The maternal dimension of my life has been something of a disaster. Mother, son, breast. And lest you think I am veering toward the melodramatic, let me remind you: Instant death in a car crash. Suicide. And now the carving up of my body, three times so far.
I haven't focused much on the feminine aspect of spirituality. For one thing, I've never been surprised or perturbed by references to God as mother. (All those years in girls' boarding schools, perhaps?) It's God as father that causes me some consternation. I heard few references to God as father in my church home, but it was a consistent phrase in seminary, and is even moreso in the community in which I minister. Yesterday I was repeatedly distracted for the first hour of a presentation by the speaker's references to the Holy Spirit as "he." But I try to let it go. I recall my first spiritual director stating one day in regard to another topic that he didn't want to say anything that would make it difficult to anyone to pray, and that seems a reasonable stance to me. Of course, it requires me to overlook the endless invocations to "Father God" that make it difficult for me to pray.
For a second thing, my spiritual directors have all been men. Jesuit priests. Yes, I've needed father figures in my life, but they're also all brilliant and well-educated. YEARS of education that I wish I had. Give me a keen mind and a wide-ranging knowledge of literature, history, philosophy, psychology, and spirituality, and my religious little self is hooked. I used to be a little bit circumspect in what I said because they are, after all, guys, but breast cancer has demolished what reserve I had. Probably to their dismay.
Interestingly, as Catholic guys, they may have more to offer in terms of feminine spirituality than even most women in my own branch of the church. Catholics, after all, have Mary. And all those saints. And, I might add, it was a Jesuit who wrote to me when I was approved for ordination to say that he was praying that the Holy Spirit would guide me to exactly the call she had in mind for me.
At any rate, these days I find myself experiencing what may be a major shift in my spiritual orientation. The last couple of weeks have been hell, with my experience of aesthetic devastation now followed by the most unwelcome reality of whole-body pain, which I have a sinking suspicion has to do with a third surgical assault in a six-month period. As a consequence, I find myself wondering much more about the feminine in the divine, or about the divine in feminine contexts.
I guess we'll see where she leads me.
Image: Julian of Norwich, who wrote about God Our Mother in the 14th century.