Sustaining Feminist Spiritualities in the Seeming Absence of Community by LaChelle Schilling
As I gradually moved away from that faith community in my mid-20s, no longer wanting to equate a rewarded closeness to God with being set apart from others, I began finding myself participating in quiet conversations with the readings of Thomas Merton, Elaine Pagels, and with poetry by writers such as Olga Broumas. The words I was drawn to might not have been expressly or consistently religious, but they offered spiritual nourishment in their eroticism, earthiness, and sacred metaphor.
It was also around that time when I decided that feminist theologies were healing in their questions and re-visions of God and concepts of salvation and sin. To understand that being a spiritual and/or religious person could mean being aware of and pursuing my desires and connections to other people instead of being a gatekeeper was redemptive.
Early in my coursework and academic career, my spirituality was further fostered by a community of women in my university, both professors and colleagues, with whom I read, broke bread, and gathered together for ritual and liturgy.
Those who are comfortable in the churches and faith communities that are established near where they live are fortunate. But fthose of us who are not able to be constantly close to those with whom we share values and needs have to figure out other ways to find sustenance. How do we nourish our non-normative, feminist spiritualities during the days and months we are seemingly without the physical presence of those we can practice with? Or when we lack any community at all?
I am struck by something that Carol Christ said during the WATER January 16 Teleconference about focusing on the many forms of love that she had instead of those she didn’t. One of those forms is, as Christ reminds us, nature. For Christ, the world is the body of the goddess: intelligent, embodied love.
This message was meaningful for me and provokes an insight as to why I find, in Marcia Falk’s Book of Blessings, the Psalm for Thursday so compelling. It is called “The Guests”:
they come to you:
The purple burdock with its hidden orange root,
the yellow birch shivering in the green light of ferns,
the deer disappearing into the clefts of the hills,
the soft hair of a lover’s body, like starry green moss—
Let them stay, stay in their bodies,
fragile and lovely,
stay past the winding of the slender thread,
the halted talk of the birds.*
I have memorized this psalm, but I have not recalled it in quite a long time. I appreciate how Falk names the sensual as sacred and does not separate people from nature. There is gratitude and a lack of coercion here. The lover’s body hair is the moss and the moss, the stars. The beings in the psalm are not asked or expected to transcend the corporeal, but to breathe into their tangibility. The prayer says: “Let them stay, stay in their bodies.”
How peaceful is the prayer that is not a frustrated wish about something beyond my control. Rather, prayer can be recognition and a fuller becoming of what we already are. Perhaps the next Thursday that I am back in Oklahoma and away from my faith community, remembering this psalm will be my ritual, as I honor the earth and feel my connection to the space that is willing to meet with me for that moment. Rituals guide us to live out a moment, consciously and in relationship, reminding us of the sacred around us. This will be a good beginning for me.
*Marcia Falk. “Psalm for Thursday” in The Book of Blessings: New Jewish Prayers for Daily Life, the Sabbath, and the New Moon Festival. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.
LaChelle Schilling is a doctoral candidate in the Women’s Studies in Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She is living in Oklahoma raising awareness about asexuality and writing her dissertation entitled “Queering Asexuality: A Discourse of Desire and Intimacy. ”