The Ocean Refuses No River: Building Our Spiritual Home by Carolyn Lee Boyd


carolyn portrait

 Every day when I drive past one of New England’s ubiquitous small white wooden churches, I am reminded of how in the 17th and 18th century, these simple buildings were the first to be constructed in the center of a new town. They were the focal point of the community, the people’s “spiritual home.” Over the years I have also yearned for and found spiritual homes in the Congregational church I grew up in, the Unitarian Universalist church I attended in my 20s, and the space holding women’s spirituality circles I attended for a decade.

These are all places where I and my spiritual life have been nurtured and affirmed, where I have been both comfortable and challenged. Each has been unique, and perhaps one benefit of being a “wanderer” among spiritual places is gleaning the lessons and virtues of many “homes.”  Yet, each of these is only a reflection of the one truest “home” not yet discovered, but yet still perceived, that is a deep well connecting the infinity of universal spirit to who I most essentially am as I live my everyday life.

Many years ago I and over 100 other women came together in a circle, chanting over and over “the ocean refuses no river” to celebrate our many-river-like diversity while holding sacred our ocean-like common ground. At the end of the evening, the circle holder said we had created a community beyond time and space that any of us could recreate within ourselves at any time. What we had made was a “home” for ourselves that would never topple in a hurricane or need a plumbing repair.

My truest “home” will never be brick and mortar, I realize, but, like the circle, is the community of all the women with whom I’ve felt a spiritual affinity over the years. Decade after decade, hundreds, maybe thousands of women, have built an edifice within me that is strong, yet flexible, stable, yet ever-changing, ancient, yet relevant to today’s world. But, it is only one woman’s home. What if we who are dedicated to feminist spirituality determined to build a spiritual home of our own together, one that would be in addition to rather than replace other spiritual homes we may have? Using the metaphor of a building common to so many, but certainly not all, traditions, what would it look like?

Our spiritual home would be bigger then we can imagine for it would include thousands of like-minded women we have never met. We would need to expand our perspective about who is in our spiritual “family” beyond those we have included in the past, whether a faith community or tradition, or family and friends. Our home would have a welcoming open front door with signs in myriad languages welcoming every woman in the words with which she is most comfortable and familiar.

Our home would not be built in any specific style or era, but rather would reflect the diversity of women who dwell within. It would have rooms of all sizes, for those who like wide open places and others who prefer cozy caves, and the rooms would be of many colors and decorating styles so that every culture and tradition would be represented. Any woman who entered would know that her perspectives are respected and celebrated.

In the center of the building would be a large room where all women could gather, representing our common ground. This room would be the heart of the building and always remind us that we share much as women that should be recognized and honored. It is not only our life experiences as 21st century women, both  the joyful as well as the tragic and unjust, that tie us together, but also our souls that have bonds that should never be broken.

As grand as our home is, it will also have some patches and worn places, as do many homes that are cherished more for those who dwell within than their real estate value.  It will seem as familiar as where we each grew up, and would always be a place where we can be completely at ease, yet would also have areas that have never before been explored, whether they are reflective of our own new insights or discoveries shared by someone else.

Many women would experience our home not as a building at all, but as a wild place, with groves of trees, rain forests, mountains, rivers, deserts, fields of snow, glaciers, and all the natural elements of our magnificent Earth.  Others would perceive it as a cave, perhaps with many passages and rooms. Our home would appear as whatever environment within which women find their deepest connection to spirit.

Establishing a spiritual home in a community of women is a strong and powerful statement. What we find in each other can never be proscribed or dictated by others.  The ideas and insights we give to one another can never be bought or sold to benefit an institution or individual, or regulated or taken from us.  The common bonds we forge can never be used to control or divide. When we find our spiritual home in each other, we are making a promise to one another of support and friendship on the deepest levels.

In this world in which so many women’s lives include experiences of brutality and violence and so many of our minds, bodies and spirits are oppressed, perhaps one task of our generation is to create a spiritual home for all women where each can be completely herself and find the sanctuary and renewal she needs to survive and even thrive. When we envision such a home for ourselves in our minds, we are better able to create it for other women on Earth in many different forms – music, art, writing, and dance that expresses our most essential spirits to one another, conferences and forums to share ideas in an environment of open acceptance, communities and residences where we can be free and safe, indoor and outdoor spaces where we can gather as family, and so much more. What life experiences and talents will you bring to building our spiritual home?

Carolyn Lee Boyd is a human services administrator, herb gardener, and writer whose work focuses on the sacred in the everyday lives of women. Her essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews and more have been published in numerous print and online publications. You can read more of her work at her blog, www.goddessinateapot.com.


Categories: Activism, Sisterhood, Women's Spirituality

Tags: , , , , ,

6 replies

  1. Of course the problem we would have with this is that not all women would agree even on the simple premise that every woman should have the right to name Goddess or God out of her own experience. Some would want to say that authorities or revelations have already done that for us, and they wouldn’t necessarily be open to any other vision of divine power or the human and other than human relation to it.

    However, for those of us who would agree on the premise that every woman has the right to name the divine out of her own experience, Flora Keshgegian and a group at Brown U years ago found that rather than seeking for common agreements, it was more fruitful for different women to lead the worship on different occasions, each from her own perspective, and not necessarily including all of the others. They found that differences could be accepted when no perspectives or voices were automatically excluded.

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  2. I love what you are describing and find that it does speak to my experience of a common spirituality that I find among my yoga community, even though each woman’s traditional spiritual background differs. I also find that this group of woman is where the most authentic dialogs and experiences of who we really are beyond these bodies, society, religious backgrounds and personalities, can blossom.

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  3. I love what is being expressed here. It speaks to my experience of a common spiritual connection that I have found first in yoga communities (and more often currently in everyday interactions). I have found that among these women (and men) dialog and experiences of who we really are, beyond these bodies, personalities, religions and this society, blossom. Presence recognizes presence and holds space for all….wherever they may be on the journey.

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  4. Excellent! I like the metaphor that all rivers at last find a home in the ocean. It’s just like us, as we at last find a home in the lap of the Goddess. Revelation is nice, and we do indeed need leaders (though maybe not authorities), but we can certainly come together as women and celebrate our connections.

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  5. What a great idea, Carol! I’m involved with some very affirming women’s groups, including a singing circle, and I love them. but your idea of a spiritual home for all goes way beyond that. I love that you include the wild spaces and say that some women will experience the home as just that. Now I get to ponder what talents and experiences I will bring to the home – what fun!

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  6. Carolyn —

    I love this image: a very large, welcoming space for all like-minded women. I think it’s an image we at FAR can embrace, because it’s what we strive to create here.

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