The 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 opportunities, 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 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.