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In Search of the Divine Feminine

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Where does this notion of the Divine Feminine come from? Is the question of the Divine Feminine simply a current fad? A silly notion of even sillier feminists? Or could it possibly have deep and ineradicable roots in the tradition itself?

However much we mock the idea, the truth is, ironically, that every major spiritual tradition on earth carries within it, at its very center, in its ancient core, an awareness of the Divine Feminine. In Hinduism, Shakti -- the great mother, the feminine principle -- is seen as the sum total of all the life-giving energy of the universe. She is the source of all. In Buddhism, Tara is seen as the perfection of wisdom, and in Buddhism, wisdom is life's highest metaphysical principle! Tara is considered the light and the prime source of Buddhahood and so of all Buddhas to follow.

And in the Hebrew scriptures -- the ground of the entire Abrahamic family, Jewish, Christian and Muslim -- the spiritual foundation on which you and I stand -- the God to whom Moses says, "Who shall I say sent me?" answers not, "I am he who am;" not "I am she who am;" but, "I am who am." I am Being! I am the essence of all life, I am the spirit that breathes in everyone: the source that magnetizes every soul. I am the one in whose image all human beings, male and female, Genesis says clearly, are made. "I am" is, in other words, ungendered, unsexed, pure spirit, pure energy, pure life. And that assurance we have, note well, on God's own word: "I am who am."

Let there be no mistake about it: woman or man, man or woman -- the full image of God is in you: masculine and feminine, feminine and masculine godness. Hebrew scripture is clear, and the Christian and Islamic scriptures, as well. God is neither male nor female -- God is of the essence of both and both are of the essence of God.

Actually, lest we be fooled by our own patriarchal inclinations to make God in our own small, puny, partial male images, the Hebrew scriptures are full of the female attributes of God. In Isaiah (42:14) the Godhead, "cries out as a woman in labor." To the psalmist (131:1-2) God is a nursing woman on whose breast the psalmist leans "content as a child that has been weaned." In Hosea (11:3-4) God claims to be a cuddling mother who takes Israel in her arms. In Genesis (3:21) God is a seamstress who makes clothes out of skins for both Adam and Eve. And in Proverbs, God -- she, wisdom, Sophia, "raises her voice in the streets," "is there with God 'in the beginning,'" (8:22-31) "is the homemaker who welcomes the world to her table" (9: 5) shouting as she does, "Enter here! Eat my food, drink my wine." Clearly, after centuries of suppressing the female imagery and the feminine attributes given in scripture in order to establish the patriarchy of lords and kings and priests and popes and power brokers as the last word and only word of every failing institution in humankind-no wonder we are confused about who God is. But God is not! Scripture is clear: God does not have -- and clearly never has had -- an identity problem. Our images of God, then, must be inclusive because God is not mother, no, but God is not father either. God is neither male nor female. God is pure spirit, pure being, pure life -- both of them. Male and female, in us all.

From Joan Chittister's chapter "God our father; God our mother: in search of the Divine Feminine" in the recently released, "Women, Spirituality and Transformative Leadership: Where Grace Meets Power" (Sky Lights Paths Publishing).

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