Learning to Live by Xochitl Alvizo


Incarnation, Goddess spirituality, Xochitl Alvizo, god became fleshThe earliest memories of myself are as a student. I have distinct memories of myself in my kindergarten classroom. I even remember the location of my seat in the specific cluster of tables I was assigned. I also remember the stick-figure graphics that adorned the pages of the phonics books we used to learn to read. In the second grade, I have my first memory of making a mistake. In a spelling test, I wrote ‘rite’ instead of ‘write’ – and for the life of me, I could not understand how my answer wasn’t the correct one! Yet, despite this incomprehensible error (smile, smile), and the many more since, the classroom has always been the place where my life has been transformed and revolutionized.

However, my most memorable learning moments began in undergrad, when I took an “Intro to the Old Testament” class in which my faith perspective was turned upside down. It was there that I first learned that the stories of the Hebrew Bible were not unique; other ancient people also had stories that paralleled them. The creation stories, the flood story, the exodus story, among others, all had parallels in other mythological texts and traditions. In grad school I learned that even the Gospel of Mark had parallels to Homer’s Iliad. My whole religious tradition was flipped on its head – but the thing was – I absolutely loved it! I couldn’t have been more inspired. Those moments in the classroom of encountering theories and ideas that could set my whole mind reeling and my world spinning, that could revolutionize my way of thinking about the world, crystallized my commitment to a lifetime of learning. In those moments I came to realize that the classroom would always be my second home.

The way I live my life of faith and my life as a student and teacher in the classroom are not that different from one another. They are for me an orientation – a commitment to cultivate a way of life I find worth living and to be a kind of human I find worth being. This is the only life I get, and this life is but a moment, insignificant in so many ways and, yet, very significant in that it is the only one I have.

When it comes to my life then, I have two main sources of inspiration: 1) the good news of the divine new way of living and relating I see embodied and proclaimed in the life Jesus in community with his friends and followers, and 2) radical feminism, which brings to this new divine reality a commitment to overturn the status quo and its embedded habits of domination, hierarchy, sexism, and alienation so that all women and men may participate in the fullness of Be-ing (God/dess), with total and courageous abandon. These are the commitments and inspirations I bring to my studies; these are the things that orient who I am as a student and a scholar.

Bringing these orientations to my studies means that first and foremost I must be attentive. Since I choose to not simply conform to the default ways of our society or to the embedded patriarchal habits within it, it is necessary to be attentive to that which is before me – the values it assumes and the reality it promotes. Likewise, I have to consider and be attentive to what I am assuming and promoting in my own research and writings.

This is all to say that the manner in which I study, learn, and produce my scholarship is the same as the manner in which I aim to live – with an orientation toward a particular quality of life and a particular kind of humanity. Intentionality is required, but also, and perhaps more importantly, an openness and willingness to risk and make mistakes. In order to open the windows of my mind toward ways of thinking that will disrupt and revolutionize the default, dominant, and inherited ways of the world, I must be open to thinking differently and creatively. It’s an ongoing process of learning and unlearning – and learning again. Mistakes and wrong turns are guaranteed, but one must be willing to experience these and not be afraid of them – even when the mistakes seem ‘ritely’ incomprehensible (wink, wink).

Life is a process and for me studying and learning is my chosen way of life. The process of how I live and who I am in the midst of it all matters more to me than getting it ‘rite.’ It is not always easy to stay in this posture, I admit. But life as a learning process is part of the fun and the exhilarating potential of knowing that at any given moment everything could radically change and a whole new world could emerge. In the end, that is where I experience the presence and movement of the Spirit within my life – in the ever present potential of radical change and transformation.

Xochitl Alvizo, loves all things feminist. She often finds herself on the boundary of different social and cultural contexts, and works hard to develop her voice and to hear and encourage the voice of others. Her work is inspired by the conviction that all people are inextricably connected and what we do, down to the smallest thing, matters; it makes a difference for good or for ill.

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Categories: Academics, Academy, Feminism

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13 replies

  1. Yes, my experience is similar to yours, Xochitl. I happened upon a “Bible as Literature” course in a public university as I rooted around among the course offerings trying to find things to tickle my fancy. I was blown away learning that ancient people’s stories were, no doubt, the fodder from which Biblical narrative sprung. I developed a broader, more inclusive perspective of our world. Thank you for sharing your story as well as your vision.

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  2. You accept and embrace paradigm “flips on the head”, but others reject and deny these shifts. Why the difference? Why are you a world view acrobat while others choose to sit (and sometimes even bury their heads in the sand)?

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    • You, know, I have no idea. I sometime think is that perhaps it’s simply that humans come with different “wiring” – and so different things are easier for some and more difficult for others. But who knows. I do think that the harder thing is figuring out how to all live together in this shared world – now that’s a challenge! :)

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      • Nmr, I think Jonathan Haidt has delved into your question and come up with a number of answers in his book _Righteous Mind: Why Good People Disagree about Religion and Politicis_. In short, his answer is that it’s partially our wiring, but it’s also our experience that allows us to be open to novelty or closed-off in order to protect ourselves. I love his metaphor that we are 90% the elephant of feeling and intuition and 10% the rider of rationality and conscious awareness, i.e. we usually go where the elephant wants to go and use our rationality to justify those choices.

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  3. Beautiful post, Xochitl. Your students and future students have joy and awakening awaiting them.

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  4. PS: Love that you spelled write as rite! Perfect for a feminist theologian in the making!

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  5. Xochitl, I love how you write about your rites of passage into understanding better who you are and how you take and give to the worlds and wisdoms that formed you. I too could not stay Catholic if I did not reimagine what I was taught and what I still hear as “Catholicism” if I did not refresh the platitudes of old with the perspectives of being feminist and growing older…and hopefully wiser. I cannot change the whole world, but I love trying, as one writer put it, to find God in my backyard. She looks a lot like my neighbor :-) As the Hawaiians say, malama pono. (take care.) Dawn

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  6. Two of my first school memories come from first grade. (1) When we started to print words and little sentences, Mrs. McKnight noticed that I was working from right to left instead of left to right. She corrected me and kept an eye on me for a few days. (2) I spent a fair amount of time in the cloakroom for talking in class. Sigh. Some things never change.

    But, yes, some things do change. I also loved the Bible as literature classes and the comparative religion classes I took in college and grad school. If we are, like you, ready to be stood on our heads (so to speak), then we learn a lot. Thanks for writing this!

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  7. Thank you all for reading!

    Elizabeth, I hadn’t thought about the appropriateness of ‘rite’ for a future feminist theologian – that’s awesome – I love it.

    Mahalo, Dawn!

    Thanks, Barbara! And the cloak room?! Sigh, indeed!

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  8. Your ability to have your whole world reeling and your mind spinning and loving it and then telling us about it — that and your incisive insights about so much in your life is what I love about your writing, Xochitl! Please keep posting here.

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  9. “so that all women and men may participate in the fullness of Be-ing (God/dess), with total and courageous abandon” I love this! Total and courageous abandon is what we all need so much more of! Your students and all those who read what you write and hear what you say (including all of us here at FAR!) are so lucky to be able to learn from and with you as you progress on your journey. Your attitude of integrity and openness shows such wisdom as well as life experience. Teaching through who we are, as well as what we say, is so important at this critical stage of our society and planet and that is exactly what you do.

    I love your story about second grade. My spelling moment that I still remember was in fourth grade when I misspelled “necessary” in a spelling bee and I was SURE that I was right and very mad that I lost the bee…

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  10. Beautifully stated and as you say the world cannot change if our minds are closed to changing our ideas.

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