Thank you to everyone who came to our last event on Friday evening! Listen below to Justine Huxley and Ruth Scott speaking on the theme of Darkness, Imperfection and the Feminine.
Thank you to everyone who came to our last event on Friday evening! Listen below to Justine Huxley and Ruth Scott speaking on the theme of Darkness, Imperfection and the Feminine.
‘There is this in-loveness in me that just wants to flow out like a river and care.’ Listen below to Sam Wernham speaking at our last event on The Feminine and Spiritual Authority!
A short story by Ruth Scott.
Once, we stood on the brink of the abyss. It all seems so unreal to me now. Like some half-forgotten nightmare. But it did happen. I need only look at the strange plant growing on my desk to know that. For you my story may some unbelievable. I can only say that in wartime everything that does not make sense happens, even the absurd. Listen, then, to my tale, for though it be absurd it is true.
The madness began in some now-forgotten state on the other side of the world. Surrounding countries found themselves drawn reluctantly into the conflict. Major powers far removed from the situation tried to intervene. Foreign armies invaded the land they sought to rescue from oppression. Violence escalated. Somehow political and religious divisions became entangled with one another. The change was insidious. Even I, the chief peace negotiator, could not see how it happened.
One moment people were allies, the next they were enemies. Men of different faiths who had lived peaceably together for generations now took up arms against each other. Peacemakers became warmongers. Guns silenced the songs of dreamers and storytellers. The feet of children danced the dance of death before they had learnt the steps of life. Bombs obliterated the beauty of the earth. Darkness invaded the human soul.
Those of us who were not killed retreated underground. We survived as best we could on ever dwindling supplies of food and water. Across the earth incarcerated men, women and children watched and waited for the end to come. Occasionally we ventured above ground foraging for food, but for the most part we stayed entombed beneath the rocks. We lived in a twilight zone where night and day were no longer distinguishable. When the oil lamps ran out of fuel, and the last candle guttered away, we lived as the blind. Some tried to carve out a little comfort in their caves, but many sat vacantly hour upon hour, too shocked to function, withdrawing into themselves as they waited for death to come.
For our part, my partner and I tried to keep cheerful. For the sake of our children we could not give in to despair. We invented games and tried to keep active, feeling our way around the system of tunnels in complete darkness. But the hours were long, and without adequate food and water we became listless.
“When will we go home?” the children asked.
“Soon, very soon,” we said. We did not want them to know their fate. We did not want them to know that this would be their last resting place. We wanted them to die without fear in their hearts, and we prayed that we might live long enough to prevent them dying alone.
Then one day, into the desolation of that subterranean world I shared with my family, there came a strange company. Who they were, who sent them, and how they found me I do not know. Suffice to say, they wanted me to return with them to the outside world. I listened in silence to their invitation. In silence I hugged my partner and children. In silence I followed the strangers, and left behind all that I held most dear.
The journey that I embarked upon is of little consequence. It was long and I spent much of the time blindfolded. That was no hardship. I was used to the dark. I did not feel like talking and my companions spoke only in answer to my rare questions. I was left in silence to prepare for the work ahead. Firm hands moved me from helicopter to plane to truck, and finally guided my stumbling footsteps to their destination.
When the blindfold was removed the light was agonising. I felt sick with the pain of it. As my eyes adjusted I saw I was standing in a large underground bunker. I was given food, meagre in amount, but more than I had seen for some time. I was offered a little water to drink. It was dirty, and tasted of chemicals, but I drank it as if it had come from the clearest mountain stream.
In the centre of the room stood a vast round table surrounded with chairs. I sat down and waited. I felt nothing. Perhaps that was just as well: Hope terrifies the desperate, and I could not afford to be terrified.
A door opened and a line of silent men filed in to the room. Soon the seats at the table were occupied. Around me sat the leaders of the world – men of every race and religion – war-weary and wary-faced. When the last man was settled they turned expectantly to me. Thus began our final attempt to broker peace.
At first, we seemed to be making progress, but as the hours passed the atmosphere chilled and the hostility grew. Time and again we hit against immovable beliefs that could not be reconciled. Political Treaties and Holy Scriptures were waved in evidence for this or that view. I tried to keep the leaders on track, to help them notice what they were doing and where their approach might lead, but they did not listen. Once measured voices now rose in anger and condemnation. Fists banged on the table. Accusations ricocheted around the room. Chairs scraped as men rose to interrupt one another. Calls for order were ignored. Hopes for peace were dashed against the rocks of human intransigence. Images of my own family flashed across my mind. I tried to shut them out. Despair began to seep through my bones. Suddenly a scream sliced through the chaos!
Screams are the common currency of a world at war. At the height of battle they go unheard. Only in the lull after the storm of conflict do they return to haunt the memory of the hearer. But here, away from the dirt and the dread and the destruction, the response was an immediate shocked silence.
The source of the scream was an old woman. She was sitting at the table – a mere sparrow amongst this company of eagle-eyed men. Her huddled bony figure was all but covered in a torn black shawl. Only her walnut-wrinkled face and tiny wisps of silver hair were visible. Dark eyes twinkled out at the startled men around her. To this day I do not know how she came unnoticed to that place.
For a few moments the old woman did not move at all. Then, from under her shawl, she whipped out an object the size of a football. The men around the table stiffened in their seats. Was it a bomb? Before anyone could act, the old woman delved beneath her shawl once more. Delegates flinched as a knife flashed through the air. It plunged into the mysterious object with a soft…shloop. It was nothing more than a piece of fruit, yet it was unlike any fruit I had ever come across before. The gnarled and leathery skin was of the deepest purple that ebbed and flowed as the light caught it. Where the knife penetrated, thick clear golden juice oozed from the incision. The ancient one sliced again. A segment fell away from the fruit. To my amazement the flesh was not golden like the juice, as I had expected, but the most brilliant and translucent aquamarine. At the centre blood red seeds glistened.
To those of us who had lived for so long with the greyness of a polluted and dying earth, the colours were breath-taking. Perhaps that is why we did not protest as the woman shared the fruit among us.
I will remember the taste of that fruit for the rest of my life. It spread out from the tip of my tongue and melted through every cell in my body. At one and the same time it soothed and electrified, warmed and refreshed me. I felt utterly complete.
“What is this?” I asked.
The old woman did not reply. Instead she looked from one delegate to the next and waited. Eventually one of the leaders turned to me and spoke,
“When I was young, and the land was still good, I lived on the edge of a great prairie. It spread out before me as far as my eye could see. When the wind blew and the grass bent to its will, it was like sailing upon a never-ending ocean, and I felt wild and strong and immortal. Such feeling does this strange fruit reawaken within me. It must indeed be Prairie Fruit.”
Before I could respond a short thickset man stood up,
“I understand nothing of what you say. I come from a land of snow and ice, where bitter winds freeze the very tears in your eyes. After long days hunting we would return home to blazing fires prepared by our womenfolk. The heat slowly thawed our chilled bodies and feeling returned to numbed hands and feet. It was like being bathed in warm oil. As I bit into this fruit, I remembered that bliss, and so I know that this is Fire Fruit.”
“How can that be?” demanded a bronzed man wrapped in flowing robes, “Where I come from the sun burns down. Its fire brings death to fragile desert life. As we travelled through the heat, we longed for the shade and cool of the next oasis. To plunge our hands into the clear waters beneath the date palms was to dive into heaven. Thus I know this is an Oasis Fruit, and would that I knew from which oasis it came.”
These words brought protestations from other delegates. They, too, knew the nature of the fruit, and it was not as others had described it. It was alternately Love Fruit, Rainbow Fruit, Snow Fruit, and so on; as many names as there were people around the table. For a while it looked as though the debate was going to get out of hand once more, but then a young man stood up.
“Wait, wait,” he cried, “Has war damaged our minds so much that we can no longer think? This fruit is beyond what any of us ever imagined fruit could be like. We do not know what it is or where it comes from, so we describe it in the light of experiences and places familiar to us. Our images are inevitably limited. They mean nothing to those who have not shared our experiences, but they convey much to those who live as we do. Might it not then be possible that we are all right according to what we know, and that we are all wrong according to what we do not know?”
For the first time in that gathering there was a general murmur of agreement. I should have been glad but I was furious. It is not the task of negotiators to allow our own personal position to enter the process of negotiation, but I could contain myself no longer.
“You have all seen, touched and tasted the same fruit. Your descriptions appear contradictory. How can Fire Fruit and Ice fruit, for example, be one and the same fruit? Yet they are, and you understand and accept why this is so.”
I hesitated, struggling to find the right words. My heart thumped in my chest and my breath came in short gasps. I felt an almost physical pain.
“For the same reasons will you not also have many different pictures and names for the source of all being, meaning and purpose, which is far less tangible. You do not even understand each other, so how can you claim to understand that which is immeasurably more than any one person can comprehend? How many more people must die from the diseases of arrogance, blind ignorance and egotistical power?”
When I finished speaking there was, for a moment, complete silence in the room. I slumped back in my chair, embarrassed by my outburst. I looked across at the old woman and I saw her eyes fill with tears. Slowly they spilled down her cheeks and splashed upon the table. I have heard it said that when someone cries in ancient myths and fairy-tales, it is a moment of cleansing. I know that to be true now. From the depths of the ancient one came a sound like I have never heard before. It was as if the very earth itself was crying out its agony. Perhaps it was. The frail body was wracked by uncontrollable anguish that filled the room and shook the walls. The roof above us split asunder with a deafening crack. How it was that no one was hurt, I do not know. Indeed it was not until afterwards that I realised what had happened, so transfixed was I by the old woman’s sobs. Somehow her anguish penetrated to the very core of my being. Every carefully constructed emotional defence crumbled in the face of her tears. I found myself crying like a baby, crying like I had not cried since I was a child – great uninhibited wails that turned me inside out.
Had I been in a state to notice, I would have seen this same effect in each of the men around the table, and in those hidden in the shadows. The woman wailed on and we wailed on, and the sound of weeping spread. It seeped through the space where the roof had been. It was carried on the turbulent air currents of war, and rippled through the rocks as if through water. It echoed around the Earth. The people in hiding wept their way out of the tunnels and bomb shelters that enclosed them. Tombs became wombs forcing out life into the world. The tears of the living fell upon the parched earth, and the tears became streams. The streams became rivers and the rivers became seas. The heat trapped by the polluted atmosphere evaporated some of the water, which formed into cloud and was blown across the arid mountains before falling as rain. Where the rain fell tiny seeds, long buried in the dead earth, germinated and put forth new shoots.
I do not know for how long we cried. Caught up in the eternity of the present moment, time lost all meaning. It was not until I came to myself that I realised what had happened. With the startled amazement of a child emerging from a violent tantrum I looked around in disbelief. Suddenly I was outside the madness that had seemed so rational and so right. So it was with the men around me.
Of the old woman there was no sign. For a moment I wondered if I had dreamt her existence. Perhaps she had been nothing more than a delusion erupting from the mind of desperate people trying to escape the futility of their last few hours of life. But this could not be so, for there, on the table, a handful of blood red seeds lay scattered in a pool of perfumed juice, glistening gold in the light of a new dawn.
© Ruth Scott 2018. Copyright is with the author, please do not reproduce without permission.
Ruth Scott is a facilitator, trainer and mediator. She was among the first women ordained as priests in the Church of England in 1994. She has subsequently become a member of the Quakers. For the last 20 years she has worked primarily in the field of conflict transformation.
For many years she worked in interfaith dialogue with Muslim and Jewish colleagues here and abroad, most particularly as a committee member of the Interfaith Foundation. She runs a workshop, Women Together, Standing Tall, for survivors of sexual violence, which she led first in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for women raped as a weapon of war. She returns regularly to Egypt to run the workshop for women who have experienced FGM and sexual abuse. Most recently she has facilitated training for Iraqi civil and religious leaders working to address religious intolerance and hatred in Iraq. She was on the Design and Facilitator Teams commissioned by the House of Bishops to run the series of Shared Conversations across the Church of England around issues of human sexuality, and continues to work as a mediator and facilitator in Church conflicts.
She was a BBC Radio 2 ‘Pause for Thought’ presenter for 18 years, and broadcasts regularly with Chris Evans and Clare Balding. She runs retreats, and lectures and leads workshops here and abroad on leadership, trauma and working constructively with conflict. Her fourth book, The Power of Imperfection, came out in 2014.
‘I identify as a Buddhist but my roots are in the earth, which is where I think roots should be.’ Listen here to Sahajatara Blake speaking at our recent event on The Feminine and Spiritual Authority.
I start most days by greeting Leo and Serenity, two beautiful cats that share their lives and loves with me, and together we step out into the early morning garden to meet the community of life that we are part of. There are prayers of blessing to be silently offered over the mint and lemon balm, now that spring has returned and there are fresh leaves for morning tea again. Serenity likes to join me, as I light a candle before the icons on my altar and then settle down to drink tea and chant my Morning Office. Or if it’s warm, we sit out on the deck beside the wild patch and my prayers are woven through with birdsong.
Like many Christians in the spiritual community throughout the world that we call the holy mother church, I work with the ‘First English Prayer Book’, which was written by a mostly anonymous group in 1549 (probably solely composed of men but who knows?) and which draws upon prayers and scripture that root back into several millennia of Christian and Jewish tradition. I have consciously chosen to work with tradition and yet I also feel free to innovate and re-create it day by day, to reflect my experience as a woman. So I change the words somewhat and make up my own tunes. I use my imagination and intuition. I use movement and gesture, scents and sensing and I dig deep into stories to restore and reclaim the women and the more than human beings who are present there. I feel strongly about this. I meet many people who are highly critical and rejecting of Christian tradition, as I once was (and still sometimes am) and yet these days I mostly feel that it’s no longer good enough for me personally to turn away from the tradition I was born into, without looking more closely and making a little more effort. Also I feel a heart response, a response-ability to all the women who have walked the Christian way, whether silenced, overlooked or not, to honour their journey, their wisdom and inspiration.
So I began this morning, as I often do, by changing the word “Lord’ while still keeping the poetry of traditional devotional language:
Beloved open thou my lips
and my mouth shall show forth thy praise
Holy Mother make speed to save us
Our Lady make haste to help us
As I slowly chant, I feel my heart unfurl and that the wonder of life truly is something to delight in and to praise. I think of all that is being hurt and destroyed and that I long to be saved on the good earth and I choose to trust that there is some greater mystery at play that holds my yearning for healing and transformation. As the traditional service continues to unfold, the earth and all angels are acknowledged as sharing in the great outpouring of praise and celebration of the divine source, ‘heaven and earth are full of thy glory’. When I imagine heaven, I draw upon my Celtic ancestry and the indigenous forms of Christian expression that flourished after the Romans left Britain in the fifth century. I imagine the ‘Otherworld’, a heaven of subtle senses and presences that are woven in together with embodied sense and earthy beings. Today the glorious reality of heaven and earth is angelic orange tip butterflies flitting among the fresh green of spring nettles.
Crossing the thresholds of worlds continues as the service moves on to remember Apostles (I think of Mary Magdalene, Mother Mary, Thecla and others), Prophets (I imagine Miriam, Deborah and more), the communion of Saints (I picture Theresa of Avila, Clare of Assisi, Mother Julian or my more recent heroines such as Annie Dillard, Adrienne Rich…) I feel myself surrounded by a great cloud of women witnesses over countless generations. My Trinity is of a Mother God, her Son and the Holy Spirit, named in Hebrew Bat Kol – daughter of the voice.
Next comes scripture reading – met in sacred silence and explored through the imagination. A recent reading spoke of Sophia – divine wisdom:
Does not wisdom call out?
Does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights along the way,
where the paths meet, she takes her stand.
My way of sacred reading, whether of the ’small book’ of the Bible or the ‘big book’ of nature is inspired by a traditional method developed by Francis de Sales in the sixteenth century, who invites engaging through meditation with the head and the heart, imaginatively entering into the ‘story’ and then distilling from our thoughts and feelings a simple intention and embodied action that we can carry into the day. So I am struck in the passage above by the potential to meet wisdom ‘along the way’, that any encounter ‘where paths meet’ may contain a wisdom teaching. So I re-dedicate myself today to trying to be more present and receptive to those moments of encounter with the human or more than human world and whether easy or difficult. Perhaps in this writing there may be a moment of encounter with you, dear reader?
My Morning Office with Holy Mother God ends in prayer that reaches out into the world. It’s as if the energy of the early parts of the service, from the devotional praise, celebration and the inspiration of sacred reading, is then offered back to the world. I pray for all the beings who share this space I call home, for neighbours and neighbourhoods, for a widening circle of life in all its beauties and horrors. I finish with my slightly adapted versions of the ‘Collects’ (prayers in which we collect our heart and mind and recollect what matters most) for peace and grace. These help to root me into a deeper place of trust as I move into another full working day and to remind me of the reason I am dedicated to Christian leadership and ministry – to love and serve life.
Holy Mother, who art author of peace, and lover of concord
in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom:
defend us, thy humble servants, from making the other our enemy,
that we surely trusting in thee, may not fear the power of any adversity.
All loving and ever living God, which hast safely brought us to the beginning of this day:
defend us in the same with thy mighty power; and grant that this day we do fall into forgetfulness
but that all beings may be held with love and wisdom
and we may do what is right, whole and holy in thy sight.
by Samantha Wernham.
For more about women and the sacred feminine in the Jewish and Christian traditions, you might like to dip into:
The Book of ‘Proverbs’ in the Bible, especially Chapter 9
‘The Hebrew Goddess’ by Raphael Patai
’She Who Is’ by Elizabeth A. Johnson
‘Band of Angels – The Forgotten World of Early Christian Women’ by Kate Cooper
‘Goddess and God in the World – Conversations in Embodied Theology’ by Carol. P Christ and Judith Plaskow
anything by Mirabai Starr
For art & icons by Dr. Mary Plaster, see http://www.maryplaster.com/
Join Samantha Wernham at our next event on Friday May 4 at 6.30pm, The Feminine and Spiritual Authority: Christian, Buddhist and Muslim Perspectives! Samantha will be joined by Remona Aly and Sahajatara Blake for an interfaith panel discussion. Book tickets here!
Sam Wernham is the founder of social enterprise Living Spirit, which has offered many projects celebrating spirit, art and nature over the last twenty years. Current projects include Wild Church, which is an inter-spiritual pioneer ministry committed to silent pilgrimage and contemplative communion. Wild Church is currently working on the development of a new monastic centre and ‘sacramental landscape’ in Dartington, Devon.
Sam has travelled widely and been a life long student of spiritual ecology, ranging from the Buddhist communities of Ladakh and Zanskar to the Celtic churches of the Scottish Highlands, where she worked a croft for five years and built an eco retreat centre. She nows lives on pilgrimage between her micro monastery in Dartington and Christ Church University in Canterbury, where she is engaged in doctoral research into transformative learning focussed on the motif of the sacred marriage. As an ordained interfaith minister and committed Anglican, Sam is especially curious about the marriage of tradition and innovation. http://www.living-spirit.co.uk/.
‘The earth goddess Drittar is very important in the story of the Buddha’s enlightenment. The Buddha-to-be is seated on the diamond throne and Mara appears and asks, what right do you have to take your seat on the diamond throne? And the Buddha says he has the right because he’s practised the perfections for countless lifetimes: so he’s practised generosity, ethics, patience, energy, meditation and wisdom for countless lifetimes. Mara says, who saw you practising the perfections for countless lifetimes? And the Buddha-to-be touches the earth with his fingertips, he makes the earth touching mudra, and the earth goddess Drittar appears, and she says, ‘I’ve seen him.’
Listen to a talk given by Sahajatara Blake, one of the panelists at our upcoming event on the Feminine and Spiritual Authority! This talk was recorded at the Brighton Buddhist Centre in 2015.
Join us on Friday May 4 at 6.30pm for the next event in the series, The Feminine and Spiritual Authority: Christian, Buddhist and Muslim Perspectives, with Remona Aly, Sahajatara Blake and Samantha Wernham! Book tickets here!
“It’s time for the women to pray together again, to remember our sacred biological and spiritual function as the life bearers, the life bringers and the creators…..to serve the thriving of all life.” Pat McCabe.
This is a guest post by Amrita Bhohi.
Recently I had the privilege of spending a day in the presence of Pat McCabe, a Dine’ (Navajo) indigenous teacher from New Mexico, trained in the Lakota spiritual tradition. This event formed part of a series of events at St Ethelburga’s Centre exploring the role of feminine principles in action at this time of global ecological crisis. Together with a group of 25 or so women from around the UK, she lead us in a workshop that was in reality a ceremony; offering her stories, teachings, prayers and longings with us and in service to as she named it, the great sacred hoop of life. In the traditional indigenous way, we sat gathered in a circle as the hours passed by, listening and receiving the wisdom of this true female elder, marked by the power of a primal authority, uninhibited vulnerability and deep humility with which she commanded the space. So much more was transmitted beyond the words that she spoke and shared with us, and a deeper understanding of the sacred feminine was one aspect of this. What her presence connected me to was an embodied sense of the feeling of a kind of sacred wholeness; of the masculine and feminine qualities, also of the Indigenous and Western worlds, and ultimately the union of the physical and spiritual aspects of life. Listening to her speak from this depth of reconciliation within herself, I experienced a glimpse of what it would feel like to inhabit a sacred wholeness in one’s heart and mind, and what it could be like to live from that place, which was true beauty, power and potential.
I realised that the feminine power that Pat embodied came from consciously inhabiting the sacred purpose of the feminine in service to life as a woman, but also that another aspect of her power was a deeper state of connection and reverence with the masculine, equally as with the feminine. Her stories conveyed the journey of reconciling with men and with the masculine, and taught us of the courage, commitment and generosity that this path to wholeness requires for women in this world today. Reflecting on how profound this quality of wholeness I had experienced in Pat had been, I recognised more clearly how wholeness truly is a sacred feminine power, and a principle that as women we can aspire to and embody as well as how much it is needed in the world and what a healing force it can be when put into practice. In a world so ripped apart by a paradigm of separation; from each-other, from the Earth and from the sacred, in a sense all of my own work in the field of Spiritual Ecology could be defined just as much as to a return to wholeness, as a remembrance of interconnectedness, which is how I usually describe it.
I was moved by the sad truth of Pat’s statement that as men and women today we live in a ‘power over’ paradigm with each-other, and how in this way none of us know the true expression of either the masculine or the feminine. I could relate to what many women expressed of this power-over experience and how insecurity, vulnerability and also anger meant that we related to men through competition and control dynamics, stemming often from a deeper fear of masculine power. In the face of the deep personal and collective wounds that all women’s feminine nature have been inflicted with in some way by the abuse of masculine power, Pat called upon the generosity of the Mother Earth, this archetypal energy that we are made in the image of as women. She invoked the fierce generosity of Mother Earth as the symbol and also example of the kind of feminine love we have access to draw upon to help us to deeply forgive and heal our relationship with men and the masculine. The day stimulated an aching longing in my heart for this reconciliation between the masculine and feminine, within ourselves and together as men and women. And a sense of wonder at how the world could be if this sacred wholeness could be truly lived.
The ultimate unity that Pat’s teachings put me in touch with was the coming together of the physical and spiritual aspects of life. In relation to understanding the role and function of the feminine, I noticed how this totally shifted something in my own relationship with the sacredness and significance of being a woman. In addressing this theme Pat asked the question, “As a female member of the human species, or five fingered ones, what function do we have in upholding this sacred hoop of life?”. She reminded us how every single part of the web of life has a specific role and function to play in the flourishing of all life, and as women we have a specific purpose. But it was when she brought together the physical function with an awareness of the deeper spiritual function, that I began to feel what the ‘sacred feminine’ truly meant and the role we are here to fulfill. In a biological and physical way Pat talked about the functions of women’s menstruation, the womb and our connection with the Earth. She spoke to the deeper spiritual purpose that these functions serve, in women’s ability to be spiritually connected to life and creation in a way that men are not. I understood that as women we need to know that our sacred responsibility and role is to simply be in this connection with life that we can experience – to nurture it, feel it and live it and speak from it. Pat described how a woman’s close connection with life gives her the responsibility to speak on behalf of it and remind the community to always put life at the centre. The beauty and power with which she shared this teaching brought a sense of honouring and valuing of my womanhood, in a way that I have never felt before. It also helped me to understand how intertwined the physical and biological make up of men and women are to their sacred spiritual function, how intimate the physical and spiritual truly are. This understanding within me came with such a sense of relief, and feeling of allowing and being, rather than striving. As Pat so wonderfully put it, ‘once you recognise as a woman how big and important the role is that we are here to fulfill….I have my hands full just being a woman, I don’t have time to be a man as well!’. This felt so profound and true and something I intend to remind myself in moments when feeling like I am not enough as a woman arise whether from others or from myself. How can I stay connected to the knowing of the immense preciousness and service to life that simply being a woman means that I am? How can this help me to give up the feeling of needing to prove myself, devalue myself by competing with men out of a sense of not being enough, of wanting to be valued? These are some questions I am holding and I am so grateful to Pat for putting me in touch with the sacred essence within the physical experience of being a woman.
Finally, I’m brought back to a deeper thread that becomes ever more clear in my work and life. The need to reconcile the physical with the sacred, spirit and matter, is the task of reviving a world that is by any accounts is on it’s way to complete destruction and dissolution. At St Ethelburga’s Centre I manage our Spiritual Ecology project, which calls for the need to move from a story of Earth as purely physical matter and resource to be used and abused, into a recognition of nature as a living, sacred and interconnected being. A world that we belong to and that gives us life. In this paradigm, humans are in a relationship that honours both the physical and the spiritual dimensions present in the Earth, a culture that brings a reverence for the sacred within all of life, and lives a recognition of our interconnectedness physically and spiritually. I’m struck by just how we’ve forgotten our sacred connection to the Earth, so too we’ve lost our connection to the sacred nature of the masculine and the feminine. For myself and from this experience with Pat, it is the reuniting of the physical and the spiritual that has subtly but significantly shifted my whole relationship to what it truly means to be a woman. And I feel that the real roots to the healing of our world lies in this deeper reconciliation and reunification process.
by Amrita Bhohi
Join us on Friday May 4 at 6.30pm for the next event in the series, The Feminine and Spiritual Authority: Christian, Buddhist and Muslim Perspectives, with Remona Aly, Sahajatara Blake and Samantha Wernham! Book tickets here!
Also, Amrita will be leading a retreat in May as part of the Spiritual Ecology programme. Spiritual Ecology: Reviving a sacred and interconnected world, will take place May 18th – 20th 2018, 42 Acres, Somerset. A two day residential workshop exploring the principles, practices and project application of Spiritual Ecology.
Amrita Bhohi leads the Spiritual Ecology Programme at St Ethelburga’s Centre which explores how practical environmental and social action can be rooted in spiritual values and based on a recognition of interconnectedness and reverence for nature. Her work focuses on facilitating training workshops and supporting practical project development, mainly working with emerging leaders in the next generation. She is passionate about working with the energy, creativity and vision of younger generations in coming together in service to a different future.
Amrita previously worked on the global Eradicating Ecocide campaign and at the think tank, The Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House). In 2013 she organised TEDx Whitechapel, which was named as one of the most popular and radical TEDx events in London. She holds a BSc from King’s College, and an MA in Ecological Economics from Schumacher College.
Thanks to everyone who came to the Dutch Church for our most recent event, and a huge thank you to Pat McCabe, Woman Stands Shining for being with us! You can listen to Pat’s talk below.
Join us on Friday May 4 at 6.30pm for the next event in the series, The Feminine and Spiritual Authority: Christian, Buddhist and Muslim Perspectives, with Remona Aly, Sahajatara Blake and Samantha Wernham! Book tickets here!
I am so thrilled to be welcoming Pat McCabe as our next speaker! In this beautiful video she shares her thoughts about how water is life.
About Pat McCabe
Woman Stands Shining, Pat McCabe, has the honour of being of the Dine (Navajo) Nation. She brings the understanding of Indigenous ways of knowing into discussion and inquiry on Sustainability. She carries the foundation of Beauty and Spirit into places where it has been kept out. Pat is an active participant in Indigenous Peoples gatherings worldwide including Chile, Belgium, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico and Bali. She has worked with the International Center for Cultural Studies in India and with Sarvodaya with Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne in Sri Lanka, as well as with organizations and gatherings in the U.S. She has been a cultural consultant to the Pachamama Alliance, presenting at the 2013and 2014 National Bioneers Conference, and presenting on “The Feminine Design and Sustainability” in the U.S. and Internationally.
She first came to the UK in 2014, as an invited guest to the New Story Summit at Findhorn Community, Scotland. She also visited Devon that year, and returned to lead sessions of the Becoming Indigenous course at Schumacher College in 2015. https://thrivinglife.weebly.com/
this is a guest post contributed by Mothiur Rahman
There has been an absence of male role models in my life, ones I felt I could connect with and be inspired to follow into and through adulthood. That absence, I have been learning, has led to all sorts of entrapments by projections of what I felt being a man is about. I carried a sense of betrayal that the sex I was born into had nothing to offer that spoke of the beauty I longed for in my heart. All beauty I put at the feet of what I understood to be the feminine.
When I say the feminine, I don’t just mean women. I also felt more affinity with those aspects in myself I saw as feminine (care, compassion, service) and yet, at the same time, I was guarded about expressing such feelings with other men. I did not feel any authentic invitation from men to speak about the male experience of the feminine and, when it came to groups that gathered to explore the feminine, more often than not they were limited to women. Where they were not so limited, the majority were still women and so the group ethos that arose did not necessarily recognise that there might be a male experience of the feminine which differs from the female experience.
I myself did not recognise that there might be a male experience of the feminine until I joined a men’s group called the Mankind Project. For most of my life I felt mostly fear and anxiety when in the company of a group of men, knowing little of the masculine other than what was offered by society (the accumulation of a specific type of power and influence, aggression, domination). I denied in myself those aspects I feared, valuing instead what I understood to be qualities of the feminine; at the same time feeling a strange sense of unease but unable to say why.
I now think my uneasiness was due to a lack of recognition that the feminine might be experienced through the male form in a different way to the female. I lacked a male language to understand emotions and feelings arising through my body, or how emotions behave when they are denied – that they fester and become ugly and ooze their way into behavior that leads to even more fear and denial. I lacked any teaching to help me understand what I was doing to myself through denying those feelings that I feared. I also lacked any role models to help me become more skillful in managing my more shadowy, dark emotions and feelings.
A moment of realisation came when I was doing a warm-up exercise for a movement workshop for both men and women. A safe space was created and we were given permission to enact a feeling or behavior we didn’t feel comfortable with. Although I resisted even contemplating myself as a person demanding obedience, I decided to explore that behavior and see what feelings came up, and to then go beyond them into obsessive demanding control – yet still remain a witness to what arose. I felt exhilarated as I opened up new territories in myself which I hadn’t known existed. I joined a men’s group through the Mankind Project to explore these feelings that had so much to teach, if only they could be encountered with knowledge, wisdom and safety.
Due to habits created so long ago, I hadn’t noticed how I often reacted to feelings. Often a feeling got pushed under before it had expression, becoming a thought unconsciously pulled into a distorted shape by the strength of feeling repressed behind it. I don’t know whether this experience is just mine or whether other men have experienced similar distortions. If they have, how can men cross this threshold to explore the feminine from a perspective of greater clarity?
My experience of gatherings exploring the intimate and relational aspects of life is that they often privilege one aspect of the feminine – the listening, nourishing, embodied, interconnected aspect. However, there is another, wilder aspect of the feminine, the Lillith of Jewish folklore who wouldn’t listen to Adam, who wanted equal power and abandoned him in the Garden of Eden when refused; Kali the goddess of creative destruction often depicted with tongue lolling and eyes wide, dancing on the body of Shiva (the masculine archetype) with a string of heads as a garland.
If more gatherings explored these aspects of the feminine, which I feel have a power to cleanse unhealthy emotions (in both men and women), perhaps it might resonate more with men? At a loss to understand the depth of anger and trauma pouring out from and since the #Metoo campaign, men find their traditional road maps make little sense anymore. Lost in this upheaval of previously unvoiced (or unheard) trauma, they fear that any response they make could provoke an even wilder reaction, rather than a return to safe ground.
Perhaps there is no escape route in that sense of going back to what was safe. Perhaps there is only “escape” through a willingness to being transformed through active presence. It feels like we are witnessing a collective archetypal story unfold, of Lillith who does not wish to obey Adam and instead demands sovereignty in her choices. How can men witness that story of the feminine with full presence and attention? Can we move past our everyday capacities bounded by fears and projections, to embrace the archetypal movement of the untamed feminine force? Can we become partners in grief for all that has been done? Can we stay curious enough to discover how the masculine and feminine are truly relating to one another at this moment in history, and within each one of us?
by Mothiur Rahman
Mothiur Rahman trained at CMS Cameron McKenna, a top 20 City law firm, and worked at Bircham Dyson Bell for 7 years as Senior Associate in its Governance and Infrastructure department. He has extensive experience of advising on a range of environmental and planning and public law related matters, with a focus on public authorities and the authorisation of major infrastructure projects. His inner drive is to help create more vibrant ways of living that bring out the full potential of human creativity and care, to help shape meaningful lives. He co-founded the Community Chartering Network to promote a community-led and participatory approach to planning and democractic decision-making. He recently completed a Masters in Ecological Design Thinking at Schumacher College in Dartington, Devon where he now lives and works (as a freelance legal practitioner supporting clients who are similarly driven to create an ecologically regenerative and more beautiful world). Mothiur was recently invited to be writer in residence for a Conference exploring the Sacred Pattern of the Feminine and Masculine, hosted by Rumi’s Circle.
Sarah Blackhouse (photographer), is collecting 366 readings from people of all ages, backgrounds and faith groups, on many different themes, to share in her book, Under a Wide Sky. Original work or favourite poems from young adults much appreciated. Any profits to benefit the Refugee Council. Please see www.underawidesky.com for info on how to contribute a reading.
Thank you to everyone who came to last Friday’s event with Hilary Hart! Here is the talk she gave, about how listening is essential when we want to activate true creativity and change.
As the icy weather recedes from us here in the UK, and mass die-offs of sea-life wash up on beaches in Norfolk and Kent, and water companies struggle to reconnect people’s water supplies, I am reminded that ice is receding elsewhere too. With thanks to Helen Moore for permission to republish her work here.
Ice, an Elegy
The Ice Queen is leaving –
all around, her ancient kingdom
is cracking up – trickling, splitting,
as her vast, crystal sleigh
grinds on the fast-track to oblivion.
For millennia she held her huge mirror
steady to the Sun; now she’s losing her cool,
sheets shrinking, her albedo body
pocked with melting pools, moulins
milling in, chutes of water sailing her
the slipway of lost forever.
Yet each day her belly calves
desperate bergs of ice. Bereft, these tongues
curl and shrink as they sense their mother
spent – her skin once tinted blue,
now deathly pale.
Her courtiers and creatures
are disappearing too –
in despair they throw their arms into the air;
once yoked in lustrous bridal gowns,
one by one
to their knees,
faces crashing down
in mounds into the sea.
Even the glacial snow men,
who plucked boulders and carried
their erratic cargo across continents,
now stumble, retreat – valleys scoured
by their dark rheumatic wake.
Everywhere Foxes, Bears,
Wolverines and Leopards mourn their Queen –
prowling the rosaries of paternoster lakes,
they murmur eulogies and prayers.
And at last we hurry in
with tools, instruments and measuring rods
to probe, extend our senses –
to scientize this demise of ice.
From Hedge Fund, And Other Living Margins (Shearsman Books, 2012)
About Helen Moore
Helen Moore is an award-winning ecopoet and socially engaged artist based in NE Scotland. She has published two poetry collections, Hedge Fund, And Other Living Margins (Shearsman Books, 2012), described as being “in the great tradition of visionary politics in British poetry”, and ECOZOA (Permanent Publications, 2015), acclaimed by John Kinsella as “a milestone in the journey of ecopoetics”. A collaborative bilingual Italian-English work, INTATTO/INTACT, was published by La Vita Felice in 2017, and Helen has recently published a limited edition pamphlet, The Disinherited, marking 230 years since the British invasion of Australia in 1788. Her third collection, The Mother Country, is due out in early 2019. FFI: www.helenmoorepoet.com
this is a guest post contributed by Hilary Hart.
When I was a child, I often visited my father on Martha’s Vineyard where he lived after divorcing my mother. I would come into that old Victorian house and open the closet door to put away my suitcase. On the floor sat two pair of shoes, lined up next to each other neatly. On the left, a pair of orangey-brown leather work-boots – the kind with the high ankles and the dual colored rope laces. Next to them, a pair of white moccasins with colored beads that my father bought me from a wooden concession hut at Gay Head, at one time home to the Wampanoag people.
I was happy when I opened that closet door and saw the shoes. Both pairs reassured me. The softness of the moccasins and the beauty of their blue and black beads evoked the myths of the native people of the area, which even then carried power for me. To walk through the fields behind the house in those shoes was a journey recalling the grace of nature, the power of the outdoors, the belonging that comes from being alone with the birds and the tall grasses.
The work boots were also beloved. I would put them on and yank the rope laces before heading out to climb the trees, build huts, and find my way to the ocean, protected from brambles and ticks. They gave me the feeling of being capable of anything.
The image of those two pairs of shoes has always stayed with me. I can still feel how much I related to each pair. Now, of course, I recognize that they reflected two essential aspects of myself– what we call in the contemporary spiritual community, “the masculine” and “the feminine.” My father had given me an early reference point for something truly essential. I had two basic modes of moving through life – one sensitive and receptive, gentle and persevering, trailing the beauty of ancient winds delivering prayers. The other – strong and productive, tough and willing, undaunted by hard work and eager for adventure.
Despite the potency of that early awareness, I lost touch with the meaning of those shoes and the real balance they reflected. The moccasins were lost in the recess of my being, eclipsed by the complexities of my growing up and particularly growing up in a patriarchal world that had done its best to annihilate those moccasins, the native people who wore them, and an entire way of life sensitive to the Earth and Her ways.
Much later, as an adult, I worked hard to re-discover the wisdom and experiences they represented through introspection and spiritual practice, which included a deeply personal sorting – as in the story of Eros and Psyche – of what truly matters from what doesn’t. The mythical cycle of being given to, forgetting, searching and finding again, plays out individually for many of us, as it does collectively as well.
As a global community and particularly in the West, we have allowed the feminine aspect to be lost under a destructive and debilitating fog. We have very little collective reflection or expression of how to honor creation, relate to life’s sacredness, or create real community with human beings and between human beings and the whole of life. And on a personal level, most of us suffer from an inability to receive, be tender, watch and allow, and to truly connect and relate – to each other, the Divine, or the Earth. We have taken up the work boots and let them trample the moccasins out of our awareness.
The collective forgetting has gone unabated, and our world is out of balance. But just as on the personal journey back to what’s forgotten, we need to take responsibility for our part in this greater dereliction. We need to admit to ourselves that trampling through life is easier than moving slowly, listening, feeling, and being receptive. It’s easier to talk than to really listen. It’s easier to watch TV than to contemplate or meditate. It’s easier to spend the evening inside with a computer than to walk through your community greeting your human, plant, and animal neighbors. It’s easier to poison the weeds then to painstakingly dig them out. We all feed the engine of the patriarchy; we all suffer for it. For the more energy we give to the habits, patterns, and drivers of the patriarchy, the more we cut ourselves off from the depths of life and its nourishment. Lost, lonely, disconnected and with few signs for where to turn for what we truly need, we re-invest in the same system that harms us. Our desperation for connection and the security of belonging are channeled into the back-eddies of consumerism, and the cycle continues.
But wholeness and healing waits for us. We need to turn back, remember, honor what’s become just a shadow. We need a way back to life’s nourishing center – not just for our sake but for the sake of life as a whole. One of the great gifts of the feminine, so reflected in those moccasins of my childhood, is the genuine awareness of life’s sacredness and the capacity to move through life knowing, feeling, sensing, and being with it. The masculine wants to draw our attention on the next big adventure, the journey to outer space, the higher mountain, the next accomplishment. All the while something very different waits for us to join, love, nourish, and connect. What waits is simplicity – things as they are, not as they could be or want them to be.
The simple things of life hold tremendous potential, because they have been abandoned. They have been left alone by our projections and our demands; they are free of power dynamics. This means they are allowed to be themselves. The patriarchy does not care too much about baking bread, picking lice from our child’s hair, or walking our dog. It can’t corrupt the enjoyment of sun on one’s shoulders on a cold day, the sound of water in a creek, the way a dove’s call echoes our own longing. It has successfully distracted us from these things, but the return is as simple as listening, watching, being with.
When we give our hearts to simple things, we bring light to life, we bring love to life. This is not a spiritual dream, but an esoteric happening. The human heart is tremendously powerful, but the power is amplified when it reaches the core of life, where it can serve the whole. A dandelion is the doorway to the center of the universe if we admire its golden color, if we respect its power to cleanse the body. A cougar at a kill invites our awe, which nourishes the whole circle of creation.
The simplicity of the natural world and of human nature – those utter inevitabilities, such as death, hunger, need – command our respect, offer a direct relationship to what exists free of fantasy. Simple things are a doorway between our heart and the heart of life. When we step through that doorway we are where we belong, and the seemingly endless need and despair can finally be carried away on the wind. We are connected, and our love and attention feeds life from the inside out.
Today, the talk about “the feminine” has a tendency to become complex. But the feminine loves simple things. She is ecstatic at a good rainfall on a hot day, she celebrates a lover who calls to her and opens to her, she prepares garden soil with the power of a mother, and she knows when enough is enough.
It does not matter that there are no books or movies about the power of a bluebird standing silent, on a fencepost. Or a small hand in your own. Or a tree bearing fruit. Somewhere, we know these things and trust them. The moccasins wait for us to walk that knowing out into the world, our soles in skin, skin on Earth, bringing our hearts to simple things.
by Hilary Hart.
Hilary Hart’s writing and teaching focus on women’s spiritual power and the role it can play in our global evolution. Her most recent book, Body of Wisdom, brings together dreams and experiences of women with teachings from today’s most visionary spiritual leaders to describe the esoteric foundations of women’s power and its functions in our collective evolution.
This is a guest post contributed by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee.
A LOVER’S JOURNEY:
A Story of the Sacred Feminine
When I was nineteen I met my teacher, a Russian-born woman in her mid-sixties, recently returned from India where she had been trained by a Sufi master. Four years later, sitting in her small meditation group, I met and fell in love with a young woman recently arrived to London from Israel, who was to become my wife. As an intense young man, focused on meditation and aspiring to realize a formless Truth, the Sufi path unexpectedly opened me to the mystery of the feminine, and to the wonder of love both human and divine, formless and tangible.
Coming from an English middle-class family, I had spent the years from seven to seventeen in all-male boarding schools. At sixteen I had begun practicing Zen meditation, awakening to an inner world of emptiness, which also drew me to fasting and other ascetic practices. But now both my heart and my body were being touched in unforeseen ways, and the sacred feminine began to teach me, to awaken me to her wonder, the subtleties of a love that embraces both body and soul. I was being taken out of the monastery into a garden of beauty—fragrant, seductive, full of color and passion. Over the years that followed she was to teach me about her hidden nature, how she can open a soul to the Divine, infuse it with love and longing, and so give birth to one’s spiritual self. And even more profound, how she carries in her body and being the sacred substance of creation, the deepest secret of life.[i]
For a young man deeply in love, beauty and passion, love and longing walk hand in hand. Both the soul and the body cry for union, there are tears and tenderness. I came to know about the feminine side of love, a longing that tears apart one’s whole being. Sometimes this longing was for my physical beloved, and sometimes it was an invisible, inner lover who called and claimed me. How many nights I cried, how many tears I came to know. My teacher used to say that when she came back from India she brought a small handkerchief that had once been blue but was now white, bleached from all the tears she cried sitting in her teacher’s garden. Real love is a powerful poison, again and again the heart seems to break. Only later did I come to know how this agony, these tears, are a part of the Sufi story, the way we are taken back to God by love’s longing, how we are emptied of ourself so that we can be filled by a deeper presence. In Rumi’s words:
“Sorrow for His sake is a treasure in my heart. My heart is light upon light, a beautiful Mary with Jesus in the womb.”
The soul’s passion is deeply feminine, the cry of the heart is a way that we are purified, prepared for a love that infuses every cell of the body as well as the very depths of the soul. Love’s sorrow has a potency and a transformative quality. Rather than outer austerities, on the Sufi path it is this inner agony that draws us along the way, that burns us with both tenderness and fire.
And in this deepest spiritual mystery of the feminine—from within this cry, from these tears—something is born, unexpected, beyond anything we could imagine. I remember this first experience, when one afternoon in meditation I experienced a love that began like butterfly wings at the edge of my heart, and then touched every cell in my body. Like the first kiss of one’s heart’s beloved, I was alive with love, tender, intense. Over the years this love would come again and again, deeper, lasting longer, until at times all that remained was love—both body and mind dissolved. But this first time was a miracle I never expected. I knew the intense desire for Truth, and the intoxicating formless inner vistas of meditation. But this opening to love, awakening of love within the body, was like colors appearing in a grey world.
This feminine side of love taught me not just about passion and beauty, but I also learned many of the qualities of the feminine that later I understood as central to mystical life. Love, and a woman, can teach you about tenderness and the value of softness—how the heart has to be softened, tenderized for the Beloved. We are made soft by love, so that divine presence can be more easily infused into our being.
The lover also learns patience and waiting. One cannot demand or force love. The lover waits at the threshold—for days, weeks, sometimes years—knowing only longing or a dry desolation. Then one day, always unexpectedly, the door opens and love takes you to her chamber, where sweetness turns into ecstasy and rapture, lasting for a minute, an hour, an eternity. Then, bewildered, one is back at the doorway, bliss becoming despair. And so one is made unbearably vulnerable, turned inside out, broken by love until that touch comes again and one is made whole, complete, merged back into love.
She teaches us to wait, to be patient, for the ways of the Beloved are not our ways. And she reveals the importance of receptivity, the ultimate feminine mystery that belongs to creation and birth. For a mystic receptivity is a central practice, what is called “divine receptivity,” in which we are inwardly attentive, listening and waiting for the call of our Beloved. Our heart becomes a space where we can listen with the ear of the heart, learn to see with the eye of the heart, and finally be a space for the Beloved to be born, to be a living presence within us.
In silence, receptivity, meditation, and stillness, we offer ourself to our Beloved every day. “I offer to Thee the only thing I have, my capacity to be filled by Thee.” Love teaches us about surrender, about giving ourself. Later we learn the spiritual importance of surrender—how surrender takes us back to union—but at first it is lived, not as a spiritual concept, but belonging to the lane of love, that one-way street from which we can never return. In love we give ourself again and again, we open our heart and our body, and sometimes we are taken by love, but often we feel stranded, lost, or abandoned. In our sadness, in our tears, we do not know the deeper mystery of oneness: that our cry is our Beloved’s cry, our prayer is Love’s prayer.
I had been taken into this mystery by the eyes of a woman and a longing in my heart. The tangle of her hair, the softness of her body, had taken and taught me what spiritual texts could not. Divine love is a spiritual and physical experience, and in a woman the two are united, body and soul. The Indian poet and princess, Mirabai knew this secret. She was in love with Krishna, her “Dark Lord,” and she left her palace to dance before him. She had experienced the soul’s rapture with her Dark Lord, and speaks of the body’s “hidden treasures”:
O friend, understand: the body
is like the ocean,
rich with hidden treasures.
Open your innermost chamber and light its lamp.
Within the body are gardens,
rare flowers, the inner Music;
within the body a lake of bliss,
on it the white soul-swans take their joy.
And in the body, a vast market—
go there, trade,
sell yourself for a profit you can’t spend.
Mira says, her Lord is beyond praising.
Allow her to dwell near your feet.
In her words of rapture are one of the deepest mysteries of the feminine: how in her body are “gardens, rare flowers, and the inner Music.” This is not just erotic imagery, but alludes to the secret of creation, and the beauty and wonder that belong to this essential substance. Without this quality of the feminine there would be no joy, the magic of life would not be present. Colors and fragrances would fade into dull, grey days.
Because a woman, every woman, has the potential to give birth, to bring the light of a soul into the world of matter, she has this hidden substance, the sacred substance of creation. It is in the cells of her body and her spiritual nature. In it the visible and invisible are fused together. It belongs to the alchemy of love that is creation itself, born out of love. And it also carries the imprint of our deep love for the Earth, for the world that has given us life and sustenance—that has given us our existence.
That so many women do not even know of this essential substance within them is one of the great unnoticed tragedies of our present time. The Eleusinian mystery schools, where these mysteries were taught for centuries, have been forgotten, and because it was an oral tradition there is no written record. And the power of the patriarchy has censured it from our collective memory. There may be a trace of it in Jesus’s relationship to Mary Magdalene, who was “loved by Jesus more than others,” and in the symbolism that she was the first to see the risen Christ at the empty tomb.[ii] But these are just echoes of an ancient esoteric tradition into which so many women used to be initiated. Now, sadly, it is forgotten and women have been denied their heritage.
It is this substance that turns a simple struggle for existence into a joyous experience of life with all of its colors and tastes, tragedies, heartaches and bliss. It is the seed of life’s flower—and it is present in the body of a woman. And sadly, today, because the mysteries of the feminine are no longer taught, most women do not even consciously know of its existence. They may sense its presence in the seductive power of their sexuality, but this is only a small part of its magic. Because it is not just physical, but also spiritual—spirit in matter, fused together, united, bonded in love.
My wife taught me this central feminine mystery and how it relates to the sacred within life. It is one of the greatest gifts a woman can give to a man,[iii] as it can help a man reconnect with his own soul as an embodied presence within life. It belongs to the mystery of love and brings beauty, magic—the gardens, flowers and inner music Mirabai describes—but also something indefinable—“here is the deepest secret nobody knows…. and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart.”[iv] It is through this simple secret that everyday existence becomes alive with a quality of meaning in which we are reconnected to life as a whole, a sparkling web of wonder.
The Earth today is dying, its rivers becoming sterile, the air polluted. Exploitation and consumerism are ravaging the planet, destroying the fragile web of life. And the inner world of the soul is also being desecrated by our forgetfulness of its sacred nature, made toxic from the effects of our greed. There is a vital need to heal and regenerate our planet, and this cannot just be done through green technology or carbon reduction. We have passed this “tipping point,” and need a deeper transformation.
Without the feminine nothing new can be born—this is a simple and essential truth. At present our world is suffering from a masculine story of separation: that we are separate from each other and separate from the Earth. To redeem and heal this we need to give birth to a story that is based upon oneness, that we are interconnected and interdependent with all of creation—an integral part of the web of life—what the Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh calls “interbeing.” It is the feminine that instinctively understands all the interconnections in life, the patterns of relationship that hold life together. She has a natural relationship to life’s wholeness. She knows that everything is connected, not with the knowledge that comes from the mind, but from the deep knowing that belongs to life itself, to the cells of her body.
But even more essential is the need for the light held within the body of a woman, for her sacred substance, to bring healing and regeneration. This is the mystery of rebirth imaged in the myth of Demeter and Persephone that was central to the feminine mysteries, the descent into darkness from where regeneration came every spring. We are now in a time of darkness, having lost the light of the sacred in our daily lives. The simple rituals of cooking and cleaning, planting and harvesting, are no longer honored as sacred, the fires of the temples of the priestesses have long been extinguished. We need the seeds of rebirth that belong to the womb of the feminine, that sacred place where new life comes into being.
This is one of the most important contributions of the feminine at this time. It is a most vital need. Yet this innate knowing, this mystery and magic, is tragically veiled, hidden from so many women. In the West today so many women are attracted to spiritual life, and sometimes I wonder if it is because they are in search of this secret, and that they also have a part to play in the spiritual regeneration of life itself.
How this sacred substance is given back to the Earth is a secret waiting to be revealed. On an individual level, from a woman to a man, this sacred substance is given through the act of sex (though it is deeper than a solely physical act), and it is also held as an ancient instinctual wisdom within some women. My sense is that through prayer and a deep inner listening, women can rediscover and reconnect with this sacred relationship with the Earth. There are many ways to pray with the Earth: from the simple act of gardening with love and care, to walking in a sacred manner, each step a lived prayer to the Earth,[v] or sitting in silence and going deep within to where our soul and the world soul meet. If I have learned anything from the feminine, it is the power and potency of receptivity, and how to wait with patience for a deeper wisdom to be given.
I have been honored in my life’s journey to have been shown these qualities of the feminine and how they can be woven into life, into the stories we live. They bring a certain color into the tapestry of life—a color that awakens a dormant mystery and sense of belonging. Here life comes to know its own purpose, not as survival but wonder. And behind this mystery is the greatest secret: that life is a love affair, that it is born from love. This gift of the feminine can only be given through love, through an openness of the soul. And in relation to the Earth it can only become fully alive through our love for the Earth. The Earth speaks to the soul that She needs this spark, this light, and the woman who knows the mystery of love in her own being can respond, can give what is needed—from her soul to the soul of the world, her body to the body of the Earth.
This sacred substance in creation is life’s most precious gift. We can feel it in the joy of a newborn baby, eyes still unfocused; hear it in the laughter of children; see it in the beauty of a rainbow; taste it in a simple meal cooked with love. It is all around us in life’s unending multiplicity, always recreating—the miraculous ways the sacred takes on form. The lover can experience its power and magic, deeper than bliss, through merging with his beloved. It brings together the soul and the body, and holds them both in love. In the Earth it unites Her body with Her soul, the anima mundi, known to the ancients. Through ritual and reverence, this communion was kept alive by the priestesses, by those initiated into the secrets of creation. And now as a light is going out, as the world is becoming covered by the dark dreams of materialism, as our relationship to the sacred is fading away, we need this reconnection, this return to love. There is a cry, a calling for the feminine to help in its healing and rebirth, for the sacred to come alive in a new way, for a new story for the Earth and all of humanity to be told.
© 2017 The Golden Sufi Center
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee Ph.D. is a Sufi teacher and author. In recent years the focus of his writing and teaching has been on spiritual responsibility in our present time of global crisis, and an awakening global consciousness of oneness (www.workingwithoneness.org). More recently he has written about the feminine, and the emerging subject of Spiritual Ecology (http://spiritualecology.org/) He has been interviewed by Oprah Winfrey on Super Soul Sunday, and featured on the Global Spirit Series shown on PBS.
[i] What the Sufis call the “secret of the word “Kun!” (“Be!”)
[ii] In order to deny the power of the feminine, and possibly to suppress women’s leadership in the Church, the Christian church mistakenly associated Mary Magdalene with a prostitute.
[iii] It is often given through making love, and in ancient temples was a part of the mystery of the sacred prostitute.
[iv] E.E. Cummings: “[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]”.
[v] “Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet,” Thich Nhat Hanh.
A Listening Earth
She hears everything.
It gets under her skin.
She hears all the promises and the lies
She hears the need, and she has a real ear for despair
She hears love never landing anywhere. It makes a thudding sound as it bounces off
into the air.
She doesn’t have hands to hold it.
Mostly, she suffers the tinitus of love’s absence.
White noise that eats away at her.
Every now and then, it’s hard to take.
So there’s a tsunami, and we all freak.
A little sigh comes from a woman who sees her lover,
Coyote catches a rabbit; the rabbit’s skin makes a tearing sound.
She rests for a moment,
in all the music.
The flowers are bright.
The waves crash.
Baby birds cry,
The simplicity of it all
And someone, somewhere,
turns, round and round – seeing, hearing –
saying, “thank you”
by Hilary Hart.
Hilary’s writing and teaching focus on women’s spiritual power and the role it can play in our global evolution. Her most recent book, Body of Wisdom, brings together dreams and experiences of women with teachings from today’s most visionary spiritual leaders to describe the esoteric foundations of women’s power and its functions in our collective evolution.
We had a fantastic launch on Friday night. Thanks to everyone who came and joined in the conversation, and thanks to Mac Macartney for speaking so deeply from the heart!
Here an audience member asks a question about activism and the feminine. Listen to Mac’s response…
I’m thrilled to welcome Nicole Frobusch as the artist in residence for the series!
About Nicole Frobusch:
Nicole works intuitively, always searching for the unseen realities within her subjects. She is inspired by her love of nature, and she sees her photography as a way of being in reciprocity with the living world. This practice is grounded in her sense of the deep importance of how we honour what we encounter, and take responsibility for what we bring forth. She aims to catch the fleeting interplay of light and movement that we often fail to see in daily life, so each image carries an atmosphere of reminiscence, evoking a lost memory or truth.
You can explore more of her work at http://www.nicolefrobuschphotography.com.
Come to our launch event this Friday 2 Feb with Mac Macartney! Join the women’s circle! Further info and tickets available here.
‘I’m not a feminine man. I’ve lived my life as a man, I love many manly things, but I’m devoted to the feminine and I feel I owe everything to the feminine, and it helps when someone like me speaks to those things in men because they feel safe. It’s why I can speak to the police or the military. They recognise some part of themselves in me.
In any institution that wields power, especially when it’s explicit and physical, like the military, I’m really speaking to the higher calling. So it’s about who do you stand for? And I just talk to them about the things they find beautiful. And when you seek out those tender sensitive places, and the things about which they feel protective, their children, their partners, beauty, nature, all those things awaken this deep longing to cease to be strangers in this beautiful world. It’s about ennobling what they do, and involving the highest aspect of their humanity in what they do, and they can’t help it, they start getting choked up, and I don’t stop, I keep plowing on and they feel very uncomfortable but I think it’s good.
I don’t talk about god because that doesn’t resonate for me, and I would rarely use a word like ‘divine.’ But I do talk about our Mother Earth. I do that a lot because if I didn’t do it I wouldn’t feel I was being truthful. And I talk about her in the context of all these aspects of our world that we have neglected, enslaved, broken, hurt and assaulted in so many different ways. And it’s like a Native American elder said to me, ‘Mac you must kneel to the rose, she is the only one to whom you should kneel, she is the goddess, she is everything, kneel to nothing and no one but her.’’
– Mac Macartney, founder of Embercombe, author of ‘Finding Earth Finding Soul, the Invisible Path to Authentic Leadership.’ Story as told to Clare.
Come hear Mac speak at our launch event on Feb 2nd! Tickets available here.
This post was written by Lynda Morrissey, a participant from last year’s women’s circle.
A longing to contribute to the inner and outer need of welcoming the sacred feminine back into life drew me to take part in the Feminine series last year.
The women’s circle, events and workshops provided both a container and a focus of exploration for this ongoing subtle work. It was fun and nourishing to share the journey with other women and men whose hearts are connected to this theme too.
Prior to the series, I hadn’t heard of Sr. Lucy Kurien or Maher, the caste-free, interfaith organization she founded in 1997 for destitute and oppressed women, children and men in India. Listening to her talk at St, Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, I was struck by Sr. Lucy’s humanity, and by the integrated presence of a humble woman who is living true to her real nature.
I am very interested in new economic business models, and particularly in how small local social enterprises can contribute to nurturing the soil, soul and resilience of local communities in the future. I have felt an inner connection with India for some time, feeling for a land and a people who still suffer many debilitating effects related to our western society’s blind focus on economic growth and excessive consumerism today. Having been so moved by Sr. Lucy’s spirit of feminine principles in action, and by Maher’s unique interfaith-centered work with the poor in India, I decided to take some time away from my desk job to volunteer there last November.
India is an incredible country, with rich heritage and culture. I instantly fell in love with the people, the land, the food, and the diversity – of everything! In sharing about the work of Maher, there is a need for me to reference some of the painful realities of Indian society, particularly the societal treatment towards women and girls. However, my intention is not to create any negative slant, but to share with you an inspiring initiative that is pioneering a holistic approach to systemically address these challenges, which are present in various degrees and manifestations in every country in the world.
In 1991, Sr. Lucy was living in a convent in Pune, India. A pregnant woman came to her seeking shelter and protection from her alcoholic, abusive husband. He had fallen in love with another woman, asked her to leave and threatened to kill her if she did not comply with his demand. The rules of the convent prevented Sr. Lucy from letting the woman stay, but she felt concerned for this woman and asked her to return ‘tomorrow’ while she came up with a solution.
That very night the lady’s husband doused her with kerosene and set her on fire. Sr. Lucy was awakened by the sound of commotion and ran outside to determine the cause. She saw the same woman who had asked for her help just a few hours earlier, running towards her, crying out, as fire engulfed and consumed her body. She took the woman to the nearest hospital, but the doctors were unable to save her, or her burned unborn baby she had been carrying in her womb for seven months.
That night haunted Sr. Lucy, and changed the course of her life. Shattered by the tragedy, she wanted to do something concrete for these women. With permission from her congregation and church authorities, she came out of her community life to live among, and work for, the destitute people. She stepped out, alone, into the unknown, wholly trusting in the presence of love in her heart, and trusting in the Divine to provide all that was necessary for the work.
It took a long time before Sr. Lucy found the resources she needed. She lived with the poor people herself, and often slept with an empty stomach, while nurturing the seed of the vision for the work in her heart, and attending to the poor around her. She persisted, and kept her faith. Finally, through the support of Father Francis D’Sa and friends, Sr. Lucy set up the first Maher house, in the small village of Vadhu-Budruk on the outskirts of Pune in 1997. It was here that I spent my time, along with approximately 220 children, staff, housemothers and 3 other wonderful international volunteers.
Since its founding, Maher has grown from one small home to 43 homes in three Indian states. As of January 2018, Maher has impacted 38,860 + beneficiaries through work in offering residential homes, slum and village outreach programs, livelihood training and awareness programs.
The charitable organization is run on a core philosophy of offering a sincere and loving approach to improve the conditions of the disadvantaged and underprivileged. “Maher” means “Mother’s home” in the local Marathi language. It certainly lives true to this spirit – the feeling of a ‘family’ is palpable, the presence of love is real.
It was truly inspiring to see the way the older children looked after the younger children, how each person chipped in with the household duties, how people encouraged and cared for each other. I was touched by how the teenage boys communicated with each other from their hearts, and put the needs of others first, often holding back to eat last at community events to ensure everyone else was served first.
The types of empowering programs Maher delivers in local communities are too numerous to mention here. Some of these initiatives include: award-winning values-based education, employment and skills training and tree planting initiatives. Maher has currently set up 550+ self-help groups in more than 100 villages with more than (10,000) members. The children create street theatre performances to educate villagers on awareness issues relating to health, hygiene, care for the girl child, family violence and the environment. Maher also conducts clean-up days in the begging communities, and offers psychotherapy and counseling, addiction programs, cultural and sports training, youth groups, and more!
Maher cites “Re-awakening our personal relationship with Mother Earth and treating her as the body of the Divine” as one of its core values. The children, women and men are taught about the fundamental interdependence of all life and include the earth in their daily prayers. As a spiritual ecology enthusiast, witnessing and being part of this made my heart sing! There are also numerous and inspiring earth care, conservation and regeneration initiatives taking place, and in 2017, on Maher’s 20th Anniversary Sr. Lucy established the Interfaith Association for Service to Humanity and Nature.
It is no surprise that Maher’s efforts to strengthen India by providing empowering opportunities to individuals and communities have been recognized nationally and internationally. Maher has been granted Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. The organization has received more than 130 awards for the contribution it makes to the betterment of women.
As volunteers, we were often told that “the most valuable contribution we could make was simply to be with the women and children, to give them love, time, kindness and encouragement.” We each felt that we were the fortunate ones to be present in Maher, and to have been so welcomed into the Maher family with open arms.
One of my favorite personal memories was dancing with a group of women at Vatsalayadham, where there are approximately 120 women with mental health challenges, 40 elderly women, 80 children, plus staff, housemothers and care workers. United in the rhythm of the music and love of the beats, it didn’t matter who we each were, where we came from, what our backgrounds were, what our histories were, or what tomorrow would bring to each of us. We were present, in this moment and in this aliveness together, sharing fun.
It wasn’t lost on me however, that many of the women I was dancing with would not be alive today, had it not been for the work of Sr. Lucy and the absolute commitment of the staff and the other family members of Maher.
Where possible, Maher supports family reunification, providing counseling, work training and other services as needed to support healthy and stable homes. Many women and children stay at Maher for a short time and then re-unite with their families, others stay and attend school, university, and go on to get married and raise their families with the higher social values they learned at Maher. Others train to be housemothers or counselors and stay to work at Maher, where their compassion and understanding are unparalleled.
Some of the very inspiring young people have gone on to represent India internationally in various conferences and events, and there are many youth peace leaders of the future currently in Maher.
Sitting regularly at dinner with Sr. Lucy, the other volunteers and I heard many Maher stories. There were stories that melted my heart, broke my heart, and others that caused me to belly laugh so much that the tears rolled down my cheeks to the ground! The most touching story I heard was of a time when Sr. Lucy was awakened one night by a commotion coming from the boys’ room.
When she went in, she discovered that someone had put hot pepper into the boys’ eyes while they were sleeping. After all the boys were examined, attended to and questioned, Sr Lucy found that one of the boys hadn’t been injured. Identifying the culprit, she asked him to apologize to the other boys, but he refused. This same boy had been extremely physically abused before he came to Maher. His inner state was deeply untrusting and distressed, and it was likely that this act of violence was his only form of communication. Sr. Lucy persisted speaking to the boy, hoping to help him understand the pain he had caused, the seriousness of the situation, and the consequences of his actions. He still refused to apologize to the boys.
Sr. Lucy then spent time with each of the boys that he had hurt, and helped them to understand that his behaviors were about the pain he had suffered and continued to suffer inside. Sr. Lucy convinced each of them to apologize to the boy. One by one, they told him that they were sorry for his pain. That experience completely altered the boy’s heart and the course of his life.
The realness of Maher touched me to my very core. The staff meet the simple and complex needs presented to them on a daily basis with pure, down-to-earth sincerity, love and 100% commitment. There are peals of laughter and joy heard around Maher many, many times a day! When I asked some of the staff what sustains them, they each said: ‘the love of the children, prayer, meditation, and witnessing Sr. Lucy’s utmost dedication of service to people.’
Sr. Lucy is a woman who has allowed her heart to be broken time and time again for everyone in her family, and for the neglected people still in the slums in Indian society. She works with complete integrity, and with a heart burning with unconditional love she welcomes everyone in, regardless of caste, creed or religion. She says “Love is my religion.” The mission she has set for Maher is to work systemically until there is no longer any need of organizations such as Maher, which in itself speaks volumes about who she is.
As we collectively move into a situation where we are going to be experiencing further extreme weather conditions and economic instability, our future depends on a return to living spiritual values and on listening to and meeting the real needs in our families and communities, with loving practical care. The simple, values-based approach of Maher is a light in the darkness and I believe, a role model for creating local systemic social change which any community would benefit from.
I feel very grateful and blessed to have been part of the Feminine series last year, and to have spent this time with Sr. Lucy and the Maher family, to have made new friends and lasting connections.
by Lynda Morrissey
You can learn more about Maher here.
‘Something I have been very active about is respecting women, period. So often you get these moments where it can get into a competitive situation. And every time it’s come up I have stood out of it and gone ‘I am not going to compete with another woman’ and it sends out a shock wave.
I was in a relationship, and quite often when people end relationships they need to make the other person wrong, saying they’re horrible, they’re bad. And my boyfriend would say these things about his ex-partner, and I wouldn’t participate in that narrative around her. I was very active about it. And he was baffled by this! But as long as women are competing with each other there’s no way we can progress together. And from a young age we’re taught to compete. Pit them against each other, and then they’ve all lost their power.
I work in a team of three women and when one of them isn’t there she gets slagged off. And I said I am not going to participate in this, we’ve got to sort this out together. I’m not a fan of making waves, I used to make waves very destructively, and I had to come out of it, and now I don’t like to do it, but sometimes you have to. It’s the only way to stand up against ‘Divide and conquer.’ If I’ve done nothing else in my job I’ve got us caring about each other and supporting each other. My boss says you have been a challenge for me, but what you’ve done is brought us together and made us a team.
At Buddhafield festival I held a workshop about reclaiming our womanhood, and at the end this young woman asked ‘What if women really reclaimed their power in the world?’ I could feel this question was alive in her, she really needed to know, and it completely changed the feeling in the room. And I said that is a good question to leave with!’
– Katherine, a participant from last year’s women’s circle. Co-founder of Womanfest 2018. Story as told to Clare.
‘There is much that is written about the formative years of childhood, particularly as it relates to parents and siblings – far less about other relationships equally important and pivotal in our balanced development as creative, sensitive and fulfilled adults. It is a matter of utmost concern for our longevity as a species and the quality of our individual and collective lives that we learn to appreciate that we owe everything to the earth that birthed us. Without this we are disconnected from life and grow up with all the imbalances of the unloved orphan forever searching for love through possession and control. Without strong affective bonds we seek a relationship with our world by living out the fear and distress of our abandonment. Without the deep knowledge of belonging we work out our anger, taking savage swipes at our betrayer. If we do not come to understand the true and vast value of air, trees, sunlight and the many beings with whom we share space, we will of course behave as if they were expendable. We can name gods to our heart’s content, but if they shift our attention away from the profound mystery of our familial relationship with nature, they do us no good service. She is the centre.’
– Mac Macartney, Finding Earth, Finding Soul: the Invisible Path to Authentic Leadership