Tag Archive | spirituality

God Among Us

Hermanas.1Remembering the Martyrs

Thirty-three years ago today, four U.S. church women were martyred in El Salvador. They had been working with the Salvadoran poor, Ita Ford and Maura Clarke in Chalatenango, and Dorothy Kazel and Jean Donovan in La Libertad. They were returning from a retreat when their vehicle was stopped by the Salvadoran National Guard at a road block. Their desecrated bodies were discovered in a mass grave a few kilometers away. Today we commemorate Ita, Maura, Dorothy, and Jean, and what better way to celebrate their lives then to continue their legacy of working with the Salvadoran poor.

In honor of the U.S. church women martyred this day in 1980, I am excerpting from Birthing God: Women’s Experiences of the Divine my interview with Sister Teresa, who continues their pastoral work in Chalatenango.

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Dressed in light cotton and sandals, Sister Teresa motions for me to take a seat in the tiny adobe-style house she shares with four other women religious in San Jose Las Flores, El Salvador. For nearly four decades, she tells me, she has lived and worked among Latin American’s impoverished communities. “For me, vocation has been very much defined as living my life among the poor.”

Still it was a big shock for Teresa—“un choque grande”—to arrive at the nearly destroyed community of San Jose Las Flores in the midst of El Salvador’s civil war. For Teresa, “the shock was to realize how far I was from the great suffering that so many people were living.” Yet one day, during her contemplation time, she heard God speaking to her inwardly. “It was a crisis but also a great revelation. God told me clearly in the words spoken to Moisés: ‘Take off your sandals, because this place, the place you are entering, is holy ground.’” At another time, Teresa recounts, “In a state of prayer, I felt Jesús come and take hold of my shoulder. ‘This is your place,’ he said. ‘I want you right here.’”

God was telling her in no uncertain terms that this community she was serving in the midst of extreme poverty, isolation, and war was holy, the dwelling place of the Almighty. “After that experience, each day I felt more dedicated, with greater commitment—entrega—because to me it was clear that the people were the face of the suffering, crucified Christ, with their willingness to give their lives for the good of all, and at the same time, they also exemplified the resurrected Christ with their vitality, solidarity, and courage.”

Sister Teresa describes the constant shelling in the surrounding hills, the periodic military incursions and occupations of their small village, the strafing of helicopters flying overhead, and the fear that these acts generated. “During the war,” Teresa says, “the Armed Forces High Command required that I and the other sisters with me report to them every two weeks. When we left the community to go report ourselves, the people entered into a state of fear. When we returned, they shouted, ‘Ay! The sisters have returned!’” Teresa laughs. “We didn’t feel that it was really about us, but rather that the people felt this presence of God that for them was tangible with our reappearance.” The people also perceived God’s accompaniment, Teresa says, in the miracles they witnessed as they survived attack after attack on their community.

She stretches out her hand and places it on the flower-dappled tablecloth. “This is my experience of God, in the people who are an expression of the incarnate Christ. In the midst of the war, the people here showed joy, solidarity, and compassion. They were available to one another. When terrible things happened, they were afraid; they wept and trembled, but nothing stopped them from having faith and moving forward. It was an experience that changed my way of being.”

Teresa ducks her gray head slightly before revealing her affluent background. “See, I am from the bourgeoisie in my country, and I was able to study. But my greatest education has been the poor, to see their living conditions, to feel how everything is denied them, to feel how much they are underestimated, how much they are despised. I feel their condition in my being”—her hand moves to her chest—“and their reality changed me, converted me. Encountering the poor, you encounter yourself with God in a totally different way.”

Excerpted from “Teresa: God Among Us” in Birthing God: Women’s Experiences of the Divine .

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Get Down into Joy

Sadaya Zimmerle transmits both lightness and spark over the phone, reminding me of her high-energy step as she led the Dances of Universal Peace that I’d attended. “At the Mendocino Sufi camp,” she says, “we get to do the dances for days. Tears come to my eyes, and I feel deeply held and loved and fully accepted. In the midst of dancing and also in chanting, I feel a deep clarity like I’m on the right track, and a deep well of joy. I might come to the Sufi dancing with all kinds of things on my chest, and it’s like that stuff gets sloughed off. Whatever pain I have gets gradually shed toward the surface, and I get down into joy.”

Sadaya’s selection is from Birthing God: Women’s Experiences of the Divine. To see a preview, click on the link and then on the Google preview button.

Click to order Birthing God: Women’s Experiences of the Divine

Spiritual Stories of Healing and Transformation

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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. 

Birthing God cover

Click to order Birthing God: Women’s Experiences of the Divine

 

Share with your friends or book club

Birthing God:Women’s Experiences of the Divine is now part of a book club promotion! Check it out! http://www.skylightpaths.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=BOOKCLUBPROD&Store_Code=SP&Product_Code=978-1-59473-480-9Birthing God cover

Reverend Stacy Boorn, Pastor of Herchurch

Pastor Stacy Boorn proclaims, “I also think that it’s important for the whole world that the power of women—not just a few women in the United States but women globally—be seen and that the power and the understanding of the Divine Feminine be seen. Not just feminine metaphors, but the real-life females of the world as well, women like yourself.”

In a sentence, Reverend Boorn links the power of God-talk (or in this case, Goddess-talk) to real women and women’s agency in the world. She expands this connection to the earth and all beings. “The world and the whole of the universe are in essence the body of the God/dess, and we jointly share the life forces.”

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Worth. Value. Place.

Alice Martin“I’m of  worth. I have value. I have a place.”

Alice Martin’s smile is shy and her black eyes observant. When asked to characterize her experience of the Divine, she begins with a story about herchurch. “It was during last year’s croning ceremony. Oh, how can I describe it?” Searching for words, Alice looks toward the altar, allowing me a partial view of her tucked-in crown of hair. She depicts the older women sitting up front in chairs like thrones, how they were honored for their wisdom, how she was moved to tears. “It’s like the floodgates just opened, and I was in this experience of joy. I really felt the presence of God, of Goddess. It was like a down-pouring.”

Alice reaches up with both hands as if parting a curtain. “It felt like this light on me, this golden glow, and this connection to the Source, the Divine. So many times I’ve been struggling against my own feelings of unworthiness and the sense of being oppressed as a woman, as a minority. You have those everyday pressures and then there’s your own emotional baggage that kicks you down and keeps you down, and the task is to dismantle that. But this was just such a moment of ‘I’m of worth. I have value. I have a place.’”

Photo credit: VanViva.com

Click to order Birthing God: Women’s Experiences of the Divine

From Homelessness to Sisterhood

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 A Tribute to Mary Liza Rodriguez

Chrissy Fransone was driving home when she passed a homeless woman and her dogs sitting beside the roadway. She heard inside herself a voice that said “Go back to her” and felt its insistence in her solar plexus. She turned her car around and went back to the woman. The woman was Mary Liza Rodriguez, who had prayed that exact afternoon, “Lord, send me a sister” because she felt like she wanted to “end it all” by walking into oncoming traffic. She had had enough of homelessness.

How did Mary become homeless? She grew up poor. Even though she had graduated from a medical assistant program, she had no job and no health insurance, and yet she had a medical condition: a heart murmur. But mostly it was her landlord’s greed that put her on the streets. When the apartment complex where she resided went into receivership, the landlord chose to continue to collect rent from tenants rather than notify them. When the bank finally foreclosed on the property, Mary had two hours to pack up her belongings before the sheriff evicted her. Mary took with her everything she could carry and her dogs. The one relative who offered her shelter told her she’d have to get rid of her dogs. Mary would not abandon her beloved pets, even if it meant living on the streets.

Mary’s heart condition worsened significantly after she lost her home, and it eventually caused her to gain over 100 pounds in water weight. But when Chrissy took Mary in, her long brown hair still had that healthy gleam and her 47-year-old face its beauty.

Chrissy says that Mary lived in her home, on and off, for a year. They became like sisters. “Mary changed my life,” Chrissy says. “She was incredibly funny. Only Mary could make me laugh like she did.” But less than a year into their friendship, Mary passed on. Because of her heart disease, she had been hospitalized

mary Rodriguez with Chrissy

several times. One weekend Chrissy insisted that Mary go to the hospital because she didn’t look well and Chrissy was going out of town. But Mary refused to go to the hospital. She died on her own terms, surrounded by her dogs and Chrissy’s dogs. Congestive heart failure was the stated cause although heart brokenness from the loss of her home could well be the real cause. Mary’s dogs became Chrissy’s “boys”.

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A year has passed since Mary’s death. Chrissy, who works as a nanny, says, “Whenever I’m walking the  baby, I feel Mary’s presence. I often see a white butterfly and feel that it’s her spirit, Mary’s spirit, because when she was very ill with her heart disease and all the IV tubes in her during her hospitalizations, she would say to me that she just wanted to be able to run again, with the wind in her face. And so when I see the white butterflies, I think of Mary with the wind in her face, flying free.”

Happy Mother’s Day!

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God to me

Is my dark-haired mother,

Stroking my forehead

As she lullabies me to sleep.

My Mother is the earth

And all her creatures,

The web that brings us into relationship

With one another.

God to me

Is the Mother

Who spills Her essence into the world,

Creating and calling us to create

From the wombs of our being.

God to me

Is the Mother

Whose voice was drowned out

For most of history,

And yet,

I find Her in my deepest wisdom.

Alone, I feel Her touch

Upon my brow,

Mothering me still,

Mothering us all.

Dedicated to my mother, Anabelle Dalberg, on Mother’s Day 2004

from  Birthing God: Women’s Experiences of the Divine

Artwork from Gaia Goddess of the Earth

REVEREND ELENA KELLY AND THE DIVINE MOTHER

From Birthing God: Women’s Experiences of the Divine (SkyLight Paths)  Photo: Courage Campaign.org

Sister Elena Kelly is tall and broad shouldered. She takes a seat and drapes her dark floral-print skirt over black suede boots. Elena is not your ordinary woman religious. She is starting a convent for transgender women. She made her own transition several years earlier, after serving in the U.S. Navy, raising six kids, becoming ordained in two religious traditions, and founding a nondenominational church in Colorado.

These facts spill from her with ease, with laughter, but her life has been anything but facile. She points to the Divine Mother as the one who sustained her. “My first experience of the Divine Mother,” Elena recalls, “was a long time ago. I wasn’t even five years old yet. My mother was an alcoholic, and my dad was a farmer and gone all day. One day my mom and dad get in this terrible fight, and I’m horrified. I remember running back to my room, getting down on my knees, and saying, ‘Dear Heavenly Mother, the Heavenly Father is not paying attention when I pray. Would you please do something about my parents and make them stop fighting?’ No sooner had I said those words when the house went silent. And I thought to myself, ‘So there is a Divine Mother. I thought so. If there’s a Father, there has to be a Mother.’”

When Elena was still very young, she dreamed, “An angel from heaven—I like to call her Divine Mother—came down from heaven with this big white robe and feathery wings, and she wrapped her arms around me and took me away from that horrible life I had.”

As a teenager, Elena attempted suicide twice. “Mother Mary, the Divine Mother, saved me from killing myself,” Elena asserts. “She’s been there every step of the way. Things happen to me every day that She has ordered and put into place.”

Click to order Birthing God: Women’s Experiences of the Divine

 

Celebrating Women’s Day Among the Redwoods

redwood forestBefore read­ing from my book, Birthing God: Women’s Experiences of the Divine, I walked with a friend through the red­woods sur­round­ing Stillheart Institute in Woodside, California. As we descended the trail, I ran my fin­gers over the plush, green moss coat­ing the rocks along the path. I rel­ished the spongi­ness of the for­est floor beneath my feet. I hugged one of the younger red­woods, encir­cling it with my arms and star­ing up at its branched, lofty spire as it dis­ap­peared into the misty fog.

There in the for­est, and later seated before a win­dow with an ample view of the red­woods, I silently offered my prayers as our cel­e­bra­tion of International Women’s Day began. The room radi­ated with the fire’s crack­ling heat and the pul­sat­ing energy of 70 incred­i­ble women. Viviana and Hyun Kyung, the women whose sto­ries I read, were present in a spe­cial way. They had suf­fered greatly, and yet had opened their hearts to divine love and the inter­con­nect­ed­ness of all life. Their sto­ries offered us insights into our own pains and trans­for­ma­tions, our own deaths and rebirths.

Thank you, Stillheart for hon­or­ing all women and enabling us to come together on International Women’s Day as we pur­sue our indi­vid­ual and col­lec­tive trans­for­ma­tion. Thank you for empow­er­ing us to cel­e­brate boldly, to nur­ture our souls, and to share our gifts with the world!

To pre­view the women’s sto­ries in Birthing God: Women’s Experiences of the Divine, click here:

www.skylightpaths.com/page/product/978–1-59473–480-9

For more on Lana Dalberg and a sched­ule of upcom­ing events for Birthing God: Women’s Experiences of the Divine, click here:

www.womenspiritandfaith.com

Blog originally posted on Stillheart’s website at:

http://www.stillheart.org/blog/past-events/birthing-god-sharing-womens-spiritual-experiences-on-international-womens-day/