call on with our last, even now we call on you.
Be kind to us, show us mercy
When we fear the dark in this world
When we grieve for our wrong doings
And weep for our losses
When we have lost our faith, and our trust,
lead us to the kingdom of peace and justice
where promises come true.
For you were my mother when my mother held me, and kissed me in my helplessness
And nurtured me and my twin brother through the uncertain time of our premature births You were my mother When Ms. Steinberger showed me tenderness my mother could not. When Ms. Eckhart saw my brightness and led me into worlds of learning which I had never known.
You were my mother when Mrs. Krigbaum
welcomed me into her family when mine lay dormant in grief after the death of my mother And you were my mother when my dad drove nine hours through the night to be there for the birth of my first twins, Morgan and Kate
You will be my mother when I can no longer feed or cloth myself
When another will carry me,
Where I go to where I do not know.
I invite you now to share out loud with gratitude the names of those who are and have been your mothers. Blessed be to our mothers, and the power of the divine feminine.