Growing up a Roman Catholic female in Iowa during the 1950s and 60s meant that my image of God was male, and most Christian role models held up as examples of good people were male. At the time, I was OK with a male God, and I had good teachers. However, I was disappointed when I told college representatives at our high school career night that I wanted to study theology, and they responded by saying girls didn’t study theology and telling me to study something else.
Even so, during my high school and university years in the 1960s and early 1970s, the Vatican II Council not only gave me hope, but also provided numerous opportunities for me, as a female, to try on new leadership roles in the Church. I found kindred spirits in the Newman Club at the university and in a progressive parish dedicated to community and social justice. Both were inspirational and exciting!
I was thoroughly involved in parish and archdiocesan pastoral work in Nebraska, which prompted me to inquire about studying for a (postgraduate) Masters in Pastoral Ministry. When the Program Director told me that lay women were not allowed in that program, I was irritated and disappointed. However, I liked education and wanted to study theology, so I pursued a (postgraduate) Masters in Religious Education, which I received in 1977. That was a good choice and a great program – an example of turning lemons into lemonade.
Though I appreciated the male mentors and teachers I had had, I knew that female spiritual leaders and teachers had been absent from the history I’d learned. As a result, by the early 1980s, I began reading many of the books finally being published about the Goddess, especially after archeological research had finally revealed Goddess cultures that had existed for millennia in Europe and Africa. My heart raced, as I consumed those books. They made sense. Over time I also found myself starting to identify women from history and women around me whom I could see as role models.
Soon I realized that many of the groups identified in the Bible as horrible ‘pagan’ heathens actually were communities that valued women and feminine faces of Divinity (i.e. Goddesses). I also discovered music that addressed the Divine Feminine and touched my heart. At this point, I began to find life and joy in groups of women, who took great delight in exploring their own spirituality in experiential and embodied ways. This also coincided with my discovering shamanism, which in many ways, seemed interwoven with the Divine Feminine.
During the 1990s, I met Sr. Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun who had researched, written, and spoken about feminist spirituality in her book entitled Heart of Flesh. When Joan came to Nebraska to speak, my friend Deb and I went to hear her. We became excited, bought Joan’s videos, and used them in a series of Heart of Flesh retreats for women and men.
We also planned and co-facilitated a series of weekend retreats we called ‘Women’s Lives, Women’s Stories’. Along with our friend Pat (see bottom of ‘Who We Are’ in About), in the late 1990s, we also co-sponsored two separate weekend retreats entitled ‘A Gathering of Women’, which were facilitated by Joan Borysenko. Many women came to those retreats, and two results of those gatherings were the creation of the White Buffalo Singers and the Omaha Celtic Group.
Not only were the Heart of Flesh retreats successful in Omaha, but they were popular at the University of Edinburgh, where the University Chaplain and I offered them to students, staff, and community participants throughout the 2000s. Joan talks about one humanity, which comes in different genders. Those of any gender can embody a holistic paradigm of partnership or a patriarchal paradigm of duality, exclusion and ‘power over’ others.
In addition to the Heart of Flesh retreats, starting in the mid-2000s and continuing for over 10 years, I frequently worked with the Edinburgh Centre for Spirituality and Peace (EICSP) to plan, organize, facilitate, and preside at numerous Divine Feminine conferences, retreats, and gatherings. In 2017, we also have offered a workshop on the Divine Feminine/Masculine. As a multifaith university chaplain, I was grateful to join with the Vedic Society, when they held festivals honoring the Divine Feminine.
I occasionally offer and facilitate Divine Feminine workshops, retreats, and gatherings, while back in Omaha. However, the pandemic has created a temporary pause in those events.
In 2005, Sharon Medhi, a friend I had met in the early 1990s, wrote a magical short story, The Great Silent Grandmother Gathering (see Selected Resources below), for her five-year old granddaughter, and it caught international attention. Inspired by Sharon’s book, women of all ages (and men, who choose to join them) from throughout the world have been silently standing together in local parks, school yards, or neighborhood gathering places at 1 p.m. local time on Mother’s Day (May in the USA) to save the world and to signify their agreement with the statement below:
All of these experiences have affirmed the feminine face of the Divine for me and have deepened my conviction that this and all spiritualities are best integrated in a community of kindred spirits who together question, learn, cry, grief, celebrate, and support each other in hope. The Divine/Holy One/Source of All is beyond single categories. However, I continue to grow in my understanding of a feminine dimension and of how utterly important the return, integration, and evolution of the feminine in both women and and men is for the survival of the world.
SELECTED RESOURCES FOR DIVINE FEMININE AND FEMINIST SPIRITUALITY
Center for Sacred Studies www.centerforsacredstudies.org
‘Dangerous Old Woman’ by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, www.soundstrue.com/
Heart of Flesh – book and video series by Sr. Joan Chittister http://store.benetvision.org/heofflfespfo2.html
Kitty Tweddle Books by HJ Blenkinsop (stories for courageous and empowered girls) http://www.hjblenkinsop.com
Meyer, Cameron Alexis – Writer and Journalist http://www.cameyer.com
Women of Wisdom Foundation – Raising the Feminine Spirit, Transforming the World www.womenofwisdom.org
‘Untie the Strong Woman’ by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, www.soundstrue.com/
Gather the Women Global MatrixTM www.gatherthewomen.org/
Sharon Mehdi’s The Grandmother Book http://www.grandmotherbook.com/
Jean Shinoda Bolen’s Initiatives http://www.jeanbolen.com/
The Millionth Circle (based on Jean Shinoda Bolen’s books) http://www.millionthcircle.org/
Shift Network www.theshiftnetwork.com
Standing Women, www.StandingWomen.org/
Femme – Women Healing the World (A Celebration of Women around the World transforming and healing our global society), a documentary film (90 mintues) by Emmanuel Itier, with Executive Producer Sharon Stone. Vision Films, Inc. – Video Services Corporation www.videoservicescorp.com
BIBLIOGRAPHY (downloadable as pdf):
DIVINE FEMININE AND FEMINIST SPIRITUALITY Selected Bibliography – February 2018