A-mazing Grace by Carol P. Christ


carol p. christ photo michael bakasA few days ago I received a message out of the blue on Facebook:

Thank you for your accepting my friend request. I am fighting to find my way out of depression during a life transition as I move into retirement from my years of work as an educator. I look forward to your book this spring. I have long called myself a Goddess feminist having struggled with patriarchal Christianity since my youth, but have felt abandoned by the Goddess for many years now. I’m not sure how I found you today. I stumbled onto a blog from you on your book while googling something else. Your words gave me a spark of hope. Laurel

In my blog I said that when I began to write A Serpentine Path, I felt abandoned by the Goddess. I wrote back, hoping that sharing what I had learned on my journey would be helpful.

The short answer is that the Goddess has never abandoned any of us. However, She does not have the power to make everything turn out as it could be or should be or we wish it would be. Hers is the power to inspire but not to control. If you have been unhappy, She is with you, She understands your pain, and She will be with you as you seek to find your way. I hope this doesn’t sound too preachy. It is from the heart of my experience. Take care of yourself.

I immediately received an answer back.

Thank you. Those were just the words I needed to hear with my heart. I am “too much in my head,” having spent a life in academia.

This interchange got me thinking about how we import toxic ideas from traditional theologies into what we believe are new religious worldviews. In this case the toxic idea is omnipotence—the idea that the Divine Power is in control of everything. It follows from this that the Divine Power can answer our prayers. If the Divine Power does not answer our prayers, there must be a reason. The reasons we give are many, including: because we are sinful and unworthy or because the ways of God are not our ways. We sometimes conclude, as Laurel and I did: the Divine Power simply does not care about me.

The prominence of magic in Wicca, the most widely known form of contemporary Goddess religion, can contribute to this feeling of abandonment. The Western occult or magical tradition teaches that there are practices, including rituals and spells, through which we can manifest our wills and achieve our deepest desires. In Goddess practice rituals and spells are directed to or through the Goddess. In this situation, it can feel logical to blame the Goddess when, after working very hard and doing every ritual and spell we can think of, our will or desire is not manifested. “Why me,” the child within us asks. “Why has the Goddess abandoned me?”

In the story I tell in A Serpentine Path, I felt precisely that. What I learned was that the Goddess had never abandoned me. She had been with me all along. Where I went astray was in believing that the world could become as I wanted it to be.

The world is made up of a multiplicity of wills, including my will and the will of the Goddess, but also the wills of every other individual, human and other than human, who has lived or is living now. If individuals, human and other than human, have the power to affect the world, then even the Divinity cannot have all the power. This means that Her power (and our power) is the power to influence the world, but not to determine or control it. This is one of the key metaphysical insights of process philosophy, but it is also an existential truth.

The Divine Power is not omnipotent. And neither am I. It may seem odd to put these two statements together. Yet they are mirror images: both ideas deny the reality that a multiplicity of wills have shaped and continue to shape the world we experience. The world really is not at my beck and call. Not even the Goddess gets that.

I would never have said that I believed that the world revolved around me. Stating it so baldly makes it clear how silly idea that idea is. For me “enlightenment” came when I realized—really understood—that the world is not “about me.” Once I gave up having to have what I thought I needed to have, I found, felt, and experienced love and beauty all around me. This truly is a-mazing grace. To feel love and beauty is not to deny suffering. Yet much of our suffering is caused by ideas about how life should be, as Laurel recognized, by living too much in the thoughts of our heads.

Email from Laurel Tangen-Foster, Ph.D.

Carol P. Christ is author or editor of eight books in Women and Religion and is one of the Foremothers of the Women’s Spirituality Movement. She leads the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete in Spring and Fall. Photo of Carol by Michael Bakas.

A Serpentine Path Cover with snakeskin backgroundA Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess will be published by Far Press in the spring of 2016. A journey from despair to the joy of life.

Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology with Judith Plaskow will be published by Fortress Press in June 2016. Exploring the connections of theology and autobiography and alternatives to the transcendent, omnipotent male God.

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Categories: Academics, Embodiment, Feminism, General, Goddess, Goddess Spirituality

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18 replies

  1. As always, moving and inspiring. I agree with the transplant of patriarchal, or even frankly narcissistic, themes sometimes found in a number of neo-pagan and Goddess communities, qualities that are counterproductive. Reading, I felt moved to share a quote from a friend of mine, a ritualist named Annie Waters, who in 2000 did a large event on eve of the Millenium to transform the violence of the past century in the cauldron of the Goddess.

    “The work was larger than me. In bringing up the (ritual) I felt I was a brief vessel for an immense archetypal intelligence manifesting within the transformative drama we created. And yet, embodying the Dark Goddess did bring personal change. Like so many women, I’ve given myself away over and over. Doing this work forced me to outgrow it. I was being re-constructed, whether I was aware of it or not, to better serve Her and my community.”

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    • Lauren, I have been thinking about your term “narcissistic.” I think a lot of people come to magic as a way of “getting what I want”–true love, true job, abundance, etc. We fail to see that such use of magic is I-centered, like so much else in our culture. The occult tradition in the West from which the founders of Wicca drew, is about turning base metal into gold, in other words it is about manipulating nature, not about recognizing your own (small) place within the web of life.

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  2. Thank you for another wise and insightful post! After 30 years of following a Goddess path, I still uncover ways that my thinking automatically goes to what was learned from the larger society around me as I grew up, whether in a religious or other sphere. You are so right that the idea that either we or Divine Power can ensure that everything will always be fine is wrong and causes immense pain. We never know in the morning what tragedy the day may bring, but we also don’t know what amazing wonders it will bring. So often have I missed the amazing wonders by not being open to them because I was needlessly worrying about how to prevent the tragedies. Every time I’m able to identify and put away some assumption from the past, whether related to spirituality or some other aspect of life such as believing that success lies in material gain and recognition, the world takes on many new vistas and possibilities. One of the tasks of our generation, I think, is to do exactly what you are doing – point out what are outdated assumptions and what is truth based on experience – so we can all move forward towards more peaceful and contented lives for ourselves as individuals and a better world for everyone.

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  3. Thanks, Carol. Just that one line, “take care of yourself,” is so important. If we feel abandoned for any reason, it might just be that we are not taking care of ourselves as much as we should either. If we want others to be “with us,” then we ourselves have to be “with us” too.

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  4. This is a poignant piece, Carol. A Buddhist monk in a video (Divining the Divine) I often show my Human Spirituality class says that life is learning to give up that which you never had. You reflect that “truth” when you write, For me “enlightenment” came when I realized—really understood—that the world is not “about me.” Christianity, at least in my experience, focuses way too much on “me.” My sinfulness, my good works, my relationship with God, my repentance–its bent was all about “me.” Giving up that self centeredness frees one to go about the business of living fully.

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  5. Thank you for the wisdom, beauty, and compassion of this post. And congratulations on the new edition of The Serpentine Path. I was away last week, so could not respond at the time. So glad!

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  6. Good for you and the commenters above for recognizing that even we pagans think we can manipulate the world to make it behave the way we want it to. BUT anyone who’s ever lived with a cat knows the nonsense of trying to make the world behave, right?

    When I took my CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) training, there were some things we were taught was never to say to people who’d been struck by fire, earthquake, flood, or other disaster that we were there to respond to. We should not say, “It’s all in God’s plan” or any of the other cliches about God making things happen. Some mainstream metaphysicians and New Agers also believe that God’s in charge of everything. It’s just not true. The Goddess is with us and helps us understand better what’s going on, but even She doesn’t rule the world.

    Carol, I always enjoy your blogs. I come to FAR first thing in the morning after I feed my cats and turn on my computer. It’s so good to start the day with a breakfast of wisdom! ;-)

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  7. Thank you for this, Carol. It’s just what I needed to hear right now. I had begun feeling abandoned by the Goddess lately as well but your words have put me back on track.

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  8. Regarding Goddess magick, I like Starhawk’s definition: “The art of changing consciousness at will.”

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  9. Carol, I enjoyed this post, and as usual, when you talk about the goddess as less than the entirety of the interdependent web of existence, I disagree. Where our opinions overlap is that we both believe that the Goddess’ power “is to inspire, but not to control” as well as the understanding that we human beings are a small part of that web, and need to realize our insignificance as well as our significance in life. In our culture, we are all taught that we should strive to control as much of our lives as possible. Of course, any spiritual person realizes at some point that this is ultimately impossible. For you, this resulted in a process theology concept of the Goddess as not omnipotent. For me, this resulted in my letting go TO the Goddess and not expecting that I could control my life. When it comes to my understanding/experience of divinity, I experience the Goddess in a Taoist way, as a disinterested everything-ness. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have personal relationships with a few goddesses, who help and guide me. But as you explain, they are not omnipotent as I am not omnipotent, because we are each only part of the totality of the Goddess. I know from your writings that you stopped using tarot cards, because you kept pulling them until you got the answers you wanted. For me to let go of control, I had to start using tarot cards and other divination methods so that I allowed my connection to the divine to give me guidance, not depend entirely on my own intelligence and will power.

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  10. “To feel love and beauty is not to deny suffering. Yet much of our suffering is caused by ideas about how life should be … by living too much in the thoughts of our heads.” This makes a LOT of sense to me right now and is useful for what push me forward to a deeper healing. Thanks!

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  11. Thank you Carol. There is so much to think about here.
    I remember the day, decades ago, when I suddenly realized that the One we call “god” is not omnipotent. I’ve not had words to express that until I read: “Hers is the power to inspire but not to control.”

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  12. Rabbi Kuschner who wrote the book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” had a son who died of progeria. He looks at the book of Job and asserts that from Job, he could decide that God is unfair, does not care, or is not omnipotent. He decided that God is not omnipotent. There are some orthodox “patriarchal” Christians who now believe that God is not omnipotent.

    How could our Creator/Creatrix be omnipotent if, in fact, we are allowed to freely make moral choices? We make them every day and unlike those who insist on a deterministic outlook, I believe I have free choice.

    I know that our Mother is always with us even as we journey through a “dark night of the soul” and/or difficult transitions and losses.

    Laurel I pray that you feel the loving presence of our Mother wrapping you in her love and peace as you face your difficult transition.

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  13. I am a few days late in reading but I wanted to say thank you Carol, for the reminder. Sometimes I think it is a good idea to realize that it is not Goddess who has abandoned us but perhaps we have abandoned Her. When I am feeling that sense of loss, I am perhaps not honoring Her. She is with us always, in everything around us as well as wiithin.

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