Lost and Found:
by Susan Chiat
I have just bathed in the healing and cleansing waters of the Goddess's love. No, I did not dip into the Ganges River or splash in the mineral pools at Breitenbush in Detroit, Oregon or Esalen in Big Sur, California. Instead, I spent nine days surrounded by hundreds of women at the powerfully vibrant and festive Women of Wisdom conference in Seattle, Washington. One rare evening home in the midst of my immersion into the sacred feminine, laughter, songs to the Goddess, poignant and authentic conversations and workshops on mandalas, shamanic journeying, Wicca, and Yuruba spirituality, my male partner asked me, "How is women's spirituality different from men's spirituality, or spirituality in general?"
It was an evocative question, and one that left me pondering what I really do think about women's spirituality. Initially, I am filled with gratitude for the enormous support, solace, and nourishment I have received in my many years of exploring spirituality with groups of women. Of equal importance have been the basic philosophical tenets of the women's spirituality movement of which I have been a part.
At the very heart of this phenomenon is the recognition that all life is sacred and that we are all connected. From this main axiom stems the understanding that each and every one of us can experience the divine without needing another person to mediate it for us. Finally, the women's spirituality movement validates women's experience of the divine in our everyday lives, whether we are cooking, giving birth, raising children, taking care of our families, or healing ourselves. At its core, women's spirituality is a spirituality that exists here on the earth. It suggests that inherent within our ordinary lives is the doorway to the extraordinary.
Many women have never once heard the word "Goddess" spoken (even though numerous cultures worldwide have historically revered the Goddess as well as God), and repeatedly met closed or locked doors in mainstream religion. For them, the opportunity to practice a female-centered spirituality has been like the first sight of spring blossoms on winter's barren branches. In a world where women's mysteries, sexuality, and wisdom are still demeaned, the attraction to women's spirituality remains vital and pure. Even so, I cannot help but wonder about the need for this gender distinction, for if everything in life is indeed interconnected and is a part of spirit, then why do we speak of women's spirituality as if it is a separate entity?
Admittedly, it can be extremely useful to study and compartmentalize our understanding of the human experience, particularly where spirituality is concerned. In many cases, spiritual understanding is truly so simple that our cynical and active minds need to be given something useful to do. Traditionally, mantras, meditations, chants, Tibetan sand painting, pottery, beadwork, and other crafts have been pursued to calm the mind. These and other practices facilitate the expression of our spirituality rather than becoming the orphan of the mind's tendency for intellectual debates.
It is this authentic, creative, and unregulated expression of spirit with which women's spirituality is most concerned. In speaking with some of the women at the Women of Wisdom conference about their personal experience, a common theme resounded again and again. Many women spoke of a precious sense of safety and freedom they experience within the context of women's spirituality. In this atmosphere of trust and openness in women-only space, women find they are able to deepen their relationship with the sacred.
Recently in Boston, Massachusetts, a lawsuit was filed against the renowned feminist theologian Mary Daly, who refused to let men into her course on women's spirituality at Boston College. Her grievance? The notable silence of otherwise feisty and highly opinionated young women when even one male college student was present in the classroom. Even with the scores of research papers done by the likes of psychologist and author Carol Gilligan and her colleagues on the importance of women finding and expressing their voices, there still is a deep socialization that can insidiously affect women when men are present.
Yet, women's spirituality is not a fragile entity. It has persisted and endured in numerous forms through thousands of years of ridicule, violence, and suppression. The experience of our connection to the sacred feminine will always be available to us, because Spirit is alive. Perhaps the true challenge in this time is for all of us, men and women alike, to become more and more receptive to Spirit, to listen with our hearts and to develop finely tuned spiritual antennae. This receptivity is not a passive process, but an active opening to the divine. When we practice this, women with women, men with men, and women and men together, the universe responds with its magic and the result is always change, healing, and growth.
Whether or not you identify yourself with women's spirituality, it is important to ask yourself, "How do I best connect with the divine, with a sense of the sacred? In this springtime season of new beginnings, I invite you to renew and strengthen your awareness of your own unity with the divine and to discover how you can connect more consciously every waking day.
Susan Chiat, M.A. is a counselor specializing in creativity and women's spirituality, a writer, ritualist, teacher, and the president of the Women of Wisdom Foundation. She leads the Women's Spirit Circle, a monthly gathering held on the second Saturday at Seattle Unity Church. For more information, please call (206) 622-8475 ext. 124.