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The Divine Feminine at the Parliament of the World’s Religions

Amy EdelsteinThe following post is from Amy Edelstein, a former editor for EnlightenNext magazine, who spent the past week in Melbourne, Australia at the Parliament of the World’s Religions with Andrew Cohen and the rest of the EnlightenNext team:

From UN Millennium Development Goals to an exploration of Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy and a call for integral education to start informing our higher education systems to new visions for women of faith, the Parliament themes bombard participants at all kinds of different levels and dimensions of the mind, psyche, and self.

The session on the Divine Feminine was one that perhaps the most disturbing and confusing of all the sessions I attended or heard of. Presenting were superstar in interfaith women’s circles Sister Joan Chittister OSB, Karma Lekshe Tsomo, president of Sakyadhita, the international association for women in developing countries, Mother Maya, spiritual head of the Ayurveda Wise Earth School, and Phyllis Curott, Wiccan priestess and Trustee of the Council for the Parliament.

The room was overflowing, an audience of primarily middle-aged, middle-class, white, Christian women. Mixing levels of cultural development, life experience, and Sister Joan Chittisteropportunities, at times Chittister called the audience to feel the pain of the oppressed women of the developing world in one’s own life. Not to empathize, but to equate. The prevailing culture has been, she passionately preached, to “enthrone male power over female passion.” And it’s time to reverse the trend. Women clapped. Most men clapped. Nervously. I wondered where we would all be heading if this were the tone and the prevailing tide of the future.

Mother Maya called us to reclaim the maternal in our lives. Curott asked us to reclaim the feminine, the energy of ascendence and rebirth we’ve lost. Only Tsomo spoke of a universal human suffering, and universal need to alleviate suffering. Tsomo LeksheTsomo works to guarantee Buddhist women from the developing world basic rights of ordination, study, and practice. She was the single panelist to clearly distinguish between the freedom of the privileged and the ways that freedom can be harnessed to help liberate the less privileged. She alone emphasized that what we all need to do is cultivate our own spiritual core, and support women in less advantaged situations to do spiritual practice and pursue their own spiritual depth.

While bold revolutionary voices like Sister Chittister’s may well be needed to update and even overthrow restrictive vestiges of patriarchy in the structure of the Catholic Church, indiscriminately applying the same revolutionary zeal across all levels and lines of cultural development will hardly bring us into a genuinely new age. For a true divine feminine principle to emerge through women, we do urgently need women’s leadership. We need a leadership that is not merely a reaction to outdated structures in our cultures, but is rather a spiritual leadership. An embodied expression of a deeper care and responsibility being shouldered for where we’re all going. A new divine feminine, I would think, would bring this message. A message that challenges and uplifts, that empowers not embitters, that embraces complexity rather than flattening significant difference, that unearths superficiality, reactionism, and sexism by going deeper than gender differences and, by doing so, exposes reactionary and limiting cultural constructs–male and female, gender and institutional–along the way. I look forward to that being the message, starting now, and moving towards our next Parliament in 2014.

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Filed Under: CultureDivine FeminineEnlightenNext Editors’ BlogGenderReligion

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About the Author

Joel Pitney is an Associate Editor for EnlightenNext magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JoelPitney.

Comments (4)

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  1. Willa says:

    Thanks for writing this brilliant post Amy. It is bewildering how many views are out at the moment, and often hard to separate good intentions from plain confusion from darker motivations. We so much need to create a clarity that can hold the enormous complexity we live in… to find a way forward that truly opens a new potential for women *and* men, together and not in opposition!

  2. Elisa says:

    Thank you, Amy, for the depth and nuance you bring in this post. It’s a very complex situation when women from a variety of cultural understandings and different levels of cultural development attempt to make broad statements about the future of women. Your post helps clarify how much deeper we all need to look to embrace that complexity ourselves. And to recognize that the future does not neceessarily draw on what we know of “the feminine” from past expressions. We are looking for a new liberated expression of what it means to be a woman in the 21st century that is not simply a reaction to past structures, as you so beautifully say. Thank you.

  3. mike says:

    Thank you

    I was just guided to the EnlightenNext site.

    I spent 36 years in the Military and have long been on a journey to understand both the Masculine and Feminine and peel away the Cultural layers that have covered an inner voice that has said “survival and Growth” must move beyond physical and Emotional violence and sexual Polarization.

    As I read your article and others on this site I am opened to the Diversity of views and complexity of this journey I loosely define as Peace.


  4. Angie says:

    I’m puzzled that anyone would use the word “disturbed” when referring to this panel. I thought each panelist offered a unique perspective of the Divine Feminine, which was after all, the topic. Curott represented those traditions that actually image and worship the creative source as female – the Earth as Goddess, constantly giving birth to herself, and women as examples of imminent divinity, being inspired and inhabited by the Divine Feminine; Goddess. Chittister certainly offered a a sharper edge; she simply gave voice to the thoughts of most of the people in the room about the issues that face women in the world today. To imply that boldness and zeal are undesirable and should be limited to the overthrowing of the Catholic Church is absurd. Empathy and soft white light will only get you so far. You can’t bring about a revolutionary “new age” unless someone has waged and won the revolution!
    Mother Maya served us a reminder – we are women and that’s ok. We don’t need to become men. Men need to be awakened to their nurturing side and become nurturing fathers again.
    Only Tsomo never directly addressed the topic of the panel, choosing instead to focus on describing her own work, and while that task is monumental and benevolent and progressive and to be lauded, it truly had nothing to do with the Divine Feminine.
    When God is a man, men become gods. When “God” is a woman, women become Goddesses. I think that might be a great place to begin the dialog about equality because until that happens, women will always be second class citizens in a world that desperately needs them in leadership positions. I was impressed by each of these voices and thought the panel was exactly what it should have been.