Sunday, September 8, 2013

Searching for Sophia

The other day I read about a thought experiment at Harvard Divinity School in 1973, which was intended to raise male consciousness of how women feel in a world (or a religion) where language reflects only one gender.  The professor asked each student to imagine that he was the lone male in a classroom full of women in a completely feminine institution where he was expected to understand that feminine words apply equally to both men and women.
How would you feel if, "every time a professor says 'womankind' she means, of course, 'all humanity'?  When one enrolls in a seminar on 'The Doctrine of Woman' the professor intends at least to deal with men also.  When one sings of the Motherhood of God and the Sisterhood of Woman, one breathes a prayer that all men as well as women will come to experience true sisterhood."
Sometimes I have conversations in which I feel that I have to convince the person I'm talking to that not having inclusive religious language is harmful to women, that the patriarchy is real and that it gets me down.  After reading about this thought experiment, I see how absurd the situation would be if the roles were flipped.  Men, as they are today, would not stand for this.  They would be up in arms!  And yet women live with it everyday, many of them quietly, not realizing that there could be something else.  Many of them not wanting anything else.  But I do.  I want something else.  There should be an inclusive religious language that allows both men and women to relate to both male and female terms and images of the Divine.  Now, of course the Divine is neither male nor female; so really, what does it matter?  Ask the men in this thought experiment if they thought it mattered.  Amiright?

Now, it is a whole other conversation to talk about the difference between men and women and how much of one there really is.  Obviously, individuals cannot be defined solely by their gender.  But we cannot deny that our historical and cultural realities have been worlds apart.  And we women and our stories have been sadly misrepresented and overlooked.

I grew up learning the sacred stories of men and I believed that they applied to everyone, to "mankind."  I've since felt the loss of the point of view of women in those stories.  Where is the story of how Sarah felt and what she said when Abraham went to sacrifice her only child?  How did she relate to God?  What did she consider holy?  What were her sacred stories?  Where are the female sacred stories?

I want to learn all about Durga, who saved the world from the Buffalo Demon, first by cutting off his head and when that didn't defeat him, finally by piercing him through the heart.  I want to learn about the Shekinah, the female face of God in Jewish mysticism, and how she lead the Israelites through the desert.  I want to know more about Jesus-Sophia, Wisdom in human form.

It's not just women that need these stories.  When our perspective, our innate strengths are lost or dismissed, everyone suffers.  Men who are more relational and less success-oriented suffer.  Women who feel they must become men in order to compete for the things they want suffer.  Children suffer when they learn that linear thinking is the only way to be smart.

This conversation is huge and many wonderful writers have weighed in on it in countless venues and from many perspectives.  I am not capable of, nor do I wish  to tackle every element of this discussion.  I just want to know:

Where are the female sacred stories?