This Sunday, I’ll be celebrating women’s spiritual stories of healing at herchurch (Ebenezer Lutheran). In other words, I’ll be preaching, singing and dancing! Join us at 10:30 a.m. at 678 Portola Drive in San Francisco.
What is the title of your book?
Birthing God: Women’s Experiences of the Divine. It will be published by SkyLight Paths Publishing in March 2013.
Where did the idea come from for this book?
I’ve had a variety of experiences of Spirit, including mystical visions and nature-based revelations, and I was curious to learn about other women’s experiences of the Divine.
What genre does your book fall under?
Definitely nonfiction, although I crafted the interviews into narratives so that they read like stories.
How long did it take to write the first draft?
A year and two months. My goal was to interview 50 women by International Women’s Day. By the time I was done, I had interviewed nearly 60 women in total.
What actors would you use for a movie rendition of your book?
Hhhmmm. There’s 40 women’s stories, so I’d have to think of a lot of women actors: Viola Davis, Cicely Tyson, Michelle Yeoh, Ellen DeGeneres, Salma Hayek, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Vanessa Redgrave…
What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?
In Birthing God, 40 women relate spirit-filled moments: a grieving pastor walks a labyrinth and rediscovers the Rock of her existence; a human rights advocate re-encounters Allah in an intensely visceral moment in the sun; an educator, moved by an ancestral vision, launches a global tree-planting project to heal the wounds of slavery; a revolutionary awakens from a coma and realizes that all of life is infused with Spirit. Each woman’s story invites readers to deepen and enliven their own spiritual practices. Oops, that was two sentences!
Will it be self published or represented by an agency?
My publisher is SkyLight Paths Publishing (www.skylightpaths.com).
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My own mystical encounters and a craving to hear other women share their experiences since most spiritual accounts are authored by men.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
While spiritual memoirs abound, not many showcase 40 women’s spiritual stories in one book. The closest cousin to my book is the anthology, Women, Spirituality, and Transformative Leadership (SkyLight Paths 2011), where 30 women contribute their thoughts on women’s spirituality and the imperative for women’s transforming leadership in the world.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The stories sizzle with insight and intensity. For example, a Korean theologian and dharma teacher describes feeling the inexplicable consolation of God’s hands while she was being tortured in a South Korean prison. In another story, a Salvadoran under fire discovers within herself the God who gives her courage. (If it sounds like I’m totally jazzed by these stories, I am!)
Thanks to Lindsey Crittenden for inviting me to participate in this blog chain!
Ayesha Mattu’s first book, ‘Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women’ was featured globally by media including the New York Times, NPR, BBC, Washington Post, The Guardian, Times of India, Dawn Pakistan and The Jakarta Post. She is working on a family memoir about three generations of Pakistani Sufi women, and blogs at Love InshAllah. http://loveinshallah.com/contributors-2/
Uncovered barely a hundred years ago, Machu Picchu was a temple city for the holy men and women of the Incan nobility, according to my guide. The Incas built their temples close to the sun, but caves were also important to them. Inti Machai is the cave I chose for meditation.
Inti Machai is like a tomb, an entrance into the heart of Pachamama, Earth Mother. After passing under slabs of granite, the same stone the Incas hewed for their temples and terraces, I found an altar and placed upon it my offering to Pachamama. Emerging from the cave-tomb, I felt like a newborn, both tender and strong. Sunlight and the green heights of El Cerro Feliz, the hill the people call Happy, greeted me. Words cannot express my gratitude, the immensity of my joy.
We gathered before sunrise at the Puerta del Sol, an ancient Incan Sun Gate located a short walk from the Sacred Valley Retreat Center. For the ancient Incas, all life stemmed from the sun. They crafted their temples and other buildings with precise attention to the angle of the sun’s rays and the play of shadows. During the solstices, Inca initiates would place themselves at designated points where the first rays of the rising sun would illuminate their foreheads.
We followed this ritual at the Sun Gate in Yucay. I sat between rows of nubby stalks in a recently harvested cornfield. Before closing my eyes, I glimpsed the tomb-cliffs I had hiked to the day before. From there, my gaze traced Incan stone terraces and stone-lined irrigation channels all the way down to the stone steps of the Sun Gate. I closed my eyes to meditate. As the sun rose above the mountain, the first rays warmed my crown and then my forehead, and I felt tremendous power and gratitude welling up within me and swirling like the intense red patterns that played on my inner eye.
What a gift to allow myself to be here, I realized. What a gift to allow myself to live fully aware, dedicated to letting myself bloom. Here in this mountain valley, I could hear more clearly. Insights arose spontaneously, including:
- Honor the body and harbor the tender soul.
- Breathe into strength, the power deep within.
- Love openheartedly.
- Live in gratitude—great, great gratitude.
- Realize that death is a calm passing over, a sweetness not to be feared.
Back at the retreat center, I meditated for the remainder of the solstice day. By mid-afternoon, the garden and surrounding fields appeared to be both resting and abuzz with some hidden vigor and translucent sap. The poinsettia blazed red in the late afternoon sun. Off in the distance, a donkey brayed, a dog barked, and a chorus ensued. Beside me, the ewe tucked her legs beneath her woolly belly and chewed her cud.
All around me, shadows skirted the mountains, and I admired their bastion strength. Out loud I wondered how best to live my life.
- Live upturned like a daisy, heart open to the sun or the kiss of a child.
- Walk, every day, in the pulse of life. Walk with gratitude and awe, seeing the alive-ness and connectedness of everything.
- Meditate daily. Cultivate the inner richness.
- Every day, push the envelope of your courage. See what more emerges.
- Most of all, remember that you are part of this beauty. Remember your birthright to peace, abundance, and love.
The debate over the power of government to regulate and control women’s reproductive abilities —just one aspect of the war on women — builds on a long history of women’s subjugation. Women’s ability to connect, conceive, and create life has always vexed those who aspire to dominate. Starting in the second millennium BC, women were blamed for the advent of sin and childbirth was condemned as divine punishment. For a period, men even claimed that their “seed” gave life, relegating women to the role of incubators for their offspring. Women were further denigrated during the Inquisition, when our sacred knowledge of plants and healing herbs was destroyed or driven underground, and our mothers’ mothers’ mothers’ bodies were raped, flogged, and burned.
Women, like the earth, have long been viewed as resources to be managed. Although this perception is expressed more subtly today than in previous centuries, it is the root of widespread domestic violence, sex trafficking, rape, and femicide.
At the same time, we are also experiencing a resurgence of the Divine Feminine. Receptivity, desire for connection, making room for another: These attributes describe women’s most fundamental ways of being in the world. We connect; we receive people with an attitude of nurture and collaboration; we work together. What happens when we begin to envision God this way, as open and connected?
Although marginalized in the Christian traditions, the Divine Feminine understanding of God exists. The Hebrew and Christian Bibles contain references to God as a nursing mother (Isaiah 49:15), a female bear (2 Samuel 17:8), a mother hen (Matthew 23:27), and Lady Wisdom (Proverbs 1:20-33). Other faith traditions place more emphasis on feminine qualities of the Divine.
You might ask if it matters. Does enlarging our understanding of the Divine have any real impact on our world and the war on women? I believe that when we are rooted in a more nurturing understanding of the Divine, we are empowered to love our deepest selves and release the destructive weapon of judgment, which we often wield first against ourselves and then against others. When we feel connected to a supportive, non-judging God, we can engage in power with, not power over or power against. By broadening our understanding of the Divine and our essential connectedness, we can forge new models of healing and collaboration. We can transform the dominant paradigm by changing it from the ground up.