Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Goddess Consciousness

The following is a homily--short sermon--I wrote and delivered to my spiritual community, TLC, a couple of weeks ago...

We’ve spent the past couple of weeks attempting to tear down our image of God, to remove any preconceived notions, wipe the slate clean. Opening ourselves to any and all possibilities. Today we’re drawing a new image on that slate. Today you are being challenged to allow Goddess into your consciousness, to begin to embrace Her into your heart and mind and awareness of the Divine in a way that will begin to empower us all, and begin to bring balance to our inner selves, as well as our world.

We have lived our entire lives—as did our parents and grandparents and cultural ancestors for thousands of years—with a male God. A God that is “Master,” “King,” “Father,” “Lord,” “He.” Whether raised Christian or not, we live in a culture with a God made in the image and likeness of one half of humanity. We’ve been lied to for so long about the nature of God, and it’s hurt all of us—men as well as women. We’ve been told that God is one set of characteristics, one gender. Women have been left without an image of God that we can relate to. We’ve been denied our basic equality and humanity for thousands of years. We’ve been told that our qualities and characteristics are somehow less desirable than men’s, because men, after all, are the ones truly created in the image of the Divine. While it would be easy for many to simply bypass Goddess in this journey toward greater understanding of God, in favor of an all-encompassing, ‘God is too big and too great and beyond all labels’ kind of view, I don’t believe we can move to that place in an authentic or truly balanced way without giving Goddess at least a moment of her due. What she has to offer us is too great and important for us to overlook.

We’ve been living in a culture with religions steeped in patriarchal dualism. Patriarchal dualism refers to a dualistic philosophy that orders the world into antagonistic opposites—Male & Female, Reason & Intuition, Culture & Nature, Body & Mind. Dualism is a very simple, yet powerful strategy for making sense of a complex reality. Instead of a confusing & disturbing Universe of infinite shades, we simplify everything into black & white. Reality is divided into Good & Evil, Us & Them, Masculine & Feminine, and so on.*

What happens with these kinds of dualities is that we end up with a self/other split. In every case one half of the pair is identified with the self, & treated as superior, while the other half becomes the 'other', & therefore inferior, unknown & suspect. When we split the world into Nature & Culture, Body & Mind, Intuition & Reason, it is the natural, physical & intuitive world—and the female body and person—that is downgraded, rejected as other, as 'not me'. This deep-seated belief system underpins the monoculture that preaches one Truth, one God, & one 'True Way'. It teaches us that the sacred is elsewhere in a life beyond the illusionary & evil physicality of this world.”*

If we are created in God’s image and God is a man, whose image was I created in? Goddess gives women a Divine identity, an image of ourselves made in Her likeness. All of the things that we equate with womanhood and femininity that have been discredited for so long become divine gifts. Starhawk calls the Goddess “the symbol of the inmost self, and the beneficent, nurturing, liberating power within woman…The cosmos is modeled after [our female bodies, which are] sacred… Through Her, we can know the power of our anger and aggression, as well as the power of our love.” All of the things we have been told we cannot be as women, we discover we certainly can be, because she is all of them, and we are made in her image.

Now, patriarchal dualism hasn’t been so great for men either. It has kept men from having truly authentic relationships with women. It has put them in a position of power-over that, while it may seem to make some happy, does not lead to real joy and spiritual fulfillment. And it hasn’t allowed men to access those characteristics and qualities in themselves that do not fit the stereotype of the masculine, dominant, powerful god-image we’ve been given. Men, too, have been limited to only certain characteristics for far too long. Goddess for men is the embodiment of all the things society tells you you’re not allowed to be or recognize in yourself. She can help you become more whole and aware of your hidden female self. Because we are all made in the likeness of Goddess, we all have the capacity for power and peace, destruction and creation, disciplining and nurturing.

Goddess Consciousness isn’t a mere a turning of the tables, keeping the established dualism and simply elevating the flip side. Female over male, intuition over reason, nature over culture.

“Goddess Consciousness emerges from the process of building a relationship with the ecstatic mystical experience, & integrating that into everyday life.”* When we allow Goddess into our consciousness, we begin to break free from the dualisms that have been imposed on us by patriarchal societies and religions. We begin to relate to the Divine in a more visceral way, seeing her everywhere and in all things. The earth is Her flesh, the rivers Her blood, the air Her breath… and we her beloved children, Her creation. She is our Mother, our Sister, our Lover. She is all things.

The ground of the sacred is here and now. She is not out there somewhere, she is here. She is present in every moment. “The Goddess is manifest in the food we eat, the people we love, the work we do, the homes in which we live.” Starhawk says “The law of the Goddess is love: passionate sexual love, the warm affection of friends, the fierce protective love of mother for child, the deep comradeship of [sacred spiritual community]. There is nothing amorphous or superficial about love in Goddess religion; it is always specific, directed toward real individuals, not vague concepts of humanity. Love includes animals, plants, the earth itself—‘all beings,’ not just human beings. It includes ourselves and all our fallible human qualities.” She says, “Any act based on love and pleasure is a ritual of the Goddess.”

I challenge every one of us to let Her into our minds, our hearts, our senses. Let us expand our understanding of the Divine to allow for our Holy Mother, Divine Lover, Cosmic Birther, Sacred Sister Spirit to empower us, and love us. May she comfort us and sustain us. And may we begin to see Her and love Her in all, treating every person, every animal, every field and flower, as a divine manifestation of Her being.


Starhawk references from 'The Spiral Dance.'

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy Turkey Day?

Sometimes it's overwhelming, having your consciousness raised, being aware of the despicable atrocities suffered by non-human animals at the hands of human animals--all in the name of tradition and satisfying our palates. Ironically, it's during the holiday season, a time of joy and supposed tidings of peace that living with this consciousness is most painful. We are bombarded with images of dead turkeys everywhere we look, and often on the tables of our family gatherings. It's become acceptable these days to say "Happy Turkey Day" instead of "Happy Thanksgiving." Someone actually wished me a "Happy Turkey Day" today and I nearly choked on my response. I know I once participated unawares, but it's so difficult for me now as I recognize the inconsistency of gathering in a spirit of joy and gratitude and celebration, all while tearing apart the flesh of a being whose life was cut short in a vicious act of murder for the sake of tradition.

Vegetarians and vegans often dread the impending holidays, rather than wait in joyful anticipation. As if dead animal flesh wasn't all around us in TV commercials and on billboards and at the stores where we shop and in our co-workers lunches already, we now have to deal with having dead turkeys shoved down our metaphorical throats. I recently had a friend send me the following text message: "Am feeling dead turkey overwhelm! May have to go into hiding til January!" Another broke down in tears having been put on turkey-stocking duty at his otherwise enjoyable job at the grocery store where he works. "They're just packed in boxes and thrown around like they're nothing... but they're not nothing," he said.

Few family gatherings don't involve a dead bird as the centerpiece of their holiday celebration. Vegetarians and vegans are forced to make very difficult choices this time of year. Some choose to gather with their families and eat whatever is available without flesh or secretions, or bring some of their own food, living with the discomfort and, for some, emotional pain and trauma of sitting at a table with a carcass as centerpiece. Others choose to forgo the family meal and gather with family after dinner or not at all. Still others decide to take on the job of hosting and preparing the holiday meal for their families to ensure that it meets their standards of compassion and non-violence. I count my blessings that my family doesn't gather for Thanksgiving and my husband's family is going out of town this year. Christmas is another story, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Saturday night, some friends of ours hosted a vegan Thanksgiving potluck dinner at their yoga center. That was my family Thanksgiving. I am grateful I could gather with friends and meet new like-minded people. The serenity and gratification of gathering around delicious plant-based foods, knowing that all of it was thoughtfully prepared by people who truly strive to embody compassion, peace and a life of non-violence, is almost indescribable.

I love my family of origin and my friends, but it's not my job to make them feel good about their choices. I have made the decision to decline any dinner invitations--from family or friends--that involve dead animals as the centerpiece, whether that be turkeys, pigs, chickens or otherwise. We all have to draw the line somewhere, and that is my line. I cannot make their choices for them. I also cannot pretend to be unaffected by their choices. It is painful for me to be exposed to these practices, and so I must choose not to participate. Last year at Christmas I did ask my sister to basically hide the meat she felt she needed to prepare in a dish, rather than make a centerpiece of a carcass, and she did accommodate. I have many friends who are still animal eaters who at least have the courtesy to make our communal meals vegetarian--and often vegan--for the comfort of all. They understand that when the food is plant-based, everyone may enjoy it and feel at ease. These people are very much my family.

It can be difficult to find our voice, speak our truth, and care for our own needs when we are so outnumbered and marginalized. I am curious how others navigate the oblivious world around them, especially during this time of year. Where do you draw the line? Has that changed for you over the years? What are your holiday survival strategies? I welcome your responses...