FALL 2007

Women’s Spirituality and the Primacy of Women’s Stories

Elizabeth Shillington

For a number of years beyond seminary I tried to be like other Jewish and Christian feminists who have chosen to remain in their faith communities and struggle both to reclaim their true history and to re-create tradition, taking on Jewish feminist theologian Marcia Falk’s attitude that she “must help bring into being” that which she wants to see happen. (8) I used inclusive language consistently and tried to bring feminist concepts into my work in the Church, but it always felt like a great effort. I did not give up because I could not imagine living in the world without the only God I knew. My faith was still the most important thing I had to truly ground me in my life.

A number of years later I moved to Guatemala to adopt my two children and I began writing a column for an English language magazine on the theme of women and spirituality. The column started out with a feminist Christian perspective, but as I continued to write, people began to seek me out to offer me books to read such as The Chalice and the Blade by Riane Eisler (9) and When God was a Woman by Merlin Stone. (10)

The moment when my realization of the Goddess struck me most forcefully occurred when I read Merlin Stone’s When God was a Woman. It was one of those moments such as Alice Walker describes when we know, as it is happening, that we will remember it always. (11) After trying to explain the book to my partner, I said, “Imagine how different that would feel—to think of God as female.” As I said those words and let my imagination wrap itself around the concept, I felt a surge of power run through my body. I suddenly had a brief glimpse of what it would feel like. It would mean transforming my whole perception of myself into a powerful and beautiful one. In that instant I realized that if I truly thought of God as female, my body would be sacred. I would know myself to be strong, creative, and daring. I would be whole. It was an experience for me such as Christine Downing described:

To learn about the Goddess is in a profound sense a remembering, a recollection of something we know deeply within about our own power, and a re-membering, an act which gives us back the power of our bodies, the power of our female sexuality. (12)

I felt like I had been sleepwalking until then, and I began to wake up. I became greatly excited by the immense power and possibility for transformation that seemed to lie within a spirituality centered on the Goddess. As Betty DeShong Meador points out, “the lack the woman experiences is not of the missing penis. The lack is the absence of the vital symbols of the feminine and its sacred vulva.” (13) Once I had a glimmer of these symbols and their significance, my mind was instantly gripped by the possibilities. If such sacred images were out there, then so much more was imaginable! I felt I was coming out of a cramped closet into open, infinite space. I was determined not to let go of this new awareness, but to pursue it until I came to know myself and my own possibilities as fully as I could. Award-winning author, Sue Monk Kidd, writes in her spiritual autobiography,

Initiation is a sacred disintegration. Despite its pain, we carry the conviction (often only faintly) that even though we don’t know where we’ll end up, we’re following a soul-path of immense richness, that we’re supposed to be on this path, that it’s required of us somehow. We move in a sense of rightness, of lure, of following a flute that pipes irresistible music. (14)

It was difficult in some respects to release beliefs that I had held for a lifetime—ones I believed to be sacred and central to my being. It was also painful to put myself outside the community of the Church where I had always felt I had a permanent home. Nevertheless, that sense of “rightness” was so compelling I could not but follow where it led, even though I was not sure where I would end up.

As my partner and I went through a relationship crisis, my new sense of spirituality became not just a new idea to play around with, but a means of survival and of deep inner transformation for me. I felt that I had discovered a power inside myself that I had never tapped into before. I was finally unearthing a way to satisfy the spiritual hunger that I had entered seminary with and had not yet satisfied. I began to shift my perception so that I could move toward the wholeness I sought. I looked for the Goddess and talked with Her everywhere. I called upon Her power to fill me in moments of doubt and Her presence gave me security and confidence. I looked for Her in the faces of my friends and found Her beauty and wisdom there too. Her creativity flowed through me when I asked for it. I learned to trust Her guidance and my own intuition. My experiences became richer and the opportunities that lay before me more exciting. A new direction opened up in my life—one that would be focused on discovering more of Her and sharing Her with other women.

In a very special moment on the island of Naxos in Greece several years later, I dedicated myself to Her. It was the thirteenth anniversary of my wedding. In my journal I wrote:

I had rented a jeep and driven all over this incredibly beautiful island when I decided to drive down a steep, winding mountain road to a beach I saw marked on my map. When I first got down and stepped out of the jeep, I felt a little disappointed that it didn’t look like a ‘perfect’ beach. It wasn’t sandy or as secluded as I’d hoped. But as I walked toward the water I looked down and noticed how stunning the rocks were. Each and every one had beautiful colors and smooth shapes: reds, oranges, whites, and shades of black. Rings, circles, egg stones and phallic stones. I picked up one and then another and another, marveling at the beauty of each and unable to resist holding onto it.

When I got to the water I slid all the stones I’d picked up into my bag and proceeded to step gingerly over the rocks into the water. To my delight, the rocks quickly gave way to light, powdery sand, like confectioner’s sugar beneath my feet. I danced lightly on the ocean floor, then spread my body on its surface and let it hold me up, gently lapping all around me as I gazed up at the sky and cliffs above. I felt ecstatic, like I was being truly embraced by the Great Mother and that she had opened up this space of treasure for me to play in. Then I felt a strong desire to stretch myself out where the water met the stony beach. I lay with my body half-submerged in water and half-lying on the stones—my face down in the rocks and my arms outstretched above my head. Above me both the sun and wind caressed my body and I felt connected to all the elements of Nature simultaneously—the water lapping around me, the earth/stones beneath me, the sun/fire above, the wind/air around me. I called upon the Earth Mother, asking her to accept me as her daughter. I felt such love, such bliss, and such connection. I felt alive and joyful. I danced back into the sea laughing and singing with gratitude and happiness, thanking the Earth for being part of me and allowing me to be part of Her.

I have been walking the path of the Goddess ever since.

Although I am critical of the patriarchal institution of the Church, I have not rejected my Christian roots altogether. I believe that the essence of Christianity, which to me is love and service, still guides my life today. But I have found great empowerment, enrichment, and enchantment in returning to much deeper roots than those found in the Bible. In returning to the Goddess, the Mother of us all, I have found that I have truly come home—home to the primordial womb from which all of creation was birthed.