Revolution Through Rituals by Jann Aldredge-Clanton


Jann's pictureA revolution is happening through Divine Feminine rituals! More and more faith communities are reclaiming the power of the Divine Feminine in sacred rituals.

Rituals move feminist theory and theology/thealogy from the head to the heart. Words and visual symbols in rituals shape our deepest beliefs and values, which drive our actions. Multicultural female divine images in our sacred rituals affirm the sacred value of females throughout the world who continue to suffer from violence, abuse, and discrimination. For feminism to transform our culture, we need Divine Feminine rituals in faith communities. In Women-Church: Theology and Practice, Rosemary Radford Ruether writes: “One needs communities of nurture to guide one through death to the old symbolic order of patriarchy to rebirth into a new community of being and living. One needs not only to engage in rational theoretical discourse about this journey; one also needs deep symbols and symbolic actions to guide and interpret the actual experience of the journey from sexism to liberated humanity” (p. 3).

As I was growing up in the Baptist tradition, hymns were my favorite part of our rituals. One of the hymns I loved singing was “He Lives,” increasing in volume along with the congregation as we came to the refrain which repeated over and over the words “He lives.” Not until many years later could I even imagine singing or saying, “She lives.” I had learned to worship a God who was named and imaged as male. But while studying in a conservative seminary, I was surprised to find Her. I discovered female names and images of Deity in scripture and in Christian history. As an ordained minister, my call has included writing, preaching, and teaching to persuade people that we need multicultural female divine names and images in rituals if we are to have social justice, peace, and equality. My call expanded to writing Divine Feminine rituals, including lyrics to familiar hymn tunes.

She livesMy discovery of Her continued as I found clergy and laypeople who are transforming their faith communities through rituals that include multicultural female divine images.  My latest book, She Lives! Sophia Wisdom Works in the World, celebrates these people who are engaged in transformative ministry within the church and the wider culture. Their stories reveal the connection between the Divine Feminine in rituals and justice in human relationships, illustrating Sophia Wisdom’s works such as gender equality, racial equality, marriage equality, economic justice, care of creation, nonviolence, interfaith collaboration, expanding spiritual experience, and changing hierarchies to circles. Among those featured in She Lives! are Feminism and Religion contributors Monica A. Coleman, Angela M. Yarber, and Mary E. Hunt.

She Lives! comes from my location within the Christian tradition with the invitation to people in other religious traditions to write stories of transformation through Divine Feminine rituals. Thus I was delighted with this endorsement by Rabbi Rami Shapiro:  “She Lives! is an important book chronicling a revolution in Christianity—the reclaiming of the Divine Feminine; a revolution that must be duplicated in other faiths as well. Read the book. Join the revolution.”

She Lives! includes prayers, hymns, litanies, and other resources for Divine Feminine rituals. Also, there is a section that provides information on feminist faith communities I have discovered. One of the hymns in the book is “O Holy Darkness, Loving Womb.” This hymn connects darkness to the Sacred Feminine, empowering us to end injustice and heal the wounds of Earth. The hymn contributes to racial justice by changing the traditional symbolism of darkness as evil or ominous to darkness as creative bounty and beauty, affirming the sacred value of people of color through these positive images. In this video, recording artist Shannon Kincaid sings “O Holy Darkness, Loving Womb,” with pictures from various artists, to the tune of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

Here are lyrics of several stanzas:

O Holy Darkness, loving Womb, who nurtures and creates,
sustain us through the longest night with dreams of open gates.
We move inside to mystery that in our center dwells,
where streams of richest beauty flow from sacred, living wells.

O come to us, Sophia; your image, black and fair,
stirs us to end injustice and the wounds of Earth repair.
The treasures of your darkness and riches of your grace
inspire us to fulfill our call, our sacredness embrace.

Words  © Jann Aldredge-Clanton, from Inclusive Hymns for Liberating Christians (Eakin Press, 2006)

During this season of the year, whatever our religious tradition, we can’t escape the ritual of Christmas carols in shopping malls, grocery stores, parades, TV, radio. In the Christmas season of 1995, I began writing hymns. The multitude of masculine images in traditional carols pelted me like stones. I began to wonder how different the world would be if we sang “O come, let us adore Her.” So I wrote a carol that included Sophia (“Wisdom”) to the tune of “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” Later, I wrote a carol with the female divine image of Midwife (Psalm 22:9-10).  In this video Larry E. Schultz, among those featured in She Lives!, conducts the choir of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, in singing “Midwife Divine Now Calls Us” to a familiar carol tune.

Stacy Boorn, who is also featured in She Lives! and who is pastor of Ebenezer/herchurch Lutheran in San Francisco, says that she doesn’t “see how the world is going to change until the religious institutions change because they are so much a part of who the world is.” This revolution is happening through the reclaiming of the Divine Feminine in rituals, illustrated in this video of Vocal Divine at herchurch (Lana Dalberg, Dionne Kohler, Alison Newvine, Kathleen Neville Fritz) singing “What Wondrous Thing” to a familiar carol tune.

Here are lyrics of the refrain:

Look, look, for She is here;
Her Wisdom words have long been near.
Now, now, behold Her grace,
Divinity in Her image.

Words  © Jann Aldredge-Clanton, from Inclusive Hymns for Liberating Christians

Jann Aldredge-Clanton is a feminist theologian, author, minister, professor, and facilitator of workshops and conferences on expanding images of the Divine. Among her published books are She Lives! Sophia Wisdom Works in the World (Skylight Paths http://skylightpaths.com/; 800-962-4544); Seeking Wisdom: Inclusive Blessings and Prayers for Public Occasions; and Inclusive Hymns for Liberation, Peace, and Justice. She ministers in ecumenical and interfaith settings, and co-chairs the ecumenical, multicultural Equity for Women in the Church Community.

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Categories: Art, Divine Feminine, Feminism and Religion, Feminist Awakenings, General, God-talk, Music, Symbols, Thealogy

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14 replies

  1. This is great work and sadly imagining God-She has not yet “caught on” more widely. Thanks for your work.

    One question: What does the Divine Feminine mean? Is it a less threatening way of talking about God She or Goddess? Or does it have specific meaning, such as that the Divine Feminine is Loving, while the Divine Masculine is Judgmental? Or that the feminine is dark, the masculine is light, the feminine is emotional, the masculine is rational? If we are not talking about well-worn and harmful stereotypes, what is the Divine Feminine, how does it differ from the Divine Masculine, and what is their relationship?

    My preference is to say that God is NOT a Dominating Male Other, full stop. God as Dominating Other is a theological mistake, not a theological option. This of course requires not only add female and stir, but critique and rejection of certain traditional images of God. And to insist that images of God as female need to be included, along with new images of God as male that do not equate femaleness or maleness with any form of domination. In my world, women are as rational as men, and men should be as emotional as women have often been. So there are no feminine and masculine archetypes or essences.

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    • Thanks for saying this, Carol. The idea of masculine and feminine essences/archetypes seems hugely prevalent in the area of women’s spirituality and it always bothers me because it seems to reinforce exactly what we claim we are trying to undo/re-vision.

      I also note that the use of the term Divine Feminine or Sacred Feminine is “safer” for many than saying Goddess. I live in the conservative midwest and while it chafes my nerves, I use those terms in “public” because I find that women can hear/understand/incorporate those terms into their existing spiritual framework much more easily and comfortably than they can the word Goddess, which seems profoundly challenging or somehow just too, too Other to make space for.

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  2. It came upon a midnight clear
    that glorious song of old
    with angels bending near the earth
    to touch their harps of gold.
    Peace on the earth good will to all
    rings through the darkest night
    the world in solemn stillness waits
    to hear the angels sing.

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  3. Thanks, Rev. Jean, for introducing us here at FAR to your book SHE LIVES! Your poetry is exquisite too and reminds me of Hildegard’s lively, mystical imagery.

    I want to pick up on one very important phrase in your thought, where you say: “She Lives! comes from my location within the Christian tradition with the invitation to people in other religious traditions to write stories of transformation through Divine Feminine rituals.”

    It is a law of Nature that every action sets up an equal and opposite reaction. As soon as we posit the Divine Feminine, there is latent in that image the Divine Masculine. And that leads us to a Yin-Yang idea intellectually but also in fact to the way of Tao, that is, the idea of Yin-Yang not only as the way of nature but also of deity. Could there be any such thing as a Christian Tao? It takes a leap, for sure, but I don’t see why not.

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  4. Thanks for writing this blog, welcome to the FAR community, and good luck with your book sales.

    To partly answer Carol’s question, it seems to me that “divine feminine” is a wimpy way to say “goddess” without threatening people who think a god is in charge of everything. I worship the Goddess in Her multiplicity of guises and names. I accept some gods, but I don’t worship them.

    In various “goddess temples” that I’ve gone to, the term “divine feminine” is used to (1) refer to the Goddess without using the actual word and (2) imply that all women are divine. That’s a whole “can of worms” (No, I am NOT saying anyone is a worm) that I won’t get into except to say that I do not believe ordinary women are goddesses. We partake of the divine, yes, but so does everybody. The divine is not always positive. Sometimes it’s downright negative.

    And all religions have rituals. They just don’t usually use the word because of what they see as its negative–i.e., Pagan–connotations. But five prayers a day is a ritual. Lighting a menorah is a ritual. The order of the service is a ritual. The Stations of the Cross is a ritual. Folding your hands for prayer is an element of ritual. Saying grace before a meal is a tiny ritual. Big standard-brand rituals include almost anything that goes on in public at the Vatican or on holy ground in Jerusalem or Mecca.

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    • Barbara–you’ve reminded me of something I’ve noticed with increasing and very frustrating frequency in pop culture: the use of the word “goddess” in a manner similar to the word “diva.” Drives me nuts! And, is one reason why I’m not interested in ever calling other women goddesses–to me it powerfully diminishes the impact and value of the word, NOT because women are not if value, but because it is way too casual, flip, or cutesy most of the time. :(

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  5. Oh, and Jean, thank you for sharing your hymns! I especially like the Holy Darkness one and I applaud your efforts to bring Her into a Christian framework.

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    • Thank you, Carol, Sarah, Barbara, and Molly, for your comments! Sarah and Molly, I appreciate your kind words on the poetry and female images in my hymns. Yes, Sarah, I think there is such a thing as a “Christian Tao,” found in the writings of mystics like St. Hildegard and Meister Eckhart.

      Carol and Barbara, I understand what you wrote about the use of “Divine Feminine.” In my introduction to “She Lives! I write about how this term often slips into traditional gender stereotypes and binary views of gender, and I discuss the various female references I use and others whose stories are in the book use, including “Goddess,” “Godde,” “God-She,” “Divine-She,” “Female Divine,” “Sacred Feminine,” “Divine Feminine.” Here is what one reviewer wrote about the variety of my use of female divine names: http://www.eewc.com/BookReviews/sh-lives-book-jann-aldredge-clanton.

      Like Molly, I also live in a conservative part of the country and am often called to speak to conservative groups. In trying to expand images of the Divine beyond exclusively male, patriarchal images, I find that if I use biblical divine female names like “Ruah,” “Sophia,” “Shaddai,” “Mother,” “Shekhinah,” people can hear me better than if I use “Goddess.” Also, I appreciate Molly’s caution in using the word “goddess” because of the “casual, flip, cutesy” ways in which it’s often used.

      Because of objections to “Divine Feminine” that I hear, I now use “Female Divine” more often. But I also hear from people, including some of those I interviewed for “She Lives!” and some in our local feminist ritual community, that even traditional “feminine” values, like love and compassion and peace-making, need to be given sacred value through the terms “Divine Feminine” and “Sacred Feminine.”

      Thank you all for the opportunity to have this discussion! We are all bringing a revolution through our rituals that reclaim, re-name, and re-image the Divine.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The Creator of the Worlds, to whom I direct my worship, is Beautiful and Strong and Creative. If you need to tack on ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ attributes in order to visualize those qualities, so be it.

    And Barbara, I’m really sad you are not calling me a worm. Lowly Worm was one of my favorite childhood book characters. So twisty!

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    • Thank you for your comments. I agree that the Divine is Beautiful, Strong, and Creative. I hope we are moving beyond stereotyping attributes as “feminine” or “masculine”; to me, nurturing, strong, loving, compassionate, creative, emotional, rational, etc. are all “human attributes. I use the terms “Divine Feminine” as one of many general references to “God-She,” so often excluded in religions and cultures.

      It is wonderful to have these discussions!

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  7. Greensleeves. A folk-tune commonly associated with the Tudor king, Henry VIII,
    who influenced one of the cruellest women in Christendom.

    Is it not wonderful that we can have these discussions without fear of losing our heads.

    Like

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