Friday, June 25, 2010

Male God-talk

Sexist prayer cleaned up, October 21, 2011
Those of us who are aware of sexism’s subtleties often cringe in church where we hear the SOURCE of All That Is reduced to a man-like being. But at Roman Catholic WomenPriest Masses, where we clean up the God-talk, we are relieved and renewed.

The following Eucharistic Prayer shows what a difference language makes. Ruth Lindstedt took the Prayer we had been using and revised it to create this one that we like even better and now use at our monthly womenpriest Masses.

Prayer Leader: God is with us! All: Amen!
PL: Let us open ourselves to the transforming power of the Creator.
All: We lift our hearts to God and one another.
PL: Let us give thanks to the source of all life and love.
All: It is right to give God thanks and praise.
PL: Blessed are you, Creator God of the universe,
through whom all life began, continues to grow and change.
In the beginning, God Sophia spoke the Word, “Let there be,”
and with a cosmic flash all creation was proclaimed,
giving birth to time, space, matter, energy, and life.

We are in awe of the universe surrounding our fertile yet fragile planet:
our sun and sister planets, the stars, galaxies, and depths of interstellar space.
We honor you, God, for the gift of Gaia Mother Earth:
her heights and depths, vast visible and hidden treasures,
her richness of diversity expressed in each square inch.

With all creation we join to thank and praise you, God,
for all these wonders, expressions of your profound love.
With the angels and saints of every generation we sing:
All sing: Holy, holy, holy
PL: O God in your wisdom and love you formed us in your image
to join with you to serve the circle of life.
When we turn away from your friendship you continue to love us,
calling us through your prophets to turn back toward your loving gaze and embrace.

Together with Jesus you breathe your Spirit on us
so that our relationship with you and all our brothers and sisters
—indeed with the whole universe—might be restored.

Pour that same Spirit upon these gifts from Mother Earth,
present here before us now,
that they and we might become Christ, who brings us to unity with you.

Out of the fullness of his love, Jesus our Brother gave his life
that we might live in love.
And so we remember: All: On the night before he died, Jesus took bread and gave you thanks and praise. . . .

In this space I will provide more examples of liturgical language cleansed of sexism.

Sexist God-talk, November 18, 2011
If you MUST use only male names—you have created and are worshipping an idol.
Maxine Moe Rasmussen

We know that when we die we will not meet an individual named “Father.” We no longer think of the Trinity as three humanlike individuals; we no longer think of heaven or hell as places. Today the shrinking globe makes it impossible to deny that perfectly good religions and good people do not imagine The Holy as we were trained to do.

Given today’s access to other religions and other spiritual frames, more and more Christians realize that our doctrines need to be understood symbolically, not literally. But the awakening process happens too slowly to suit me.
There's a term for literal belief—reification. It treats a symbol or abstraction like a substantial, physical thing—an object or living being with a body. We know that what we call God is not such an object or person in a body, but Christian theology regularly reifies God. I named my book God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky to bring home the realization that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are symbols, not material individuals.

As I get responses to my book and presentations, I’m struck by the difficulty many have with understanding this. I hadn’t realized how hard it is for humans to think abstractly; I hadn’t realized how hard it would be for me to pierce the Christian cloud of confusion.
The reason is typical Christian God-talk. It so consistently paints the picture of a male individual or set of three male individuals that religion teachers, pastors, and priests—I’m certain even many bishops—reduce God to a mere he-god in their imaginations.

Are ordinary humans simply incapable of rising above reification and thinking abstractly? NO! I don’t accept that. All that’s needed is interfering with the imagined he-god by cleaning up the language. Isaiah 25 provides an example:
On this mountain the Lord will provide for all peoples
. . . He will destroy
The veil that veils all peoples . . .
The Lord will wipe away
The tears from all faces;
The disgrace of His people He will remove . . .
This is the Lord for whom we looked;
Let us rejoice and be glad that He has saved us!
Now let’s disrupt that imagined he-god.
On this mountain the Holy One will provide for all peoples
. . . She will destroy
The veil that veils all peoples . . .
She will wipe away
The tears from all faces;
The disgrace of Her people She will remove . . .
This is the Holy One for whom we looked;
Let us rejoice and be glad that She has saved us!
This upsets your comfortable prayer life? Good. As spiritual leaders point out, effective prayer changes us. "She" jolts us into realizing that exclusively male God-talk diminishes God.
Maxine Moe Rasmussen says it well:
If you MUST use only male terms while speaking of God—not choose to, but MUST use only male names—you have created and are worshipping an idol.
While speaking to members of the church, there have been a number of times when I've pointed this out and I'm met with either surprise or disbelief! The idolatry of worshipping the male is so much a part of the church that I have no doubt most will never be able to overcome their conditioning.
I’m afraid so. But if Catholics want to remain relevant in the West, they will change their sexist God-talk, because the he-god has not much longer to live in the imagination of future generations. Christianity’s worship of a male idol is one reason we are entering the post-Christian era.

Male God-talk, June 25, 2010
I’ve had occasion lately to reflect on my purpose in writing and speaking about religions and spirituality. Responses I get—mostly oral or email—tell me that my biggest contribution is invigorating those who vaguely question dying or deadening religion but don't have time to spend on the questions. Jobs, family duties, positions in religious institutions, or insufficient background in theology get in the way.

So here is my effort to fill a need. I honor and obey my inner voice by offering some information and ways to reconcile the confusing messages. Things become a lot clearer once we realize that all religious language is figurative, not literal. Spiritual reality is not a set of male individuals or exactly three other humanlike figures. Heaven does not have gates or thrones or harp music.

Charles Curran, a highly-respected moral theologian, was banned by the Vatican from teaching Catholic theology because he “dissents from the Magisterium” on contraception, homosexuality, the status of women, and other issues. In Newsweek he wrote,
Today, a third of people who were raised Catholic have left the church; no other major religion in the United States has experienced a larger net loss in followers in the last 30 years.
It has been a while since I’ve seen that quaint term “Magisterium.” It has lost some of its power to intimidate because too many people know too much. We no longer depend on “the Magisterium” for spiritual direction or to tell us what to believe. Opportunities for spiritual guidance and growth abound in our media-plenty world. Not to mention, facts about other religions and spiritual attitudes.

So I go on exploring the questions and offering some answers. This came in by email. I publish with permission:
Jeanette, I have a hard time getting off your blog and going back to work on my unfinished list of things to do. I get emotional when reading what you have written (and the responses from others); It lets me know that it is okay to not believe what the Catholic Church (and other Christian Religions) say I should believe; that just because I can't swallow what they teach doesn't mean I am stupid-ignorant-ungodly.
I need to work on getting rid of the anger I feel for much of what I was taught as infallible; for my being so gullible. It's been and still is refreshing to know that it is okay to not go along with the status-quo; that Religous leaders don't have a private line to God (Creator is what I prefer). I have become very open to letting others know what I believe (that is SO NOT Catholic) with no fear.
Theologians never say Jesus is God but they also avoid saying he’s not God because they have the Vatican peering over their shoulder. I have no status in the Church, so I provoke thought by saying, “I don’t believe Jesus is God.”

Catholic theologian Paul Knitter (NCR June 25, 2010) explains that “Jesus is Son of God” and “Jesus is Savior” are beliefs or attempts to express the mystery of God and (this is important), “All of our language is symbolic.” He repeats the Buddhist image, “Our words are like fingers pointing to the moon—not the moon itself.”
I like his description of what we call God:
Ultimate reality is not an entity, a being, but rather it is what they call the interconnectedness of everything. Or as the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh uses the term for ultimate reality “interbeing.”
He also uses the expressions, “God is love” and “interconnecting energy.” I add, “God is relationship.”

At this stage in the evolution of human consciousness, we might like a more cosmic perspective of the reality called God—the transcendent God. For that I like this description from Tom Shepherd’s column in Unity magazine:
God is the principles of chemistry by which the ocean is constituted, the laws of physics by which water remains liquid, and the process of evolution by which the fish came forth from the water, minerals and organic compounds in the sea.
I haven’t heard a better description than the simple statement, God is in all and all is in God. This includes all processes of Nature (the external universe), all personhood, and all consciousness, conceivable and inconceivable.

I would like to see us reform our liturgies from worshipping a certain external God-image to recognizing the mysterious Unknowable at the center of our personhood.

In a desire to belong or to impress, many of us squelch our authentic thoughts and beliefs. In A Hidden Wholeness: That Journey toward an Undivided Life, Quaker writer Parker Palmer counsels us to avoid “the divided life”—abandoning our true selves to please others, playing an outer role separate from our inner soul. Dr. Andrew Jilani found a similar message at a shrine in Turkey to Jalaladdin Rumi, Persian poet and spiritual seer. Inscribed on the building was this counsel:
Appear as you are.
Be as you seem.
So who am I really? What do I really think and believe? The answers are not easy if I have been conforming to demands out there and forgetting the self in here.

Among the signs of a “divided life” are these:
• We conceal our true identities for fear of being criticized, shunned, or attacked.
• We hide our beliefs from those who disagree with us to avoid conflict, challenge, and change.

When we dissent from the dictates of religion, we can be severely tested in our ability to live the undivided life, the life of integrity. During the years I have been thinking more deeply about religion, I’ve seen a huge increase in the number of Christians who question familiar religious beliefs, who withstand threats of hell and damnation. As they grow in spiritual maturity, they stop slavishly obeying outside voices and hearken to the voice at the center of their personhood, the immanent God.

Palmer calls the inner voice that steadily calls us back to our authentic selves the soul. Zen Buddhists talk about the observer, Twelve Step refers to the Higher Power, and Christians to the Holy Spirit. Carl Jung, referring to Hindu thought, called it the Self and said its symbol is the Christ. To paraphrase Jung, the prophet Jesus became a symbol of this divine center or inner conscience. Not the Nazarene who lived in history, but this inner voice is speaking when people say, “Jesus tells us . . .”

If we participate in Christian liturgies we can’t avoid language that encourages us to worship an external God-image instead of listening to messages from within. The steady drip of “father/lord/he/himhis” inserted into discourse about spiritual reality inhibits spiritual maturity by limiting God to a single image. We need to break out of that rut.

S. Lucy Edlebeck, OP, does it with her greeting cards:
May God smile/ May SHE bless you.
WOMAN said, This is my body. This is my blood.
How refreshing these words! They jolt us into realizing the inadequacy of religious language that is not inclusive.

Intercessions for Ascension, May 14, 2013
I write the Intercessions for our Catholic womanpriest liturgies. After the Ascension and Mother's Day celebration on May 12, our musical director said they should be read in all churches, and he asked me to email him a copy.  After I sent them he urged me to publish them, at least in my blog, if not elsewhere.
They are an example of how the symbolic interpretation of doctrine can bring meaning and assistance to human lives, rather than promoting the worship of an external god. For me "Christ" is not a human individual; it is the divinity within all. 
For officials in secular and religious governing bodies to manifest the Ascension of Christ by promoting the welfare of all humanity without prejudice toward any group, we pray.

For people of the world ravaged by weak economies, natural disasters, and calamities caused by humans, either willfully or accidentally, to manifest the Ascension of Christ by rising from their Passion to new levels of health and prosperity, we pray.

For people of the world dulled by habit, ignorance, and comfortable consumption to manifest the Ascension of Christ by rising to new levels of awareness and concern for fellow creatures, we pray.

For mothers and mothering caregivers who are ill, impaired, or alienated to be lifted in an Ascension to inner healing, we pray.

For us gathered here to manifest the Ascension of Christ by allowing our deepest aspirations, yearnings, and revelations to guide us toward creating more satisfying structures in our communities and our nation, we pray.

Friday, June 11, 2010


Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR’s religion correspondent, wanted to know whether science can present evidence for a spiritual dimension. As she was researching the question, she was a little embarrassed, “spooked” to find herself experiencing transcendence. I count myself among those who believe that spiritual entities touch us at times, that the inner realm breaks into our outer lives with messages. What spooked Hagerty consoles me, and I like to collect stories of this phenomenon.

Annelee Woodstrom was raised in Hitler’s Germany and after World War II came to Minnesota as the bride of an American soldier. She tells this story in her second book, Empty Chairs. Her daughter Sandy was looking forward to a promotion in May. With the raise in pay she planned to buy her parents a new car and they couldn’t talk her out of it. Annelee wrote,
I was happy for Sandy but I was troubled. . . . Without reason, the death skeleton that depicted the Totentanz (Death Dance) in the cemetery chapel in my hometown became a vision that floated through my mind. I couldn’t talk to anyone either because they would think that I had lost my mind. . . .
I looked forward to my children’s visit for Mothers Day, so I tried to clear my mind and feel good. . . . and yet the death skeleton would not leave me. . . .
On Mother’s Day Sandy said, “Mom, I have never been as happy in my life as I am right now. Everything seems to be going my way.” But the death skeleton became bolder. One day Annelee awoke, filled with the skeleton vision and the scent of flowers permeating the room along with a feeling of doom and urgency.
Sandy’s room was being remodeled but the local furniture store could not supply the type of carpet she wanted. On May 18, Annelee insisted her husband Kenny drive with her to Fargo to buy the carpet that very night, all the while oppressed by the thought that someone was going to die. When they came home with the carpet, she insisted that Marvin, their neighbor who built and remodeled homes, lay the carpet that very night.
“Tonight?” Marvin asked unbelieving.
“Yes, tonight.” I looked at the clock. “I know it is 8:30, but I know you can get it done.”
Marvin’s wife Joyce asked, “Why is it so important to have the carpet in tonight? Are you planning a party?”
Annelee didn’t dare say the skeleton vision and the scent of flowers were haunting her. Marvin went to work and laid the carpet for Sandy’s room.
The next two days Annelee drove herself as she had driven her neighbors, working late into the night on teacher duties for the approaching end of school year. In the middle of the night after Saturday May 20, she and Kenny were awakened by their pastor with the news that Sandy had been killed in a car accident.

Conventional science cannot explain Annelee’s premonition. Believers in Spirit, religious and non-religious, disagree on details but their varying explanations all come down to a non-material or spiritual dimension in the universe with which we are connected.

And that comforts me.

The Other Side calls (August 8)
I consider my son and daughter to have had a third set of grandparents, Mazie and Lee. Mazie, who loved to shower gifts on children, passed away, but I still like to visit with Lee, a WWII veteran and lover of history. He led me to much of the information and most of the oral interviews in my Avon centennial history, which got me onto Garrison Keillor's show. Lee gave me a book he was sure I’d enjoy, War Child: Growing Up in Adolf Hitler’s Germany. Lee also was sure I could find a way to get in touch with the author, whom he wanted to meet.

Author Annelee Woodstrom grew up in Bavaria, where American soldier Kenny Woodstrom fell in love with her and persuaded her to marry him and move to Minnesota. I finally did get in touch with Annelee and learned that her book group had read my God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky. (How's that for synchronicity?) Lee and I are rewarded with stories from Annelee. Her account of the Other Side’s insistent nudges when they lost their daughter Sandy is in the post above.
Here is another of her stories:
On Sunday, January 27th, 1998, Kenny was hospitalized at the Veteran's Hospital in Fargo, ND. On Tuesday Kenny told me, "Annelee, I am not coming home this time, I will die here so please call Roy and Linda and tell them to bring the children. I want to talk with them before I leave this earth."

Kenny could not be persuaded to change his mind. So Roy, Linda, and the grandchildren Titus and Liv arrived on Wednesday. Kenny talked with them, recalled the past and was happy they were present. On Friday he wished Freya could come too but assumed she couldn’t as she was working in Atlanta. I told Kenny, "I was not going to tell you, but Freya is flying in to be with you."
"When will she be here?"
"Maybe Sunday or Monday."
Kenny smiled, "Then I wait."
The nurses and doctors who had taken care of Kenny for the past eight years, marveled at his spirit, his clarity of thought and his determination to speak with family and friends. He was so happy to see Freya and visit with her. She was his first-born granddaughter, and he loved her dearly.

By Wednesday, February 6th, he had visited with his family and friends and said, "Now I am ready to go." Kenny drifted at times and seemed asleep. He opened his eyes after one of those absent times, looked at his friends, Janet and Gordon, at me and Dennis, my favorite nephew, and asked, "Why I am back? It was so beautiful where I was. I saw Ma, Dad, Sandy, Eddie, and other friends. They all were waiting for me. So why did I come back?"

The minister, who was also Kenny's friend said, "Kenny, maybe it is not your time to go?" Kenny was completely lucid when he was awake, but when he drifted for a brief time, he always repeated that it was so beautiful where he’d been and they were waiting for him.

On Thursday, Feb. 7th, during the evening hours I was alone with Kenny. He seemed asleep. Suddenly, he opened his eyes and said to me, "Annelee, I was back and saw Sandy. She is waiting for me and I should go. Look! Do you see her?"
He pointed over to the wall across from where I was standing. I took his hand. He pointed and asked me again, "Don't you see Sandy and her friends? Ma, Dad and Eddie—they are right over there, don't you see?"
I shivered, "No Kenny, I don't see them."
"Oh, maybe you need different glasses. They’re there, waiting for me."
Kenny drifted in and out. We talked about our family, about how lucky we were. We had over 50 years together. After midnight Kenny was sleeping peacefully.

On Friday, the 8th of February, a nurse who had become his friend came and said, “Why don't you and Dennis go for breakfast, and I will ready Kenny for the day. I looked at Kenny who was still sleeping, resting peacefully, so Dennis and I left. On the way back from breakfast, Dennis went up ahead of me, then came back and met me in the hall. Hugging me, he said, "Annelee, Kenny left us while we were gone."

The nurse said, "Kenny wanted to leave while you were gone. It was easier that way for everyone. I want you to know that everyone who took care of Kenny will miss him dearly. He was a special patient and a special man.”

Readers of my blog have read more stories of the Other Side beckoning at the end of life (Check out stories under "Paranormal" in my Index).

From my friend Carol comes a sequel to The Other Side.
My mother died in the early hours of January 1, 2010. At 4:45 in the morning, my brother telephoned to say she was gone and that he was on his way to her residence to meet the folks from the funeral home who were coming to transfer her remains. As we talked briefly, I asked my brother to find out the exact time that my mother had died. For some reason that was important to me and I wanted him to ask the nurse who had been in attendance at her death.

Later that morning my brother telephoned again to tell me that Mother had died at 4:30 a.m. I accepted this, but I was still consumed with the importance of her time of death.

A few days after Mother's funeral my husband and I drove to our home in Arizona and spent the following several days getting settled. Still I had the time of death on my mind. Then one night, when we both were sound asleep, the telephone rang in our bedroom. Twice. Awakening me. I glanced at the clock. It was 4:17 a.m. And there is NO telephone in our bedroom.

I knew this was my mother, telling me at what time she had passed into eternal life. I also knew she was telling me she was safe and happy, and in a good place. I smiled to myself and immediately fell back asleep.

Jung on parapsychology (September 23, 2010)
When I started reading Seth Speaks by Jane Roberts, I felt strongly that it expands on the work of Carl Jung. Seth, the spiritual entity speaking, confirms this in a chapter that overtly builds on Jungian concepts.

Carl Jung challenged literal Christian beliefs while recommending the tradition for guiding people into the spiritual world. Against the grain of conventional opinion, Jung accepted spiritualistic phenomena. Gifted psychics really do know facts not learned through the physical senses of seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, or tasting. Animals really do sense storms and earthquakes before they occur, dreams tell beforehand that someone will die, and clocks stop at the moment of death. My cousin, who was close to my brother, a priest, lit a candle on the day he was dying, several states away from where he was dying. The candle burned out at the moment of death. Such stories about the inner world’s knowledge abound. See also my blogposts indexed under “Paranormal.”

Jung never espoused or repudiated reincarnation, but he was open to the possibility. As for channeling, Jung attended the séances of a teenage girl. In The Portable Jung, Joseph Campbell relates:
He joined the sessions, and for the next two years, meticulously took notes, until, in the end, the medium, feeling her powers failing, began to cheat, and Jung departed.
I follow Jung in his acceptance of parapsychology, which are psychic abilities that neither science nor traditional religion explains. In fact, you can’t read Jung without being drawn into the knowledge that such phenomena exist, that they’re authentic, and that you have experienced or heard about similar events but didn’t let yourself dwell on them because they’re not explainable in terms accepted by our dominant society. They Spook some people.
Jung died in 1961, almost 50 years ago. If he were alive today, I think he might be a student of Seth.

I have always been attracted to evidence of messages from the Other Side. Why does the official Church frown on it? I can only guess and base my guess on its documents, which insist on “the primacy of the Christian faith.” Apparently it’s jealous of its authority; it wants to be THE only vehicle of knowledge about the spiritual world. It’s losing the competition.
While our dominant purveyors of knowledge—science and religion—don’t accept communication from the Other Side, ordinary people do. Here’s an example:
When my brother was very ill, someone was in the hospital room with him at all times. One night he asked everyone to leave; he wanted to spend one night alone in the hospital, he said, and he felt quite well. That night he died, peacefully by himself. We believe he did not want anyone around when he "let go."
This mirrors Annelee’s story about her husband Kenny’s death.

In The Varieties of Religious Experience, philosopher/psychologist William James quotes many persons who experienced the inner dimension, which they call God. They can’t be talked out of believing something spiritual communicated with them, saying things like,
God is more real to me than any thought or thing or person.
God surrounds me like a physical atmosphere.
Because their conviction is based on feelings “much more convincing than results established by mere logic ever are,” writes James, he had little respect for the pooh-poohing of rationalists:
Something in you absolutely knows that that result must be truer than any logic-chopping rationalistic talk, however clever, that may contradict it.
William James, Carl Jung, and Barbara Bradley Haggerty present evidence of a dimension beyond ordinary sensory knowledge from a scientific perspective, which carries much credibility for me. More than religion, their work also consoles and uplifts me.