Friday, December 31, 2010

Jesus as Goddess Advocate

by Karen Tate
I asked Karen to write this guest blogpost. She calls herself a "recovering Catholic" and that’s not the only reason her perspective has value.
In hindsight, it is telling that I gave little thought to Jesus until I was no longer Catholic. Growing up in the Bible Belt of New Orleans, a conservative Christian region of the southern United States, I was not encouraged to question religious authority, much less express dissent, but instead I was to accept as fact whatever was preached from the pulpit on Sundays.
When I actually identified with a spirituality that inspired my sincere mind and heart connection with the Divine, it was Goddess Spirituality, and it was as a Goddess Advocate that I began to really think about Jesus, Christianity and the institution that I’ll loosely call The Church.

Thinking back, Jesus was little more than that sad and suffering figure on the cross at the front of the church, or that little baby in the manger at Christmas time, while the sacrifice of his life to his father, our god, for our sins, never made much sense to me. I felt that the sacrifice, whether accepted or required, spoke volumes more about Jesus’ “heavenly father”—a deity I cared little to claim as my god—and I prayed to escape his notice lest I incur his wrath.
There was something about a god who condoned suffering and accepted the sacrifice of sons that seemed too remote from the wise and loving deity, archetype, or ideal I could lovingly and readily embrace as Divine. Even if this request of sacrifice was a test of faith, as I'm told, it felt more like the Mafia questioning my allegiance and loyalty to The Family.

I’m not sure when I actually languaged it, but I believe intuitively I rejected the Christian ideas of suffering and sacrifice. I wondered why a female face of divinity was so lacking. On some level, I think I wondered but could not actually put into words why life-affirming ideas seemed so lacking in this religion I was born into, but no one was talking about it. Everyone just accepted the dogma.

You see, we lived in a bubble. We only met other Christians. There just was little to no opportunity or encouragement to question the programming. Everyone I knew was a Catholic or Baptist and they all seemed to toe the party line, or if they did not, they were not openly talking about it. We never questioned and seemed to revel in singing lyrics in church on Sunday like “Onward Christian soldiers, marching off to war.” It was too easy to practice bad deeds all week and on Sunday or in confession get a “get out of jail free” card by saying a few Hail Mary prayers. Oh, and please let mass end before kick-off time!

But when I opened my eyes and took responsibility for my own education and gave myself permission to question, I began to see The Church dogma as giving license to a select few to control the masses and to the powerful to commit far too many sins—none of which seemed in alignment with the teachings of Jesus.

Reconciling Jesus within Her Spiritual Paradigm

When I first uncovered Goddess herstory from the sands of time, from patriarchal lies, and from subterfuge, I’m not ashamed to say I was livid. I was metaphorically on fire that I had been duped for the first thirty years of my life. And when I found out the role of the Church in the subjugation of women and destruction of other cultures, I was filled with utter disgust. I’m having trouble even finding the words for the toxic emotion inspired by these realizations.

At first, I hated anything related to The Church, including Mary and Mary Magdalene, Pope John Paul II, who loved Mary, and even the wonderful, warm and loving nuns who taught me. They were all guilty by association. I was ready to discard even these female faces who had once been the only figures within Christianity to provide any solace or heartfelt connection to this religion I’d come to see as despicable. Although this does not describe all Christians, when I saw how the Religious Right was using Christianity as a weapon to steer government in the United States, and as a wedge issue to fan the flames of fear and hate to divide people, I was disgusted even more.

And don’t even get me started on the hypocrisy. Many of these vocal and self-righteous Christians who were always telling everyone else the right way to live were the ones getting caught starting bogus wars, having affairs, soliciting prostitutes, telling lies, stealing, abusing their power, causing gay people to commit suicide with their abomination talk—all while failing to really live by the teachings of Jesus. Sure they would shout out at us from our television screens or from their multi-million dollar pulpits about finding Jesus, and by the way, don’t forget to increase offertory giving and mail them a check—but the teachings of Jesus were hardly what these church leaders and many Christians were practicing.

They stood for shooting exhausted animals from planes, for taking reproductive rights away from women, for denying gays equal rights, for teaching abstinence instead of sex education, then failing to commit funds to poor people who could not afford o feed their children. I heard many rationalize their greed by saying their riches were gifts from god, while the poor were sinners and thus earned their poverty. It seemed their god and his ideals were about power, control, and the mighty dollar.

When this veil was lifted from my mind and eyes, it was difficult at first to return to anything remotely related to The Church—even Jesus, who was being used as their poster guy to legitimize suffering, sin, and abuse of the masses. Church leaders seemed to count on no one opening a book or discussing ideas on the internet. They counted on everyone continuing to take their word as gospel and not question or give themselves permission to see history and spirituality through a fresh lens.

But I eventually began to reclaim Jesus within my spiritual paradigm as a Goddess Advocate. In fact, I came to believe if Jesus would ever appear back on this Earth, his heart would be broken by the deeds perpetrated in his name. I remembered that Jesus was not part of the status quo. In fact, in his day he would have been a heretic, a terrorist, certainly not one of those endorsing suffering of the many for the benefit of the few. Neither can I believe he would want his followers to be a herd of “sheeple,” following some repressive dogma without critical thinking.

Jesus was trying to show humanity a new way of being. In his day he railed against the abuse of Temple elders, as he surely would today. Forever seared in my memory is that “Jesus Christ Superstar” movie where he over-turns the tables of the money-changers, walks with the poor, and treats women as his equals. The figure of Jesus became rehabilitated in my mind—and he had nothing to do with the institution that is The Church.

Jesus - The Sacred Masculine

I began to see Jesus in many new ways. I saw him and his mother Mary as the last figures in the long line of Pagan Goddesses and their consorts, with Jesus the dying and rising lord or king. Just as several of the Goddesses such as Isis and Artemis passed their baton on to Mary, Jesus was the Green Man, Attis, Tammuz, or Osiris. In fact during the season of Ostara, near the Christian holy day of Easter, I traditionally read to our group a meditation wherein we see in our mind’s eye the face of the consort of the Goddess morphing from one god to another, finally ending with that of Jesus. And now Christmas time becomes an opportunity instead of a farce as I use my radio show and platforms to publish articles or open discussions to remind Christians of their Pagan roots. December 25th has associations not just with Jesus’ birthday, but with Pagan traditions, Winter Solstice, Pagan gods like Mithras, and Yuletide Goddesses.

With my new-found relationship to Jesus came my embrace of his mother Mary and Mary Magdalene. I also feel less hesitant to walk into a Christian Church. I go in and look for the female faces of deity; Mary, Mary Magdalene, Guadalupe and Black Madonnas. And when I see Jesus sitting in the lap of Mary, I see Horus in the lap of Isis, and I also see Jesus as the consort of Goddess and Jesus as the Sacred Masculine. He is the Sacred Bridegroom of Mary Magdalene, herself an aspect of Goddess, and in their pairing is the balance of the Divine Couple—Divine Feminine and Sacred Masculine, our sacred life force, in wholeness, in balance, in equality, as it always should have been. I see in this Divine Duo the common ground where Pagans and progressive Christians can come together outside of the confines and dogma of The Church to build a new and healthy society, culture, and spirituality that serves the many and not just the few.

January 5
The facts of history do not support Christian insults to pagans, who in early Christian history were their religious relatives and rivals.
God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky

I am so glad I asked Karen to write a guest post. She helps us to re-imagine Christian images and to integrate Christianity with its pagan roots. The Judaeo-Christian tradition portrayed Goddess spirituality as the reviled enemy, segregated from and opposed to us, but Karen’s post shows how they can be merged.
She gives new perspective on Jesus—Jesus as both child of the Goddess and paired with Goddess as Sacred Bridegroom and Sacred Masculine. Unfamiliar images for Christians, to be sure, but less irrational than the Christian myth of a father generating a son with no female around.

Mythologists like Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, and Mircea Eliade, and feminist theologians like Sandra Schneiders have been explicating similar insights for many years, but the all-male Church hierarchy represses these advances in understanding.
As we enter the post-Christian era, I hope schools of theology will recognize their responsibility to provide context for the Christian story. They should require readings in mythology and feminine theology. Every Christian priest and minister should know that “Father” is a mythic image, not a fact. Every presider at a liturgy should avoid terms that perpetuate male-dominant conditioning—“Lord” and “Father.” Every presider should introduce terms that invite deeper understanding of the Holy One—“Mother” and “She.”
Karen writes:
Adversaries of the Sacred Feminine tried to sweep awareness and knowledge of Her under the rug—that’s why I am dedicated to uncovering new facts and theories. . . . if you remember, one day people thought the world was flat and the sun revolved around the Earth! Every day we learn new things, uncover hidden history, and perhaps the truth of our planet and species has not yet been definitively written—perhaps there is a frontier with much yet to be uncovered. Here at Voices of the Sacred Feminine, we look behind the locked door and peer into the abyss of the past.
Please be aware that I do not advocate exclusive WORSHIP of the Goddess, substituting one deity for another. Neither does Karen. In appreciation of mythologists’ insights, we offer alternative myths to the Christian myth. Seeing alternatives may awaken recognition within the less educated Christian community that the Christian story is indeed a myth. I say “less educated” while wondering how many theologically “educated” Christians have any awareness of this at all.

Belief in the Sacred as exclusively male defies rational sense as well as violating our innate sense of justice. To correct the injustice and irrationality, we offer sacred Goddess images.

DrTom said, You might be familiar with something Catholic theologian, Sr. Sandra Schneiders has said: "The Trinity is a lot more than two men and bird."
It did not endear her to heirarchy.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Jesus, a sun god

Of all feasts, Christmas may have the greatest potential for linking us with other spiritual traditions. It started when Christian leaders in the third century borrowed a popular idea from rival pagan religions, a solstice feast honoring the birth of the sun.

Before the earth was known to be a revolving sphere, Christians and pagans alike wondered in awe over the sun’s daily course—disappearing in the west every evening, following some mysterious path below earth during the night, then reappearing in the east every morning. It inspired myth-making. The Goddess enveloped the sun in her body every evening and sent it forth in the morning. The Greek sun god Helios traversed the heavens from east to west in a shiny chariot, descended to the nether regions, and according to the poet Horace was "born anew every morning." Literature devoted to Helios shines with religious fervor and high artistry:
Helios, eye of the world! Joy of the daytime! Loveliness of heaven! Darling of nature! Jewel of creation...

Glory of earth and sky, the sun is the same for all,
Glory of light and darkness, the sun is beginning and end...

Helios, ruler of the world, spirit of the world, power of the world, light of the world.
Mystical, emotional ecstasy flows out of this sun-god literature. The last is from a Greek litany, but the same or similar phrases have been used in Christian litanies.
Surrounded by and steeped in Greek myth, Christians of the early centuries imagined Christ journeying the nether regions and rising in the east. “He descended to the dead,” declares the Apostles’ Creed. Christ became the true sun, the light coming into the darkness, the "Sun of Righteousness," the "Dayspring from on high."
Like pagan literature, our scriptures are dotted with light imagery. Luke l:78 speaks of "the bright dawn of salvation to rise on us." John 1:9 names Jesus "the real light which gives light to everyone." John 8:12 has Jesus saying, "I am the light of the world." In the gnostic Acts of Thomas Jesus appears after his baptism like a youth with a torch, the image of Helios in Greco-Roman art. The Nicene Creed continues the imagery—“God from God, light from light."

My atheist friends may consider this proof that Christianity serves up hogwash. Not at all! They’re right about one thing—we should not believe religious stories literally. But how many adults actually believe that three kings on camels followed a star from afar and arrived at a manger (feeding trough) the night Jesus was born? If you think it’s in the Bible, check again.

So why do we sing Christmas carols and love them so? What’s the attraction?
Religious images of all kinds link us with Transcendence, with the invisible realm, the realm of meaning. It speaks in symbols that can guide our lives in the outer world. Helios no longer adorns the heavens and neither does Jesus, but the psychic energy of Christ continues to resonate in American hearts, especially at Christmas when Nature’s cold and darkness direct us inward to mystery.
The nativity story’s meaning varies for each of us and may be related to birth and childhood, and it’s always difficult to express. On the surface, the primary function of Christmas for Americans today is buying and selling, but that doesn’t explain the warm feelings, the generosity, the return to religious stories we know are fictional. Unlocking the reasons for the lure of religious symbols can engage us for a lifetime.

I’m not telling those who are disgusted by literal belief and religious fanaticism to join a religion—their disgust is appropriate. I’m saying that, as humans, they must not shirk the main task of all humans—to grow in wisdom, to search for the psycho-spiritual energies that drive human emotions, to “KNOW THYSELF.” (Whence come these pleasant feelings? These embarrassing feelings? Why did I wake up sweating? What am I called to do?)
Religion helps some people to turn inward and find answers, but not the corrupted and deluded forms of popular religion—fundamentalism and dogmatism.
I invite readers to find their own interpretation of Christmas, with or without religion, but humbly accepting help from a Power greater than us can bring swift, sometimes effortless, help. I quote Jungian analyst James Hollis:
If truth be told, we wish we didn’t have to grow, but life is asking more of us than that.
This More is my Christmas wish for readers.

POSTSCRIPT (December 28).
I cherish this response to “Jesus, a sun god” from a Catholic priest:
Thanks for keeping me on your list...I enjoy your posts and am grateful for people like you!
I enjoyed this post from fellow Christian Scott Thompson:
Good job.
Kathleen Herrick wrote:
Wonderfully illuminating, Jeanette. Bravo!
One wonders if any Roman Catholic prelate has ever read anything at all about the historical context of early Christianity. The maddening ignorance one hears from parish pulpits speaks to the anti-intellectualism which must pervade seminaries.
Many clerics I know ARE aware of the historical context but, unfortunately, they’re not the ones educating seminarians and other priests. And Catholic intellectuals have plenty to do just dealing with right-wing pressure from our culture and from the Vatican. The crop of priests exiting our seminaries today tells me they have not been educated about Christianity’s pagan roots or even historical-critical scripture study, because they’re preaching literalist nonsense. These seminaries exist because John Paul appointed conservative bishops who themselves are unaware of their religion’s early history and do their best to keep priests penned in the traditional Church enclosure.

Catholics who leave the Church because they chafe under its dumb moral rules often land in an even more ignorant form of Christianity—evangelicalism. The ones who leave Christianity altogether are the most educated, but then they’re not around to reform the Church.

I think the biggest reasons we don’t see change are inertia and nostalgia. I feel it myself at Christmas time because I love traditional hymns and sing them with the offensive language.

Here’s an illuminating and hopeful fact to consider: It took Christianity centuries to penetrate into the hinterlands of the Roman Empire. We can expect that the new paradigm, post-Christian spirituality—whatever its form—will take many years to penetrate our culture. I’m encouraged by the signs we can see already.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

More preaching to priests

WHY NOT YAHWEH (December 8, 2010)
In my Sermon to Catholic priests I referred to the discrepancy between their benign intentions and their poisonous words. I wish priests could hear women voice their feelings about sitting in church and hearing Spirit consistently limited to a male individual—“HeHimHis.”
Herewith some comments. Aletha:
What does annoy me is the reference to God as He or Father. God is neither male nor female; God creates all things; how God does this is of course a Mystery. Some of God's creations on earth can reproduce without sex and what we refer to as the advanced forms of life have been given bodies (by God) that use sex in order to reproduce. What is so difficult with saying "God" (or "Yahweh") each time one refers to God?
Some years ago, Jews made an issue of Christians speaking and writing about “Yahweh” because Jewish tradition holds the name of what we call God so holy as to forbid saying or writing it. The Hebrew Scriptures ("Old Testament" to Christians) abbreviated God's name as YHWH. From this evolved "Yahweh," using vowels from the Hebrew word for “Lord”—adonai. To this day neither Jewish nor Christian scholars know what the 4 consonants called the tetragrammaton stood for. In contemporary times some Jews preserving the inhibition write "G_d." Would that they expressed the same sensitivity to gender insults!

One ridiculous belief flows out of the Father-Son monopoly—the belief that a male produced a son without any contribution from a female. That’s impossible in nature, but the reverse happens—females can reproduce without males. It's called parthenogenesis.
Nancy has a thoughtful comment:
Oh dear, Jeanette, there is no progress because we are bathed in masculine god-talk from the womb. There is no progress because the male of the species is not about to give up his dominance in all things, not just religion. There is no progress because women are not about to tell the males of the species to go take a walk until they are willing to truly share power. The last is a dangerous move for any woman to make for it invites physical violence as we so well know from the newspapers.
I have no suggestions. The Source is our only source and all we can do is believe that somehow, somehow all will come right. Certainly not in our lifetime, but sometime, sometime. I choose to believe that somehow, all the suffering, all the injustice are not for nothing.
Sometime. Yes, it’s what I hang on to.
Maxine’s comment is the feistiest:
You Go Girl!!!!! I get fed up with all the sweetness and all the caution in reply to inclusive language. Let's be done with only Father, Brother, Warrior, etc. and let's start USING Mother on a regular basis - from the pulpit! If the pastors and priests called God Mother the congregation would follow along.
Thanks for your work!
This expresses some of my frustration. You clerics who can do something about this, please hear us.

PREACHING TO PRIESTS continued (December 12)
Karen Tate, surmising the reason for hierarchical intransigence, wrote:
It's easier to take when I realize it's about their fear they might not have gotten it all right, that their invested position is shattering.
I think you gotta upset their apple cart. Some people don't ever change and some people have to be forced to change. They've had a lot of time to do it on their own—now the Sacred Nudge.
And I think the nuns should MUTINY.
Religious sisters apparently have decided they can effect change better by doing it very gently, to avoid shocking large segments of the public not yet ready for change. Karen’s naming of hierarchical fear is dead on.

But again I point to Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWPs), who, by the way, are supported by many religious sisters. Patrician Fresen, a former Dominican nun of South Africa, was ordained a priest in 2003 and a bishop in 2005 by a male bishop whose identity is locked away in a bank vault, not to be disclosed until after his death. Three other male bishops were in attendance.
Patricia (RCWPs eschew titles) studied theology in Rome where her obvious knowledge and intelligence led male seminarians to tap her for tutoring. She taught in South Africa’s national seminary at Pretoria, where, according to her, she was
constantly discriminated against . . . it happened almost without people thinking. . . . women were often the worst.
As soon as she heard about women priests, she recognized the parallel lines of injustice in the Church and in South Africa—or “the apartheid of sexism in the Catholic Church”—both crying out for moral resistance. Like Nelson Mandela in South Africa, like the civil rights movement in the U.S., Roman Catholic Womenpriests act contra legem ("against law"—canon law, that is) in prophetic disobedience of a law obviously unjust, contrary to the facts of Church history and to the movement of history discernible today.

Responses to the "apartheid of sexism" keep coming in and I'll keep posting.
Karen Tate added:
For anyone interested in hearing an interview with Roman Catholic Womanpriests, tune in to Voices of the Sacred Feminine radio the first Wednesday in January.
To call in: 718-766-4662
To listen: Click on Voices of the Sacred Feminine.

POSTSCRIPT (December 19)
More thoughtful response has come in following my "Sermon" on November 28. From David Steeves:
Language has been used forever to shape and control people’s thoughts. George Orwell in his fictional 1984 called it “newspeak” and showed how totalitarian abuse of language could be used to control people. Marshall McLuhan’s statement that “the medium is the message” also makes the point that there is power in how we use words.
The church knows this and has shaped its worship services and interpretation and translations in the Bible to insure it maintains control of the thoughts and attitude of the congregation. Male gender words for god insure that women are thought of as second class humans. What is shameful is that many women have bought into the language and ideas and helped the church to continue this distortion. It is shameful for all humans, for it also makes god who created all things, human. If there is a god, it is much more than any human could ever hope to be.
Carol wrote,
Inclusive language is important to me, too. However, I don’t believe in using either just Mother or Father. Using Mother is attractive, of course, but your main point is to not give a gender to God, right? Yes, let’s just use “God” as is.
She’s right about my main point. I suggested using both "Mother" and "Father" to answer the argument that we need “Father” for a warm, personal, intimate image. By mixing female with male images we would educate people to the incomprehensible transcendence of what we call God. It’s the exclusiveness of male images that deliberately misleads.

"God" alone also has drawbacks. For one, it lets persons steeped in the male Christian image continue their narrow view. I think the best way to refer to the Source, the great Presence, is to use a variety of names to show the inadequacy of any particular image.
I’ve noticed that, when pressed about a source of spiritual reality, avowed atheists use words like “grand” and “incomprehensible”—very good expressions. By confining the Ultimate to a humanlike male, Christian God-talk earns the contempt of atheists.


Here’s more follow-up to my complaint about “God-He” language. From a religious sister:
Just want to say that I appreciate your letter to priests. For my part, whenever I am lectoring I do not use “he, his” etc.
In gratitude to you and our Beloved/Love Source.
Notice her lovely names for "God." A Benedictine friend quoted Ralph Marston for me:
There will be times when you give all you have, and end up with nothing to show for it. Keep giving though, for the rewards are surely there, even if they are too profound for
you to see just yet.
The disappointments may sometimes be so painful that you feel like giving up. Remember though, it is your caring that makes the disappointment possible, and that very same caring
will pull you up and push you forward.
I am blessed with surety about speaking out because “the still, small voice” keeps prompting me. I can’t not do this. And, at least most of the time, I can let go the results, satisfied that I’m planting seeds.
An anonymous male writes:
We're living among the gravestones of a passé form of Christianity which is wedded to US Empire. Neither has a future. Throwing a rock at one or other is the same. Both are moribund enough that a couple rocks aimed with care would bring the houses of cards tumbling down.
It's just a matter of time. Fear? No room for that at this time. Both these hollow empires are riddled with enough fear and panic even if they pretend not to let these emotions show.
He’s pointing to the era we’re evolving toward that I’ve written about (Check out the “Post-Christian” posts in my Index). “Post-Christian” does not mean the end of this religion but the passing of its “passé form” and its domination in Western society. I expect Jesus of Nazareth to be revered well into the future while institutional Christianity continues to lose its influence. It's possible that humanity will grow in appreciation of Jesus' real contribution to our spiritual life as shallow idolatry of Jesus wanes.

Christmas illustrates the drag that religion places on evolving consciousness. We sing traditional Christmas carols that tell stories we know are fictional. Choristers and instrumentalists perform texts they don’t believe literally, but the sounds bring us together in nostalgic circles and warm us all. Enthusiastically I join in the singing, male-dominant words and all, because they're familiar and no one wants to change them. It’s part of cherishing Christianity and, more intensely, cherishing the traditional ties that bind us.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Sermon to Catholic priests

(November 28, 2010)
What you don’t realize is that you contribute to sex abuse every time you say Mass. How? By reciting typical liturgical God-talk.
I realize your predicament. Because of the Vatican thought police, you’re not free to use truly enlightening language, but you wouldn’t have to stick in a “Lord” or “Father” at every turn. These nouns make some of us want to scream. And those who don’t mind? The less they mind, the more they’re harmed.

Steadily, incessantly, the dominant-male language drips into minds, insidiously planting inequality and domination as the primary frame of human relationship, of all relationships—humans with each other, with Divine Source, with animals, with the earth.
You think “Father” is a nice image? Then why not mix it with “Mother”? You see. It’s the exclusiveness. The male dominance. The inequality.

A good replacement word might be “Spirit” but you’d want to stick a “Holy” in front of it and then many would think of a particular deity in the sky. Do you get it? Can you see what this thousands-of-years-old bias does to our minds?

Pronouns are worse than the nouns. Being the least explicit, they’re the most difficult to challenge. Invisible to our awareness, pronouns effectively fetter our thoughts. One theologian trying to correct the mistaken perception tripped over it instead when he wrote,
God is not male; He is a spirit.
"HeHimHis" condition us to feel male power as natural, normal, proper, and right, while female power is unnatural, abnormal, improper, and wrong. We have all—men and women—suffered deep psychological damage from language that limits the unfathomable Mystery of the universe.
How deeply the grooves of our minds have been cut shows in discourse about God-talk. Theologians declare that God is beyond male or female but then nullify their point by referring to God as "He." One person wrote,
We would never think of questioning that God was the Father and could never conceive of God as Mother. Christ named God the Father; if we believe Christ, we cannot compromise.
A theology student argued,
Our faith would not be the same faith if we believed in a Goddess rather than a God.
He got that right. Unfortunately. Correctly he stated that sometimes our tradition depicted God "so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to him." Can you not see the harm?

I fear priests suffer greater ignorance on this subject than lay people. You’ve become inured to the deadly language. Educate yourselves. There are any number of feminist theologians who can help you.
Now cut it out! I saw you flinch at the word “feminist.” It underwent the same denigrating campaign as the word “Goddess.”
Poke around on the Web at sites like Women Waking the World or Voices of the Sacred Feminine or in the Index on this blogsite. You won’t be educated if you don’t move out of the narrow trench dug by Vatican strictures. And if you don’t move out of it, you are no spiritual leader.

Now I opened it. I unleashed a Pandora’s box of heretofore unsaid realities, and I’m forced to go on with it. I’m sorry. I’m sorry it hurts. But, oh, the unacknowledged hurt and harm done by our Church!

My hard words in the previous post accuse priests, but we all participate in it. I’m guilty too. It’s easier to just sleepily go along instead of resisting the implicit insults to women and girls, the constant barrage in Christian language of male dominating over female, male superior commanding female inferior.

When I entered the School of Theology almost 25 years ago, I was hit by the blast of sexist language. Coming from the secular world, I was blown over by it—there’s nothing like it in the rest of life, although religion only magnifies the maleness, domination, and competition that structure our entire society.

Just as startling was the contrast of the devastating words with the gentle men drinking in and proclaiming them, perfectly oblivious to their underlying message. The verbal insults to women coming from sweet, polite and affirming males was surreal. I have to say I felt safe and irritated at the same time. I said I was a feminist and they accepted it, but what I didn’t admit was my exceedingly vulnerable state—severely insecure from events in my life at that time. I was incapable of standing up to the conflict gracefully. Still am.

“He,” “man,” “He,” “man” blanketing everything! All Christian theology drips oppressive He-man ideology to a ridiculous degree. When a holy woman in Christian history makes a contribution, it goes down in church history as “man” having said or done it.

I can understand the reason for some of it—it’s the German connection. The Holy Roman Empire had a prominent place in Christian history and consequently put German theology and spirituality at the center of Christian language. And it was German Lutherans who pioneered historical-critical research on the Bible, which brought awareness to Christian scholarship of the myth at the center of our tradition. This places German writings at the center of scripture study. In German, “the man” is der Mann, but the German man means “one.” It is a separate word entirely and does not refer exclusively to males. This distinction wasn’t kept in translation.

The German language genders every noun, and this adds to the imbalance. Gott comes out more exclusively male in German because it is preceded by the masculine article der and not the feminine die.

Our tradition actually forbids respect and reverence for female images of the Divine. If we look at it honestly, we can’t escape it. Every reference to Divinity is kept strictly masculine—by Vatican decree. We are commanded by Rome to ignore what we know and to identify the highest value of all existence as exclusively male. Male bias rules so pervasively our theology and manner of speech that we don’t know how to cut it out. Frankly, I don’t know how to do it, how to preserve my integrity as an aware, adult Christian woman.

“God-She” works, but “Lord-She” does not. Besides being uncompromising in its masculinity, it legitimizes domination. “Father” is easy to deal with. Just add “Mother” in equal portions. Easy. But who does it? I understand the fear of right-wing thought police who knock down our brightest and most courageous—Roger Haight and Peter Phan among others.

Can we work through the fear? If we really want to help victims of all kinds, we will engage in what should be the abiding work of Catholic theology and practice—how to render our religious tradition in gender equal terms. I get so tired of incomprehension, of ignoring, of going along with what we're used to because it's easier. Waking up is hard, brutal sometimes.

Thanks for your support, dear friends who have written in response . . . .

From an anonymous male:
I think the points you bring up are legitimate. The male references do not offend me but I have witnessed some of the more sexist members of my gender use the language used in church and the bible to prop up their sexist view points, which I find repugnant.

It’s been a long time but I remember my dad quoting something from scripture about how the man is the head of the household and his references to how only males were allowed to run mass (Catholic) and how women played subservient roles in the church because that is how God wanted it. My dad has since dropped those types of comments with me because he knows I don't appreciate it. I'm sure he still holds those views but he doesn't share them with me.
From Maxine Moe, whom I've quoted in this blog before:
One Sunday morning back in the 90's I stayed home instead of going to church. At that time, and throughout all previous years, I attended services every Sunday. This particular Sunday I was so totally overwhelmed with all the duties expected of working women: You handle your job better than most men, and take care of the housework, laundry, shopping, cooking/baking, make plans for weekends and plan every celebration (additional food preparation), do the bookkeeping and handle schedules for the whole family, all the while raising children and providing whatever they need throughout their infant, toddler, elementary, jr./sr. high school AND handling what they need help with even in the college years. During the ‘90s I had kids in elementary, jr. & sr. high school and college.
The attitudes that dictate that all of the above is "women's work" is worth much discussion on its own - but that is another story. Or, part of this same story.

On that particular Sunday I did listen to the service on the radio. I remember dusting off a surface and hearing the pastor read that day's scripture which began: "Christ and his disciples were walking." I took the dust cloth and threw it as hard as I could to the floor.

"Christ and his disciples were walking." The immediate picture that played in my mind was Christ and a few MEN were walking. It sickened me how we totally fold into the views given us and how destructive those views can be. Without thinking, I pictured men only.

Words portray an image, the image reflects your thoughts, your thoughts direct your actions. Most certainly, a person's thoughts and actions do matter! The image that is portrayed is of absolute importance!

Now, think of what we have been taught regarding feminine images of the divine. To say that this does not have a negative effect on each and every person, each and every hour of our lives, is pure ignorance.
Maxine Moe
Well said, Maxine.

Why I don't make the sign of the cross (December 6)
My “Sermon to Catholic priests” brought in a lot of email response, some of which I will continue to post. Laura wrote,
“[A psychology professor at the College of St. Benedict 25 years ago] couldn't see what all the fuss was about with he/she, thought it was a waste of time changing the language. I told him I was raising three young daughters (at the time) and I wanted their gender to be represented in their school books and the books we read at night so that they would know not only boys mattered.
I use s/he instead of using he/she. . . .
Anything that denigrates women adds to the pervasive attitude in society that women are underlings. . . . The language was part of a more pervasive problem, the invisibility and underclassness of women, almost like they weren't considered to be human except to serve and bear children. I think the language was a symptom and not the cause, and it is archaic to still use it when the world is trying to move on.
It is too bad the church has that much power. Churches take spirituality and pervert it in order to control people.
But then, sexual abuse in the church is not limited to women.
This last point begs for more discussion. What is the connection between sex abuse of all types and liturgical language? Why do I say priests “contribute to sex abuse every time you say Mass”? Because God-talk saturated with “Lord,” “Father,” and “He” endorses domination and exclusion. Because its systematic exclusion of feminine images endorses POWER OVER others. Because it serves to perpetuate Deformed Catholic power.
Because a map of reality that imagines certain male individuals superior to females and lesser males is wrong. Morally wrong and also a misreading of Trinitarian theology. This is why I do not make the sign of the cross if the priest intones, “In the name of the Father and of the Son . . .” The Holy Source of all spiritual and physical reality is not 3 guys in the sky.

Patricia Fresen, a Roman Catholic woman bishop and Doctor of Theology, illuminates the parallels between sexism and racism and by extension all oppressive systems:
Both racism and sexism give all power and privilege to one group of people to the exclusion of the other group. Both racism and sexism are horrendous systems of injustice. Once one becomes aware of the injustice . . . one cannot go back. We learnt, in the apartheid years, that sometimes the best or even the only possible way to change an unjust law is to break it.
Priests aware of the injustice clean up their God-talk, and I hope soon we’ll see more resistance from male priests to sexist injustice commanded by Rome. One good way is to attend Roman Catholic Womenpriest (RCWP) liturgies.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sacred Feminine

Last evening, on Thanksgiving eve, I was interviewed on Voices of the Sacred Feminine. You can listen to this Internet Radio program while performing other tasks. I feel good about the information I gave on progressive Christians. I just noticed that Karen Tate, the interviewer, tripped over my title, saying, “God is not 3 gods in the Sky.” Others have made that mistake—I’ve caught myself doing it—and I don’t mind because it also expresses my message.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I'm a pro-choice Catholic

To the question, “Are you pro-life or pro-choice?” I answer, “Both.” What has been missing in the pro-life stance is nuance and common sense. Well, also on the pro-choice side, but I suspect few of my readers sympathize with that side and already know that.
Charles Curran gets respect for his sound moral theology and for openly dissenting from official Catholic moral theology. I’ve admired him for years. Not surprisingly, the Vatican, led by Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict, has forced his removal from Catholic teaching posts for a number of years, but Curran is at it again and again drawing fire for it, this time from the U.S. Catholic bishops whose stance on abortion he challenges.
His challenges to the bishops iterate my concerns. Forty years ago I wrote a letter to liberal columnist Ellen Goodman, who strongly argued for abortion rights. I argued that, because we don’t know when human life begins, abortion is wrong.

Curran also points to our ignorance about the moment of ensoulment and cites Church documents admitting this. Because of our uncertainty, he states, we should not risk ending a human life in the womb. BUT, for the same reason, we can’t say abortion is murder or that abortion has more importance than other moral issues. According to Curran,
In my judgment, the U.S. bishops claim too great a certitude for their position on abortion law and fail to recognize that their own position logically entails prudential judgment so that they cannot logically distinguish it from most of the other issues such as the death penalty, health care, nuclear deterrence, housing, . . .
In the last six months I’ve gotten a more cogent reason to oppose the absolutist pro-life position that human life begins at conception—reincarnation theory.
In the first half of the twentieth century, Edgar Cayce induced in himself a sleep state during which he gave medical advice that proved accurate and beneficial to hundreds of persons requesting his help. An uneducated man, Cayce himself was surprised by what he learned his voice said during his altered states of consciousness.
Nothing surprised him more than his voice commenting on past lives and thus positing reincarnation. Apropos abortion, I quote from Many Mansions: The Edgar Cayce Story on Reincarnation:
It would seem from the Cayce data that the soul can enter the body shortly before birth, shortly after birth, or at the moment of birth. As much as twenty-four hours can elapse after an infant is born before the soul makes entry.
Curran also raised the question of what’s feasible and practical in abortion law. This approaches my reasons for strongly opposing the criminalization of abortion. To put it bluntly, whom would we prosecute? Do we really want our country to imprison women—perhaps single mothers—for choosing abortion in desperate circumstances. Do we want to imprison doctors for trying to relieve desperate mothers?

And then there’s the evidence that criminalizing abortion does not reduce their number. This is not the place to give details.
All I can do here is outline the reasons that the phrase “prochoice Catholic” is not an oxymoron. Curran gets the last word:
One who holds the Catholic moral teaching can come to different conclusions about what the law should be.

Abortion again (November 24)
I received this email:
Did you know that St. Thomas regarded ‘ensoulment’ to occur 90 days after conception? In a medieval text I studied, the time given was 40 days after conception. The Roman Catholic Church got into a mess when it talked of ‘the moment of conception’ in 1854. Biologists say there is no such ‘moment.’
Wilfred Theisen
He’s a monk and retired physics professor, and he added,
One of our quite conservative priests, an excellent theologian, has been saying for some time that the patriarchs have lost their moral authority in the church.
Religious persons like this and like the Presentation Sisters I met in Fargo this past weekend help me to cherish my religious tradition.

In spring I started cleaning up and shortening my blog index in hopes of making it more useful. If you’ve clicked on a topic and the page didn’t exist, it’s because my tech helpers hadn’t finished entering the changes I requested.

I couldn’t keep this blog without Peter and Tony Ohmann, who grew up in Albany, MN, until they attended St. John’s University to study Computer Science. Peter graduated with honors and distinction in December of 2009 and moved to Arkansas, but in January he will move to the University of Wisconsin in Madison to pursue a Masters degree and potentially a PhD. He and Tony started Obros Computers when he was a junior in high school. In Peter's words, “We’ve done repairs, PC builds, web development, and a bunch more miscellaneous things over the years--mostly for families or small businesses.”

This is my favorite computer geek story.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Stephen Hawking, Sam Harris, etc.

On Friday, November 5, NPR’s Ira Flatow hosted a discussion on Science & Morality by four philosophers and scientists. One of them was Sam Harris, best known for his book, The End of Faith. As readers can see in my previous posts, I agree with much that he says, but Friday’s discussion pitted science against religion with science coming out on top. I never heard the word “spiritual,” although I admit I didn’t hear the beginning of it.

What I heard reinforces my opinion that the gap between believers and non-believers in “God” could be narrowed if both sides distinguished between religions and spirituality and if both sides spoke about spiritual reality instead of “God,” which carries negative religious baggage. The four indicated their disdain for religion when they answered a listener’s question: “How can science and religion inform each other?” Their answer: Religion cannot inform science—it’s a one-way street.

Scientists take pride in their discipline providing factual proof, and they charge that religion teaches beliefs not supported by facts. That’s true, but see my previous post for why it’s no reason to disdain spirituality. I use the word “spirituality” because religions do teach a lot of nonsense. What’s missing from the perspective of materialistic science is the whole realm of Spirit. Many scientists fail to realize that physical facts don't make up the entire body of truth.

In another part of the discussion, the panelists mentioned compassion, love, and gratitude but failed to identify them as spiritual values. They couldn’t decide whether these values are subject to scientific experiment. Although sociologists do studies around the edges of these realities, science can’t determine what is honorable, who is compassionate, how much love exists in a marriage, what makes people trust, how to encourage altruism, why gratitude eases relationships, and so on.

If they were able to distinguish spirituality from religion, they’d realize that spiritual values lie outside the purview of science. And they might be closer to realizing that science cannot settle the question of whether God exists, it can’t say why we distinguish right from wrong. And they might have the humility to admit that humans need spiritual help. I don’t quibble with their definition of morality—whatever contributes to the well-being of humans and animals. But science in no way has all the answers for our well-being.

Interestingly, this quotation emerged from the Science Friday discussion, presumably to challenge foolish religious beliefs that contradict science.
Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, is still there.
Very good. It challenges religious nonsense, and I challenge scientists to consider that spiritual reality exists whether or not they believe in it. The spiritual realm exists despite religion’s often poor representation of it.

Not explained by science (November 13)
Scientific materialists accept as real only the concrete, physical universe, but undoubtedly-real experiences of real people invalidate their denial of spiritual reality. Readers can find some in my blog index under "Paranormal" and here is Maxine Moe's story:
I awoke in the middle of the night with the news that my home was on fire. I sat up, sniffed the air, and listened. There was nothing wrong. I called it a dream and went back to sleep. Again I woke. My home was burning. This time I became more fully awake, sniffed the air repeatedly, and listened more carefully. There was no smoke in the air. All was peaceful downstairs where the two cats and dog slept. Nothing was amiss. I went back to sleep. A third time I woke. My home was on fire. This time I got out of bed to look out the windows to see if another building was on fire, the barn or old garage, or maybe the neighbor’s house across the road. All was fine, there was nothing wrong. I went back to sleep.

The next morning I was sitting down to breakfast when the phone rang. It was my sister to say that our childhood home, that I so dearly loved, burned to the ground during the night.
How do we know what we know, when it is beyond human knowing?

Over thirty-five years ago when my husband and I were young and trying to make a go of life against pretty great odds, we were living in an old house that we were trying to restore on a very modest income. We were deep in debt and living without basics people take for granted. We had no choice but to continue with a project that was greater than our ability and I didn’t know how we could go on, much less finish this project, while holding down jobs and raising a family. However, as I said, we had no choice. How to do it was the question. We had no money. Anyone who has done any remodeling knows that everything you do costs at least twice as much as originally planned. We simply could not afford to do it anymore.

While living this question, I spent a full day gathering all the information needed to have our taxes done by someone who knew how to claim every deduction possible. At the end of the day I placed all the information in an envelope and set it aside.

That night I dreamed that we would receive an amount something like $1,647 (I don‘t remember the exact numbers except that there were four different numbers). When I woke I thought, “What a pleasant dream!” Later in the day, we met with the tax man who told us we’d get the exact amount refunded to us as I had dreamed the night before.

Please realize, I am NOT good with figures. Maybe someone who is could have worked through them and subconsciously come up with some appropriate figure. I am not one of those people. This amount, which for most people may not seem like much now, was enough for us to go on and finish the project—which gave us the impetus to tackle the next one, and so on. We did, eventually, finish the necessary projects.

How do we know what we know, when it is beyond human knowing?
Maxine's sincerity can't be doubted. I'd like to know how scientific materialists—the likes of Stephen Hawking, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, etc.—would account for paranormal phenomena like Maxine's dreams, which invalidate the materialists' reduction of reality to material reality alone.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Stephen Hawking

At a Women & Spirituality conference I presented a power point distinguishing between science and spirituality. Its content follows naturally after the posts on Sam Harris.

One of the most respected scientists living, Stephen Hawking, concludes that the creation of the universe did not need a divine force, that it was the inevitable consequence of physical laws. He thinks we can write God out of physics as Darwin wrote God out of biology.
Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to . . . set the universe going.
But science can’t explain humans relating to Infinity—a universal occurrence. And it can't explain the complexities of people relating to each other—the interpersonal dynamics, the I-Thou relationships deeper and more complex than can be expressed in words, in logic, in numbers.

Science deals with facts, which it gathers by measurements and linear reasoning. It analyzes logically in a controlled, rational way. Religious insights come intuitively and involve the artistic dimension of human minds. Religion has no authority regarding information about the physical world; it communicates in myths and symbols. Religious leaders who don’t understand this provide fodder for scoffers at religion. One frustrated bishop, for instance, couldn’t understand why religious doctrines couldn’t be taught and memorized like math facts.

Life requires more than the skills used in science. It takes imagination and courage that go beyond logic. It costs more effort, more risk taking, and more energy than logic might advise; it requires independent and creative thinking. So even from a purely mundane point of view, science can’t provide all the answers or ensure success in life.
Days before Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Britain, Stephen Hawking released his new book, The Grand Design, which ignited controversy over his denial that God exists.
Rowan Williams, Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, responded,
Science provides us with a wonderful narrative as to how existence may happen but theology addresses the meaning of the narrative.
Now I bring into the debate someone we might expect to support Hawking because he’s an atheist, but I call André Comte-Sponville an atheist mystic. See if you agree. These are his statements in The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality:
For any finite spirit, the truth of the universe must indeed be mysterious. How can we expect to understand and explain everything, given the fact that the ‘everything’ was here long before we were, and formed us, and permeates our very being, and surpasses us in every direction? One does not need much lucidity to grasp the fact that being is a mystery.”

The All . . . has no creator. All creators being part of it, they cannot create the All by itself. [It is] at once uncreated and creative.
This is a good definition of God! And it comes from an atheist. Obviously I as a religious person do not agree with everything Comte-Sponville says, but that analysis I’ll leave for another day.
Now I refer you to my answer to the question of God’s existence. Wrong question! See if you agree with me.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sam Harris

This weekend I presented “Science & Spirituality” at the Women & Spirituality conference in Mankato, MN and just now I saw my points repeated in Newsweek.
Lisa Miller quotes Sam Harris, the hero of atheists, who, she says, “shuns the label” of "atheist." For good reason.
Sam Harris believes in God and expresses his beliefs in language similar to mine. I can’t say I’m surprised because I often agree with atheists who distinguish spirituality from religion. I'm struck by the words of Harris that could be mine:
We can live moral and spiritual lives without religion.
See my blogposts indexed under “Spirituality free of religion.”

For Harris, the answer to the question “Do you believe in God?” depends on what you mean by “God.” Find this exact point in my post Does God exist? Wrong question!
Harris doesn’t believe in “a supernatural power.” I concur in my post God is not supernatural.
Harris doesn’t believe in “a personal deity who hears prayers.” I quote Einstein, who said,
I cannot conceive of a personal God who would directly influence the actions of individuals or would sit in judgment on creatures of His own creation.
These words of Harris express recurrent themes of mine:
Mystery is ineradicable . . . There will always be brute facts that we cannot account for but which . . . explain everything else.

Compassion, awe, devotion and feelings of oneness are surely among the most valuable experiences a person can have.
Harris has “a real problem” with the word “God.” In my book, blog, and presentations, I use many alternatives. I’m confident Harris and other atheists who espouse spirituality would accept my list of God-synonyms:
Infinity, Source, Eternity, Being, Void, Mystery, Energy, Force, Consciousness, Creativity, Spirit, The Within, The All
Religious people should thank atheists like Harris who make valuable contributions in the current debates about spiritual reality. Both atheists and religious people would be surprised by how much common ground they share if they studied each others’ most thoughtful statements and paid less attention to the most contentious ones.

Sam Harris and atheist author of The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality, André Comte-Sponville, reject the same god, the same idol, that I do. Without putting it so bluntly, I think many theologians privately also reject this idol worshipped in the Mass, the archaic language of which comes from Hellenistic liturgies.

We have dialogues and cooperation between Roman Catholics and Orthodox, between Catholics and Protestants, between Christians and Buddhists, between Christians and Muslims. Why not have dialogues between Christians and atheists? Both sides would be surprised to find much common ground.
What Christians could surrender, should surrender, is language that sounds like idol-worship, “ONLY-son-of-God” and the like. And, of course, the exclusively male imagery. All the “He who” stuff. It wouldn’t be hard to do, and it would gentle the popular, collective mind toward a more inclusive idea of the spiritual reality we call “God”—correcting the Great Guy in the Sky image that Buddhist Christian John Butt referenced at St. John's while explaining Buddhist a-theism.

I’d like to attend liturgies without hearing the irritating "Lord" and “Father” repeated umpteen times. Again I quote Christian speaker Maxine Moe:
If we feel we MUST call God by only male names we have broken the first commandment.
I'm perfectly aware of the Vatican's pressure to move ever farther backward into a tiny corner of religious correctness. Where can we find clerics with the courage to resist? Roy Bourgeois provides a model.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Women’s apostolic succession

It is well known that the Vatican, led by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, has forbidden the ordination of women in modern times. Less well known is its rationalization for this stance. The institutional answer to the fact of women priests—clearly they exist; we attend liturgies at which they preside—is to argue that they’re not really priests because the sacrament of ordination cannot be performed for a woman and that Jesus intended only men to be ordained. In fact, Jesus of Nazareth ordained no one and he didn’t found the religion of Christianity.

Roman Catholic leaders claim that women have never been ordained. This is false. Most Catholic priests probably are in the dark, but surely the scholars at the Vatican know that women deacons, priests, and bishops existed in the early centuries of Christianity. There's a word for a deliberate falsehood—a lie.

One scholar who has unearthed evidence of the truth is Dorothy Irvin, Catholic theologian and field archaeologist. She presented evidence of women in church ministry on October 9 at the St. Cloud Library.
The ordination of women is part of our Catholic history and theology, says Dr. Irvin. She has worked for over 30 years to find and identify archaeological documentation of women’s ministries, including ordained ministries, in the early church. She reveals,
Whatever the art form of a particular period and culture, women appear as church officeholders in that art form. Whether it is tomb inscriptions, catacomb frescoes, mosaic floors, or even church architecture, women’s names and women’s faces are presented there as deacons, priests, or bishops. Although much of this material was found and published before 1900, it is still not well known today.
Beginning with archaeological evidence of women’s participation as leaders in Jewish worship, her presentation shows women attested by their contemporary communities as ordained and ministering within the episcopal structure of the church, in fact, even as bishops themselves. The photographs she shows are authentic photographs, not artists’ reconstructions.
Irvin states,
I agree with those who are concerned about the shortage of priests today, and I sympathize with those women who are frustrated in their desire to serve in an ordained capacity, but those are not my reasons for supporting the ordination of women. I support it because it is part of our Catholic history and theology, and is called for by the gospel as much as the ordination of men is.
Read more about her WORK HERE and listen to Irvin's scholarly PRESENTATION HERE.
One record of women officeholders in the early Church is a ninth century portrait in Rome honoring WOMEN LEADERS in the Church. Irvin explains:
Inscribed above Theodora is the word Episcopa, with the feminine ending, meaning a bishop who is a woman. Just as contemporary churches, cathedral offices and seminaries frequently display photographs of previous pastors, bishops and rectors; the mosaic at St. Praxedis reveals the succession of female pastors and bishops from Mary of Nazareth though Praxedis and Pudentiana to Theodora. Like her predecessor, St. Praxidis 700 years earlier, Theodora wears an episcopal cross attesting to her service as bishop of the titular church of St. Praxedis.
After 9 years of study in the Near East and at Tübingen University in Germany, Irvin received a pontifical doctorate in theology, with specialization in Old Testament, archaeology, and the Ancient Near East. She has taught at several American universities, including the University of Detroit and Saint Catherine University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Her publishing credits are many:
• the book, Mytharion: the Comparison of Tales from the Old Testament and the Ancient Near East (1978).
• articles on biblical and archaeological topics to several books.
• articles for several encyclopedias, including the Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East.
• commentaries on the Sunday readings in the entire lectionary cycle for parishes to use in planning Sunday mass.
• most recently, calendars depicting her work on women ministries in the early church, with commentary for each photo. The first five years of calendars, together with articles, book reports, and a Bible study guide, have been re-bound together in the book, The Archaeology of Women’s Traditional Ministries in the Church, also called The Rebound, which can be ordered.

Since 1987 she has been on the staff of the Madaba Plains Project, which excavates in Jordan. There she specializes in linking ancient spinning and weaving tools to the handicrafts of tent-dwelling women today, whom she interviews.

Dr. Irvin is available for illustrated lectures on women in the Bible and early church. Injustice depends on ignorance. Let’s counter injustice in the Church by spreading truthful information.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Channeling & reincarnation

Coming out of a blanketing Catholic upbringing and intellectual life, I habitually try to reconcile new information about spiritual reality with my Catholic background. It’s what I do now, but I haven’t always been so open.
Catholicism harbors biases against channeling and against reincarnation, although neither conflicts with Christian doctrine and reincarnation was accepted by the early Church. I still quake a little at openly admitting them into my belief system. But the common sense in what I’m reading now! The psychological insights! They speak to my soul.

Many, many years ago I read about Edgar Cayce and, while having no reason to doubt the message, I set it aside because it was too different from my cultural surroundings—secular writings, church language, and so on.
Now I’m reading Many Mansions: The Edgar Cayce Story on Reincarnation. Christians think of channeling as flaky, bogus, even dangerous to faith. It belongs to the world of the occult, which smells bad to people. I admit I had the same feelings, but a friend of mine gave me the book, evidently thinking I was ready to open up, and she was right.

For years, Cayce induced in himself a “sleep” state during which he gave medical advice to hundreds of persons. What he said in that state shocked himself and the medical community, but it all proved right, that is, the details that could be verified. The voice of this uneducated man correctly analyzed all manner of physical ailments and prescribed sophisticated treatments including supplements, drugs, surgery, various kinds of therapy, and auto suggestion. Records of the “readings” (taken in shorthand), letters, affidavits from physicians, and so on are kept on file.
When the readings also began to mention past lives, no one resisted more vigorously than Cayce himself. An uneducated American Christian in the first part of the twentieth century, he had never asked philosophical questions or speculated about religions foreign to his own. Was his clairvoyance a work of the devil? Wasn’t it sacrilegious or superstitious?
His own voice explained that reincarnation does not mean coming back as an animal or any of the other distasteful ideas associated with the term. Reincarnation means evolution. It means that our spiritual selves evolve or expand in consciousness through successive lifetimes.

It’s significant that the Cayce and Seth books (scroll down to previous posts) came to me almost simultaneously—a bit of synchronicity I take as approval by Spirit. In both books a channeled voice delivers the information. Channeling is a kind of revelation. I now consider the various revelatory voices in the Bible—attributed to God or an angel—as kinds of channeling.

Reincarnation assumes that we continue learning how to live well after death, because it’s not over when we pass out of this life—spiritual growth continues. I no longer doubt that we live successive lives. For me, reincarnation accords with science and answers Christianity's unsolvable questions. The Christian heaven, hell, and purgatory try to provide a framework for moral justice but they’re interpreted literally and thus vulnerable to ridicule in the light of modern science.

Years ago, when I was telling my priest brother about the possibility of reincarnation, he brought up the Christian doctrine of the resurrection, assuming that reincarnation and resurrection are mutually exclusive ideas. One part of the conversation went like this. I said,
Reincarnation could be the resurrection.
What did you say?
Maybe reincarnation is the resurrection.
Reincarnation IS the resurrection.
We were quiet after I said it the third time. He’d understood my words the first two times and had thought he couldn’t have. I assumed now he was considering how that could be. Of course, aware that all doctrinal language is symbolic, I meant that we could all rise again to another life—not in heaven, hell, or purgatory—but to another life here.

Who among us does not need to expand in wisdom, knowledge and compassion? Edgar Cayce’s voice responding to specific requests for counsel—and the files reveal their circumstances—has a powerful effect; it motivates me on my personal journey. Samples:
The entity has the inclination to become, when aggravated, rather severe in its criticisms of others. This should be tempered; for what one says of another will usually become one’s own state also, in one form or another.
The better application of spiritual ideals in relationship to others will bring a great difference in the life experience of this entity.

We find that the body will be materially improved as adjustments are made in the inner self.
Each soul who sees the present hardships of this entity should realize that indeed each soul meets itself.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Consciousness in animals

(August 21)
Zack tells a story that grabbed me:
Hello Jeanette,
Highland cattle evolved naturally in the rugged highlands of Scotland, with minimal interference from humans affecting the breed. I grew up with Holstein and Hereford cattle and think the Highland cattle are more intelligent and more intuitive. They seem to sense things.

I've allowed my Highland cattle to live in a herd, not separating the calves from their mothers and allowing the mothers to wean them in their natural cycle. I don't castrate the young males, and I cull the young bulls, selling them as grass-fed beef.

Cattle are a "herd" species. There's an alpha female who watches over the herd.
I've observed interesting behavior, such as a bull licking and grooming his young calves (1 to 4 months); the distress sounds of a calf when it feels threatened and all the cows rush to its rescue; the courtship (an hour or so) between a bull and cow at breeding time; how young calves frolic and play together; how bulls, (when they're not competing for dominance when a cow is in heat) will groom each other; how the animals retain some family ties—offspring of one cow will stay together when eating at a haypile. I mention these things as evidence that these animals bond as a herd.

I have my animals killed on my farm, to avoid the trauma to the animal of having him transported to a slaughter house. My neighbor is a licensed meat processor, and has his meat shop a couple hundred feet from my pasture property line. He can come on my farm, kill the animal and transport it to his shop where he processes it.

The last time this happened, the young bull was shot and immediately bled by having his throat cut. The other cattle ran away. After a skid-loader removed the carcass, the cattle returned to the kill site and formed a circle around the area where his blood soaked the ground. Some had their heads down, some raised their heads. They made noises I had never heard them make before, noises full of sorrow. A friend who was helping me fix fences said it was "freaky.”

I can't help but believe that these animals had bonded with each other and, because of this bond, mourned the death of one of their members.
Who can doubt it? Later he told me another story. He had two dogs who were great buddies together. One died and his living buddy grieved in obvious ways. He wanted to sleep in the house instead of his usual place outside. During the night—every hour—he laid his head on Zack’s bed and mournfully whimpered and whined until Zack woke up and comforted him.

Seeing emotional and, yes, spiritual life in animals expands ME spiritually. I see it as evidence that animals have consciousness much greater than religious teaching accorded them decades ago. We were told that humans (books said “man”) were the only ones who can laugh, play, communicate, and feel. It’s nonsense, of course.

The spiritual master in Seth Speaks tells us that rocks and stones and mountains and earth form an interlocking psychic web of minute consciousnesses that we cannot perceive. Spiritual reality—consciousness—underlies and motivates and impels all reality. It actually creates all reality. The Creator is Consciousness.

Going off on a side-road, the impulse that led people to imagine animals as utterly different and inferior also drives anti-Muslim rhetoric now dominating American media. Deplorably, we try to feel good about ourselves by feeling superior to THE OTHER and we find ways to suspect, fear, and hate others.

September 8.
Yesterday MPR’s Midmorning presented a fascinating study of language and intelligence in bonobos, the apes with societies most like humans, even including political conflicts. Kerri Miller interviewed the author of the novel, The Ape House, along with a primatologist who works with bonobos at Great Ape Trust, an Iowa research center. There scientists are studying how apes acquire and understand language.

The two guests said the ape named Kanzi stands out—“He’s a rock star and he knows it.” He’s the first of his species to acquire language as children do, by being exposed to it. He’s also the first to demonstrate competence in understanding spoken English and in producing novel sentences that go far beyond human prompts for specific answers. Kanzi even seems capable of deception or trickery

I was stirred by the information on Kanzi’s self-awareness. He wants people to recognize his stardom; he swaggers; he has a big ego; and he knows when he’s being filmed or photographed. Working with a photographer for Time magazine, he posed as directed.

Mid-morning, as MPR fans know, invites listeners to ask questions. I asked them to comment on my observation that this enters the field of spirituality if we understand spiritual reality to be consciousness or mind or ideas—thinking. I even suggested we could use the word “soul” for apes, although it would offend some Christian fundamentalists. Both scientist and author agreed with everything I’d said and elaborated on it.

Their whole captivating conversation is HERE. It provides commentary on and expansion of Zack’s amazing story about his grieving Highland cattle, which also provokes re-examination of our former assumptions. Responding to that post, my writer friend Marilyn emailed:
When my friend went through her divorce, her husband left her unexpectedly one day. My friend was distraught, cried daily, felt alone and incomplete. Her husband took along one of the family dogs. The other dog, the older one, stayed with my friend. Two days after he left, my friend's dog began to have seizures. This continued for about a month.

The vet didn't find anything wrong with the dog but suggested putting her down as she was quite old. Then my friend said that, as she healed, the dog stopped having seizures. The dog, she feels, went through the separation and divorce with her. She, too, missed the husband—and the other dog. They had been companions for five years. The "old" dog lived another 18 months. Animals do have feelings and personalities.
It seems clear the grieving dog was responding to her master's grief as much as missing her companion. This suggests compassion and a high degree of consciousness.

NOTA BENE: I do not say animals HAVE souls, although I have used that phrase in emails. We humans don’t have souls; they’re not separate baggage. Our souls are who we are, our essential identity. All outer reality expresses inner reality. Consciousness, the spiritual reality behind/underneath physical reality, directs everything. Hmm. I myself am still absorbing this.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mind or matter?

All that is comes from the mind;
it is based on the mind,
it is fashioned by the mind. The Pali Canon c. 500-250 B.C.

Contrary to the Pali Canon, Tule wrote in a comment to Reign of God,
We have no verifiable experience of consciousness apart from that arising from a physical brain.
He and other atheists (some, not all) think that physical stuff—atoms, cells, molecules—create thoughts.
But Sondra Lewis quotes the Pali Canon and writes,
Physical reality is an effect of consciousness, not the cause of consciousness. Consciousness comes first. We sometimes tend to get things upside down, thinking that matter came first and somehow, out of dead, inert matter, consciousness suddenly burst onto the scene.
Here we have the “Mind versus Matter” debate at its most basic level. On a less basic level, the question in this debate only asks whether mind or matter has the bigger impact on events. But the above sides disagree on this basic question: What is the source of everything?

How we answer can make a huge difference in our lives. Check out a past blogpost of mine, Divinity in all, with a message that harmonizes with Sondra and the Canon. Sondra writes:
At its most basic, All-That-Is/ God, is consciousness. Everything that exists, seen and unseen, is an extension of that consciousness. We are not separate from All-That-Is/God. We are an extension of God. We are a part of that Source in the same way that a painting is part of the artist, or a novel is an extension of its author. . . .

We are used to thinking of ourselves in very limited terms, in comparison to who we actually are and what we are capable of. In order to begin to understand the [Seth] material you really have to stretch your concepts of how life and the universe work.
Sondra recommends the book Seth Speaks by Jane Roberts. I’m reading it and highlighting nearly every page. If you’re an atheist who thinks your thoughts are made by physical matter, here is an excerpt to chew on:
The printed line does not contain information. It transmits information. Where is the information that is being transmitted then, if it is not upon the page? . . .
the symbols—the letters—are not the reality.
The reality is spiritual; consciousness lies behind every object; thought is prior to physical reality. And here is the reason, says Seth, that what we believe makes a huge difference in our lives:
When you . . . do not realize that your thoughts and feelings form physical reality, then you feel powerless to change it.
As I indicated a few posts down, I have made huge positive changes in my life by working with the realization that my thoughts produce practical effects. To my emails about all this, Phil Rogosheske responded,
I really enjoy reading this material. I need to ponder this idea that all is consciousness and consciousness is primary. It takes a while to redirect your thinking.
For enlightened Christians who have gone beyond literal belief in doctrine, who regard spiritual advance as the prime purpose of life, and who understand psychology, the Seth material carries us forward. I was prepared for it with the Jungian understandings of ego, conscious, and unconscious. It indirectly affirms religion and goes beyond it to a deeper understanding of spiritual life.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Post-Christian spirituality

Emerging Christianity, a movement disillusioned with the institutional church, contains diverse strands about which I won’t bother here. I suppose I belong to the movement with my God Is Not 3 Guys in the Sky and my blog, but I didn’t hear about it until after my book was published. And I go way beyond Emerging Christianity as these Excerpts show.

Readers who poke around in my blog (Click on titles in my index) will find themes resembling those of Emerging Christianity—
• freedom from hierarchical control,
• respect, dignity, and equal authority for women,
• valuing people more than institutions.

With Emerging Christians I share respect and affection for our tradition, but I’m not comfortable with their exclusively Christian focus. It’s too narrow, too much a rehashing of the same old same old. I emphasize these break-away ideas:
• focus on Jesus as way-shower rather than idol to be worshiped,
• admit openly that our way of describing the Source we call God is not definitive,
• respect spiritual beliefs utterly different from Christian belief.
My purpose is to expand thinking about religions and spirituality. I endorse post-Christian spirituality, but it wouldn’t have to be "post" if Christians could let go of literal belief in religious doctrine and stop insisting that our God-image, Jesus, is the only legitimate one.

I urge Christians to REALLY think out of the box and bridge with all faiths. All humans, including atheists who deny spiritual reality, have a kind of faith, you know.
I expect the body of Christians will be unable to step out of the box, and so the world—yes, Americans too—will move into post-Christian spirituality. It’s already happening. My posts on consciousness are evidence.

Two very different responses prompt this postscript. One, the comment from Florian, is predictably indignant. The other came in the form of a caller to my home on the day I posted this writing. The person requested a sequel to God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky, a companion book about post-Christian spirituality for those who "get it" and want direction to go on. It was a visit from Providence because I'd been wondering which of my themes would be the focus of my next book. Now I see that post-Christian spirituality unites them.

But I have to correct something I suggested, that Christians could avert the shift to post-Christian spirituality if they changed their beliefs. No, the Christian age is simply over; the time of Christian dominance in answering large life questions has passed in Europe and is passing in North America.

Many loyal and still practicing Christians recognize this and are working out their practice of post-Christian spirituality.

September 13, Agnosticism.
Wikipedia defines agnosticism as the view that the truth about religious or metaphysical ideas is unknowable. In my book and blog I repeatedly and adamantly state that what we call God is unknowable, but I don’t label myself an agnostic because I am certain about basic beliefs, which might form the basis of post-Christian spirituality. I don’t doubt and I’m not agnostic about these:

• the existence of spiritual reality or Spirit. I prefer these terms to “God,” which carries negative religious baggage for some people.
• the existence of Spirit within humans.
• the existence of Spirit within all of the physical universe.
• the primacy of spiritual reality over physical reality.

I’m also certain that
• Moral values are spiritual values, not an accidental product arising from the physical universe.
• religions mediate or serve as thresholds to Spirit.
• no religion controls the exclusive or the preferred way to Spirit.

Many doubters of Christian doctrines probably accept these ideas also, so they cannot call themselves agnostics. Like all people, I’m skeptical of ideas I can’t fit into my framework of reality but I’m more open to strange ideas than most, and I’m pretty good at reconciling ideas that others dismiss because they seem opposed to what’s familiar or they’re strange.
For many years I’ve been open to channeling and reincarnation, and now I am convinced they’re real. They do not actually conflict with Christian doctrine, but are shunned because they’re not part of our dominant belief system. I like to stand apart from what “everybody” thinks and question it. So get ready for a post on channeling and reincarnation.

From Kate I received a thoughtful response to this post on agnosticism:
Being agnostic for me means not having enough confidence (or direct experience) to make truth claims about ultimate reality. The grand scheme of things may well be knowable, but intelligent people across the world have diverse, even opposing, points of view on topics such as channeling, which always gives me pause. I do envy people who are confident believers, while I try to live a good life based on "as if." And my "as if" beliefs coincide with your points about Spirit in the agnosticism blog.
These words may set some readers to nod in agreement. I, however, have strong convictions about more than the points I listed.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The power of consciousness

Physical reality is an effect of consciousness, not the cause of consciousness. . . . Objective reality is a product of inner reality. . . . an extension of our mind. We are meant to look at the objective conditions we are creating and use it as feedback on the state of our inner world. (Sondra Lewis)

At this time in my life I consider it my assignment to prod people past the strictures of a particular religion to a larger spiritual vision, one that includes all religions and more. Sondra’s information about the power of consciousness can help us to do that.

These are thoughts I jotted down after her talk at my house, the subject—Our Thoughts Shape our Lives. She wrote qualifiers to my statements (bolded here):
** Energy=Matter=Consciousness—3 forms of the same thing.
** Consciousness is primary—all we see is the result of Consciousness.
** If we don't guide our thoughts intentionally, we create a reality we don't want by default.
Not exactly. We create the reality we have by default when we aren't aware that we create. BUT, that reality can be awful, wonderful and spectacular, or anything in between.

** What we focus on (like what's wrong with the world) gets bigger.
Yes, BUT, Anything we focus on gets bigger - what we want, or, what we don't want. Either way, paying attention to it is giving it energy.
** The point of power is now. We can change what we don't like.

Experiments in quantum physics support this assumption about the power of consciousness. Here is how Jim Rosemergy, a writer for Unity magazine (July/August 2010) put it:
At the atomic level, there are no objects; there are possibilities, When we observe, when we bring consciousness to bear, "particles" tend to take form.
Here are common thought patterns we may want to change:
** The U.S. should remain dominant because it has the world's best values.
** The universe is not a friendly place.
** The world is heading for self-destruction.
** If others get more, we get less.

Thought patterns I'm cultivating:
** Life is fun and interesting.
** When we give more to others, there’s more for ourselves.
** There are enough people in the world with heightened consciousness to turn around the problems. A SHIFT IN CONSCIOUSNESS IS OCCURRING.

Spiritual reality includes a vast expanse of individual entities with advanced consciousness separate from the Prime Source—“God.” (Christians call these individuals without bodies angels & saints.) SO, when we pray, "Help!" someone's listening. Traditional religion has some things right. I know, I know, my atheist friends don't accept this.

Reply to comments (August 15) after this post:

Clarification for Florian:
As the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner stated, God is not an individual alongside other individuals.
The Prime Source ("Divinity" or "God") is in all and all is in God. Individuals, some with bodies, some not, cannot be defined as God but they have divinity or godliness IN them. So they are separate from God in one sense, not separate in another sense.

Sondra puts it well: We are all extensions of God.

To Green Monk:
You're right. It IS the message of The Secret. I haven't read that book and am not drawn to it because of media hoopla connected with it—“wish for a car & you’ll get it." I hate seeing this concept used to feed American consumerism; we surely don’t need more acquisitive greed.

Turning around our consciousness to create a more desirable reality requires hard inner work, and victims could benefit greatly from it. I’ve been working with the concept for close to 30 years and I’m Exhibit A for testing it. Without divulging the details, (I’m not ready to go public with the most painful ones), I’ll say that I worked myself out of the expectation and therefore the reality that I was meant to suffer and have less than others. I moved out of a chronic state of unhappy anxiety to peace and satisfied engagement with life's challenges.

I have to warn readers by repeating myself: Turning around our consciousness requires hard inner work; it requires becoming familiar with our unconscious expectations, attitudes, etc. Most people are unaware of their own thinking below the surface of their thought stream.

The New Testament and many religious messages also tell us that our thoughts shape our reality, but their word for accomplishing this is "faith." In the gospels, Jesus of Nazareth often encourages people to have faith. Faith as the Nazarene uses it does NOT mean belief in religious doctrine; it means TRUST IN SPIRITUAL POWER. You see, we’re back to our thoughts shaping reality.

In non-religious terms, the man Jesus was living and preaching the power of consciousness.

More comments.

Florian said August 15, 2010. You know, you use a lot of spatial adjectives and substantives when talking about God: God is WITHIN. God is IN all things. God is not ALONGSIDE other individuals. God is not an EXTERNAL being who is OUT THERE. We are all EXTENSIONS of God.

If you would just stick with your earlier claim that God is beyond dualities, then you could just say that God is non-spatial, since he/it is beyond the INNER and the OUTER, the HERE and THERE (though we must be careful not to construe the word “beyond” itself as a spatial term). But then, to be consistent, you yourself would have to refrain from using spatial words and from dwelling on spatial images. It would be better to do that than to balance the external God image by insisting on the opposite (and predominantly liberal and equally distorted) distortion of God as some “spiritual stuff” INSIDE of everything.

Blogger Jeanette said on August 16: Yes, I do use spatial adjectives in trying to describe what we call God, which is indescribable or inexpressible or ineffable. I've called it the Within and the Beyond and the More. Somewhere in my book I say it's in, under, through, and on top of everything. Being human, we describe non-physical realities in physical terms.

But spiritual reality has no physical dimensions and this is the reason all religious language must be understood figuratively, not literally. Whatever we say misses the mark, as a wise Eastern saying reminds us.

Stay tuned for more on consciousness and Seth Speaks by Jane Roberts. Even better, get the book and let’s dialogue about it.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The pope & the ritually unclean

Women religious are the best thing the Catholic Church has going for it—their effective ministry in schools, hospitals, inner-city and third-world neighborhoods, parishes, colleges, and spiritual centers stands in obvious contrast to the botched management of the sex abuse crisis by male clerics.

A National Catholic Reporter editorial asks readers to Speak up for our women religious as they are being harassed in two separate Vatican investigations, 1) the Leadership Conference of Women Religious on doctrine, and 2) women religious communities on how they live.

What’s eating the Vatican? It must be that women religious avoid mindless conformity to its directives, that they think for themselves. It wants control. The Vatican is “assessing” three areas of “doctrinal concern” in the Leadership Conference: 1) ordination of women, 2) homosexuality, and 3) the primacy of the Catholic faith.

The last doctrine Pope Benedict XVI reasserted just a few weeks ago, saying that other Christian churches are defective or not true churches (Never mind the world's other great spiritual ways!). In plain terms, it means that the Catholic Church controls the way to heaven (Let’s not forget that then he, as its leader, has the keys to the kingdom).

It's laughable, or it would be if the institution didn’t have so much control over millions who have to accept or at least live with its ludicrous claims unless they want to risk careers and/or their accustomed spiritual practice.

NCR comments that, while the Vatican repeats pretty statements about the dignity of women and gender equality, it insists that celibate men—whose culture at best excludes women, at worst shuns them—these men are the only ones qualified to make major decisions for women. “The hypocrisy is embarrassingly evident.”

Meanwhile, the Church as a whole evolves in understanding. My friend Marilyn sent this item from the St. Martin Parish church bulletin on July 18:
Today's Gospel clearly is about hospitality -- but whose? At one level, the hospitality is clearly that of Martha, who accepts Jesus into her home. But it's also the hospitality of Jesus, who says it's proper to talk to women about the things of God -- quit worrying about artificial ritual impurities.
“Ritual impurities” is a reminder that the Church used to consider women ritually unclean during menstruation—one of the reasons it used to marshal against the ordination of women. The priest who put this in the bulletin as well as other Catholics with integrity find thoughtful ways to proceed for now, but how much more damage can this pope do to the crippled institution?

Marilyn emailed this follow-up:
Remember, Jeanette, that after we had a child we had to be cleansed. When my children were baptized in the 60s, I had to undergo this cleansing. To remove the stain of childbearing!!! Men were not to have intercourse with an unclean woman so this was necessary—and it was done immediately after the child was baptized.
Right. Church history brings up the embarrassing fact of manic obsession with sex, menstrual blood, and the “revolting conditions” of the womb, as “St.” Jerome, a Church “Father,” termed childbirth. The history is entertaining reading. To be fair, Christianity inherited the prejudice against women from Judaism and Greco-Roman culture.

According to gospel stories, Jesus of Nazareth violated the taboo by teaching women, treating them like human beings, and even touching them when they were ritually unclean (the hemorrhaging woman and Jairus’ daughter). We can’t rely on gospel stories for factual accuracy in their details, but we can be sure they would not depict Jesus breaching ritual taboos if he had not done so. The man was a rebel.

You can easily find more Church history on this subject, by googling, using some phrases in this post.