Initiate This: My Journey to Authentic Manhood, part 2

(Continued from Initiate This: My Journey to Authentic Manhood, Part 1)

The house where our AMP: Intensive was held, in Chapel HIll. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Platts: (c) 2012

AMP, or the Authentic Man Program, is (as I understand it) what happens when dating-scene pickup artists collide with the human potential movement in San Francisco: A community developing practical ways to delve deep into your core masculinity in all your relations, particularly those with the opposite sex.*

(*Yes, AMP does tend to be hetero-normative, though there’s plenty of space to bring who you are regardless of orientation.)

My friend Adrial, whom I met when I initiated with him in MKP, was my entrée into the world of AMP, years after listening to the New Man podcasts. It all started with the Authentic Games Nights he hosts around the Triangle: these awesome evenings of rather psychologically intimate mutual exploration with mostly complete strangers – think of ice-breakers on Ayahuasca.

(And if that doesn’t sound like your idea of fun, well…it isn’t for everyone, and yet it’s gentler than it sounds. It pushes my edge around introversion and extroversion in a way that I appreciate).

From my experiences with Authentic Games – including when we brought Adrial into Wild Goose East this year – I knew I wanted more. Imagine my delight when he introduce me to John Church, who told me that there were two upcoming AMP weekends happening right in my region: the AMP: Intensive in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and AMP: Evolution in DC (which is happening in two weeks; I’ll be there as support staff. Check it out!). I decided to take the plunge, and go.

I’m so glad I did.

True to its name, it was an intense weekend. Ten men were present, all of us seeking to work on very personal dimensions of our own lives. We were all bound by a common desire to grow beyond our comfort zones.

We were supported in this by two main male facilitators, as well as four other co-facilitators, seven amazing female coaches, and a number of support staff who took care of everything from breakfast to chair arrangements throughout the weekend.

Photo courtesy of Mark Bollt: (c) 2012

The whole weekend was a series of exercises, which I’m reluctant to say too much about because I don’t want to spoil the magic should you decide to take the AMP plunge for yourself. (And, ladies: there are plenty of Authentic World opportunities as well – like AWE in DC at the end of September – see the Resources at the end of this post). The entire weekend has been designed and carefully-honed over the past decade to draw out your full thinking, feeling, embodied self. There’s a solid theory core (see tomorrow’s post) supported by present-moment-awareness “circling” in small groups, combined with the exercises and games that identify and trouble-shoot areas where we each might be stuck. I feel like I was accurately ‘read,’ held, and challenged throughout the weekend.

It wasn’t all riding one epiphany after another, though. There were times that I was brought uncomfortably close to the things I try to hold at bay so often: feelings of loneliness, not fitting in a crowd, inferiority, shame, and more. What’s beautiful, though, is that these times served me as much as the times of overt breakthrough. These times allowed me to bring these familiar banes of my existence fully to the next exercise or circling round, deepening the breakthroughs I was having, and expanding their effects to more areas of my life.

Overall, wow. It was like a body-mind-spirit tuneup that actually works.

AMP’s marketing is heavily-slanted toward men who are single and looking to have more meaningful, powerful connections with women. But as a married man, I got a ton out of it too – both personally and vocationally. You might be wondering: What would a married man get out of learning to show up more powerfully toward the opposite sex?

It turns out, lots.

Final feedback from AMP coaches to participants. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Platts: (c) 2012

Let me put it this way: Whether I’m in conversation with a new friend (of either gender), negotiating a contract with a client, or giving a talk via Skype or in-person, the lack of mastery I often feel between what’s going on inside and what’s expressed in my body feels like a drunken toddler operating a sky-crane in the middle of the city. Can anyone else relate?

If not, imagine you’ve felt this way your whole life – as I have – and imagine that the most substantial feedback you’ve ever received, even from those good friends who care enough to be observant and tell you hard truths about yourself, is “you seem uncomfortable a lot of the time.” Painfully honest but often not terribly useful. Ohh – I just need to be more comfortable and confident – now I get it!

For me as a man (who is, among other facets in life, married), I want more quality connection in several arenas:

  • More of a sense of play and intimacy with my wife
  • A greater sense of trust, ease, connection, and direction with my friends
  • A fuller sense of healthy power when giving my vocational gifts to the world – in writing, speaking, and consulting
  • An increased feeling of well-being in personal mastery in how I’m present to myself
  • A more luminous sense of integrity, honesty, and vulnerability before the Divine

…you know, things like that. :)

I have to say, more than much I’ve experienced in my life, AMP delivered on these points of connection. Not that I’ve “arrived” by any means, but I have tasted peak experiences in these arenas, feeling what it feels like to know wholeness as I relate to God, myself, others, and my environment – and being given practical tools (as well as community) to turn the taste of these peak states of being into ordinary, practicable stages of my day-to-day life.

Question: What’s helped you delve deeper into a substantial sense of who you are & why you’re here? 

On Monday, I’ll continue my Initiate This series, looking at the theory basis of AMP.

Resources for your masculine – or feminine! – journey:

AMP Evolution: Authentic Man Program’s men’s transformation weekend – in DC on August 17-19
Authentic World: Co-ed trainings and intensives
Authentic Woman Experience: Authentic World’s course by and for women

ManKind Project: New Warrior Training Adventure – initiation experience for men, held worldwide
ManKind Project: Find an IGroup – find open Igroups worldwide, as well as those open to MKP-initiated men
Woman Within: MKP’s sister-organization leads initiations and has a global network of women’s circles.

Initiate This: My Journey to Authentic Manhood, part 1

A Promise Keepers Rally

It was the early 2000s, I was in college, and I rolled my eyes.

One of my friends – one among many, it seemed – was enthusiastically recommending John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart. “Men have been captive to excessive feminizing and we need to break free,” he said, earnestly waving the book while he gestured. I sighed. I remembered the Promise Keepers men’s rallies filling up sports stadiums less than a decade earlier; it seemed like evangelical Christian men were pissed off and afraid of feminism, having a mid-life crisis (at whatever age they happened to be), or both. This John Wayne-styled, muscular brand of faith wasn’t for me – I was happy living my life as a quirky intellectual, leaving questions of “real manhood” to jocks questioning their place in a changing world.

Or so I thought.


Fast-forward about five years; I’m out of college, newly-married, and I encounter Richard Rohr, a sixty-something Franciscan friar, through my work with TheOOZE’s Soularize: Learning Party. He shares something fascinating, that I suppose I knew but never really thought about: Every traditional culture the world over has clear, powerful rites of passage that bring their boys to manhood – and we in the West do not. His Wild Man’s Journey (now From Wild Man to Wise Man) introduced me to the male archetypes of King, Warrior, Lover, and Magician, and the personality types and life-stages that are attracted to each. I wanted to undergo one of Richard’s carefully designed Men As Learners and Elders (MALES) rites of passage to learn to access these archetypes more deeply, but I never did.

Advance the clock a couple more years; by the late 2000s my young family moves from my native Atlanta to Raleigh to help start an intentional community; it is in the process of disintegrating around us. I discover Tripp Lanier’s New Man Podcast (not to be confused with the Other Tripp’s awesome podcasts), a veritable potpourri of voices (both men and women) about what it means to live into a deep, powerful masculinity in the 21st-century. Through Tripp I’m introduced to David Deida, whose Way of the Superior Man is a powerful, controversial tome on masculine and feminine energies, and why a felt polarity between them is necessary for a fulfilled life between partners.

I also hear stories from the men of two organizations that will come to have a potent impact on my life: the ManKind Project (MKP) and the Authentic Man Program (AMP).

Christmas 2010: At my local Borders, mere months before its closing, I see a little pull-away ad for a “New Warrior Training Adventure” hosted by MKP at King’s Mountain State Park in North Carolina the following May. Language about warrior-training would have scared me away in my Wild at Heart-loathing days. (And to be fair: I have never, to this day, read Eldredge’s seminal work. I’ve read a couple of his other books, though, and have enjoyed them.) But understanding better the language of archetypes, and learning about the ManKind Project’s quarter-century reputation of helping men emerge into their freest, most integrated selves, I was intrigued. I ended up doing the NWTA in May of 2011 with a couple of trusted friends, and it was one of the scariest, most worthwhile weekends of my life.

I won’t say much about my NWTA here, since much of its impact is derived from the container of confidentiality that surrounds it. Suffice to say that it is every bit the initiation rite that Richard Rohr (and others, like Roberts Bly and Moore) propose. It was also infused with an edge of Jungian shadow work – using ritual and roleplay to help us face our scariest inner demons, the things we hide, deny, and repress. During my NWTA initiation, I came face to face with how much raw fear I’ve stored up in my life – and what depths of power I have to call upon. From my weekend, I joined an Igroup – short for integration group, a circle of men with whom I can share life, and practice the newfound communication skills I learned on the NWTA. This was a healing experience, after so many experiences with other men where I was either in competition or bracing for some kind of put-down. I gather with my Igroup circle of men to this day. Deeply knowing a group of trustworthy men who have my back as I have theirs has been slowly and consistently life-altering. (Wouldn’t it be awesome if church was like that??)


Real community, with real men, helping me become a better man – all the while respecting and loving the women in our lives. Who’d have thought such a thing was possible? I owe an eternal debt of gratitude to MKP.

And even so, I’ve sensed there is yet more for me to learn in my quest to become a whole, integrated man living out of my depths. This is where AMP came in, earlier this month.

To be continued..!

Resources for your masculine – or feminine! – journey:

ManKind Project: New Warrior Training Adventure – initiation experience for men, held worldwide
ManKind Project: Find an IGroup – find open Igroups worldwide, as well as those open to MKP-initiated men
Woman Within: MKP’s sister-organization leads initiations and has a global network of women’s circles.

AMP Evolution: Authentic Man Program’s men’s transformation weekend – in DC on August 17-19
Authentic World: Co-ed trainings and intensives
Authentic Woman Experience: Authentic World’s course by and for women

The Way of the Heart Part 10: Awakening to Direct Knowledge – the Divine Cardio Workout

This continues my series on Cynthia Bourgeault‘s recent day-session at the Servant Leadership School of Greensboro. You can start reading right here, or scroll below to see the previous sessions. BTW, Cynthia was just named Master Teacher at the Rohr Institute’s Living School for Action and Contemplation!  

In the ancient anatomies, the overwhelming emotions we now ascribe to the heart they ascribed to the liver. “Won’t you be my liver lover?” – not found on a Hallmark card.

Robert Sardello (of Benson, NC) – the heart is the seat of spiritual knowing, connects to direct knowing; not leaping into the dark, but seeing in the dark. Direct knowing is invisible to the five senses of linear causality – things become not only crystal clear to the heart, but morally binding. (Sardello: Emotion is stuck feeling. Feeling: great sweeps and flows… a deep feeling stuck to a small story of self is an emotion. When it gets really stuck it’s a passion. “The problem with the passions is that they divide the heart.” “I see/I want/I have to have/I hate/I can’t live without ___.”

A profound anthropology of the heart that arises from the inner tradition of the Abrahamic faiths – coming to fruition in Sufism.

Kabir Helminski “We have subtle subconscious faculties we are not using. Beyond the limited analytic intellect is a vast realm of mind that includes psychic and extrasensory abilities, intuition; wisdom; a sense of unity; aesthetic, qualitative, and symbolic capacities. Though these faculties are many, we give them a single name with some justification because they are operating best when they are in concert. They comprise a mind, moreover, in spontaneous connection with the cosmic mind. This total mind we call “heart.” (See

What if your heart is a hologram of the divine heart?

What if it’s an instantiation, faithfully reproducing the whole?

Are we talking about a metaphor? Liberal theology treats the heart as a metaphor for ‘the whole person.’ But there’s groundbreaking scientific work done in neurocardiology reinforcing that we cannot just dismiss the physical heart. It’s the locus where all of this touches down. (

Sardello: The heart is physiological, psychological, and spiritual. The heart’s resonances are important in showing us what’s going on. We know conclusively that the heart is not just a pump. It’s more than anything else an electromagnetic resonator; it not only harmonizes the body, but it harmonizes with the greater bodies of communities and planetary bodies.

Neuro-hormonal connections exist between heart and brain; heart cells and brain cells are interspersed throughout the entire body.

“The cosmos is huge, but the whole cosmos cannot contain the human heart.” – Sufi saying

Mutual resonance can be felt between ‘the heart of God’ and our heart.

Resonance & vibration are tied up in sickness and health. Electromagnetic signals define and sustain our homeostasis.

“Blessed are the pure in heart.” – Jesus is not talking about not having sex. :)

A pure heart is a non-cooptive heart. Not stuck on a passion, a want, an insistence. “Virginity” is noncooptation; a heart that sees God.

It’s only after we’ve rescued our heart from involuntary contractive emotions (the passions) can the heart truly feel. (Equanimity does not equal indifference)

Practicing spaciousness – kenosis – frees us from the subject/object divide so that we are awakened to the immense intelligence of felt-body resonance.

To be continued…to see where Cynthia’s going with this, I recommend checking out her books The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and MindCentering Prayer and Inner Awakening,  The Meaning of Mary Magdalene, and The Wisdom Way of Knowing.


And check out this video of Cynthia sharing a similar talk in Massachusetts!

In This Series:

The Way of the Heart – Cynthia Bourgeault Part 1: What IS the Path of Jesus?
The Way of the Heart – Cynthia Bourgeault Part 2: See What Jesus Sees; Do What Jesus Does
The Way of the Heart Part 3: Cynthia Bourgealt’s Four Proposals – Beyond ‘The Imitation of Christ’
The Way of the Heart Part 4: Heartfulness Practice Transcends & Includes Orthodoxy
The Way of the Heart Part 5: Upgrading Our Operating System
The Way of the Heart Part 6: A Rorschach Blot for the Mind
The Way of the Heart Part 7: When 20/20 Hindsight Becomes Blindsight
The Way of the Heart Interlude: Kenosis Hymn
The Way of the Heart Interlude: Speaking of Life Divine
The Way of the Heart Part 8: Heart Surgery
The Way of the Heart Part 9: Christ is Living in Our Midst

And check out Carl McColman’s Nonduality in the Bible…and us.

Blessings Not Just for the Ones Who Kneel – the Promiscuous Love of God

Agent provocateur Darin Hufford of the Free Believers Network, posted something worth considering on his Facebook Page:

The #1 complaint I hear people respond with when they hear this grace message is that God isn’t only loving, He’s also a God of justice and judgment. I think to myself, “Why can’t you shake your bi-polar concept of God? He’s the most loving being in the universe yet He’s got a hair-trigger temper?” God sounds like an alcoholic father.

(Hmm…sounds like shades of a recent conversation we’ve been having, does it not?)

Darin goes to great length debunking this harmful myth in The Misunderstood God…my friend Brian McLaren goes to great length debunking this harmful slander of God’s character in A New Kind of Christianity. I want to expose this naked emperor impostor-god via a couple of relatively recent songs. But first, a Bible break:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. - Jesus, in Matthew 5:43-45 TNIV.

God is not like us – we want to curse our enemies and misbehavors; we want to withold the best for the blest – which is, of course, us. But like the eccentric, argumentative Psalms of our Holy Writ, a couple of contemporary Psalmists wrestle with the character of the prodigal God, and show us what might be a better image of the Divine.

The first, and most in-your-face, example I’d like to offer is David Bazan‘s ‘Bless This Mess’ from the I-can’t-stop-listening-to-it album Curse Your Branches.

God bless the man who stumbles
God bless the man who falls
God bless the man who yields to temptation

God bless the woman who suffers
God bless the woman who weeps
God bless the children trying her patients

Trouble getting over it
Is what you’re in for
So pour yourself another
‘Cause it’ll take a steady pair of hands

Holy or unholy ghost
Well now I can’t tell, but either way you cut it
You should get some distance if you plan to take a stand

God bless the house divided
God bless the weeds in the wheat
God bless the lamp hid under a bushel

I discovered hell to be the poison in the well
So I tried to warn the others of the curse
But then my body turned on me
I dreamt that for eternity
My family would burn
Then I awoke with a wicked thirst

By my baby’s yellow bed I kissed her forehead and rubbed her little tummy
Wondered if she’d soon despise the smell of the booze on my breath like her mom
And it makes me want to be a better man
After another drink

God bless the man at the crossroads
God bless the woman who still can’t sleep
God bless the history that doesn’t repeat

This is an ambivalent song, to be sure. Evangelicalism’s erstwhile poster child grew up in the Assemblies of God and spent some time among Calvinists in an attempt to bolster the consistency of his faith – in both cases, just like me. He & I are approaching the life of faith from different trajectories now, but we both struggle with how to raise our little girls with integrity amidst a world that increasingly has more options. In the midst of it all, we’d like to believe in the God of Jesus – the God who loves, and blesses, indiscriminately – even when we’re hurting ourselves. (You can see other good versions of the song here and here, and perhaps download it here? For more on Bazan’s story, read these three excellent – but R-rated, just so ya know – interviews, in The Chicago Reader, eMusic, and Patrol.)

The most over-exposed man in rock – and perhaps periodBono Vox Himself, has good reason for getting as much exposure as he does. Among other things, his tenacious vision of God’s peace and shalom over and against the legalism of his Irish youth comes through in his songwriting, album after album. ‘City of Blinding Lights‘ is a great recent example:

Selected lyrics:

The more you see the less you know
The less you find out as you go
I knew much more then, than I do now

…I’ve seen you walk unafraid
I’ve seen you in the clothes you made
Can you see the beauty inside of me?
What happened to the beauty I had inside of me?

Time, time, time, time, time, time
Won’t leave me as I am…
But time won’t take the boy out of this man…

The more you know the less you feel
Some pray for – others steal
Blessings are not just for the ones who kneel
Luckily…luckily we don’t believe in luck…
Grace abounds…grace abounds…grace abounds…

Like me, Bono has wrestled with the world-affirming and world-denying in voices like that of Chinese mystic and church planter Watchman Nee. And like me, he’s had to say that what traditional Christianity has meant by “the world” we were meant to “come out of” and what Jesus (and Paul, and others) meant by this enigmatic phrase are two completely different – indeed, opposite – things.

Jesus was referring to the world of principalities and powers, those inhuman and dehumanizing forces of religion and empire. He wasn’t referring to culture-as-such, and certainly not to planet earth. Millions of friends-of-God are awakening to the reality that we live in a God-blessed and God-beloved world that God still thinks is ‘very good,’ however marred by egoic haze and degradation its become. We’re all connected – for life or death.

As the US Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori recently remarked, the idea of solely personal salvation is heresy. Our redemption begins in this world, its social and public as well as personal – at this stage, in 2012, salvation is planetary in scope. The ecology of new creation needs to be rooted in every aspect of our beings, from creative work to re-creation.

Bottom-line: God is love. Love is orthodoxy. (Agapetheism, as my friend Kevin Beck likes to put it) It’s God’s kindness that leads to repentance, not the big stick that you imagine God’s holiness to be. Let’s join together in the Great Work of our age – becoming the leaves of the Tree of Life for the healing of our relationships, our neighborhoods, our ecosystems, our economies – in short, our world. This begins, as Brennan Manning says, with healing our image of God – and the ones God loves. Which is all of us. God brings abundant blessings…not just for the ones who kneel. May we model this same lavish, indiscriminate, sloppy, positively promiscuous love.

Amen and amen.

PS: What songs, art, poetry and cultural artifacts remind you of God’s blessing breaking out of the confines of empire and religion?

This post originally debuted on December 3, 2009

Is God ‘A Recovering Practitioner of Violence’?

“Recovering? Who said I was recovering?”

I was recently watching some sessions from 2004’s Emerging Theological Conversation that I attended at All Souls PCA Church in Decatur with Jasmin and Seth in the fall of 2004 – some eight years ago. Walter Brueggemann was the presenting scholar, and Brian McLaren, Tim Keel, Troy Bronsink and others were emceeing the dialogues with him (Yes, ladies, there were lots of dudes on stage back in 2004…we got better).

It was the first time I’d met Troy; the second time I’d met Chris Seay I believe, and the third time I’d met Brian – I got up the courage to approach Brian afterward and ask him if he needed editorial feedback on any of his work; to my grateful surprise I got to informally work on The Last Word and the Word After That. Good times.

Soo, yeah. It was at this conference that Brueggemann presented his 19 Theses:

1.     Everybody lives by a script. The script may be implicit or explicit. It may be recognized or unrecognized, but everybody has a script.

2.     We get scripted. All of us get scripted through the process of nurture and formation and socialization, and it happens to us without our knowing it.

3.      The dominant scripting in our society is a script of technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism that socializes us all, liberal and conservative.

4.     That script (technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism) enacted through advertising and propaganda and ideology, especially on the liturgies of television, promises to make us safe and to make us happy.

5.     That script has failed. That script of military consumerism cannot make us safe and it cannot make us happy. We may be the unhappiest society in the world.

6.     Health for our society depends upon disengagement from and relinquishment of that script of military consumerism. This is a disengagement and relinquishment that we mostly resist and about which we are profoundly ambiguous.

7.     It is the task of ministry to de-script that script among us. That is, too enable persons to relinquish a world that no longer exists and indeed never did exist.

8.     The task of descripting, relinquishment and disengagement is accomplished by a steady, patient, intentional articulation of an alternative script that we say can make us happy and make us safe.

9.     The alternative script is rooted in the Bible and is enacted through the tradition of the Church. It is an offer of a counter-narrative, counter to the script of technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism.

10.  That alternative script has as its most distinctive feature, its key character – the God of the Bible whom we name as Father, Son, and Spirit.

11.  That script is not monolithic, one dimensional or seamless. It is ragged and disjunctive and incoherent. Partly it is ragged and disjunctive and incoherent because it has been crafted over time by many committees. But it is also ragged and disjunctive and incoherent because the key character is illusive and irascible in freedom and in sovereignty and in hiddenness, and, I’m embarrassed to say, in violence – [a] huge problem for us.

12.  The ragged, disjunctive, and incoherent quality of the counter-script to which we testify cannot be smoothed or made seamless. [I think the writer of Psalm 119 would probably like too try, to make it seamless]. Because when we do that the script gets flattened and domesticated. [This is my polemic against systematic theology]. The script gets flattened and domesticated and it becomes a weak echo of the dominant script of technological, consumer militarism. Whereas the dominant script of technological, consumer militarism is all about certitude, privilege, and entitlement this counter-script is not about certitude, privilege, and entitlement. Thus care must betaken to let this script be what it is, which entails letting God be God’s irascible self.

13.  The ragged, disjunctive character of the counter-script to which we testify invites its adherents to quarrel among themselves – liberals and conservatives – in ways that detract from the main claims of the script and so too debilitate the focus of the script.

14.  The entry point into the counter-script is baptism. Whereby we say in the old liturgies, “do you renounce the dominant script?”

15.  The nurture, formation, and socialization into the counter-script with this illusive, irascible character is the work of ministry. We do that work of nurture, formation, and socialization by the practices of preaching, liturgy, education, social action, spirituality, and neighboring of all kinds.

16.  Most of us are ambiguous about the script; those with whom we minister and I dare say, those of us who minister. Most of us are not at the deepest places wanting to choose between the dominant script and the counter-script. Most of us in the deep places are vacillating and mumbling in ambivalence.

17.  This ambivalence between scripts is precisely the primary venue for the Spirit. So that ministry is to name and enhance the ambivalence that liberals and conservatives have in common that puts people in crisis and consequently that invokes resistance and hostility.

18.  Ministry is to manage that ambivalence that isequally present among liberals and conservatives in generative faithful ways in order to permit relinquishment of [the] old script and embrace of the new script.

19.  The work of ministry is crucial and pivotal and indispensable in our society precisely because there is no one [see if that’s an overstatement]; there is no one except the church and the synagogue to name and evoke the ambivalence and too manage a way through it. I think often; I see the mundane day-to-day stuff ministers have to do and I think, my God, what would happen if youtook all the ministers out. The role of ministry then is as urgent as it is wondrous and difficult.

Want to see the talk for yourself? Here it is.

It’s interesting that what disturbs us sometimes the first time we hear it ends up comforting us the next time we hear it. More explosively than even his challenging theses, it was at this conference that Brueggemann wonders out loud if  “God is a recovering practitioner of violence.” As Geoff Holsclaw summarizes – “By this he means that God used to think violence was a good idea, but then gave up on it. However, like all addicts, He has relapses. Of which the cross is either the final deliverance, or another relapse.”

Of course this is potentially disconcerting, as we don’t like to imagine the repentance of God – and yet, this is precisely what is suggested in Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan (thanks, Jack Miles!). Incarnation inaugurates a genuine new-ness in God’s new covenant with humanity & cosmos. As Geoff continues, “Concerning faith and knowledge, Brueggemann says: “We all have a craving for certitude, but the gospel is all about fidelity.” By this he means that certitude is an epistemological category while fidelity is a relational one. And the way of the Cross is to depart from our certitude, to die to our answers/desires/scripts.”

Part of the ‘inner reflex’ is Centering Prayer is letting go. For 20 minutes twice a day, it’s a continuous letting go of thoughts and emotions that well up inside – kind of like a fisherman catching fish, but not to eat – just for fun. She’s sitting in a boat (the mind) and her pole rests in the water (the field of consciousness). Little fish (thoughts, ideas, emotions) come up and nibble on the line (ordinary awareness) – the fisherman doesn’t shoot the fish with a revolver or cut the line. Instead, she pulls the little fish up, but doesn’t keep them in the boat – it’s catch & release.

Catch and release, catch and release, gently, graciously – because you recognize that even the lake is situated in a much larger ecosystem (God). You can let go because the earth is abundant; you will be fed. Centering Prayer is a journey of trust in God, even on the unconscious level, where all kind of mis-trustful thoughts bubble up to the surface. The life centered in surrender to & trust in God is a life of profound peace and productivity – and our Scriptures attest, in a myriad of ways, that such trust (faith) ‘pleases God.’

But when we’re faced with the disturbing truths that Brueggemann elucidates – God’s irascibility for instance – what do we do?

There are two ways to do handle this. One is the way of definitive, forceful – almost violent – denial that there is (or has ever been) anything troubling in God’s character or actions according to revealed Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition. It’s the route of “trusting” God via suppression of the more unseemly parts of our sacred canons and sacred canopies.

But there is another route – more painful, more adult, more complex – but I think it can still end in deeply-rooted, childlike trust. It’s a path that I’ve learned from many guides over the years, including:

(Did you read that list, Ken Silva? Its semantic relations were practically tailor-written for you, LOL. If you don’t write about me, Discernmentalist Mafia will!)

And this is the path: As Grubb and Bill Volkman propose in a substantially panentheistic reading of Holy Writ: There is only One Person in the Universe. (Y’know, like “I Am the Lord your God, there is no Other?”) Creation unfolds inside of God. And within this unfolding, it moves from gross to subtle to causal (see Integral theory) – meaning that God, our our sacred history, once walked around and acted, anthropomorphically, as a human being. Gradually across the narrative shape of the Hebrew Bible, God began to withdraw God’s conscious presence in this way – “I will hide My face from them, and see what their fate may be.” God goes from walking around earth to appearing via angelic intermediaries; to public miracles, to dreams and visions and prophets, to private subjective experiences to interpretations written out in a Book. In Ruth and Esther, God is scarcely mentioned at all. (God then repeats this process again in Jesus – but the same progression from overt to subtle takes place on the pages of the New Testament and in Church history)

We could lament this move as somehow connected to God punishing us; withheld manifest presence as a result of our sin or some such thing. On the other hand, what if we as a human race are growing up, maturing, and therefore God appears to us in more mature ways? In this way, God is very actively involved in our history as a parent, but then gives us space to get older – not becoming more distant, but in fact closer than our very breath. God’s presence moves from the obvious to the sublime. (Which would explain, to me, why Monotheistic Western religion – in the form of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – starts out very concrete-operational in orientation and almost inevitably move to the mystical, with increasing circles of empathy for God, self, world, and others. The majority adherents might not make that leap, but it undeniably does seem like a leap forward.)

Now, here’s the same thought from another trajectory: God influences us, that we’ve always known; but what if we – the sum total of we, human and non-human life alike – influence God? If we’re bound up in God, marked off in God before our conception, our learning and growing is God’s learning and growing – what if? I don’t mean to rehash the entire Open Theism vs. Calvinism debate of the 1990s here, but I think that it’s possible to simultaneously hold that God is good, wise, and powerful while also affirming the ability of God to learn and (even) change God’s mind – we see so many examples of this in the narrative of Scripture, that it seems fool-hardy to deny this in order to preserve our cherished Greco-Roman structured systematic theologies.

So, today, in a secular age, we affirm that God is true and real, but we wrestle with what this means. We stake our lives on the goodness of God, but we recognize that ‘goodness’ might be different today, as it truly seems to be if you’re looking at Covenantal unfolding in Scripture. This simply seems developmentally apparent: If you’re someone who, like me, is committed to peace and justice work today but grew up watching the 700 Club approvingly as a kid, you’ve experienced the dissonance that God, just possibly, has experienced: What made perfect sense in the 1980s seems cruel and inhuman today. And this is precisely what Abraham and Moses are recorded as having argued to YHWH some 4,000+ years ago: “Don’t wipe out this-or-that people, LORD; it’s bad PR. It does not magnify the glory of Your Name; it does not add to the praise of Your reputation.” Sometimes, YHWH did what he was going to do anyway; sometimes, he listened and changed course.

What does this have to do with our lives today? Is this a wildly unstable theology of God? Is such a changeable God not worthy of worship? I don’t know about that. I think that, if the evangelical mantra is true, and we can indeed have ‘a personal relationship with G-D, then this relationship is a genuine one with real give-and-take, real learning on both sides. I think that I can be an orthodox Trinitarian Christian with a high Christology, and still hold that the Universe is one important aspect of the unfolding of God – and that we are the co-unfolding of God, within God. And that we recognize this unfolding, and respond to it, and even initiate its furtherance of it, on a deep, nourishing level when we learn to trust the God Who Is – as opposed to the fantasy God whom we fondly wish Would Be. This path is more difficult – but this is real trust.

Watch or listen to the complete 2004 Emergent Theological Conversation with Walter B. here.

This post originally debuted on November 21, 2009.

Walter Brueggemann

Wheel Within a Wheel: Fellowshipping with the Trinity in the Dance of Life

A couple of weeks ago was ‘Trinity Sunday’ in the Christian liturgical calender – an artifact of public worship that many contemporary Jesus-followers don’t pay much attention to. Even among those who do mark time in this way, “Trinity Sunday” often makes communities of faith squirm – it can be difficult to celebrate what might seem to many to be an obtuse doctrine.

Even so, I am an unabashed Trinitarian geek, to the consternation of some of my fundamentalist and uber-progressive friends alike. One reason for this is the unparalleled enthusiasm and scholarly work of Baxter Kruger. Another is an excellent teaching series done by Richard Rohr and Cynthia Bougeault. Recent, Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation have been re-presenting snippets from this series in their daily emails.

These reminders – God as community, God as weakness, God as giver and receiver of boundary – have been especially core to my spiritual energy during this recently-mentioned difficult period in my life. Also, 18 months ago, I discovered that I’m half-Turkish. Yes, there’s a blog post or two in that story – stay tuned!

For now, I’ll just say that I’ve been embracing my Turkish heritage, which contains everything from Saul/Paul of Damascus, the Cappadocian Mothers and Fathers who first lucidly articulated the mystery of God-as-Trinity, as well as originating the rich history of love-drunk Sufi poets and mystics, like Rumi and the Mevlevi Order of Dervishes. What all of these diverse influences have in common is an embrace of God that is both intensely interior as well as leaving nothing out of the wider world out of sense, absence, experience and surrender. God – as experienced and understood by Paul, the Cappadocians, and the Dervishes – is God-in-motion. This makes songs from my charismatic youth about ‘riding the wheel of God’ take on new meaning.

Because it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission, I’d like to share with you this week’s reflections from the Center for Action and Contemplation on the Trinitarian revelation. If you like these, be sure to subscribe to Richard’s daily email. It’s the only “daily devotional” I have delivered to my main (eg, real) email address.

If you’re feeling adventurous, listen to Wheel of God by my friend Kevin Prosch while reading the reflections below!

Trinity (detail), by © Andre Rublev, ca. 1410


In the name of the Holy One
In the name of the Son
In the name of the Spirit
We are made one

God for us, we call You Father
God alongside us, we call You Jesus,
God within us, we call You Holy Spirit.

You are the Eternal Mystery that enables and holds
and enlivens all things
—even us and even me.

Every name falls short of Your goodness and greatness.
We can only see who You are in what is.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. 


~ Richard Rohr

Reality is Radically Relational

One reason so many theologians are interested in the Trinity now is that we’re finding both physics (especially quantum physics) and cosmology are at a level of development where human science, our understanding of the atom and our understanding of galaxies, is affirming and confirming our use of the old Trinitarian language—but with a whole new level of appreciation. Reality is radically relational, and the power is in the relationships themselves!

No good Christians would have denied the Trinitarian Mystery, but until our generation none were prepared to see that the shape of God is the shape of the whole universe!

Great science, which we once considered an “enemy” of religion, is now helping us see that we’re standing in the middle of awesome Mystery, and the only response before that Mystery is immense humility. Astrophysicists are much more comfortable with darkness, emptiness, non-explainability (dark matter, black holes), and living with hypotheses than most Christians I know. Who could have imagined this?

The Delight of Three

Our Franciscan Saint Bonaventure, who wrote a lot about the Trinity, was influenced by a lesser-known figure called Richard of Saint Victor. Richard said, “For God to be good, God can be one. For God to be loving, God has to be two because love is always a relationship.” But his real breakthrough was saying that “For God to be supreme joy and happiness, God has to be three.” Lovers do not know full happiness until they both delight in the same thing, like new parents with the ecstasy of their first child.

When I was first becoming “known,” people wanted to get close to me and be my friend or have a special relationship with me. I asked myself how I would choose between all these friends and I realized that the people I really found joy in were not always people who loved me nearly as much aspeople who loved what I loved. That helped me understand what I think Richard of St. Victor was trying to teach. The Holy Spirit is the shared love of the Father and the Son, and shared love is always happiness and joy. The Holy Spirit is whatever the Father and the Son are excited about; Sheis that excitement—about everything in creation!

A Participatory Verb

In our attempts to explain the Trinitarian Mystery in the past we overemphasized the individual qualities of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but not so much the relationships between them. That is where all the power is! That is where all the meaning is!

The Mystery of God as Trinity invites us into a dynamism, a flow, a relationship, a waterwheel of love. The Mystery says God is a verb much more than a noun. God as Trinity invites us into a participatory experience. Some of our Christian mystics went so far as to say that all of creation is being taken back into this flow of eternal life, almost as if we are a “Fourth Person” of the Eternal Flow of God or, as Jesus put it, “so that where I am you also may be” (John 14:3).

Interbeing: The Weakness of God

Paul says, “God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25). That awesome line gives us a key into the Mystery of Trinity. I would describe human strength as self-sufficiency or autonomy. God’s weakness I would describe as Interbeing.

Human strength admires holding on. The Mystery of the Trinity is about each One letting go into the Other. Human strength admires personal independence. God’s Mystery is total mutual dependence. We like control. God loves vulnerability. We admire needing no one. The Trinity is total intercommunion with all things and all Being. We are practiced at hiding and protecting ourselves. God seems to be in some kind of total disclosure for the sake of the other.

Our strength, we think, is in asserting and protecting our boundaries. God is into dissolving boundaries between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, yet finding them in that very outpouring! Take the rest of your life to begin to unpackage such a total turnaround of Reality.

Boundless Boundary: A Waterwheel of Love

A Threefold God totally lets go of any boundaries for the sake of the Other, and then receives them back from Another. It is a nonstop waterwheel of Love. Each accepts that He is fully accepted by the Other, and then passes on that total acceptance. Thus “God is Love.” It’s the same spiritual journey for all of us, and it takes most of our life to accept that we are accepted—and to accept everyone else. Most can’t do this easily because internally there is so much self-accusation (self-flagellation in many cases). Most are so convinced that they are not the body of Christ, that they are unworthy, that we are not in radical union with God.

The good news is that the question of union has already been resolved once and for all. We cannot create our union with God from our side. It is objectively already given to us by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us (Romans 8:9—and all over the place!). Once we know we are that grounded, founded, and home free, we can also stop defending ourselves and move beyond our self-protectiveness, too.

Just As I-AM-ness, Without One Plea

Niels Bohr, the Danish physicist who was a major contributor to quantum physics and nuclear fission, said the universe is “not only stranger than we think, but stranger than we can think.” Our supposed logic has to break down before we can comprehend the nature of the universe and the bare beginnings of the nature of God.

I think the doctrine of the Trinity is saying the same thing. There is something that can only be known experientially, and that is why we teach contemplative prayer and quiet. Of all the religious rituals and practices I know of, nothing will lead us to that place of nakedness and vulnerability more than forms of solitude and silence, where our ego identity falls away, where our explanations don’t mean anything, where our superiority doesn’t matter and we have to sit there in our naked “who-ness.” If God wants to get through to us, and the Trinity experience wants to come alive in us, that’s when God has the best chance. God is not only stranger than we think, but stranger than the logical mind can think. Perhaps much of the weakness of the first 2000 years of reflection on the Trinity, and many of our doctrines and dogmas, is that we’ve tried to do it with a logical mind instead of with prayer.

God is a circle dance of communion.

Join the dance of mutuality, love, and endless giving and receiving that is the Mystery of Trinity.

Listen to more wisdom on the Trinity from master teachers:

The Divine Dance: Exploring the Mystery of Trinity 
with Fr. Richard Rohr 

Shape of God: Deepening the Mystery of Trinity 
with Fr. Richard Rohr and Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault

Did you get this message forwarded from someone else? Wish to sign up for CAC’s email lists yourself? Subscribe to CAC email lists here.Please direct inquiries to

Copyright © 2012 Center for Action and Contemplation
1705 Five Points Rd SW, Albuquerque, NM 87105 (physical)
PO Box 12464, Albuquerque, NM 87195-2464 (mailing)

If you liked this, you might also enjoy…

You Are the Dance (a poem)
You Are the Dance: Now on Tim Coons ‘Frailty After Party’ Album!

- and – 

The Way of the Heart – Cynthia Bourgeault Part 1: What IS the Path of Jesus?
The Way of the Heart – Cynthia Bourgeault Part 2: See What Jesus Sees; Do What Jesus Does
The Way of the Heart Part 3: Cynthia Bourgealt’s Four Proposals – Beyond ‘The Imitation of Christ’
The Way of the Heart Part 4: Heartfulness Practice Transcends & Includes Orthodoxy
The Way of the Heart Part 5: Upgrading Our Operating System
The Way of the Heart Part 6: A Rorschach Blot for the Mind
The Way of the Heart Part 7: When 20/20 Hindsight Becomes Blindsight
The Way of the Heart Interlude: Kenosis Hymn
The Way of the Heart Part 8: Heart Surgery

Recommended Trinity Reading & Listening:


Dreams Deferred and Trees of Life

I’ve been revisiting Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes‘ brief-but-powerful poem “Dream Deferred.” It evokes so much for me in this season, from marriage to eschatology to relationships to community. I’ll let it speak to you:

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Dreams need to be translated into fulfillment, into reality, before they simply die, or worse. Mr. Hughes echoes the proverbial wisdom “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but fulfilled longing is a tree of life.”

So to all my friends who are hurting and hoping: Here’s to sweet dreams, and the salty journeys that evoke our thirst for fulfillment–only in sugar and salt can we be parched enough to drink together of Life’s Common Tree!

This was originally posted on November 13, 2007. 

See also:

Tree of Life: A Poem

Dancing ‘Round the Tree of Life: Two Poems

Evolution and the Two Trees in the Garden

Weeping with the Goddess in Jake’s Kitchen

A couple of weeks ago I was dog-sitting for my friend Jake who was out of town. At one point after breakfast, I found myself prostrate on the ground, weeping and talking with an intimate stranger…the Goddess, in fact.

But before I go into all that, it’s probably helpful if I rewind a bit and share a less-known slice of my personal history with the Good Lord.

As longtime readers of this blog might know, my family and I live in Raleigh, North Carolina, where we moved from our native Atlanta are in 2006. We moved here with over a dozen of our friends from undergrad days at Berry College, as well as with new friends and co-dreamers from across the country to ‘seed’ the planting of an ‘organic’ expression of church life – what some variously know as house church, simple church, or intentional community. We were part of a national movement that began to come apart at the seams right around the time we moved; we lasted ‘till about 2008.

Back to me and the Goddess for a second: What caused a nice Jesus-lovin,’ evangelical-reared boy like me to be weeping in front of the Sacred Feminine on my friend’s linoleum floor, a Lassie-looking pup looking docilely on? I was going to write an original explanation of all this, but then I looked back into my ‘Writings’ folder here on the computer, and found something I shared with our house church community back in 2007, on the topic of…

What You Might Not Know About The Lord & Me

You see, our church structure (ideally, at least) was open, participatory, egalitarian and interdependent with others in our ‘family’ or network of churches. Our typical gathering was initiated by singing, and then any number of us sharing for 3-5 minutes, drawn from what we reflected on throughout the week – our “portion of Christ” as we saw it. From time to time, we were given outside direction. We were ‘planted’ and ‘watered’ by those we called ‘workers,’ what those in other traditions might call anything from ‘circuit riders’ to ‘apostles.’ (But we in the Watchman Nee/T. Austin-Sparks post-Brethren lineage that we were, we called them workers.) Our worker at the time, who had a day job as an influential financial manager in the Northeast, challenged us to get to know one another better by having a series of gatherings wherein one person would ‘take’ the majority of the meeting, sharing on What You Might Not Know About the Lord and Me. It was a rich time of hearing new facets of people who lived among – some whom we’d known for years. What follows are rather detailed notes on what I shared:

“The Lord”?

I’m sorry, but this question just lends itself to some rather shady pronouncements. Like “When I was eight, the Lord beat me up and threw me behind a dumpster…” [Dark, Mike. Dark.] But no. I appreciate the impetus behind this question. Many of us have secret pasts and presents with God; dark and mysterious and wondrous things, and it would be good to share.

The first thing you should know is that I don’t call God “the Lord,” not usually. While it’s utterly true that he is our Lord—our Master, the Maestro of the Art of Living—I find it ironic that we’ve picked up on this most formal of titles and made it our choice term of intimacy. The standard placeholder “God” works for me fine, though I also enjoy the Hebrew proper names, like the dynamic and revelatory YHWH, “I am as I shall show myself.” Or El Shaddai.

Let me say a few words about El Shaddai. It’s the most common way I address God while enjoying fellowship with God in Centering Prayer. Now don’t get the wrong impression; I don’t do this nearly as often as I want to; I don’t have a daily ritual of time ‘wasted’ with God like our brother to my right does, though I hope to soon. But when I can, I do the following:

  • I’ve chosen a name of God as the symbol of my awareness of God’s presence within, through and around me.
  • Sitting comfortably and with eyes resting, I briefly and silently introduce this name—El Shaddai—as the symbol of my consent to God’s presence and action within.
  • When I become aware of thoughts, I return ever-so-gently to “El Shaddai.”
  • At the end of about 20 minutes—I typically use a timer—I just sit for a moment or two. I might slowly say the Lord’s Prayer.

There are two reasons why “El Shaddai” is my most intimate of names for addressing God. One is that, with my proclivity toward eating God, it makes the most sense; one rendering of this name is “The God who feeds.” But there is a second reason. A deeper and more literal rendering of this name is “The God with breasts.” El Shaddai means provider precisely because she is the breast-feeding God. Also known as “The voluptuous God,” this is one of the many female depictions of God that has fallen by the wayside in popular use. (See my Appendix handout for Scriptural depictions of God-as-feminine.)

Why is this important to me? Well for one, becoming familiar once again with the many feminine faces of God in Scripture and history gives dignity and power to our sisters in Christ; it is an abandoned memory that needs to be recovered in our words, in our worship, and in our reflections on who God is in our midst.

But for me as a man this has an altogether more close-to-home meaning: recovering the eroticism of God in my devotional life. About a decade ago—first with certain songs coming out of the Vineyard movement and charismatic renewal, and then from the teachings of our itinerant church planters—I was introduced to a vigorous, full-on God-eroticism via bridal language.

Drawing from the Song of Songs and the many bridal images in both Old and New Testaments, I saw painted for me a love affair between the God of Israel/Christ and the people of God, both Israel and the Church. It was illustrated to me as a male suitor pursuing his beloved with fervor that can only be described as sexual, finally culimanating in the saucy, sensuous repertoire we see in both Song of Songs and the end of Revelation. I’ve seen how this understanding has revolutionized the devotional lives of our sisters in communities across the globe; I’ve also seen men in our churches try to get in the game, with varying results. Jesus-as-our-lover has a kind’ve mixed resonance for men because we’re men – it’s even parodied in our larger church culture by men who are uncomfortable with this level of intimacy in contemporary worship songs as Jesus-Is-My-Boyfriend Music. (I wonder: Have any of these critics ever read Bernard of Clairvaux? Hildegard of Bingen? Teresa of Avila?) We recognize that “In Christ there is no male or female,” so in a real sense we too can enter into the ‘bridal experience’ and feel what it’s like to be ravished by our bridegroom via imaginative prayer and resting in divine fellowship. But for those of us who happen to be heterosexual men happily inhabiting our bodies, this is never quite an intuitive experience, is it?

So for me, seeing the sacred feminine as Sophia in Proverbs, or El Shaddai in the Old Testament, or Jesus-as-Mother in several New Testament depictions (not to mention in the writings of mystics like Julian of Norwich) gives me back something I’ve never had as a man: the Voluptuous God, the female creator and nurturer who is comfortable with the space she inhabits. El Shaddai is self-possessed with a powerful, seductive eroticism, one that can both initiate and follow. When I spend time with God, she can ignite my senses with insight and proposition; she can also receive everything I have to give. When our workers encourage us to “Make love to your Lord,” guys, it’s worth reframing this!

The early Genesis poem recounts that both male and female are needed to fully bear the Imago Dei, the image of God on earth as s/he is in heaven. I have taken this to heart, and have sought to incorporate both the male and female in my multi-faceted relating to a many-splendored God.

*                 *                *

That’s what I shared in 2007. So. Many. Words. These days, words are failing me. I feel like Thomas Aquinas at the end of his life, when he fell into a profound silence that lasted weeks. When prompted by one of his assistants to continue writing the thousands of pages of analytical theology had was known for, he replied: “I cannot write anymore because all that I have written seems like straw to me, compared to what has been revealed to me…”

Recently, I’ve been through a dark and challenging time in my life. It isn’t over quite yet. And no, dear readers, I will not be disclosing. Some things are best not blogged. But it really doesn’t matter: If you’re breathing air, you know what I’m talking about: The dissolution of something you once held dear, or thought was solid – perhaps in an outside relationship or job; perhaps within yourself. Changes are taking place; sometimes it feels invigorating, sometimes it feels scary.

I was in just such a place while dog-sitting for my friend Jake – doing dishes, listening to music via my iPhone dock, wondering what was next. I was specifically listening to Krishna Das, an American Kirtan singer – his album Live on Earth. Das’s voice is deeply masculine and totally enchanting all at the same time, the depth of devotion he infuses in his songs is hauntingly beautiful. I’d bought his memoir Chants of a Lifetime: Searching for a Heart of Gold at one of the liquidation sales of the late, lamented Borders, and started reading it recently. As far as coming-of-age-in-the-1960s-and-now-being-an-enlightened-superstud stories go, I enjoyed the writing and pacing of Keith Martin Smith’s A Heart Blown Open: The Life & Practice of Zen Master Jun Po Denis Kelly Roshi better. But still – Krishna Das’s story of finding grounding and expansiveness through a life of chanting the Names of God is inspiring – and challenging, as stories like these from varying faith traditions threaten to make me a perennialist yet.

But here I go again with words, words, words – layers of interpretation. Let’s return to the heart of the story: A song came on, Das’s rendering of the Devi Puja, or Goddess Prayer.

From the first notes of his harmonium (an instrument I first heard with powerful effect by my friend, the street-smart yogi and Kalachakra monk Kir – aka Kirantana – at last year’s inaugural Wild Goose Festival), and the repetition of the words He Maa Durga, I stopped drying a glass and froze. Then, I dropped to my knees. I knew that I was in the presence of God, but in this familiar-but-still-culturally-foreign form of El Shaddi, Ruah, Sophia…and more particularly still, Shakti, Shiva, Kali – but more generally, The Goddess.

If you’re one of those people who needs to know what the words mean, here’s an approximate translation of the Devi Puja. But I didn’t know this at the time:

Oh Goddess, you are the one who conquers all
You are the One beyond time
The auspicious One beyond time
The bearer of skulls who destroys all difficulties
Loving forgiveness and supporter of the universe.

You are the one who truly receives our sacrificial offerings
To you I bow.

I did not know, but I had the sense of this personified feminine Love, upholding the universe – and yet being difficult (or perhaps I was the one being difficult). And I was certainly bowing. I began crying – a little bit at first, and then weeping. Who was this One I was in the presence of? Somehow familiar, yet utterly foreign. Goddess. A complex swirl of thoughts, memories, and emotions began to swirl within me. Last May, I was initiated into the ManKind Project – a totally awesome secret society (we aren’t really, I just like to call us one); my initiation and subsequent, consistent time spent in a local circle of men has done wonders for digging deep into and integrating my experience of masculine energies – making peace with the idea of being both a real man and a good man. And now, it seems, that Femininity herself is knocking on the door of my heart. My integration continues.

After ten minutes or so of weeping and verbally asking questions of the Goddess, I decided to write them down. I picked up my journal. This is what I wrote:

May 22nd.

Goddess, I can’t be a man without you. 

Who are You, who’s been refracted so imperfectly through the women of my life? 


…why is Your energy so inaccessible, O cruel archetype? 

I long to know You as Mother, Lover, Friend. 

But You are aloof – You play games with me.

The absence of You divorces body from soul, heart from access and flow.

In my life, I’ve idolized You, and I’ve hated You.

I want neither.

Instead, I want to flow into You – to be lost in Your warmth, intoxicated in Your sensuality, recognizing and honoring Your essence in all things.

I also want to feel like a man in Your presence, to give you my essence and have it received, with gratefulness and joy. 

In many ways, my journaling strikes me as being like a Psalm – structured in complaint and collapse into Love. Clearly, I have some issues with feminine energy – and clearly, I long for her. At times, I am misogynist and feminist: This is my confession. Both are true.

The Devi Puja ended, and so did the experience. But she has lingered.

In so many ways, I’m at a crossroads of life and experience. While composting the best of my past, I feel like the first-century church at Pentecost, watching and waiting for the Spirit to hover over the face of my waters. And sometimes, this Spirit comes to me in distinctly feminine form. My prayer – for healing, wholeness, integration, and fresh creation in the world – is summed up in many ways by this song from the band Live at the turn of this century:

Sitting on the beach
The island king of love
Deep in Fijian seas
Deep in some blissful dream

Where the Goddess finally sleeps
In the lap of her lover
Subdued in all her rage
And I am aglow with the taste

Of the demons driven out
And happily replaced
with the presence of real Love
The only one who saves

I wanna dance with you
I see a world where people live and die with grace
The karmic ocean dried up and leave no trace
I wanna dance with you
I see a sky full of the stars that change our minds
And lead us back to a world we would not face

The stillness in your eyes
Convinces me that I
I don’t know a thing
And I been around the world and I’ve
Tasted all the wines
A half a billion times
Came sickened to your shores
You show me what this life is for

I wanna dance with you
I see a world where people live and die with grace
the karmic ocean dried up and leave no trace

I wanna dance with you
I see a sky full of the stars that change our minds
And lead us back to a world we would not face

We would not face
We would not face
We would not face…

See also my “Biblical Proofs” for the Feminine Face of God in Scripture

Recommended Reading if you want to explore the feminine imagery of God more fully:

In Memory of Her by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (Feminist)

Is It Okay to Call God “Mother”?: Considering the Feminine Face of God by Paul R. Smith (Evangelical)

Embracing Jesus and the Goddess: A Radical Call for Spiritual Sanity  by Carl McColman (Episcopagan)

Journeys by Heart: A Christology of Erotic Power by Rita Nakashima Brock (Womanist)

Revelation of Love  by Julian of Norwich (Contemplative Catholic)

She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse by Elizabeth A. Johnson (Feminist)

The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image by Leonard Shlain (a general literary-historical investigation)

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd (Post-evangelical, post-Mainline)

The Maternal Face of God by Leonardo Boff (Catholic-Liberationist)

The Unknown She: Eight Faces of an Emerging Consciousness by Hilary Hart (Perennial)

“Biblical Proofs” for the Feminine Face of God in Scripture

Welcome, Rachel Held Evans readers! Just so you know, this post outlining female depictions of God in Scripture makes the most sense in conjunction with its follow-up post, telling the story of my head-on encounter with God’s feminine side: Weeping with the Goddess in Jake’s Kitchen.

I’m not much of a “proof-texter.” I don’t like using the Bible as a weapon to fight out my outlook on life versus someone else’s. Further, I’m committed to the ‘progressive hermeneutic’ of ongoing revelation/unpacking the riches of God in our midst. Even so: I don’t, in celebrating the feminine face of God (and sharing my experience of the same), think I’m going ‘beyond the Bible.’ Here’s a sampling of the wealth of feminine images of God in Scripture, including the Apocrypha.

Take a moment and let these sink in*:

First nine chapters of Proverbs focus on Wisdom

  • Proverbs 4:13 she is your life, giver of life
  • Proverbs 8:35 whoever finds me finds life
  • Proverbs 8:15 decrees what is right
  • Proverbs 8: 22 – 31 like Wisdom herself, before the foundation of the earth I was there. Wisdom comes from God, was created by God
  • Wisdom 7:22 – 8:1 She is the fashioner of all things; 21 attributes which is the product of two perfect numbers 3 & 7. Wisdom is perfection multiplied by perfection. Intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, mobile, clear, unpolluted, distinct, invulnerable, loving good, keen, irresistible, beneficent, humane, steadfast, sure, free from anxiety, all powerful. Overseeing all, penetrating through all other intelligent spirits
  • Wisdom 8:1 She orders all things
  • Wisdom 7: 24 She pervades and penetrates all things
  • Wisdom 7:27 She renews all things – renewable energy
  • Wisdom 9:10 She shares the throne of God
  • Wisdom 7:10 – 14 She’s the source of all things new
  • Sirach 1:1 – 8 It is God who knows wisdom and pours her forth upon the world
  • Sirach 24: 1 – 27 Hymn of self-praise sung by Wisdom in which she describes herself, her origins, her relationship to God and the good things she does for human beings. She came from the mouth of God, she is God’s word, breath, Spirit; as the spirit/wind that hovered over the waters of creation and as mist / steam that covered the earth at the beginning; she is universal, everywhere. Her image as a tree echoes Proverbs 8 – she strikes root among God’s people. She feeds all who long for her. Her food is sweeter than honey. Her food is herself. All who eat of her will hunger still, who drink of her will thirst for more. One will never be able to get enough of what she offers. What she offers is life. She concludes her song with a promise similar to Proverbs 8:35 – 34 – those who obey her will not be shamed. Those who serve her will not fall short. I believe she is the personification of God’s wisdom as the feminine archetype.

Birthing God – womb
• Gen 7:1 – Breasts illuminate a feminine image of God
• Deut. 32:18 “You forget the rock who begot you, unmindful of the God who gave birth to you”

• Job 38:8 “Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?”
• Job 38: 28-29 God’s fathering of rain and giving birth to ice from her womb
• Isaiah 42:14 “I groan like a woman in labor; I will gasp and pant”
• Isaiah 46: 3-4: “You who have been carried since birth, whom I have carried since time you were born” – incubating in God’s womb
• John 1:12: Those who believe in God are born of God
• John 4:7: Everyone who loves is born of God
• John 16:21: God is bringing forth a new humanity like the pangs of a woman in labor; her hour has come
• Acts 17: In God we live and move and have our being
• Gal 4:19: God’s womb is in pain
• Romans 8:22 From the beginning to now the entire creation has been groaning in one great act of giving birth (creation)

Creator God of Israel is also imaged as the shaper, maker and mother God who formed Israel in the womb and birthed Israel with labor pains:
• (Deut. 32:18; Psalm 90:2; Proverbs 8:24 – 25; Isaiah 43:1,7,15; 44:2, 24; 45:9, 11; 51:13; 54:5 From the word “womb” (rehem) comes the verb “to have compassion” (raham), and the phrase “Yahweh’s compassionate (rahum) and gracious” repeatedly appears in the Hebrew scripture to describe the merciful and saving acts of God in history. (Deut. 4:31; 2 Chronicles 30:9;  Nehemiah 9:17; Ps 78:38; 86:16; 103:8; 111:4; 112:4; 145:8; John 4:7 These verses show images of God who demonstrates “womb – like compassion” for her child Israel.
• God creator is sometimes depicted as woman giving birth and sometimes a reproductive image of God as both male and female: Deut 32:18; Job 38:28 – 29; Is 42:14; Acts 17; John 16:21; Gal 4:19; Rom 8:22; John 1:12

Nursing mother:
• Isaiah 49:15 does a woman forget her baby at the breast, or fail to cherish the son (daughter) of her womb
• Numbers 11:12 was it I who conceived all this people, was it I who gave them birth that you should say to me, carry them in your bosom like a nurse with a baby at the breast
• Psalm 131:2 – 3 But I have clamed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul within me is like a weaned child.
• John 7: 38 From his breast shall flow the fountains of living water
• 1 Peter 2:2 – 3 You are newborn and like babies you should be hungry for nothing but milk – now that you have tasted the goodness of Christ

Nurturing God – mother:
• Gen 1 :2 nesting mother
• Deut 32 : 11 – 12 mother eagle
• Hosea 11:34 I myself taught Ephram to walk, I took them in my arms
• Hosea 13: 8 I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs
• Psalm 131 image of repose – like a child in its mother’s arms as content as a child that has been weaned
• Ps 17:8 guard me in the shadow of your wings
• Ps 36:7 all people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings
• Ps 57:1 in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge
• Ps 61:4 find refuge under the shelter of your wings
• Isaiah 31:5 like birds hovering overhead, so the Lord of hosts will protect Jerusalem
• Isaiah 46:3 – 4 who have been borne by me from your birth carried from the womb… even when you turn gray, I will carry you. I have made and I will bear, I will carry and will save
• Isaiah 66: 10 –13 comforting mother…… as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you
• Luke 15:8 woman tirelessly sweeping for her lost coin, for what is important to her
• Luke 13: 34 (Matt 23:37), how often I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings

Other images:
• Ruah – Gen 2:7, Ps 104: 29; Jn 3:8 presence gives life; feminine Hebrew word meaning breath, wind, inspiration or spirit.
• Rahamin Hebrew word for compassion – root word, rahan, means womb.
• El Shaddai – God of the mountains or God of the breasts
• Seamstress – Gen 3:21
• Washerwoman Isaiah 4:4, Psalm 51:7
• Midwife Psalm 22:9 – 11, Psalm 71:6; Isaiah 66:9
• Woman baking bread Matt 13:33
• Seeks justice Proverbs 8:18

*I’m pretty sure I originally derived this list from somewhere, though now I forget where. If you know where, please share in the comments and I’ll attribute.

Recommended Reading if you want to explore the feminine imagery of God more fully:

In Memory of Her by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (Feminist)

Is It Okay to Call God “Mother”?: Considering the Feminine Face of God by Paul R. Smith (Evangelical)

Embracing Jesus and the Goddess: A Radical Call for Spiritual Sanity  by Carl McColman (Episcopagan)

Journeys by Heart: A Christology of Erotic Power by Rita Nakashima Brock (Womanist)

Revelation of Love  by Julian of Norwich (Contemplative Catholic)

She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse by Elizabeth A. Johnson (Feminist)

The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image by Leonard Shlain (a general literary-historical investigation)

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd (Post-evangelical, post-Mainline)

The Maternal Face of God by Leonardo Boff (Catholic-Liberationist)

The Unknown She: Eight Faces of an Emerging Consciousness by Hilary Hart (Perennial)