Two Ultimates: The Ground of Being and Goddess by Carol P. Christ
The concept of two ultimates, the ground of being and Goddess, can be helpful in understanding differences of emphasis within and among religions. Some religions or strands within religions focus on relationship with or worship of a personal God, while other religions or strands within religions focus on identifying with or merging with the impersonal ground of being or the whole of which we are part. These two ultimates are found in feminist spiritualities and theologies.
In “Being Itself and the Existence of God”* process theologian John Cobb identifies two ultimates. The ground of being as the metaphysical principles that structure all of life is unchanging; as the whole of which individuals are part, the ground of being is impersonal. God, on the other hand, is an active presence in the world, is personal, and cares about individuals in the world. If God is understood to be in some sense an individual in relation to other individuals, then God cannot be identified with the whole, because the whole is made up of God and other individuals. Yet God is not simply one individual among other individuals. Only God has perfect knowledge of the world and every individual within it and only God cares for the world in light of perfect knowledge of it.
I find Cobb’s notion of two ultimates helpful in understanding some of the differences in feminist views of Goddess and God. Some spiritual feminists, especially Goddess feminists, view the sacred as the whole of which we are a part, structured by the seasons and cycles of birth, death, and regeneration. Starhawk’s tree of life meditation in which the individual identifying with the tree draws energy from its ground imagines Goddess as the ground of being and life. Z Budapest’s song “We all come from the Goddess, and to Her we shall return” connects us to the cycles of birth and death.
The view of Goddess as a personal presence who loves, understands, and inspires us to love is based on the notion of God as a person with whom individuals are in relation. Jennifer Berizan invokes a Goddess who cares in her song “She Who Hears the Cries of the World,” addressed to the Goddess in the form of Chinese Goddess Kwan Yin. Prayer to Goddess and a sense that She is always with us are based on the idea of a relational, personal God. According to Cobb religions do not have to choose between the two ultimates. If both are real, then religions can and should recognize both.
Cobb’s distinction between the two ultimates helps me to understand two strands in my own spirituality and worldview. My relation to the personal ultimate might be expressed as: Goddess is in everything and everything is in Goddess. I experience—feel and sense—the presence of Goddess as intelligent love “in” my body, mind, and spirit as I go about my everyday life. She is always there: I know I am supported and understood when things are difficult; I feel gratitude to Her for the grace and joy of life; She inspires me to do what I can to ensure that the grace and joy of life are available to everyone and everything. I feel the presence of her intelligent love in other human beings, in birds, in animals, and in insects, and in mountains, caves, and the sea. Recognizing the presence of the Goddess in my body and in every other body makes my experience of the world sacred and more joyful.
I also feel a spiritual connection to the impersonal ultimate which is “the whole,” “the creative process,” or “the ground of being.” This second strand in my spirituality can be expressed as: we are all connected in the web of life. I feel a deep connection to all other individuals in the web of life and to the web of life as a whole. For me the web of life includes everything—human and other than human beings, “animate” and “inanimate” individuals and groups of individuals.
I sometimes feel this connection as an “I-Thou” relationship with a particular bird or bee or flower. I spend many spring mornings in my garden in a meditative state in which I connect with birds that drink from or bathe in my fountain, enjoy bees and butterflies that fly amongst the flowers, and welcome each leaf and flower as it comes forth. At times I feel my body myself becoming merged another particular individual in the web of life. After I promised a Ruddy shelduck that I would look after its habitat, I felt as if my body were being torn apart when environmental lawyers removed its habitat from the Complaint I was writing to the European Commission about failure to protect bird and wildlife habitats in Lesbos. Other times I feel myself becoming part of or merging with a “whole” that is greater than my individual life. When the sun is setting into the sea or the moon is rising over mountains, I often become aware that I am part of something much larger than myself. I also feel deeply connected to what Marija Gimbutas called the processes of ‘birth, death, and regeneration” that function in my body and the seasons and underlie all life. I feel deeply connected to other human beings as well—both to those in my immediate world and to those who are far away.
To feel deeply connected can be a source of intense joy as well as incredible pain—especially in a world that is suffering from injustice, war, and environmental degradation. To connect deeply with “the whole” is not to connect only to rainbows and butterflies, but also to connect also to raped and violated women, to women, men, and children held in slavery, to victims of war, to animals on the brink of extinction, to polluted seas, to poisoned land.
I experience both ultimates as “real.” I agree with Cobb that recognizing both provides a more complete picture than recognizing only one. Meditations and exercises designed to make the part aware of its connection other individuals in the web of life and to the web of life as a whole are appropriate. And so are prayers and worship addressed to Goddess or God as a personal, intelligent, loving, compassionate presence who cares about individuals and the world.
*In The Existence of God, John R. Jacobson and Robert Lloyd Mitchell, eds. (Lewiston: The Edward L. Mellon Press, 1988), 5-19.
Carol P. Christ has just returned from a life-transforming Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete which she led through Ariadne Institute. The culture of ancient Crete, the last flowering of Old Europe, is one of the wellsprings of her spiritual vision, and there she participates in rituals that invoke Goddess and celebrate the connection of all beings in the web of life. Carol spoke on a WATER Teleconference recently. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.