Experiencing Divinity in the World by Carol P. Christ

carol mitzi sarahAs I work on revisions of the new book, Goddess and God in the Worldthat Judith Plaskow and I are writing, I am thinking again about John Cobb’s notion of the “two ultimates” as two different ways of thinking about divinity. Cobb suggested that religions have defined the nature of ultimate reality as personal and as impersonal, as God and as the ground of being. The ground of being is the impersonal ultimate: the metaphysical principles that structure all of life, principles that he described as creativity or the creative process.

Judith describes God as the impersonal creative process and views personal language for divinity as metaphoric or symbolic. I define Goddess as personal, yet also view the impersonal ultimate, the creative process, as sacred. For me, this raises the question of the relationship between Goddess and the creative process.

In Cobb’s view, the two ultimates are co-eternal: the personal God did not “create” the creative process, nor was the personal God “created” by the creative process. Rather, for Cobb, God as the personal ultimate, like all other individuals, participates in the creative process. What then is the creative process? Although the term “creativity” has multiple meanings, in process philosophy it has a specific one.

Whitehead’s description of the creative process is rooted in the insight of modern science that the most basic components of our universe are particles of atoms that defy being categorized as either matter or energy, but seem to move and change, depending on their relationships. It is from the relationships of these tiny individuals that the evolutionary process of our universe began. This insight led Whitehead to recognize that the nature of reality (or being) is not fixed and static (as Western philosophers before him had concluded) but is always moving, changing, or “in process.” Whitehead’s understanding of the creative process is summed up in his much-quoted phrase, “the many become one, and are increased by one.”

The creative moment in the creative process (which is in fact every moment in the life of an individual) is the moment when the individual (whether particle of an atom, cell, animal, human, or divinity) in an act of creative freedom unifies the world (the many) into a new synthesis (the one): this new synthesis adds a new fact to the world (the many is increased by one). This is an abstract description of the creative process in its most basic form. In fact, however, we do not experience the world in the abstract, but in the concrete.

In this moment I (Carol) remember my past (many different Carols situated in many different worlds and some of the books I have read) as I shape this sentence (with my hands on my computer acting in concert with the feelings of my body and the thoughts that are flowing in my mind) and unite myself and my world in a new synthesis (which is this sentence). As I do so, I add a new fact to the world (the many are increased by one), a sentence that may be read by others in the future, therefore influencing their lives.

The reader who reads my words (you) reflects on them in relation to her or his memory (your memories of your past selves in your past) and asks if what I am saying makes sense: in the moment that she or he (you) decides if it does or it doesn’t, a new fact is added to the world (the many are increased by one), an opinion that in turn may be expressed to someone else (the many is again increased by one) who in turn responds to it (the many is increased by one more).

Though this description of the creative process focuses on mental actions, our mental processes are not divorced from our bodies and feelings, and the relations of mind, body and feeling are complex. In some creative moments, feelings are primary, while in others the body leads. This second richer description of the creative process is still an abstraction. We do not generally experience life as a series of moments but as a flow in which one moment is indistinguishable from the others; nonetheless, we can recognize that our lives are made up of a series of moments in which we along with others create the world anew.

Sometimes we take a longer and broader view of the creative process, recognizing patterns and cycles within the world that we share with other than human life. Traditional peoples, for example, often speak of or invoke the creative processes of birth, death, and regeneration that are the basis of life on this earth. This is also an important way of describing the ground of being because it situates human creativity within the creativity of the web of life. In our time we might also speak about the evolution of life. Taking a long view, we experience the sacrality of the web of life.

I experience—feel and sense—the personal ultimate, the presence of Goddess as intelligent love in my body, mind, and spirit and in all bodies, minds, and spirits, as I go about my everyday life. She is always there: feeling the love and joy I feel; supporting and understanding me when things are difficult; inspiring me to share the grace of life with everyone and everything. I also feel the power of the impersonal ultimate, the creative process that supports the creativity or freedom of all individuals who interact with each other in the web of life. For me the two ultimates—Goddess and the web of life—are both real.

Though the two ultimates are separate in the abstract, in the concrete experience of those of us who affirm a personal divinity, they are intertwined because the personal divinity is experienced through the creative process that is the basis of life. Thus, at one and the same time, I experience myself and divinity within me, other individuals and the divinity with in them, the creative process and the divinity within it.

I celebrate the creative process and its fruits, the powers of birth, death, and regeneration and the evolutionary process as a whole, as the ground of all being as well as the Goddess I experience as a personal, intelligent, loving, compassionate presence who cares about me, all other individuals in the world.

Carol leads the life-transforming Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete (facebook and twitter).  Carol’s books include She Who Changes and and Rebirth of the Goddess; with Judith Plaskow, the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions; and forthcoming in 2016, Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology.

Two Ultimates: The Ground of Being and Goddess by Carol P. Christ

carol p. christ 2002 colorThe concept of two ultimates, the ground of being and Goddess, can be helpful in understanding differences of emphasis within and among religions.  Some religions or strands within religions focus on relationship with or worship of a personal God, while other religions or strands within religions focus on identifying with or merging with the impersonal ground of being or the whole of which we are part.  These two ultimates are found in feminist spiritualities and theologies.

In “Being Itself and the Existence of God”* process theologian John Cobb identifies two ultimates.  The ground of being as the metaphysical principles that structure all of life is unchanging; as the whole of which individuals are part, the ground of being is impersonal.  God, on the other hand, is an active presence in the world, is personal, and cares about individuals in the world.  If God is understood to be in some sense an individual in relation to other individuals, then God cannot be identified with the whole, because the whole is made up of God and other individuals.  Yet God is not simply one individual among other individuals.  Only God has perfect knowledge of the world and every individual within it and only God cares for the world in light of perfect knowledge of it.

I find Cobb’s notion of two ultimates helpful in understanding some of the differences in feminist views of Goddess and God.  Some spiritual feminists, especially Goddess feminists, view the sacred as the whole of which we are a part, structured by the seasons and cycles of birth, death, and regeneration.  Starhawk’s tree of life meditation in which the individual identifying with the tree draws energy from its ground imagines Goddess as the ground of being and life.  Z Budapest’s song “We all come from the Goddess, and to Her we shall return” connects us to the cycles of birth and death.

The view of Goddess as a personal presence who loves, understands, and inspires us to love is based on the notion of God as a person with whom individuals are in relation.  Jennifer Berizan invokes a Goddess who cares in her song “She Who Hears the Cries of the World,” addressed to the Goddess in the form of Chinese Goddess Kwan Yin.  Prayer to Goddess and a sense that She is always with us are based on the idea of a relational, personal God.  According to Cobb religions do not have to choose between the two ultimates. If both are real, then religions can and should recognize both.  Continue reading “Two Ultimates: The Ground of Being and Goddess by Carol P. Christ”

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