Being the parent of an adolescent is a fascinating thing. I get to watch someone begin to consciously shape her identity, and I’m often reminded of how that process went for me. We make choices that are influenced partly by our own inclinations and partly by what we think will get us the approval of our peers. We discard many of our early beliefs simply on the basis that they were assigned to us rather than having adopted them deliberately.
For me, this included a first conscious appraisal of the value of religion in my life, and I decided there was none. A decade of atheism followed. Then I had a handful of spontaneous spiritual experiences and eventually welcomed that dimension back into my life. But I chose not to rejoin any single religion, partly because I was brought up in a religious tradition that always referred to God as “He.” My own experiences, however, were mainly of a feminine higher power – a Divine Mother – and in that presence I feel a peace and love that are beyond my comprehension.
In the lead-up to Mother’s Day, I’ve been writing about our concepts of Mother, and this one – the Goddess – has been stifled in the West. Most religions, at their essential core anyway, envision God as a consciousness with no single gender or form. Some even openly celebrate the Divine in female, male, dual-gender, and animal forms. But overall, just as men dominate most arenas, the great majority of religious prophets and leaders (Jesus, Muhammad, Krishna, Buddha, Moses, the twelve apostles, every pope, most priests and rabbis, etc.) have been men, and this is reflected in how most of the world conceives of God. Thus, not only government, finance, science, and industry, but even our access to the spiritual – the realm that transcends humanity – is largely controlled by men.
There’s simply no way we can have a balanced or accurate view of reality when the leadership lacks female representation. As I see it, the rise of womankind, meaning true equality for women around the world and in all fields, is a vital stage in human evolution, and indeed, our only hope at surmounting the huge challenges that humanity is facing today. This includes female representation in spirituality. In fact, opening ourselves to a God that is equally male and female (and neither) can be a powerful catalyst toward recognition of our equality on the social plane.
I was blessed to have several teachers, both female and male, who, while using different words, said essentially the same thing: When it comes to connecting to God (feel free to substitute Dao, Love, Universe, Spirit, Higher Self, Buddha Nature, or whatever other term you prefer), it doesn’t matter what form or name you devote yourself to, so long as that devotion is pure and includes a recognition that the form is simply a portal to the Whole.
That is, if all things are expressions of the Divine, just choose whichever form (nature, art, music, Jesus, Muhammad, Light, wise old man, fierce Goddess, your child, your dog, your sweet mother) feels most natural for you to love, and love it completely. Love it without restraint. Love it without putting any conditions on it. Love it without asking it not to change or depart. As you do so, remind yourself that this particularly lovable expression is a window to the Absolute, and intend that this easy love is a little flame that will melt open your heart and expand your perception – a flame that will grow to include all forms, and then what is beyond form.
As for me (and millions of others), I find it easier to love and feel loved by a female expression of the Divine – the Divine as Mother – rather than the Divine as Father. It’s not hard to understand why: despite the near-absence of the Mother and Goddess from major religions, some of our deepest symbols and stories are of the fierce mother protecting her young, the mother feeding and clothing her children, the mother who tends and listens, and the mother who takes care of the home while the father goes off to make his mark on the world.
Let’s look at one of the few major religions that openly reveres the divine feminine. In Hinduism, each of the various expressions of motherly love is represented by a different goddess. There is Durga, the protector, who rides on a lion. There is Saraswati, mother of the word, learning, and creative expression. There is Kali, who imparts a fierceness to cut through the world of illusion (she is often depicted with a necklace of heads, because she loves us so much that she would figuratively decapitate us to liberate us from the wayward urges of our mind and senses). There is Lakshmi, the giver, who is frequently portrayed with a shower of gold coins pouring out of her palm, to reflect the Divine intention that we, as the Divine Itself, should experience and rejoice in the abundance of this life. Hinduism isn’t really polytheistic in the way outsiders sometimes think – it’s more of a “How do I love thee?” devotion of recognizing the many endearing facets of One Spirit.
In the book Aghora, teacher Vimalananda speaks of the value of motherliness in the related tradition of Tantra:
The doctor who cannot take a motherly attitude toward his patients is a mere pill pusher. My teacher insisted that all males should learn motherly love. Tantra is the worship of Mother; it is the most advanced method for inculcating maternal feelings. It is undeniable that as you look to the world, so the world will look to you. If the world is your Mother and all its inhabitants your family there is never need for loneliness, fear or despair.1
I encourage you this week to explore the experience of allowing yourself to be mothered by the universe. How does that feel? What thoughts and feelings come up? I’m not suggesting that you need to join a new religion, but simply open yourself to this notion – that the world, rather than being something we need to conquer, is actually a Great Provider that wants only the highest good for you. From this perspective, how you see life’s challenges differently?
 Svoboda, R. (1986). Aghora. Albuquerque, NM: Brotherhood of Life.