Monday, May 3, 2021

Honor Your Mother

In 2014 I was asked to give a homily for a wonderful Unitarian Universalist community on the Centennial Celebration of Mother's Day.  Sharing it with you for Mother's Day

Today is Mother’s Day, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you about Mother. Actually, today in particular is the centennial of Mother’s Day in the US, first declared officially as the second Sunday in May by Pres. Woodrow Wilson in 1914.  This holiday, which probably has its roots in ancient Mother Goddess Spring festivals of Greece and Rome, was championed in the US by Anna Jarvis, who beginning in 1905, campaigned vigorously to establish a day where each family would honor their personal mothers in a special way at home and with church services.  Unfortunately, it took no time at all for the holiday to become so commercialized that she actually spent the rest of her life fighting to have the holiday removed from the official national roster.  Thanks, Hallmark.

What Anna Jarvis wanted was that on Mother’s Day we be reminded to celebrate the unconditional love, sacrifice, untiring care and selfless devotion of our personal mothers.    To give thanks to our mothers for having the courage to give birth to us, and thanks to every woman who after taking on that heroic biological task, in the majority of cases, did her very best to take on the moral/spiritual task of nurturing her children, as well.  

Moving from the personal to the collective, on this centennial of our national celebration of Mother’s Day, I’d like to invite you to remember with me not the personal mother of our own experience, but the archetypal mother of our collective experience as a human race, the Great Mother, the Feminine Divine.  

At the very core of our collective psyche as a human race on this beautiful, bountiful planet is the Great Mother, known throughout antiquity and across indigenous cultures as the Creator of all that is. Thanks to the work of exceptional scholars like archeologist Marija Gimbutas, we know that: “The Goddess is the most potent and persistent feature in the archeological records of the ancient world, a symbol of the unity of life in nature and the personification of all that was sacred and mysterious on earth.”

I was completely delighted to learn that Unitarian Universalists have for many years offered a very sophisticated curriculum about the ancient and indigenous Goddesses from history and diverse cultures, “Cakes for the Queen of Heaven”. I was going to spend some time with you sharing slides of many of these pre-historic and multi-cultural images of the goddess, until I realized I’d be preaching to the choir, many of you already know about HER.

Whether God as Mother is a familiar concept or a new one to you today, I’d like to invite all of us to reflect on the status of the Divine Feminine in our psyches, both personally and collectively.  Because for the last five thousand years or so, She has been persecuted, obscured, neglected and finally banished. This has had dire consequences for humanity.  The elevation of the masculine to exclusive divine status and the denigration of the feminine to subservient and inferior status has grave implications for our personal psychic health, whether we are male or female, for our cultures and for the well being of our endangered planet.

The Wisdom of the Feminine, personified in the many forms of the goddess, is essentially the understanding that Divine Light is not separate from creation, but inherent in creation, embodied and birthed over and over again by women.  For ancient peoples, woman was the matrix of creation, both literally and metaphysically. Moreover, to ancient and indigenous peoples even today, the Earth is our Mother, alive, sentient and interactive with our every thought, word and deed.  We are part of a physical and mystical web of life that is inter-dependent and inter-connected.   

History is the story as told by the conqueror and the stories we have learned are about the triumph of the masculine sky gods, giving birth without women, from Adam’s rib, the head of Zeus or even the spoken word.  Patriarchal mythologies have divorced divinity from nature, exhorting conquering, dominating and exploitive ideologies that have brought us to the very brink of our own annihilation.  It has placed divinity outside of matter and reduced matter to a mechanical science, devoid of soul. All ancient and indigenous peoples even today know this is a grave error. 

But today, we are in the midst of a spiritual revolution. Enlightenedl teachers from all over the world, across cultures and disciplines are pointing to a new/old paradigm for understanding our world and our purpose in it.   From subatomic physics to new metaphysics we are hearing that we are essentially energy; we are spiritual beings participating in a physical manifestation and each of us has chosen this manifestation with a purpose in mind.  Today’s spiritual teachers point to the need to bring balance back into our psyches by once again honoring the Feminine aspects of Divinity and recognizing the sacredness of the Earth as the embodiment of the Feminine Divine.

They’re telling us that our world is in serious trouble and at the root of what ails us is the terrible psychic imbalance caused by the inflation of masculine principles and the devaluation of the feminine.  In Chinese Taoist philosophy, these principles are known as the Yin, the Feminine and the Yang, the Masculine.  Taoism teaches that these opposites are in a continual dance, an ebb and flow that results in balance; neither is superior or inferior, each has its time and its purpose.  When one becomes too pronounced, the entire system is thrown out of balance to the detriment of the whole.

Mother’s Day is a fine time to consider what the consequences of shutting the Feminine out of divinity are.  I recently wrote here about the new, celebrated Pope Francis who has firmly stated that he won’t consider finally ordaining women as priests, although he is very concerned about their level of poverty and exploitation in the world.

But it’s a Catch22; the majority of the world's poor are women because women have no status in patriarchal government, patriarchal religion nor as the Divine Archetype.  In patriarchy men rule, make all the decisions concerning women and children and God looks like one of them. In patriarchal paradigms, woman's power is stripped from her and to the degree that it’s justified by “the image of god” her situation can’t and won’t change.  You’ve only to look at the status and experience of women in the most orthodox patriarchal cultures.  As Jimmy Carter recently put it:

“The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women.  They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.  Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world.”

To change the status of women, we have to change the paradigm that devalues women by excluding the Feminine from divinity. This work begins at the level of the individual psyche, as psychiatrist Carl Jung taught.  The fate of humanity, he said, hangs by a thread, and that thread is the psyche.  As the mystical poet, William Blake, wrote, “mind forged manacles” imprison us.  What we believe at our deepest unconscious level is what really drives our behavior.

Like most of you, I grew up with the psychic imprint of God as male, God as Father.  Jesus, though his teachings espoused rather feminine values, was also a male representation of the divine and all his earthly ministers, up until the mid 1980s, were male, as well. As an on again, off again Catholic, Mother Mary did factor in, but definitely as an obedient helpmate, not a divine equal to His Holiness, Father God, and always a Virgin, despite marriage and motherhood, because another artificial separation of this paradigm is sexuality from the sacred.

I first met the Great Mother in a dream when I was 21, way before I knew anything about Her in waking reality. She came to me as “Howling Mary”; I talk about this dream here. 

I woke from seeing Mary howling in anger and pain, heart pounding and completely baffled.  I didn’t know then the value of recording my dreams, but I’ve never forgotten this one. It was a Big Dream with a Big Message for my life that proved prophetic. In a manner I’ve come to recognize from following my dreams, my waking life unfolded in a series of one meaningful coincidence after another, until the Great Mother embodied in my Psyche, out of the shadows and into the Divine Light. 

Though my original plan was to go to graduate school to study literature, I went to seminary instead, campaigned to be ordained a priest in the catholic church and when I realized that wouldn’t happen, despite the many other denominations opening the ministry to women, I abandoned Catholicism for psychotherapy and Women’s Spirituality and came full circle to marry my love of HER to my love of dreaming, where I first met Her. From my perspective today, I see what Mary was howling about. 

On this day of Honoring the Mother, I invite all of us to examine our paradigms, our deeply held, knee jerk beliefs inherited from our parents, family systems, cultures and belief systems.  Knowing about the Queen of Heaven is an intellectual exercise; healing the Wounded Archetypal Feminine, the Anima and the Feminine relegated to Shadow is the soul-searching challenge of our time that each of us has to accomplish individually. Recovering a reverence for the earth and all life based on a deep, intuitive understanding of our Oneness with Gaia is the test we face.

But we can’t create the new order we need using the old logic that got us into the mess we’re in.  We need to use the principles we’ve been told are inferior, heart, intuition and instinct.

Here’s an example of what I mean; close your eyes and imagine a prehistoric time, cave people, cave man, cave woman.  How do they relate to one another? Is it hard to dispel the caricature of the caveman with the club, dragging the cave woman by the hair, dominating her way back then?  At an intellectual level, we know it’s not politically correct, but is it a knee-jerk visual?  Can we imagine a pre-historic culture where women were revered for their personal magic?  A culture that deduced the Creator of humanity from observing the creator of the personal world, a culture that finds no problem in revering a Divine Mother as ultimate Creator?  In this culture, people exercise their talents for the good of the group; knowing that sticking together and loving one another is the way to survive?  Oh, and a people who are constantly in and out of psychic experience, one to whom dreaming and dream adventures meld seamlessly with waking and waking adventures?  A culture far more advanced in spiritual practices than we are today.

We are plagued by the tunnel vision of interpreting all of history, at least 40 thousand years back, through the lens of the last six thousand years.  We have a patriarchal, war obsessed mindset that tells us it always had to be this way; human nature is naturally contentious, greedy and selfish, anything else is wishful thinking.

Amazonian and Mayan shamans teach that “the world is as you dream it.”  We create the realities we live through our communal expectations. We created this paradigm when we banished the Sacred Feminine, and in order to break free of its unconscious hold on our psyche, we need to re-instate the Great Mother as she is embodied in the earth and in all feminine characteristics we have devalued.

Here’s another example of how knee jerk our denial of the Feminine Divine can be.  I taught theology in an all girls’ RC high school, back when there were enough progressive religious communities, especially among nuns, to allow me to teach a course I called, “Christian Feminism.”  On the first day of class, I asked the students; “Is God male or female?”  They were prepared, and gave me the bonafide answer from the catechism.  "God is neither, God is Spirit."  "Fine", I said, "In this classroom, for this semester, when we pray, we’re going to say, Our Mother, and when we refer to God, we’ll use the feminine pronoun, She."  They were horrified; "We can’t do that!"  "Why?" I asked; "Because God is Father," they replied. The masculine divine has been imprinted in our psyches, both personally and collectively; it’s hard to reshape that image. 

Until we heal our personal psyche, we can’t heal the collective.  Until we heal the collective, we remain alienated from the resources we need to create balance.  Here’s the good news as taught by Llewellyn Vaughan Lee, a contemporary Sufi master who wrote “The Return of the Feminine and the World Soul.”

“The mystery of the divine feminine speaks to us from within her creation.  She is not a distant god in heaven, but a presence that is here with us, needing our response.  She is the divine returning to claim her creation, the real wonder of what it means to be alive.  We have forgotten her, just as we have forgotten so much of what is sacred, and yet she is always part of us.  But now she needs to be known again, not just as a myth, as a spiritual image, but as something that belongs to the blood and the breath.  She can awaken us to an expectancy in the air, to an ancient memory coming alive in a new way.  She can help us to give birth to the divine that is within us, to the oneness that is all around us.  She can help us to remember our real nature.”
How do we reconnect with the Feminine Divine?  Turn off the TV and step out into Nature. Listen deeply to what you hear within you.  Be still and know that She is Divine, alive in the beauty of the simplest flower.  Follow the counsel of your heart over your head.  Listen to your dreams, your own organic spirituality, your connection to revelation and trust that you are part of the One, you are not separate and you are not Alone.  
I wish you all a very blessed Divine Mother’s Day.