The Dance of the Femine Face of GodA week ago at the Greening Spirit’s Home, we had an evening convocation of spirited women coming together in another one of our sacred Circles to learn and share community, wisdom and inspiration. The purpose of this gathering was to view the newly- released documentary of the visionary artist, Meinrad Criaghead. Formerly a contemplative Benedictine nun for 14 years, she is now a shining Elder who lives simply in a small home and studio in New Mexico, by the Rio Grande, with her canine companion,  opening her heart and space to small groups of women coming in on occasion for communal retreat and contemplative renewal.

Meinrad was not just your ordinary contemplative  Catholic nun living in a monastery. While participating fully in the Christian practices and life of Catholic teachings,  her primary workplace within that community was in the art studio, creating wild and passionate paintings expressing her private inner relationship with God the Mother.

Since the paintings were recognized in the art world as something quite extraordinary and were selling to those who understood and appreciated what they saw, and because monasteries must support themselves independently (jams, cordials, greeting cards, fruitcakes etc) the Order’s practical monastic financial  saavy left Meinrad alone to produce darkly beautiful images of the Divine Feminine….and so starkly and passionately that I am sure in another age, she may have been burned at the stake for heresy!

Before watching the movie, and with a huge bowl of sweet and salty Kettle Corn on our table altar for sensual treats, we went around the circle so that each woman could introduce herself and share her original spiritual backround, and where she was now on her spiritual path and present naming of God. There was eagerness  in each women to speak about this, and eagerness and intensity in each of the women to listen deeply to the experiences revealed, without judgement, without challenge, and with the greatest hospitality and reverence. No one seemed to have to fill a desire to make a point, take a stand, but rather to Learn and Listen, Question and Share.

The stories each woman shared about their former religious paths were deeply engaging, amusing, comforting and shocking. Three of us had grown up Catholic and had loved the sensuous beauty of Catholic liturgy…the lovely music, the candles, the incense, the artwork , the gorgeous and inspiring setting and architechtural design of Church and stained-glass windows as well as the ritual of the Mass and “Time Apart-ness”  in the silence of catherdral or chapel  Yet now, all of us,  past the age of 50, have moved away from full participation, if at all, in  the traditional parish church and the patriarchal language, teaching  and practices that have silenced women’s voices and ignored the sacred passages inherent in a women’s life cycle…which  are very dramatic if we start to name what those passages are, biologically, spiritually and psychologically. The naming of God remained more problematic..If God were not inherently MALE, then is God FEMALE ?  Do we say “Goddess” instead, which for some is just as problematic as “God”. The consensus for our naming was that one woman said yes, for her the image of God remained Male out of familiarity, tho now in question. The two others said God is “Mystery/Spirit” and the renaming is now in process. One of us is moving towards the image of the Feminine Face God as in  the Great Mother, or She-Who-Is.

One woman was raised,  and is still active in, the Episcopal church, in which she has experienced the freedom to think more for oneself  than in the Catholic Church, and in which both gay persons and women may be ordained as priests, and even elevated to Bishop.  For her, God is “Spirit” at this time, male imagery gone….but not necessarilly feminine either.

One lovely and deeply spiritual woman was raised a natural “pagan”…no push in her family to go to any church, but a family with strong ethics and ties to home, family, fields and land by the sea, which became Church for her as she played, prayed and listened to nature and the natural flow of one season into another…everything sacred and filled with mystery and delight. To her, Everything is wondrous and Holy. And God is NOT masculine. Not even close.

And finally, one woman’s experiences of being raised in a Greek Orthodox Church drew gasps of surprise and grief. In her story, the most patriarchal of all, women were not allowed to receive communion during their monthly cycle  and after birthing, being seen as “unclean”. A rigid doctrine and body of religious rules forced her of her own volition and will, to flee all such indoctrination, which was so strong that upon leaving she “became” an atheist for a period of time…a leap necessary for her to claim her own authenticity, starting from scratch, and listen deeply within to what the poet Rilke described as ..”that Homesickness for what we cannot name”…, which can only be filled by some sort of personal connection to Mystery/Source,/God -of-your-own Naming.  Now presently finding a spiritual home within the Unitarian Community,  she expressed that our little Circle that evening felt like the finding   a gentle comfort addressing  a corner of  “that Homesickness that we cannot name”:  the candle on our altar, the incense in the air, the deep sharing of our stories in the VOICES and EXPERIENCES of Women seeking the Sacred, which are powerful and transformational forms of personal Sacred Scripture holding deep wisdom individually and for each other. Even gratitude too,  for the experience to dialogue with others over the concept of “God”.

The documentary of the Life of Meinrad Craighead was deeply moving, inspirational, emotional. Afterwards we shared about those stark,sometimes dark, always strange and beautiful images from her visions and paintings of the Divine Mother, The Feminine Face of God. At evening’s end, there were huge hugs, new connections, exchanges of phone numbers, and an enormous energy of gratitude, homecoming and blessing….

This was another form of “Church”.  In exploring the Feminine Face of God, we left with no Answers, but with many many new Questions…which as Rilke also said,   (…it is not as  important to have answers as it is to)…”Live the Questions…”

Through this evening, in Circle , with its  reverential and soul-sharing stories of the Feminine EXPERIENCE of the Sacred…God became Bigger.    

Yes, SHE did.

*Note: “Dancing Goddess on Fence” by Artist David Hickey, now living in Peterborough, Canada

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