The Divine Mother
"Each of us ought to feel like a motherless child. Spiritually, each of us is a motherless child. Spiritually each of us was born into a religious culture where for the last 3,000 years or so God has been pictured nearly exclusively as a Divine Father. As the Patriarchal religions began to slowly supplant earlier Matriarchal religions we lost touch with the Divine Mother and with the feminine qualities she represents. And we re-created our culture as children with only a father, a religious cosmology that gives value only to the elements traditionally or symbolically associated with fathers, maleness and masculinity."
The Divine Mother
© 2006 by Rev. Ricky Hoyt
"Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home."
Each of us ought to feel like a motherless child. Spiritually, each of us is a motherless child. Spiritually each of us was born into a religious culture where for the last 3,000 years or so God has been pictured nearly exclusively as a Divine Father. As the Patriarchal religions began to slowly supplant earlier Matriarchal religions we lost touch with the Divine Mother and with the feminine qualities she represents. And we re-created our culture as children with only a father, a religious cosmology that gives value only to the elements traditionally or symbolically associated with fathers, maleness and masculinity.
Thus, our religions, and our culture have been dominated (and that's the right word in this case) by rationality and logic, and a de- valuing of intuition and mystery. We're concerned more with what the mind can learn and discover, than what the heart or soul already knows. We're warriors in both our culture and our religion. We're concerned about getting it right. We want absolutes. We create cultural and religious institutions that seek control and order, and are willing to sacrifice spontaneity and creativity in order to achieve that end. We're not above using fear as a tactic, and sin, and guilt. We value individuality over community. We separate mind from matter and then value mind more highly. We separate reason from emotion, and value reason. And we separate humanity, most grievously, from nature, and value human wants above nature's needs.
This is not true of all religions, but it is true of the Judeo- Christian religions that most of us were born into. And that religious tradition continuing with Islam, has been the dominant force in defining cultural, economic, and political values worldwide, even among people who follow other religions.
To claim for oneself a deep and nurturing relationship with a spiritual mother, requires an intense act of personal growth and development, when the formerly motherless child eventually, as an adult, seeks out and finds a way to fill in a spiritual gap she or he has been missing. We aren't born with divine mothers. We have to, later in life, go out and create our own mothers, if we would have them.
The situation, spiritually, is as tragic as would be the physical situation of an actual baby being born into our world and then denied the loving attention associated with mothering. And of course I don't mean that a male parent can't also provide these qualities. It's mothering that's essential, not necessarily a mother.
But imagine a baby who is born unexpectedly and violently out of the womb. The only universe it has known, dark and wet, muted and warm is suddenly replaced by a brightly lit, noisy, unbounded space, filled with air, not water. The child's first reaction is certainly terror, and an overwhelming sense of abandonment and loneliness. Some methods of birthing attempt to mitigate these responses, but I doubt they can be removed entirely. The birthing process itself describes a sudden and complete world change for the child.
Quickly the mother moves to ease that transition. She comforts the child. She assures the child that it is safe. She holds the child against her chest and shows that the soothing sound of the heartbeat is still there. The child is not alone but is held and loved. The child is not abandoned. Mother is there.
But what if mother is not there? We know the trauma this causes actual children, the wounded psyches and shattered lives that follow. But spiritually this is the situation for all of us, and our religions and culture generally.
Born without a spiritual mother our initial experience of spiritual terror is confirmed not eased. The world is a scary place, we should be afraid. Our patriarchal religions and governments confirm our sense of terror, encourage our terror, and are not above using our terror and even manufacturing new terrors in order to keep us fearful, and thus dependent on the strong father who's symbolic mode is not comfort but protection, not healing, but war-making.
Born without a spiritual mother our initial experience of spiritual loneliness and abandonment is confirmed not eased. We are alone, says the religious myth. The world around us, the Earth, is a strange and alien place, not our real home, and of no use to us in healing our lonely spirits. We have been cut off and cast out. The patriarchal religious story is designed to re-unite us with a long- ago paradise we have lost, very different from the religious story a divine mother would tell us, and that many of us know intuitively, that we never were actually separated from her paradise, that we live in it now.
An actual child, born with fear and loneliness, is comforted by a mother, who teaches the child that they are safe and loved, and eventually the child quiets her or his initial anxieties and learns to trust. The spiritual child, born with fear and loneliness that are never addressed and are even confirmed as the truth of our existence, never learns to trust. Instead, spiritually, we go through life distrustful of messages that say the world is a holy and good place, that other people with different ideas are not threats to us but can be friends and helpers on our own journey, that this isn't after all a journey you have to do by yourself, but it's a journey we all do as companions with each other. Without a spiritual mother we have forgotten that the goal of the journey is not storming heaven, conquering some spiritual land out there, but the goal is already with us, has always been with us.
Unlike an actual child who even if they are born into a world without mothering, still has the experience of mother in the womb. We spiritual children have lost even that. We don't have that spiritual sense of floating peacefully in the universe, a part of all that is, linked directly to the heart of the universe through an umbilical cord, and relying on that strong and sure connection for all our sustenance. We may feel that spiritual connection to the divine, intuitively, but it's not a metaphor taught or encouraged by our religions. For patriarchal religions, traditionally, God is distant, majestic, transcendent. God is an other, unapproachable, vastly different from and far beyond us. God the father loves us and showers us with gifts, but not with himself. The gifts stand between he and us. While the Divine mother, the one who's womb has been symbolically denied us, gives directly of herself, no separation, indeed in the womb we don't even feel that it is me and her, it is just us, a singular, satisfying sense of being.
That's what we lost when we lost our spiritual mothers. We're a long way from home. A long way from home.
I'm not dissing the male and masculine god, in this sermon. He's important. He's good. Masculine qualities, many of them, are also helpful, enlightening, healing, and positive. And many of the negatives associated with masculinity are not actually inherent in masculinity but are aberrations based on a sick and broken culture which has short-changed men from their own health and wholeness by labeling some of his true self feminine and therefore to be supressed, unnaturally, from his personality.
Women, too, of course, are harmed by this de-valuing of the feminine. They feel it in their own persons. But women, too, the children of only a male god, and the inheritors of three thousand years of patriarchal culture also re-form that culture in their own lives. Women, and men, are all victims and victimizers. Women assent to a patriarchal religion and even encourage it. Fearful, lonely, women look to a powerful patriarchal government, support its masculine perspective even as it destroys them, and vote the men who will perpetuate it back into office.
Enlightened religious people know there isn't really a divine father in the sky. Maleness and masculinity are simply ways of talking about a divine energy that is far beyond categories of sex and gender. What that energy truly is, is a source and guarantor of our values. Some might say, what we value in our lives we assign to divinity. Others might say, me among them, that the contents of divinity define our values. But without addressing the theological question, the point for today's purpose, is that what we value is associated with divinity, and what we call divine tells us what to value.
In speaking of divinity only in masculine terms, what we are saying is that we only value, or at least primarily value, only those things that we also call masculine. That God is masculine, and has been for thousands of years, doesn't mean at least to enlightened people that God is a man, but has meant, that qualities associated with femininity are devalued.
So when I say that we have suffered these three thousand years without a divine mother, I don't mean that we need to transform the divine father into a divine mother. The divine hasn't ever been a father, but it has been associated only with masculine values. And I don't mean that we need to reintroduce the divine mother to stand alongside the divine father as a divine couple. What I mean is that we need to re-associate the unsexed and de-gendered divinity with feminine qualities so that we can value them, too.
Eventually this has to happen on a global religious and cultural scale. We simply aren't going to survive as a species unless we accomplish that, and as we destroy ourselves we might very well drag the entire planet down with us. But today, rather than tackling that global issue, I want to suggest that we simply tackle it personally.
To do this, I want to remind us of two spiritual truths.
The first is that the divine itself hasn't actually changed just because we have been ignoring half of it. The divine wasn't a goddess who then became a god, and we don't need to change her/him back. It always was a collection of all the values we value, both those we call feminine and those we call masculine. The divine is already complete. The divine already speaks to us as both mother and father. It is our ears that need to open. It is our spiritual practice that needs to change, not the divine nature. The divine has not been impoverished these last three thousand years, only our spiritual imaginations have been impoverished.
The other spiritual truth to remember is that we are, each of us, divinity. The divine does not exist far off in space or heaven and doles itself out to us only with infrequent revelations or rare scripture or uncommon miracles. The divine exists in and through and with all things, us included. It speaks through all things, to all things, and from all things. The divine is all things. We are made of divinity. We participate in divinity. In the words of the mystic poet James Broughton, "I am it and you are it and he is it and she is it, and they are that and we are that and this is it and that is that."
So the ever-existing but long neglected mother exists, and exists inside you. You are she. She is as close as your heart, and your fingertips. You touch her, when you touch anything. And whatever you touch she touches also. Her spirit fills your spirit. Her nurture and care are your nurture and care. Her mysterious sense of intuitive knowing is your own talent for intuitive knowing. Her sensitivity to emotions, both feeling her own feelings and feeling the feelings of others, is your own sensitivity to emotions. She is there within, the caregiver, the healer, the pain-bearer, the patient lover, the generous giver, the feeder, the helper, the dreamer, the creative, the one who draws in with warm embrace and sends out with hope and loving prayer.
Though religion tells us we have no divine mother we know that isn't true. We walk across her back with every step. She is the earth beneath us and the holy feminine qualities within us.
We don't need religion to give us a divine mother, because religion hasn't the power to take her away. We can invoke her for ourselves, if we need to. We can be our own divine mothers, we who were denied a divine mother at birth. Seek her within, as she silently but expectantly waits for you. Call her out, and invite her spirit and grace to be your own. Nurture her. Let her nurture you. Let her teach you the gifts of the feminine that our religions and culture haven't taught us. Let her heal the wounds a stunted psychic growth has made in all of us, correcting a masculinity perverted by denigrating essential aspects of itself, and filling in the yearning holes where something important has been lost. Learn to trust again through her renewed presence that you need not be afraid; the world is a mother's womb growing life and enfolding all. You need not feel lonely for indeed you are never alone in a universe, like a womb where there is only us, no other. You are not a motherless child, for the mother you seek has always been close, connected by an unsevered umbilical cord that starts at your navel, and leads inward to your own soul.
The Divine Mother
© 2006 by Rev. Ricky Hoyt
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