My religious views have changed over time, but the spirituality I learned from my grandmothers has remained constant. I have been Protestant, Catholic, a lover of Judaism, an admirer of Christian Science, and a Goddess feminist. I have always loved life.
I was born in Huntington Hospital just before Christmas in 1945 and brought to my grandmother’s home on Old Ranch Road in Arcadia, California. Peacocks from the adjacent Los Angeles County Arboretum screeched on the roof. There was another baby in the house, my cousin Dee, born a few months earlier. My mother and her sister were living with their mother. The war was over, and they were anticipating the return of their husbands from the Pacific Front. My earliest memory, recovered during healing energy work, is visual and visceral. I am lying crossways in a crib next to the other baby. There is a soft breeze. The other baby is kicking its legs, and I am trying to do the same. I look up and see three faces looking down at us. Although the faces are blurry in the vision I see, I feel them as female and loving. I got off to a good start.
My parents had a “mixed marriage.” My father’s family was Roman Catholic and my mother’s was Christian Science. This was at a time when Roman Catholics were still viewed with suspicion in the United States. We were brought up in local Protestant churches in the post-war tract home suburbs of Southern California where my parents hoped we would all “fit in.” In church I learned about the love of God without much mention of judgment. God was the one who made the ivy twine, He looked for the one lost sheep, and His love was divine, all loves excelling. I knew what this meant, because I never doubted my grandmothers’ love for me. There was something about worship that attracted me, and I often begged my parents to get up to take me to church when they would have liked to stay in bed on a Sunday morning. I preferred the grown-ups’ service to Sunday school, and I enjoyed the uplifting feeling that enveloped me while singing hymns like “For the Beauth of the Earth” with the whole congregation.
My grandmothers were more spiritual than my parents. When we stayed overnight with our grandmother Lena Marie Searing Bergman in Arcadia, we sat on the living room floor and played cards or dominoes while she listened to “The Christian Science Hour” on the radio or read from The Book of Science and Health. My mother didn’t discuss Christian Science with us except to say that she had felt embarrassed to have been seen as different in school. Our grandmother did not speak to us about her faith, but we knew that she did not believe in doctors or medicine and that she almost always had a positive attitude toward life. We listened with her to stories of miraculous faith healings, and we were quiet while she read and prayed with Mary Baker Eddy’s book in her hands. Although we got the measles, mumps, and chicken pox, my brother and I were rarely sick and often had perfect attendance at school. We were raised with the assumption of health.
Grandmother Bergman had been raised on a farm in Michigan and was sturdy and tall —I got my height from her Hugenot French, Dutch, English, and German ancestors. Her garden was filled with roses and camellias that always graced her tables at much-loved family meals. I can still picture her with a pitchfork in her hand turning over compost in the fruit orchard. Her pantry was filled with fruits and jellies she preserved. When we were small, there was no fence separating her backyard from the arboretum, and she often took us on special walks through it. Even after the fence was put up, a hole “emerged,” and she showed us how to crawl through it with her. Grammy taught us that the world was a beautiful and magical place, and the peacocks that spread their tails for us in her garden and brought their chicks to her back door convinced us that this was indeed true.
When I was six years old I went to stay with my father’s parents in San Francisco. What was supposed to have been a short visit expanded into a whole summer. My grandparents adored me, and I was probably glad not to have to share the attention of adults with my younger, demanding brother. My grandmother Mary Rita Inglis, who took the name Mae to avoid becoming “Mary Christ,” was delicate and tiny, much less than five feet tall. Though I would far surpass her in height, I inherited her Scots-Irish lightly freckled fair skin, strawberry blonde hair, blue-green eyes, and facial structure. She and I would get up early to drive my grandfather Irv to the train he took to work in the mornings. Afterwards we sometimes went to Lake Merced to see the ducks. Other mornings we went to the Pacific Ocean beach where my little grandmother removed her shoes and stockings to run with me in the sand.
Usually we also stopped at the local Catholic Church where my Nannie lit a candle in a blue glass vase for Uncle Bobby who was away in the Korean war. We sat together in the still dark church while she prayed the rosary on her lavender faceted beads. She spoke often of the blessed Virgin. I delighted in her love of life and absorbed her faith without the need of many words.
My grandmothers taught me to love life and to trust that the great power of the universe loves us.
*Excerpted from the draft of a book I am writing with Judith Plaskow, Goddess and God in the World.
Carol P. Christ is running in the Greek national elections on the Green Party ticket. She has worked with Friends of Green Lesbos and WWF-Greece to protect wetlands in Lesbos and with Lesvos Go Green on recycling. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions. One of her great joys is leading Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete through Ariadne Institute.