Reaching for Hawaii, Gathering Mexico

Sisters at Sunset

I’ve had some trouble re-anchoring after my visit to Hawaii. It’s the same trouble I have when I visit Mexico, both Mexico and Hawaii being lands where I’ve lived and where my spirit found peace and comfort. Even more, where the balance of feminine and masculine energies come together in a wholeness I don’t experience in many places.

When I lived in Hawaii in 1992, I’d already lived in Mexico for three years, and I felt confounded and amazed from time to time about how much I remembered Mexico in a sameness that nurtured me. The ocean and beaches of course, but also the craggy land and the cattle and goats roaming free across scrubby land. The wide-open and often barren stretches of land. And when I speak of Hawaii, I’m talking about Hawaii Island rather than the entirety of the island chain.

It’s taken some time of wondering and thinking to come to a theory of why it’s difficult for me to be back. The only one that makes any sense is to say that the strength of both feminine and masculine energies feeds me in a way I’m not fed in the center of the country.

People who visit Mexico and Hawaii, even New Mexico for that matter, have a tendency to say “how beautiful” without really considering what they are saying. Yes. Each of those three places is beautiful. But they are also each fierce and tough. And while I have lived in each place, and don’t want to live there full-time again, I do yearn for that balance of beauty and fierce that softens my shoulders and puts a glide in my step.

They are easy places for me, who is tough and gentle, to feel at home.


In Mexico, and in Hawaii, the sacred is an everyday part of life rather than an after thought or a Sunday church service. Perhaps because in both places, a ruling class came in and took over and the indigenous peoples held on to the sacred quality of their life as a refuge. But for whatever reason, the sacred is a part of the air and wind, a part of the scent of sea or desert or jungle. And the ancient sacred lives comfortably alongside modern religions. There’s no separateness. There is only a recognition of the whole.

In Palenque, in the depths of jungle green and misty clouds, the sacred rumbles just below conscious hearing.

And the divine feminine is a visible part of the whole.

At the famous Painted Church on Hawaii, the church building is justly famous for its colors and murals, and in the cemetery below, among neatly lined up white crosses, a lady stands on a natural rocky formation with a kneeling figure below her.

This is probably a statue of Mary although no name is given it on a plaque beside the rock. She could as easily be called the Lady of the Waves as she stands between the petitioner and the waves of the wide sea behind her. People have prayed to the divine feminine and asked for protection for countless centuries, long before Christianity.

Is the Protestant energy that founded this country responsible for the current “War on Women?” An anti-cleric, anti-Catholic history in this country may also account for the lack of wholly and holy feminine energy in all our lives, even today.

I wonder if that’s why a President’s wife is so important. She represents a feminine power source close to the top.

And that brings me to laughter. In Mexico and in Hawaii, laughter is close to the surface and bubbling over into conversations all the time. Laughter is a part of life. Laughter is a part of everyday living and conversations, sometimes just a conversation with self.

Old Man Laughing

This man from Mexico laughed all the time as he talked to me and as I struggled to make coherent sentences in Spanish. He laughed in delight at my clumsy attempts and he laughed to encourage me. In Hawaii, people laughed all the time: while dancing hula, shopping for gas, dropping a bag – oh, oops. And we talked story. By buying a container of pickled ginger, a simple purchase, I also bought laughter and stories of family and grandchildren.

And maybe, at base, it’s the mystery I miss. A mystery of why and how, the mystery of being a human on this life journey with other humans, a mystery of jungles and sea, of craggy mountains, and hidden walks.
And maybe what I’ve learned in all this musing and looking at photos and wondering and writing, is that I ask why all too often. Too often I try to figure things out, a very American characteristic, it seems. Maybe I just need to live in the mystery and let all of the rest of it be as it will.

Just look over my shoulder…and laugh.

Blizzards and God

In Kabbalistic thought, much emphasis is placed on the duality of God’s sexual identity. Without reference to physical form, God is both male and female. The spiritual aspects of the two genders express the characteristics of the God of Justice who is also the God of Mercy. Masculine strength combined with [feminine] compassion comprise the perfect balance without which divine rule cannot function. Mystics constantly emphasize the need for perfect balance between these two polar forces.       from: “The Sistine Secrets” by Benjamin Blech, professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University,  & Roy Doliner, humanities scholar, including Talmud, midrash, and Kabbalah.

I’ve quoted at length the academic and professional qualifications of these two writers and scholars to show they are not writing from a place of “New Age” weirdness as some would think. They are respected scholars and teachers in Hebrew scriptures and studies. They obviously have no trouble with the concept of “God” as both masculine and feminine.

I wonder why those who follow Christianity do? Is it the cultural heritage we’ve inherited from ancient Rome? The Western church is, after all, a Roman construction.

Sitting and watching our February blizzard out my window with its swirling winds and shifting white creates a nice, comfortable place for reflection. Certainly nothing outside calls me to go explore. I’ve been in Kansas blizzards: thanks, but no thanks. I’ll sit here and ponder.

But when you think about it, looking back at the early church and why the church refuses to recognize the feminine face of God and by extension the leadership of women, it’s a little like looking through a blizzard. Pretty fuzzy. Hard to get a handle on exactly what happened and why the church was so afraid of women.

Historically, we know that the focus of the early church shifted from Jerusalem when the temple was razed, the centers moving to Constantinople and Rome. Historically, we know that the Emperor Constantine used Christianity as a political tool; and we know priests and missionaries followed the Roman army as they conquered new territories.

But why, in this 21st Century, when so much is known and when so much information is at hand, is there such a knee-jerk reaction to the idea that God must be feminine, too? Why do so many insist on the pronoun “he” for God? Why, when so much scholarship gives us so much information, do so many churches insist on the later priest-redacted Genesis myth (the one where woman were made from Adam’s rib) rather than the earlier story where the creator god made man and woman as equals in image (oh, you didn’t know there were two creation stories?).

The wind blows from the north and the snow comes from the south. It whips in front of my window, circles back on itself in a fan of snow. I like watching natural elements when they are at their most fierce. They are, at base, elemental.

You’d think that after this many centuries, humanity would have evolved enough to be comfortable with the elemental whether the forces of nature or the forces of natural. Male and Female: God created them. Something certainly did.    

One of the arguments says, well, Jesus called God Father, and Jesus knew, so God must be a he. Now really, when you logically think about it, does that make sense? Of course Jesus spoke that way. His was in a first century male-dominated society. Women couldn’t even be reliable witnesses. Widows left with no son lost any property their husbands might have had and were forced to beg. Of course Jesus would say Father in a male-dominated culture. You sure wouldn’t say follow me and my mom.

But let’s go back to weather for a moment. We knew this storm was coming two days ago when it was barely forming down in Arizona. We even knew how much it would snow. Sure, the prediction could have been off by a couple of inches, but we knew that this was a giant storm and that it was coming. There was, in fact, such confidence in this forecast that schools were closed yesterday and stores were shopped down to bare shelves with only a light drizzle that occasionally froze. Even twenty years ago, this kind of prediction would not have been possible.

But there’s the rub, isn’t it. Nature is natural and science. God is not. We can prove nature; we can look at patterns and see a clear direction. But isn’t it also possible to look at the direction of the culture and see where it is heading? Twenty years ago, I was constantly teaching my classes to use gender-neutral language (I am not a “he”; therefore use humankind not mankind). Now I don’t even bring it up. Now it’s already part of their lexicon. Does that mean to those who are now in their pre-teens or younger, and that millenial generation that so amazes many of us, that “she” and “he” are relative terms that can also be used for God? Only time will tell.

But just imagine. If we were to stop fighting about what God is or isn’t, we might just stop fighting.


Resolutions Unmade

This is the time of year when resolutions and goals are set. Set. As in stone. As in a set-up for failure. As in “I’ll try…” being the least productive phrase in the English language. So this post isn’t about making New Year’s Resolutions rather about weaving tapestries.

Thinking about tapestries always takes me back to Paris and The Lady of the Unicorn Tapestries. We stumbled upon them, literally. Or almost literally. Coming back from a long Sunday walk, dragging tired, we passed The Cluny, Museum of Medieval Art, and I stumbled, almost turning in but knowing I was way too tired to enjoy it. Somehow the museum had missed my radar when studying things to see and do and we vowed to come back the next day and spend time. We did. Again without research so we had no idea what to expect.

The museum is in a 15th Century mansion built by the abbot of Cluny Abbey. We wandered through rooms of Medieval reliquaries – enough pieces of the cross to construct something forty feet tall… and finger bones of saints to count innumerable numbers – and pectoral crosses and chalices and patens and jewels – until our eyes were tired. And then we turned a corner and saw new-looking construction curving out from a wall and I went to examine the description and discovered the tapestries room. I was astounded. A miracle! I’d read about the tapestries, including George Sands writing, but never expected or dreamed to see them.

We were so tired and about to quit. And then a miracle inside The Cluny which followed the miracle of finding The Cluny.

In “The Shape of Time” George Kubler writes, “The instant admits only one action while the rest of possibility lies unrealized.”

That’s sort of the way I feel about goals and resolutions. They seem so rigid and unlikely to open to passing miracles. The other thing about goals is that life happens. For example, all my sons are home for Christmas and we had all sorts of plans for things-to-do this week. And then a stomach virus came to visit. Life happens. So we all sat around huddled in fleece blankets and watched movies. Or took naps.

But still, there’s the whole end of the year/beginning of the next thing to look at. I do believe in taking stock of the year that’s passing. Unfortunately, the year that’s passing may be a blur for some of us. Too much happened. To many to-dos; too many quick turns into something else; smoke belching from volcanoes and oil erupting from an ocean floor; too many angels dancing on the head of one pin. But if we look carefully, we’ll probably also see a few miracles.

That’s where the tapestry comes in. Instead of setting myself up with goals and deadlines, I’m more inclined to look back and pick up the threads that were useful this year – the greens and blues, yellow, orange. I have several red threads that will carry forward. Just for sparkle. I don’t know what new scene will weave itself into my life this year but I expect it will have some surprises. There will be some threads I’ve dropped that will loop around again. I will leave myself open for miracles. And moments.

And so, in your taking stock, I wish you gentleness and compassion with yourself and others. The tasks that were undone may need to be – or they’ll come back. No regrets. Whirling in place is rarely useful; rather, I wish you a slower walk with unexpected moments to stumble into your miracles. 

Happy New Year!


A head-line in the two-week old “Week in Review” from the New York Times stacked beside my reading corner because I hadn’t had time to finish the paper read, “Our Fix-It Faith” and went on to detail how American’s faith in technology to always fix whatever problems civilization faced was being seriously tested in the Gulf oil spill. That faith in technology to fix is the same faith we seem to carry in fixing everything: work related problems, our bodies, a computer, a car,  and especially relationships. We fix. The problem is that the dedication to fixing seems in direct opposition to accepting our being in the world.

No, I’m not suggesting that the oil spill and the destruction it has caused has to be accepted. That’s not my point. I’m thinking instead of the idea that our faith resides in fixing.

In many ways, the fixation on fixing denies the actuality of being. Things break. And thinking, or assuming something can be fixed leads to carelessness. We are careless with our human relationships and careless in the way we treat the natural world. Our automobiles encase us in technology, so we’re not aware of the other humans on the highway; our computers encase us in connectivity and ideas so we are not aware of our bodies; our houses with air-conditioning and home entertainment centers and safety devices and alarms have disconnected us from our neighborhoods. Technology has created a bubble of protection that denies breaking, except for the realization that the technology needs repair from time to time. But we deal with that. It’s an annoyance but we deal. We get it fixed.

The ocean depths, on the other hand, are dark and unknown. We know more about the far outer reaches of space, millions and millions of miles away, than we do about the sea floor seven miles beneath water. Seven miles! The deepest part of the Pacific is only seven miles below the surface.

There lies the abyss and we have no idea what it is or how to think about it.  On the earth or in ourselves. When you leap into the abyss, you don’t get second chances.

Maybe that’s why “God” came to live in the sky in human consciousness. There was lots of space and, okay, lightning strikes and floods and hurricanes from time to time, but no dark abyss. The “she” of earth, the dark, mysterious, gestating body, felt entirely too intimidating. Humans could fix the surface but going deeper takes a lot of effort.

Maybe that is why we fix. Fixing is a lot simpler than the depth of consciousness necessary to see the natural world as sacred. Humans are part of the natural world. And the natural world dies. Slowly, in some cases, but the natural world dies. Technology transforms into new ideas but it doesn’t die. Perhaps our faith in technology, and our lack of faith in other humans, comes from the same dynamic.

A Pill for Freedom

I remember my Grandma and Grandpa Sunderland’s Fiftieth Anniversary. The surviving seven children, from an original nine, and uncountable grandchildren came home for a huge celebration and a party in the church basement. A photo shows them standing proudly behind a 3-tiered wedding cake with a silver decoration proclaiming “50” in script. Both smiling. Happy. Grandpa is even wearing a suit and has set aside his beloved Stetson for the occasion. They both have white hair. They are old.

That’s what my mind sees whenever I hear “50th Anniversary” of anything. But lately, other memories crowd out my grandparents. Memories of me as a young woman (am I now old?), memories of my children (surely not that old!), memories that take me back to the 1960s: formative years for my thinking, my politics, my spiritual life, and my family life. The latest of these shocks to my memory came with the announcement of the 50th anniversary, coming in June of this year, of The Pill. 

By the time I was twenty, I had married, birthed two sons, and started on the pill. Granted, I married young, and my sons are close in age, but in the context of Kansas farm family, not radically young. I can still remember the struggle forcing those little pills out of the container and the fear when I forgot or lost one. By the time I was thirty, I’d moved to six states, raised kids, started college, involved myself in politics, anti-war, civil rights, and the feminist movement. The pill offered me a freedom impossible to my mother’s generation.

Margaret Sanger who first envisioned a contraception pill in 1912 was jailed many times for her beliefs. She teamed up with another early feminist, Katharine McCormick, wealthy enough to finance the dream. Together they found the scientists to study and develop the product.

The Roman Church went ballistic. Birth control pills (or condoms, for that matter) went against the “natural law” theory developed by Aristotle and Aquinas. The natural law theory says that sex is for procreation. Not intimacy. Not pleasure. Children. Today, the Church’s moral theology is still ruled by Thomas Aquinas, a theologian from the middle-ages when women were forced into metal contraptions with padlocks called Chastity Belts when their men went off to fight in the Crusades. In other words, if women are free, they threaten church stability.

And so we have hungry and dying children in developing countries tied to Rome, an out of control AIDS epidemic, and women enslaved by their bodies. Surely this can’t be what a merciful God might have envisioned.

We also, however, have women in the priesthood and ministry. Not in the Roman Church, certainly, but any woman in any ministry was scarcely imagined fifty years ago. However, women leaders in ministry were common in the early days of Christianity. They disappeared when control became vested in Rome.

The reforms to Christianity have happened very slowly and over many centuries. First there was the Protestant Reformation and now perhaps these 21st Century decades will someday be called the Feminist Reformation when that which is feminine and divine is once more raised to an equal footing.  

I suppose, in the end, that makes a Fiftieth Anniversary fairly small in scope. Next year, 2011, will be fifty years since I married my children’s father. And while chronologically I’m about the same age as my grandmother when she celebrated her fiftieth, I am much younger psychologically and spiritually, only now reaching for the peak of my work and thought. Freedom, while certainly not free, keeps me young.