It’s really no big deal I’m just an everyday goddess, doing all my goddess duties, trying to find a way…. (from the Breathe collection of Celia Farran)
There is a story told in Julie Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way at Work, called “The Roar of Awakening.” In the story, originally out of China, a young dragon is raised with farm animals and believes that he is a farm animal just like the rest of the animals he lives with. Until one day….
a big dragon flying overhead, spots the baby dragon in the yard with the farm animals. The big dragon swoops down, picks up the young dragon, and takes him high into the sky. Then drops him…. Thousands of feet he falls. And just before he hits the ground, the big dragon swoops him up out of harm’s way—only to repeat the process again, and again, and again. Until finally, the young dragon, out of fear and outrage, lets out a huge ROAR and spreads its wings…and discovers it can fly. In that moment the young dragon knows the truth, that he is really a dragon and he can fly. And that changes everything.
My Roar of Awakening came in my late thirties. January 6, 1996, to be exact. Ironically the feast of the Epiphany, and I was sitting in a Sunday night church service.
I grew up Catholic in the 60’s, the first-born in a family of eight children. When the good sisters had us pray for vocations (to the priesthood), I got one. Perhaps there is some truth that the first-born is dedicated to work of a spiritual nature. I have always been drawn to the sacred and matters of the soul and spirit. The Catholic Church however required its priests to be male and celibate…. My first encounter with gender bias and dysfunction in the church of my childhood. Sure, women were allowed to be sisters / nuns in a religious order. It wasn’t the same role. And I, having grown up in house of men, was not interested in living in a house of women, or giving up the option of marriage.
I sang in the choir, volunteered as a catechist starting in my junior year in high school (mostly because the teacher books had more answers and information than student books did), and later finished a degree in religious studies and became a director of youth ministry. Priests were still required to be male and celibate.
With the 60’s came Vatican II and a lot of changes to the old church. The laity (common folks), including women, got to be more involved—as lectors, Eucharistic ministers, and altar servers. Grandma was uncomfortable with women as Eucharistic ministers. Mom piped in with one of those classic watershed lines I’ll never forget when she said,
Who do you think was the first one to hold the real body of Christ? It was no man!
Wow. From that moment on, I saw with new eyes and listened differently—which was easier by then, because the church services were changed to English instead of Latin, so people could participate more and understand what they were saying.
In the 70s I became aware of gender inclusiveness. As a lector, and in songs and prayers, I changed words to be inclusive. As a lector I also learned that the Vatican had deliberately refused to allow the lectionary to be written inclusively….another encounter with institutional gender discrimination in the church of my childhood. Working in a law office, I was very aware of discrimination laws. And somehow, the church of my childhood was exempt.
In the 80s I was back in college—thirty, single, and female, studying religions and philosophy, education, and the work of Carol Gilligan, a Harvard University professor colleague of Lawrence Kohlberg, the one credited with defining human moral development stages. At Harvard a pattern was developing in the classes dealing with moral development. Female students were dropping out of Kohlberg’s classes. Many were coming into Gilligan’s classes. Gilligan studied the matter further and wrote a book (another watershed), In a Different Voice, based on her findings.
Did you know that all of the defining studies determining human development stages were based only on the responses of males? Erickson, Piaget, Skinner, and also Kohlberg. Any female data in the studies were considered “outliers” (because they didn’t fit the pattern of the males) and disregarded. All of our educational psychology, the yardsticks that women have been measured against, had in fact, only been the yardstick to measure men. And women were judged inappropriately against those measures that were not theirs.
In the case of moral development, the men in Gilligan’s study likened moral decision-making to a math equation. Apply the data to a formula and come out with a right answer every time.
For the women, the process was not so simple. Women are relational. And the women in the study considered the effects and consequences of their decision: who would be affected, and how, in the interconnected web of relationships of their lives? In the 1970’s, the moral issue being debated was abortion.
With the men, whether they chose the position that abortion is always a woman’s choice, or abortion is always wrong, they could apply the principle or formula (their yardstick) and always justify their answer as a ‘right’ answer. The woman, however, because they considered the relationships and the consequences of their choices, and could not justify their answer as ‘right’ based on a single principle, appeared wishy-washy and less advanced or less capable in moral decision-making. Instead of coming up with a ‘right’ answer, the women came to ‘an answer they could live with.’
Powerful and paradigm-shifting stuff. All of it resonated true for me. Pieces fit.
On the spiritual side, I was becoming increasingly aware of words and their power to include or exclude. In the 1980s, I also came across Patricia Lynn Reilly’s book, A God Who Looks Like Me. I had been taught I was created in the image and likeness of divinity. If that was true, where were the images and the language to reflect that divine femininity? When I brought it up to parish leaders once, I was told it was a ‘tweak’ and not that big a deal. The person who said that was male, of course. Is it a minor ‘tweak’? Or is it much, much bigger?
Try an experiment and you decide. Next time you’re in conversation or in a church speaking of the divine, change all of the masculine pronouns to feminine ones. Do it in your head.
How did it feel? And sound?
On that January eve in 1996, the service focus was on family. One of the readings was the infamous one about wives being submissive to husbands. The roar came during the homily when the priest acknowledged that the subsequent line, “Slaves be obedient to your masters.” had long ago been taken out because of how damaging and wrong it was.
In that moment I roared inside. I knew then there was no sensitivity to women or understanding how destructive and damaging that line left in has been. If the focus was sincerely healthy family relationships, the reading would have ended one line sooner.
They didn’t get it. Not a clue. They were oblivious–or worse yet: deliberately manipulating and controlling, to keep women in a lesser place.
I knew then that when I walked out of that church, I wasn’t going back. I had outgrown the church of my childhood. For the first forty years of my life, I had faithfully listened and learned from men. For the next forty, I was on a journey to listen and learn from women.
The church of my childhood was not the place to feed my female soul or to become all of the woman and spirit I was destined to be. I had been raised, spiritually speaking, in a single-parent family. To become ALL my soul came here to be, I needed to find the Divine whose image and likeness I as a woman was created in, images of sacred womanhood, powerful, beautiful, strong, compassionate, empowered, divine…Goddess, Spirit, Breath of Life, Mother of all Living, Queen of the universe, Mother Nature, She who gives birth….