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Birthing God: Women's Experiences of the Divine

"Birthing God. Kenosis.” These three words come to me in the middle of the night. The first two words provoke an apt title for this book. But the third stumps me. Not remembering “kenosis” from my seminary days, I fling back my covers to look it up and discover that it signifies self-emptying in ancient Greek.1 Back in bed, I try to sleep, but the notion of selfemptying echoes inside me, reminding me of the Buddhist concept of no-self: not a cipher or empty sack, but a receptivity to Spirit that makes incarnation possible.

Women, I realize, empty themselves all the time, making room for the spouse, or the child and his or her attendant needs. I think of Mary—an unwed woman, a girl. What is her response to a divine being who tells her that she is pregnant when circumstances dictated that she could be stoned for that condition?

“Let it be with me according to your word,” Mary is said to have responded, opening her life to the risk and the potential of divine inspiration. Receptivity, desire for connection, making room for another: these attributes express women’s most fundamental ways of being in the world.

Conception, when women’s bodies take in foreign DNA in order to gestate new life, is but one example. Arisika Razak, one of the women I interviewed, is a nurse-midwife as well as a spiritual teacher. She shares a conception story and later characterizes birthing as “a totally sacred moment … the moving of essence, from that side of the veil to this, from there to here.” She goes on to describe the incredible Divine Love and Love of Self risk and resistance a woman meets in childbirth and how a birthing mother must marshal all her resources in order to bring new life into the world.

But this power to bring forth life has long vexed those who aspire to dominate. In centuries past, men condemned childbirth as divine punishment, blamed women for the advent of sin, and even claimed that their semen was the seed of life, relegating women to the role of incubators. In much of the Western world, women’s connection with the earth and their sacred knowledge of

plants and healing herbs were destroyed or driven underground. Our mothers’ mothers’ mothers’ bodies were raped, flogged, and burned. Even today, debate rages over the power of government to regulate and control women’s reproductive abilities. The femicides of the Inquisition and, for non-Western women, slavery and genocide, burn deep within our collective unconscious, manifesting as self-doubt, dread, and fear.

Plenty of fears—of pain, rejection, unworthiness, inadequacy, un-lovability, and abandonment—came out in the interviews I conducted for this book. These fears and self-condemnations were
not news to me. They’d been part of the soundtrack of my life for years, particularly the dirge beating out the heavy refrain, “Not good enough, not good enough, not good enough.”

But in my early forties, an amazing thing happened. I began meditating daily, at first in my bedroom closet so as not to awaken my husband, and later in a small room he built for me in
the garage. In those precious moments of meditation, I emptied myself, letting go of fears and other distractions, and resting gently in the breath and in timeless silence. Visions appeared, fragrant from another realm: oceans and forest streams with eddying pools where four-legged animals gathered to drink.

During that period, as my body shifted toward change, toward menopause, my inner spirit opened itself to the larger Spirit, and I came face-to-face with God as Mother. Scenes unfurled on my inner eye in undulating landscapes, and she stepped into them. A tall African woman, the Mother was someone my heart recognized instantly, even though I had been raised with male images of God. I recorded each vision as soon as I opened my eyes.

July 1, 2002: The Mother takes my hand, and we walk along
a seashore. She hands me a shell necklace and reminds me of
my gifts that have been hidden in the dark. She places a cape
upon my shoulders and says, “Remember I am the mantel
you wear, and I am in your heart. I am always with you. I
love you.”

In the visions, the Mother cared for me, providing nourishment, clothing, walking sticks, and gemstone necklaces that spoke to me of my inestimable worth in her eyes. She midwifed my children, helping me to birth them into the world. And there were later visions of death and rebirth. I typed each one into my laptop.

August 3, 2002: Today I saw myself emerging from the water,
clothed in buckskin and with long black braids. But as I
emerged, I saw pieces of myself break off like shards—shards
of me falling away, splashing into the water. I was afraid, and
I reached toward the sun, my Mother. The sun voice said,
“Behold, here is my daughter, with whom I am well pleased.”
And I was a woman’s body again: curvy, voluptuous, pregnant,
and, although pregnant, old. I walked with a cane. I
carried age in my bones. The time came for me to bring forth
the child in my womb. I gripped a pole, and my Mother
Midwife soothed me, stroking my hair, patting my brow dry,
feeding me water to drink, and whispering words of encouragement
in my pain. My pain was the labor of birth, but the
pain of not knowing, too. I heaved and groaned through the
pains, and I birthed an adult—an androgynous human being
that was as big as me, that merged with me, swirling like the
symbol of the yin and the yang. This was my birth, I realized.
I searched for my Mother God, and I heard her say, “I am
here: in the rain, in the sun, and in the earth. I will always be
there for you.”

The waking visions were reinforced by dreams and gave rise to my desire to know other women’s stories and to hear their experiences of the Divine, however they named it. I made room in my professional and domestic life for a new project, asking women to share their stories with me. I started closest to home, in my church community,4 and broadened the circle to draw in others who were interested. Many of the women had been involved in courageous, compassionate work for years, and they were just now recognizing the injustices thrust upon the collective female soul. Some were creating women’s circles, others were collaborating in ecofeminist ventures to safeguard the earth, and others were involved in healing and creative work to lift up the Divine Feminine. Instead of disparaging themselves, these women were embracing themselves as cherished and one with the Divine.

I learned many things as I interviewed these women, but everything they shared reinforced one simple treasure: however we name Spirit, we receive it with deep-hearted openness. Our
receptivity is active, recognizing the value we bring to relationship by trusting and honoring the God within; by experiencing Spirit as soul mate; by glimpsing the Divine all around us; and by allowing God to cradle and nourish us. At the same time, our spirituality is a process, unfolding and growing with each passing day. Our spiritual stories are full of missteps and unabashed celebration. They are narratives of suffering and of hope; lessons in shedding fear and learning to love ourselves. Ours are embodied stories that begin with emptying so that we can glimpse the Holy Other, this Light who appears in ways unplanned, unexpected, and unsettling. Our lives are the surprise that begins with the response, “Let it be.”

Birthing God: Women's Experiences of the Divine
by by Lana Dalberg