“thea-logy begins in experience” – Rebirth of the Goddess
It is hard to believe that Carol P. Christ – Karolina as she dubbed herself in her beloved Greece—has been gone for a year. She remains such a vivid presence in my life—in all of our lives. I think of her and draw strength from those thoughts daily, the way so many women say they think of and feel close to their deceased mothers. For Karolina was indeed a mother to me—a nurturing spiritual mother who initiated me into the ways of the Goddess she adored and, whom she so beautifully defined as “the power of intelligent love that is the ground of all being.”
I first met Karolina in June of 1995 on a bare hotel rooftop in Athens. I had just flown there from New Orleans to join the Ariadne Institute’s Goddess Pilgrimage Tour, a leap of faith inspired by my reading the previous year of Weaving the Visions: Patterns in Feminist Spirituality, a pioneering anthology edited by Carol and her long-time friend and collaborator, Judith Plaskow. That book, along with Carol’s Diving Deep and Surfacing and Judith’s Standing Again at Sinai had spoken to me more deeply than anything I had ever read before. I had grown up in a Middle Eastern Orthodox Jewish family. drawn to spirituality, I had never able to find a place for myself in the deeply patriarchal structures of synagogue or even family rituals … Carol and Judith offered me a way in, and I wanted immediately to embark on the paths they were clearing. I wanted to meet them, to know them, to learn from them, to share with them. Boldly, I decided to join the Pilgrimage, signing up for my first trip overseas trip, the most costly vacation I had ever granted myself. How could I have known that it would transform my life and bless me with a miraculous, deep friendship?
On that hotel rooftop, I sat in a circle of women, all jet-lagged and anxious. Carol warmly welcomed each of us, inviting us to introduce ourselves with the simple words, “I am here, I am whole, I am my name. The group would respond in unison: “You are here, you are whole, you are your name.” Never had I felt so affirmed, so seen, so present. That sense of presence continued throughout the tour as Carol led us in the simple rituals she had created – pouring libations of milk and honey and water on ancient altars, crawling into deep caves as we recited the names of our mothers and grandmothers, seeing and touching the body of the Goddess in the vast Cretan landscape, feeling Her love in the embrace of the sea, tasting her bounty in the marvelous taverna meals we shared amid laughter and tears of joy. Tirelessly, Carol led us in dances, taught us to sing, holding each of us securely in the warmth of her smile and the sparkle of her blue eyes. Surely, she was the Goddess incarnate, as were each of us, as she so definitively taught us. I was utterly entranced, in love, transformed. In the years that followed I would visit her again in Greece and she would visit me in the States. Our friendship grew over time, though there were some years when we did not speak … I had wounded her, she who seemed so strong but who was in fact so vulnerable. When we got back in touch I felt relieved and restored. And I am so grateful that we were able to share such good time together over the past few years.
It was Carol who encouraged me to write for FAR, helping me to find my voice, as she has helped so many others, modelling a type of writing (and being that is so both deeply emotional and keenly intellectual. She has, I believe, given us a new way of integrating all the aspects of ourselves that had been split apart by patriarchal culture and religion, reuniting subjectivity, and objectivity, refusing to fetishize objectivity but not abandoning intellectual rigor. Thanks to her – the example of her life and the gift of her writing, we are all learning to accept and to celebrate our full humanity and divinity, acknowledging both vulnerability and strength, refusing to be confined by the fatal structures of desperation, finding beauty and joy in all that we do.
Five months ago, I was suddenly diagnosed with stage four primary brain cancer – glioblastoma– a very swift, devastating, deadly disease. Since then, I’ve had two surgeries, along with chemo and radiation. I’m now profoundly challenged, both physically and cognitively. A friend, who also writes for FAR, immediately told me when she heard: “Carol gave us the map.” Every day now, I have been thinking about how Carol approached her final months, after her cancer diagnosis in September 2020. She had just moved to the apartment of her dreams, on Crete, gracious and spacious with a wide balcony and a view of the sea. As she underwent her difficult treatments and suffered in various ways, she continued to live as she always had, bravely discovering and creating, beauty around her, embodying her vision of home, selecting tile, choosing paint colors, arranging her books and family treasures, staying in touch with friends, continuing to write, caring for the plants that she had painstakingly moved from her Lesbos garden. Although we talked fairly often, I never heard her complain. Alas, toward the end, she never told me how sick she was. I regret not having said a proper “goodbye.” Carol always knew that she was returning to the Goddess, that she was always surrounded by Her love. She never feared death. She understood it to be a part of the web of life, the interplay of “light and darkness that we as we sang about so often on the pilgrimage tour.
As I continue on my own journey now, another kind of pilgrimage I think of Carol with so much gratitude and love, and I too embrace the Goddess in the freshness of the morning air, the sunlight on the sea, the scent of roses, growing in the tiny gardens of my Brooklyn neighborhood, the soft fur of my two darling cats, the sweet taste and texture of fresh watermelon and raspberries, the bright blooms of sunflowers from the farmers’ market, the rich delights of friendship and family and music and art.
I know I am made from this earth, as my mother’s hands were made from the earth, as her dreams were made from this earth and all I know in this earth, the body of the bird, this pen, this paper, these hands, this tongue speaking, all that I know speaks to me through this earth and I long to tell you, you who are earth too, and listen as we speak to each other of what we know: “the light is in us.” – Susan Griffin, Woman and Nature, as cited by Carol P. Christ, Rebirth of the Goddess
BIO: Joyce Zonana is a writer and literary translator. Her most recent translation, Tobie Nathan’s A Land Like You, a novel about Egypt’s Jews, is available from Seagull Books. Her memoir, Dream Homes: From Cairo to Katrina, an Exile’s Journey was published by the Feminist Press. She is currently at work on a translation of Edmond Amran El Maleh’s Mille Ans, Un Jour, a novel about Arab-Jewish life in Morocco.