If theology is rooted in experience, how do we move from experience to theology? In my life there have been a number of key moments of “revelation” that have shaped my thealogy. One of these was the moment of my mother’s death.
In 1991 my mother was diagnosed with cancer. While she was being treated, I realized that I had never loved anyone as much as I loved her. When I wrote that to her, she responded that “this was the nicest letter” she “had ever received” in her life and she invited me to come home to be with her and my Dad.
My mother died only a few weeks after I arrived, in her own bed as she wished. She was on an oxygen machine, and I heard her call out in the dark of early morning. When my Dad got to the room, he tried to turn up the oxygen, but it didn’t help. Then he called the doctor who reminded him that my mother did not want to go to the hospital under any circumstances.
My Dad then sat by my mother’s bed and held her hand. As my mother died, I felt that the room was” filled with love.” I sensed that my mother was “going to love.”
Before that moment, I had often felt that I was not loved enough. These feelings intensified whenever my love affairs broke up. I would feel helpless and abandoned and could think only that “no one loves me, no one will ever love me, I might as well die.” Although my life continues to have its ups and downs, and I still have not found my “true love,” from the moment when the room filled with love as my mother died to this, I have never doubted I am loved.
Prior to my mother’s death I was also unsure of who or what I thought the Goddess is. I was sure that God did not “act in history,” a view I had adopted from Gerhard Von Rad’s biblical theology while in college and abandoned while writing my dissertation on the holocaust. I had grown up with the notion that God is love, and I had also experienced the presence of God in nature, a view largely denied by my theology professors and theologians of the twentieth century. I turned to the Goddess because she is a woman like myself and also because she represented the life force in nature and its seasons and cycles. But I was not sure if Goddess is a personal presence who loves and understands or the life force itself. Because of this uncertainty, I had been unable to complete my Goddess thealogy. After my mother died, I came to understand Goddess as “the intelligent embodied love that is the ground of all being.”
The experience I had as my mother died did not come with any words except “filled with love” and “going to love.” I did not feel Goddess loves me or God loves me or that my mother was loved by Goddess or God. I also did not feel that my mother was entering into eternal life. I simply felt the palpable presence of love in the room as she died.
Reflecting on this experience, I came to the conclusion that Goddess is love. This is not primarily an intellectual interpretation of my experience of my mother’s death, though it is that as well. Most importantly, it is a feeling that permeates my daily life which was made possible by the experience I had when my mother died. I feel the Goddess as a presence who understands and loves me and the whole world. I feel that love is everywhere and that, as Alice Walker’s Shug told Celie, everything wants to be loved.
I recognize that the power I call Goddess may also be called God. However, the word God is too bound up with images of war, violence, and domination for me to feel comfortable using it in my prayers and meditations. I acknowledge that I have had troubled relationships with my father and fathers, while in contrast my relationships with my mother and grandmothers were full of love. This makes it easy for me to imagine the loving arms of Goddess embracing the world.
This is an excerpt of a draft of a book I am writing with Judith Plaskow, tentatively titled Goddess and God After Feminism: Body, Nature, and Power.
Carol P. Christ, a founding mother in the study of women and religion, feminist theology, women’s spirituality, and the Goddess movement, has been active in peace and justice movements all of her adult life. She teaches online courses in the Women’s Spirituality program at CIIS. 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.