It can only be that She begins in a small way at a single place in the world. It can only be that She begins within us.
Carol Christ’s post this week made me think of a favorite little passage I love from a Catholic theologian, Gerhard Lohfink, who wrote a book about whether God needs the church. I’m not going to engage that specific question here nor am I going to talk about the ins and outs of the book. I simply mention it because it holds within it the beautiful passage that deeply resonates with me and has become the primary image I hold on to when thinking about how I want to participate in the transformation of the world. The passage comes from a part of the book where Gerhard Lohfink muses about how God would start a revolution while still respecting human freedom and participation:
God, like all revolutionaries, desires the overturning, the radical alteration of the whole society – for in this the revolutionaries are right: what is at stake is the whole world, and the change must be radical, for the misery of the world cries to heaven and it begins deep within the human heart. But how can anyone change the world and society at its roots without taking away freedom? (Lohfink, 26)
The issue is that for centuries people have tried and tried again to change the world, to ‘free the masses’ and save people from suffering, misery, and oppression – but too often revolutionaries resort to violence as their means. The systems are so rigidly and stubbornly in place that the revolutionary comes to see no other way to bring about radical social change except through a widespread violent overthrow. But this form of revolution will come at the cost of many people’s freedom and well-being. It will violently silence dissenting voices, it will suppress alternative visions, and will stifle creativity and difference for the sake of effectiveness or the success of the cause. A revolution that takes away human freedom and creativity is no revolution at all. It has not gone deep enough to the roots that would bring about the radical change that would respond to the deep cry from within the human heart.
And so how might Ultimate/Intimate Reality start a revolution? Here is my favorite of Gerhard Lohfink’s passage, with a couple word substitutions that better reflect my own way of seeing things (he uses salvation language that I think breaks up the otherwise beautiful flow):
It can only be that God begins in a small way, at one single place in the world. There must be a place, visible, tangible, where the [transformation] of the world can begin: that is, where the world becomes what it is suppose to be…Everyone must have the opportunity to come and see. All must have the chance to behold and test this new thing. Then if they want to, they can allow themselves to be drawn into the history of [transformation] that God is creating. Only in that way can their freedom be preserved. What drives them to the new thing cannot be force, not even moral pressure, but only the fascination of a world that is changed. (Lohfink, 27)
That is a vision that makes sense to me. Imagine if we could each do our own beautiful part in community with our friends, family, and neighbors in our particular time and place. Imagine that we participate in the incarnation, the embodiment of a divine new reality that begins within ourselves and is then shared and worked out in participation with others in our particular visible, tangible place…we would be, as Carol Christ stated, co-creators with Goddess, inspired to live “creatively, joyfully, and in harmony with others in the web of life.” A transformed world indeed!
I do also recognize that big widespread transformations must also take place as it relates to systemic and institutional oppression and injustice. These must be collectively resisted, protested, interrupted, and dismantled, for sure. But they cannot be simply replaced with an alternate, yet just as big, system or institution that is suppose to universally work at all times for all people in all places – that is a patriarchal fallacy. Particularity matters. Context, creativity, and participation must always be given their place. Human freedom and dignity cannot be sacrificed – otherwise the ‘new thing’ will not be new at all – the roots will still be rotten.
The world does need overturning indeed – I am %100 with the radical feminists on this – the change must be radical for the whole world is at stake. The change must start from deep within the roots if a truly new creation is to be brought to life. But it is my contention that the overturning cannot, will not occur if done by the same old domineering, violent, tyrannizing ways. That is not the way of Ultimate/Intimate Reality. Sonia Johnson in Wildfire: Igniting the She/volution (38) rightly affirms that “What we are doing in the present is creating the future, is the future.” In other words, “the means are the ends…how we do something is what we get” (35). The radical change of the Goddess starts with us, within us, and engages us as free and creative be-ings, cultivating in us the very transformation toward which we move. As we and the communities of which we are a part begin to transform into and embody that beautiful, just, and life-giving new way, others will have the chance to behold and test the new thing, drawn to it out of sheer fascination – fascination that a new thing is possible and that the roots of change can emerge in a diversity of creative ways for every new time and in every new place.
So, how does Goddess change the world? It can only be that She begins in a small way at a single place in the world. It can only be that She begins within us.
Xochitl Alvizo is a feminist Christian-identified woman and theologian currently completing her PhD at Boston University School of Theology in practical theology with a focus on ecclesiology. Finding herself on the boundary of different social and cultural contexts, she works hard to develop her voice and to hear and encourage the voice of others. Her work is inspired by the conviction that all people are inextricably interconnected and the good one can do in any one area inevitably and positively impacts all others.