When I was in my early twenties my confirming church, First United Methodist, called to wonder where I’d been and if I was still a member. I told the caller that I was no longer worshipping a white male god; I was a feminist pagan. In my social milieu, people wore jackets customized with emblems, slogans, and images that broadcast one’s worldview. Some wore black leather with skeletons dancing across the back. Some wore Air Force hooded fatigue coats with red, white and blue bulls eyes carefully painted in primary acrylic. My Levi’s jacket had a white women’s symbol, the tail an upside down cross, the circle a peace sign, all outlined in metallic gold. Around this central motif twined a five- candled wreath of purple flowers, green leaves and curling vines.
I could probably wear this jacket, if it still fit, without much consternation. It summarizes nicely where my spiritual head is at. I do not subscribe to a stern father model of God. I do not believe God is gendered. I do believe that “feminine” energy is the source of creation—how could it not be? —Why would a universe organize the visible world around a symbol system that is diametrically opposed to the spiritual world? I don’t think it would. Though, admittedly, the upside down cross now strikes me as disrespectful, juvenile and overly simplistic.
In the 80s an upside down or X’ed over cross, such as those on Bad Religion T-shirts, sought to comment not on Christ or the crucifixion, but on the organized religion the cross symbolized to those of us up on tip toe peaking in the church windows — or kicking at the turf from a safe distance across the street. Tammy Faye Baker, Robert Tilton, Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, the Trinity Broadcast Network’s talking, weeping, and painted heads—the airwaves were full of an image of Christianity that was obscene and far off Gospel message. Sex scandal after scandal involved “righteous” men who had many judgmental and moralizing opinions about the sex lives of others. Jerry Falwell declared AIDS a plague wrought by god to punish sin. While they weren’t busy opposing the Equal Rights Amendment and proclaiming God’s hatred of homosexuals, they were busy laying the groundwork for a prosperity gospel—they were happy shiny people who were happy and shiny because God wanted them to be the happy shiny owners of air-conditioned dog houses. In the thick of it Bono chided from the concert stage, “My god ain’t short on cash, mister.”
For people raised outside an organized faith tradition in which they otherwise might have familiarity with the Gospel message, Christianity looked pretty vacant: self-righteous, self-involved, narcissistic, money mongering, whore mongering. As the “Religious Right” aligned itself with the Republican Party, the jokes about how the hookers don’t like to work the Republican Convention because those guys are really twisted when it comes to their predilections applied equally to Religious Right practitioners. They were one; upon regressive politics and policy they could both agree, and upon the subjugation of women they could both agree. By extension, the Democrats embracing their sexuality and essentially fallen state, had a healthier relationship with sexuality all around and weren’t dabbling in anything half as dark as the kinky freaks across the isle. Or so it appeared to many others and me.
For those familiar with the Beatitudes or the Sermon on the Mount, the spectacle of weeping and/or penitent millionaires was simply obscene. I suspect I am not the only person who turned away from Christianity when its public image coalesced with the Technicolor show that was the Religious Right. (Thank God for Bill Moyers and Sister Wendy!)
When I turned away, I turned toward a practical application of The Beatitudes—which in my mind means some form of socialism or a form of pure Marxism divorced from the nastiness of some of its previous incarnations. For instance, I once read about an agrarian province in India in which universal healthcare and near 100% literacy are the norms. No one is wealthy, but no one has a starving intellect or belly, either. Like Steinbeck’s preacher, I like to think that once and only those needs are met, spiritual hunger will lessen as well. It’s hard to believe in a benevolent Universe if your starving child lies in your lap too weak to swat flies.
Mysticism is my natural inclination. I like to think about God much more than I like to do God’s work. So I spent a lot of time thinking about God as understood apart from the Religious Right—as far apart as I could get. My bumper sticker at the time: Sappho’s Coming.
My sister is making me a rosary to commemorate my confirmation into the Catholic Church. It will be made of garnet beads. She isn’t making it with a crucifix; she is opposed to crosses and crucifixes. As she explained in a recent phone call, “It’s like memorializing Holocaust victims with shower heads. It’s the least important part of the story.” (I’m certain a phalanx of Catholic priests would disagree.) She intends to include a goddess figurine where the crucifix would normally go. I see no problem with that. None. I am a cultural relativist. My god isn’t their “God.” “They” are people who are not cultural relativists. My god certainly isn’t some bearded and middle-aged 16th century Italian with white hair. My god is nebulous: The Universe. My god is everything that reminds me I am infinitely insignificant and infinitely connected in relation to everyone and everything else. My god is an acknowledgement that none of us mortals know what god is or isn’t. Not me. Not the magisterium. Not the priesthood. Not the Pope. S/He who cannot be named is my god.
Around Easter I made a new friend at work, Mote It Be, whose own blog (because he’s a big fat copycat) can be found at http://noobiewicca.blogspot.com. Mote It Be made no secret of his interest in paganism. He quickly became my friend. This relationship has raised questions. If I am drawn to a Wiccan newbie right as I am learning the Nicene Creed by heart, what is the Universe trying to tell me? If I am drawn into an intense friendship with a man who is everything I have renounced for the sake of my marriage, in what is the Universe trying to school me?
This morning my youngest daughter carefully applied lipstick and sat in my white leather living room chair cradling the lipstick in her hands. The lipstick was tucked succinctly into the purse case it lives in, usually at the back of big sister’s bathroom drawer. (Big sister inherited all of her grandma’s makeup.) The purse case this tube lives in once held my only tube of Chanel lipstick, which cost somewhere beyond $20. The lone and prized tube of Chanel ate it when big sister drew on a wall or all over her clothes or completed some other tragic comedy years ago. Mote It Be is my tube of Chanel lipstick.
It has been nine years since I was free to get up in the morning and decide my day free of the influence and obligation of a committee of domestic terrorists. I am on-call 24 hours a day. I chose that. I still love what it means to be a mother and wife, but nine years is a very long time—long enough to forget that it is not unreasonable to ask for and receive several hours a week to one’s self. It is not unreasonable to maintain friendships that have nothing to do with one’s husband’s professional contacts, one’s children’s playmates, the network of mommies and daddies and neighbors and colleagues and church friends that make up the routine life and friendships of the stay-at-home mom. Mote It Be, then, is my tube of Chanel lipstick, garnet with flecks of bronze and smelling like, well, Chanel lipstick (though he actually smells like some spell oil intended to incite lust—smoky, sweet and masculine essential oils).
Over the last few years on Face Book, I have been gathering my friends who knew me when nothing about me was a secret. Mote It Be is the kind of friend I used to have before being someone’s wife and other people’s mother primarily defined me. Being known, it turns out, is important. Being known for the person you truly are when you are without fear, humble and naked before the universe is important because being that person and being ok with being that person—that buoyant homeostasis—like savasana—is one of those times when the universe bends down and kisses your forehead tenderly. Profoundly connected, whole, at one.
I have been drawn to Catholicism from the start because it echoes paganism. The liturgical calendar follows the seasons of birth, growth, and death—maiden, mother, crone—at least in the northern hemisphere. The Virgin Mary’s primacy in Catholicism is particular to Catholicism, but it is also an echo of the Goddesses that historically precede her and an obvious cooptation of the fertility cults the Roman Empire supplanted. (According to the Encyclopedia of Women’s Myths and Secrets, several Madonna and Child statues in the United Kingdom, when examined carefully, reveal themselves as pairs of female figures.) Communion has its parallels across more than one faith tradition, including paganism. Voodoo is an amalgam of Catholicism and West African faith practices. And in these ways, Catholicism holds more attractive symbolism than do the mainstream Protestant traditions with which I’ve had experience. My heathen soul is glamoured by the allure of The Mother Church.