Be Wild this Holiday and Find the Face of God(dess) by Marie Cartier


MarieCartierforKCETa-thumb-300x448-72405I know that you all will be reading this the day after Christmas…so this is my Christmas and/or winter holiday gift to you. I so love the Feminism and Religion (FAR) community—its discourse, intelligence, and its community of like minds. And I appreciate that so many of us offer lessons to each other on how to live—wild. For in some ways the very juxtaposition of the words “feminism” and “religion” posits an out of bounds existence. What does it mean?

I was recently asked how I would teach a class on “women and religion.” Among my first responses was that I would, among other texts, use the book The Feminine Face of God: the Unfolding of the Sacred in Women by Sherry Ruth Anderson and Patricia Hopkins (1992). Although this book was published over two decades ago it still holds, perhaps unfortunately, as true today as then. The text is based on interviews with women regarding the “unfolding of the sacred” in their lives. This book was required as part of my graduate program in the first class I took at Claremont Graduate University (CGU) “Women’s Studies in Religion.” CGU was the first program in the country where you could get your Ph.D. in Religion, with an emphasis in Women’s Studies in Religion, and I believe it is still the only program where you can do so.

My professor for that class, Dr. Karen Torjesen, challenged us to write, if we could, the “theology” in the book—was there one? She challenged us to see if there was a “theo” “logo” word of God in this idea of the “unfolding of the sacred” in women. I took up her challenge—and so one of my first big graduate papers was to unpack this book of interviews and see if I could find a theology in these lives/stories. This is what I found—what is sacred to women—right now (in 1992 and still today)—is the chance to find the sacred.

"Circle of ohh!" mixed media art installation, by Marie Cartier Photo by:  Douglas McCulloh and Ted Fisher

“Circle of ohh!”
mixed media art installation, by Marie Cartier
Photo by: Douglas McCulloh and Ted Fisher

In a nutshell, my thesis:

Women don’t get to go the mountaintop often. We don’t get to go on the wild soul searching quest, because we are always so busy helping other people get ready to go on their soul searching quest.

It is not often available for women –the resources and chance to go on that solitary journey and make it their primary focus. So, how can you go to the mountain top if what you are doing is taking care of others? My “theology” for the book was then that the search for the sacred should be elevated to its own theology—for women the search is sacred. When women have had the time, encouragement and resource to go to that proverbial mountaintop the way that men have— then we can do something else. But we won’t know what that something else is until we have had the time and resources and our own permission to undertake the journey. Until that time, women need to be encouraged to see the very act of searching for the face of god as its own theology–its own word of god. (And, yes, my professor did agree with me! She loved the paper and I ended up presenting it at several conferences.)

Fast forward to 2014.

wild movie posterA slew of movies are at your multiplex. It’s the prelude to Oscar season—so this is the prime spot for a film’s release. Let’s consider Wild, based on the novel by the same name by Cheryl Strayed. This is a film about a woman, Cheryl, hiking the Pacific Coast Trail—1,000+ grueling miles—to deal with/survive/ move on from the death of her mom , a divorce and…getting over a bad boyfriend and too many drugs. Everything has gone wrong in Cheryl’s life so she – literally– takes to the mountaintop –to find herself. And what happens? The unfolding of the sacred. Check out the glowing reviews for this movie, among them this one entitled, Wild Tells a Remarkable Story of Redemption.”

There are more clips of reviews for the film here and a quick perusal of these will highlight the words “female” “feminist” “strong” “redemptive” “unusual” etc. It’s a cliff notes summary of how unusual it is for a story about a woman going off alone for the sole reason of finding herself, and finding redemption, to be considered important—especially unusual that it would be considered important enough to be made into a studio feature.

It’s unusually extraordinary for a film to be about a woman 1- going on a hike (yes, it’s grueling—but it’s still a woman doing a hike); 2- where most of the dialogue takes place with herself, inside her head; and 3- is about what she is she trying to do –she is just finding herself. She is not trying to find a man, a husband, a lover, or even a career. She is trying to make sense of the world, to find herself. To find the unfolding of the sacred within herself. I hazard that it is almost, if not more so, as unusual today as it was when the book, The Feminine Face of God, was written.

The only book that Cheryl Strayed did not burn as she read (a common hiker practice, apparently, so as to lighten the load) was Adrienne Rich’s poetry, The Dream of a Common Language. Reese Witherspoon, who plays Strayed, is marvelous in the role and performed without any makeup. In the film, she reads the poetry by the fire at night.

Strayed quotes Rich, “The words are purposes./ The words are maps,” in her book to start the chapter entitled “Tracks.” Strayed is literally going to the mountaintop and the words are purposes. The words of another woman are what help her find and make the tracks.

I also remember reading Adrienne Rich for the first time and being utterly transported to that place where we exist with a common language—that of feminism and female empowerment. Perhaps that is what we are doing here with this FAR blog- searching for and sometimes finding that common language. That is what Strayed was searching for as she hiked.

I remember clearly being at a friend’ house when I first read Rich. We were at the Cazenovia Women’s Writers Colony. It was the early 80s. And I remember reading Rich’s Common Language.

I especially remember reading the ending of my favorite poem/ sequence in the book, “Twenty One Love Poems” :

I choose to be the figure in that light,
half – blotted by darkness, something moving
across that space, the color of stone
greeting the moon, yet more than stone:
a woman. I choose to walk here. And to draw this circle.

How I loved those lines: “I choose to walk here. And to draw this circle.” I choose to walk here. No wonder Strayed did not burn Rich! No wonder I stayed up late at night reading Rich, in the women’s collective household where I was living on this brilliant ride of a year in a woman’ writing colony I had somehow financed through miraculous patch work.

I choose to walk here. And to draw this circle.

No, we can’t all hike the Pacific Coast Trail. We can’t all go away and write for a year. But—maybe we can. And in the meantime, we can empower each other to get ready for the big trip to the mountaintop. Or maybe we take a bunch of little trips. We can go to the beach, or the lake, or a body of water, or a field, or a piece of a nature we start to call home and blow bubbles. We can drive our pick up or other ride- like mine with its million bumper stickers- into the sunset and see where it takes us. We can put up a hot pink Christmas tree, as an older female kickass friend of mine does every year, and invite a bunch of friends to decorate it solely with pink ornaments and call it perfect.

Marie & the Pink Christmas Tree

Marie & the Pink Christmas Tree

We can make art, make love, work for peace, challenge and surprise ourselves—and we can allow the sacred to unfold in us.

If you are looking for a movie to see over the holidays—alone or with others– yes, I would suggest Wild. I’d suggest reading Feminine Face of God against or with Wild. And as for teaching women and religion? It seems to be grounded in teaching permission—permission to create and to forge the path. To go. To climb the mountain and come back with something.

Perhaps that something is feminism. Feminism and Religion.

Thank you, FAR, for all you do. Happiest of holidays to you all.

I choose to walk here. And to draw this circle.

 

Marie Cartier is a teacher, poet, writer, healer, artist, and scholar. She holds a BA in Communications from the University of New Hampshire; an MA in English/Poetry from Colorado State University; an MFA in Theatre Arts (Playwriting) from UCLA; an MFA in Film and TV (Screenwriting) from UCLA; and an MFA in Visual Art (Painting/Sculpture) from Claremont Graduate University. She is also a first degree black belt in karate, Shorin-Ryu Shi-Do-Kan Kobayashi style. Ms. Cartier has a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis on Women and Religion from Claremont Graduate University.

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Categories: Community, Divine Feminine, Feminism and Religion, Feminist Theology, Film, holiday, Pilgrimage, Women's Spirituality

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44 replies

  1. California Institute of Integral Studies has a Ph.D. in Philosophy and Religion with an emphasis on Women’s Spirituality.

    Such a beautiful post. Looking forward to Wild and remembering the impact of 21 Love Poems on my life.

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    • thank you for bringing CIIS into the conversation! i’m sorry i forgot to include the program…yes!
      and thank you also for mentioning how much Rich’ s 21 love poems meant to you…imagine it meant so much to so many…happy holidays, my sister, i so enjoy your work here throughout the year.

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  2. As I look toward the new year and reflect on the one that is passing, these ideas about the path itself as sacred resonate powerfully within. Thank you!!

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  3. Thank you Marie-an inspiring essay.

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  4. You in a red dress and the pink Christmas tree look so cute that I am not going to share this photo with my daughter or I will never hear the end of the nagging fest. Yes, she, too,loves pink trees and wearing red.

    A fragment of Adrienne Rich I found recently, a beautiful description (for you California folk):

    “Within two miles of the Pacific rounding
    this long bay, sheening the light for miles
    inland, floating its fog through redwood rifts and over
    strawberry and artichoke fields, its bottomless mind
    returning always to the same rocks, the same cliffs, with
    ever-changing words, always the same language
    -this is where I live now. If you had known me
    once, you’d still know me now though in a different
    light and life. This is no place you ever knew me.”

    -from “An Atlas for a Difficult World”, by Adrienne Rich

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    • ahh!! and my dress is actually orange…not pink:-) …maybe ven a more eccentric choice than red next to the pink tree :-)
      i love *:-atlas for a difficult world.” thank you for bringing more Rich work to the conversation.
      happy holidays to you!

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  5. Thank you for your powerful post. Among other things, I agree with you about the importance of “The Feminine Face of God;” my mother gave it to me when I was in my thirties and it helped me see my life and yearnings in a much bigger, more sacred context that has stayed with me ever since, many years later.

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    • thank you for posting and for bringing *feminine face of god* back into the conversation. i loved that book and it really opened up the field of reigious studies to me personally.
      happy it meant so much to you, too. and wonderful that yr mom gave it to you….what a thoughtful, insightful and far- reaching gift!

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  6. Thank you for this empowering essay!
    When you said early on that, “we won’t know what that something else is until we have had the time and resources and our own permission to undertake the journey,” I felt the resonance permeate my bones. It reminded me to return to an essay I’ve been working on about the gifts of the “untethered womb” … about the unique, innate powers and gifts offered to those of us who chose not to (or simply never had) human children. I’ve enough friends with kids to say that, for nearly all of them, their children *always* come first. So, I feel deeply grateful that I do not have that kind of “tether” … and grateful for the freedom to, as you say, “undertake the journey” which is what I’ve been doing, in my own little, introverted way, since a pivotal turning point in my life that happened in 1989. Thank you and Bountiful Blessings, Marie!

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    • blessings back you as well. and happy that the post held so much meaning for you in so many ways.
      very best to you through the holiday season and…blessings on your wild, untethered path!
      thank you for posting and adding to the conversation!

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    • Darla, Like you I could have lived this life without having a child. But I gave birth to a wonderful daughter. As an infant, she by definition came first in my life and her father’s life, because she was helpless without us. As she became more self-sufficient, she no longer came first in my life. But having her in my life forced me to constantly balance my needs and hers. I believe the only way to be a good (enough) mother is to do exactly that, otherwise you burn out or begin to resent your child. Now that my daughter’s an adult, she has to balance her desires and my desires to see her (she lives too far away). She’s one of my best friends, and I want to see her as much as possible.

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      • Nancy… Thank you so much for your post …while I do not personally have children I do know many women for whom having children was their proverbal going to the mountaintop. And a sacred choice for them… I think that is the difference so many women feel tethered when they feel they did not have a choice. thank you for adding to the conversation and happiest of holidays.

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  7. Not since THE LIFE OF PI have I enjoyed a movie more than the book. WILD the movie does a splendid job of painting the successes, and failures, of this woman who found her life in a most unusual way. While I would never suggest that anyone take the risks that Cheryl took, I cannot help but admire what she found. Would that we might all be so blessed, no matter our path.

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  8. Great blog! and LOVED Wild! <3 Keep walking that path… and drawing that circle!

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  9. I’ve often thought that many men look at a spiritual journey/search as a clearly marked path directly up a mountain to the top where the journey ends. And, then they become teachers or preachers or prophets and tell others how to follow the exact same path to the same mountaintop. My spiritual journey is more of a wandering walk around a mountain or perhaps two – with many side trips and some backward movement – but still gradually getting to the top. Or perhaps, it’s actually the bottom – or both at the same time. I gradually became aware that I must go at my own pace and listen to my own inner guide. I actually don’t like the term “hero’s journey” anymore. It seems to me to be a very masculine way of approaching a search for wisdom.

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    • very best on yr journey…and wandering is a wonderful way to travel …!

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    • Susan, I agree with you completely about the hero’s journey being a very masculine way of approaching life and its wisdom. In fact, the whole quest idea seems potentially masculine to me. I certainly have learned a lot traveling and living abroad, but my spiritual growth has been more home-grown, more an expansion of myself — feeling myself at one with all around me — and a deepening of myself — finding a deep, sweet ecstasy within.

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      • as a lesbian, queer woman, and lgbt advocate– I must insert, although it may be obvious, that masculine and feminine of course are not sequestered in female and male identified bodies– what may be a masculine path for a male sexed or identified person and feminine path for a female or female identified person– can shift and change throughout our life times. And a masculine quest is not… of course, wrong. the problem lies with de-valuing the feminine path in whatever “body” it is held and valued and followed– not in honoring the masculine. the solution lies ideally, in honoring both the masculine and feminine or mixed paths- -and this is in fact may be what you are saying, Nancy. And I appreciate deeply how you say it ” feeling myself at one with all around me.”

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      • Actually, I was using the term “masculine” to mean the acculturated way of being a man within patriarchy. I guess it would have been clearer if I had said “patriarchal,” but I think that’s a little different. I think there’s a problem with how men in our society are acculturated and with the hero’s journey, because it’s based on society’s assumptions about masculinity. And most men don’t have an inkling of this problem, because that’s one of the powers of privilege, to be unaware of your own privilege. The hero’s journey as defined by Joseph Campbell in _A Hero with a Thousand Faces_ “is a separation from the world, a penetration of some source of power, and a life-enhancing return” (p. 35). He also states that “the hero is the man who has been able to battle past his historical and personal limitations…” Campbell also talks about slaying the dragon as part of the hero’s journey. I believe, except for the “life-enhancing return” (which may very well what Susan is referring to as the phase when men become the teacher, preachers or prophets and tell us all how to “win the spiritual prize”) that these descriptors are a part of the masculine repertoire of characteristics in our society, but not the feminine. The first two descriptors — separation and penetration — are not usually a part of women’s lives. And to the extent that the hero’s journey is bound up with the second two — battle and slaying — it’s not a kind of masculinity that I want to have around.

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      • agreed–patriarchy is the problem -not *necessarily* “men.”
        a “masculine” quest defined by as you say, “battle and slaying”–depending on the battle (i.e. not war)–are most likely what feminism does not want around…the hope with queer studies and feminist studies/gender studies, I think, is to re-define what is available to women and men who choose to walk a different path..i.e.. the definition of so many today as “gender queer”. hopefully that path is a path that allows for the feminine– and agreed, most women, however defined, have not had access to a masculine path.
        … thank you for the insightful conversation!

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      • Maureen Murdock wrote The Heroine’s Journey to chart a path different from that of the traditional male hero.

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      • I read Murdock’s book in the early 1990’s, and I don’t remember much about it, except that when she got too Jungian I had some difficulty with what she was saying. I’m sure it probably influenced me to some degree, but I don’t think you can chart a mythical path for women. Women will chart their paths and in retrospect, we’ll see what the overriding or undergirding myths were. This said, I’m certainly looking for those myths all the time.

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  10. I love your conclusion that the act of searching for God is its own theology! Now I’m excited to see the movie Wild.

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  11. Does the ‘Face of God/dess’ include people with disabilities? Bit hard to
    get up that mountaintop in a motorized wheelchair…

    What is the FAR community’s position on ABLEISM?

    “I’ve been an atheist for a long time: every since I
    first heard that there was only a stairway to Heaven.”
    ~ Stella Young (1982-2014)

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    • in this piece the montain top is a euphemism for spiritiual journey and doesnot necessitate climbing an actual mountain

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      • Marie; don’t you get that most of the euphemisms used by ‘spirituality’ are
        constructs of Ableism.

        As a writer with college qualifications you are well aware of the ‘power of language’.
        You claim to be a healer. I see no true medicine in your words; just more of the
        same ol’ same ol’ language of non-accessibility.

        How can any of you restore the feminine in your communities when you can’t
        even manage to mind how you language the path?

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  12. I enjoyed your essay, Marie. It has given me a new way to think about the difficult journey this past year has been. It never occurred to me to think about just finding myself, not what my work should be or anything else. Much to muse on.

    I also appreciate your take on women’s spirituality. I think our spirituality is different from men’s and wonderfully valid. Thank goodness there are many ways to have connection with Spirit in this world.

    Thank you for writing this. Blessings for the coming year!

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  13. Thank you Marie for a wonderful essay …. I already had ” Wild” on my movie list to see and relish the thought of seeing it with my female friends …. and thanks for the reminder that I do have choice and I do stand on this sacred ground -mother earth and ” I choose to walk here. And to draw this circle”.
    Lots of fun and joy to FAR community for this holiday season and may 2015 be a blessed year for all Blessed Be Tess

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    • Thank you for posting! If you do see *wild* the season and you get a chance please post here and let us know what you think of it! Thanks again for adding to the conversation and happiest of New Years to you!

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  14. I absolutely loved this post. Thank you. I’ve never heard of wild and perhaps need to check it out!

    It also brought tears to my eyes–I’m not totally sure why. Perhaps because I am tied to my children and thus unable to take the trip into my own wilds that I often feel I am crying out for inside. I relate to Darla’s addition about the untethered womb–though, I myself don’t have one, I can hear the power there. And, like Nancy mentions I have also found the sacred journey into the wild can be through birth/parenting and the near constant tension between balancing the call of the self with the call of the children.

    Anyway, thanks!

    Molly

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    • thank you so much for adding to the conversation. yes– the ‘call of the wild” is so different for all of us- and in the end I guess what matters is if we can “HEAR” IT AND HEED IT IN WHATEVER WAY OUR ABILITIES AND RESOURCES ALLOW US. BUT, IT SEEMS TO ME, THAT WHAT IS IMPORTANT IS TO ALLOW THE CALL TO COME TO US, AND NOT DISMISS IT. AND IT SEEMS YOU ARE DOING THAT. oops!! sorry for the caps– I am not yelling at you :) I very much honor how you wrote “the near constant tension between balancing the self with the call of children.” all very best and thank you again– very moving post.

      Like

  15. It’s too bad that book was not on the syllabus when I took that same course. I’ll have to find a copy. Thanks for the great post.

    Like

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  1. » Be Wild this Holiday and Find the Face of God(dess) by Marie Cartier
  2. ~ Goddess Notes for Week of December 28 ~ | The Motherhouse of the Goddess

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