Issue #215 / December 2022
Yesterday, I was listening to your BBC interview, and the interviewer asked you to discuss the distinction you make between spirituality and religion – I’m interested in this distinction too, and it’s something I wrestle with. [ ]
What do you do when you’re a woman who would like the kind of spirituality with rigour that religion affords, but your faith, and much of its rigour is stacked against your sex? What to do, when the faith you were raised in continues to make decisions that isolate women, and prevents women from being fully themselves in the church and the world? [ ]
I haven’t been to church, or even prayed for a long time. I’ve been angry at my church because women continue to be discriminated against, and because not all of us were safe there. [ ]
Christ is still compelling for me – and while congregations are still mostly made up of women – how do the rest of us practice within a church that we know hates us.
CLAIRE, SOUTH GOLDEN BEACH, NSW
In many ways, the figure of Jesus is the radical and mystical embodiment of female energy. It is there in the blood thread of suffering that runs from his birth to his death, his emergence bereft of male seed, the mercy and forgiveness he displays and teaches, his nurturing, shepherding love – all of this feels female in its essence. I think perhaps the biggest mistake the church made was to distrust, dismiss and undermine this implicit female energy that pours through the gospels and the idea of spiritual belief itself. I can see why you would reject a theology that seems to have taken that free-flowing spirituality and imprisoned it within an intolerant and hostile masculine construct.
Even though I go to church when I can, I am by no means an advocate of organized religion. Like you, I struggle with it. However, I feel the church I attend allows me a lasting structure that can contain my unbelief and belief both – that is to say, my love for the motion, direction and energy of faith, albeit nested in a certain scepticism of its ultimate destination.
Certainly church has its challenges, and it may be the last place you might find Christ, if that’s what you’re looking for. But, for me, a church service affords me a place where I can, for an hour or so, put aside my uncertainty and sit within a gathering space – a place of communal and timeless yearning, imperfect though it may be. There are times when my rational mind clamours in and I wonder what I am doing there, yet there are other times when I am genuinely lifted up by its mothering energy – the words and music and liturgy – and I find those ever-present whispers and intimations of spiritual activity, that both haunt my life and give it meaning, to be quite beautifully affirmed. There within that institution I feel the sacred and feminine essence to be revealed.
Claire, as I said, I am not an advocate for the church one way or the other, and I wish I had a better answer for you. Sometimes it feels as though part of the work of a spiritual life is to discover a way to transcend the imperfections of the religion itself and attune oneself to its essential nature. This is what I try to do. In any event, I wish you all the best and thank you for your letter. I am sure many will relate to it.