The Desire to Encounter the Divine

04/17/2013 10:31 am ET | Updated Jun 17, 2013

The first time I read the Old Testament I broke out in hives. I was ten years old sitting in Sunday school trying to make sense of the stories we were reading, which the teacher explained were considered to be "God's word." I couldn't get the echo of his comment out of my head, "God's word?" God writes? God's published?

The stories were making me so visibly incensed because although they contained women we didn't actually hear from them in their own voices. The teacher asked for my thoughts, because I was a hot mess; I could feel a hive snaking its way across my face from my forehead down to my neck. I tried to respond but only managed to stammer out something like, "We don't know what it was like for them, for the women?"

At ten years old, I didn't know how to articulate what my body seemed to understand with ease -- the truth that something terrifically crucial was missing here. I felt suffused with an anger I had no idea what to do with. So, I pushed back my chair, slammed the book of "God's Word" shut, and did what I knew how to do: I marched dramatically out of the room.

While waiting for my mom on the curb of the church parking lot, I tried to figure out why I was so upset. And in that moment I realized it wasn't anger, but fear. I felt more afraid than I had ever been.

If God was seen as only male, and if only men had been able to think, write, and speak with spiritual authority on behalf of the Divine for the past two millennia or so, then I realized, I am the sex not considered sacred.

I was scared because I was a girl in a world that didn't get yet that girls are sacred too.

If my body could have a door, that door would be in my heart. And if I could describe that moment to you at all I would say that fear opened the door to my heart just then, and my response was to walk right out. The formal definition of apostasy is to abandon one's faith or religious tradition. But for me, the real apostasy that day was not leaving church but abandoning my own body.

I went to divinity school and seminary with a belief that had been planted in me that day as a little girl -- a belief that there is a connection between our ideas of the Divine and the status of women.

I believe that if men and women could speak more equally about the Divine, and if there could be more balanced stories and images of the Divine as both male and female, masculine and feminine, there would be far less gender-based violence than what our world currently endures.

It is my belief that our potential to be transformed by the Divine is exactly the same whether we are a man or a woman. The real barometer of our spiritual potential is not our sex, but the commitment of our desire to want to encounter the Divine.

This is the belief I held at age ten; I just didn't have the words yet to tell the truth.

I have been compelled since then by a singular passion to answer this question: "What does spirituality look like for a woman who hasn't abandoned her own body?"

I wanted to be spiritual in a way that allowed me to be as at home in my soul as I am in my skin. Separating my sexuality from my spirituality didn't work for me, because it wasn't true to my experience. For me, it was only by winning back my body -- by daring to be fully present to the wide spectrum of what I was feeling in my body from bliss to pain -- that I finally began to connect to what is eternal in me. The body then wasn't an obstacle on my spiritual path but rather, in a way, the goal.

I became a theologian to find the missing spiritual voices of women. I devoted nearly two decades of my life unearthing the Divine Feminine -- at divinity school and seminary, on two pilgrimages to sacred sites of the Black Madonna and Mary Magdalene. But ultimately these external efforts affected an internal terrain. By finding the voice of the Divine Feminine, I also found my own spiritual voice, the one buried beneath veils of fear and self-doubt.

REVEAL: A Sacred Manual For Getting Spiritually Naked is my spiritual memoir and it's a collection of these stories of the Divine Feminine I have gathered over the years. It's also a spiritual guide for women who long, as I did, for a spirituality that empowers them to share their own stories of the Divine, to abandon their fears but never themselves, and to reveal that quietly audacious voice of the truth inside them.