Always one to give my all to whatever I undertake, when I began this part of my journey-the soul's journey-I committed myself to what was presented to me. But as I diligently slogged through my weekly Bible classes, I felt the reverence slipping away, and I began to get scared. How to get back what had begun as an intense personal experience? I met some inspiring, extraordinary Christians who clearly lived their faith. Yet others came at me, fingers pointing: "How could you have spoken at that pro-choice rally?" They demanded to know my position on this or that issue. When I commented to one Christian columnist about the difficulty I was having with the belief that all non-Christians would go to hell, he replied, "Uh-oh, you sound like a Universalist!" Hey, that sounded about right. Given all the bloodshed and persecution that has gone on through the ages in the name of religion, shouldn't we start practicing tolerance? Claiming that Jesus was the only way to salvation felt like Christian imperialism. Maybe this isn't the spiritual home I seek.
For me, religion is not so much about a belief in dogmas and traditions. It must be a spiritual experience, and I find it impossible to have that experience when I cannot reconcile myself to the Judeo-Christian assumption that man was God's principal creation, with woman (Eve, fashioned from Adam's rib) a mere derivative afterthought. Nor can I accept woman as the cause of man's downfall, an assumption that has permitted men through the ages to regard women with suspicion and misogyny. (The best bumper sticker I ever saw read, EVE GOT A BUM RAP.) Women were anything but an afterthought for the Jesus I believe in. His acceptance of and friendship with women was truly revolutionary at a time when the male-dominated status quo had severed religion's connection to the prepatriarchal ancient goddess and to nature. There was a reason why women were among Jesus' most ardent followers: They responded to his revolutionary message of compassion, love, and equality.
The outlawed Christian communities that spread into the desert to worship in secret after Jesus died included more women than men, by a margin of two to one. Women were among the early Roman Christians who met clandestinely in their homes, preached, converted men, and performed the Eucharist.
I am moved and inspired by those early Christians-like those in the Gospel of Thomas, the Secret Gospel of Mark, and the Book of John-who saw themselves as seekers more than believers; who felt that experiencing the divine was more important than mere belief in the divine. According to them, Jesus preached that each individual has the potential to embody God (embodiment again). Perhaps this is one reason these teachings were outlawed and excised from Christian dogma back in the fourth century: They meant there was no need for priests or bishops-or hierarchy. By erasing these early interpretations of the founding myths of Judeo-Christian civilization, the fathers of patriarchy (in this case bishops) caused a potentially fatal split between mind and body, Spirit and matter. This split is the essential cornerstone of patriarchy-of the Fathers' house. I have lived this split alongside my (biological) father and my three husbands. This split is more evident in men (which is what gives it toxic heft, since men currently run things), but it exists to varying degrees in women as well-as my story shows. If our civilization hadn't been built on devaluing, fearing, and denigrating women, men wouldn't split head from heart and distance themselves from their emotions, which are supposed to be the domain of women.
I am only at the start of my soul journey, but with my discovery of the early Christian interpretations and having found a community of feminist Christians, reverence is humming back to me.