“Pentecost and the Sacred Feminine” by Jacqie Wallen

Pentecost

June 5, 2022

I love the story of Pentecost and have already preached here on Pentecost Sunday several times.  Each time, I find something new to be surprised by about Pentecost and this time is no exception.  My new perceptions this time have been shaped by two recent experiences.  One is the Sophia class that Marjory taught in the School for Christian Growth, the other is the book study meetings on Cynthia Bourgeault’s book, the Heart of Centering Prayer sponsored Covenant Christian Community, our sister church.  Before I explain how these experiences have affected my understanding of the Pentecost story, let me spend a few minutes setting the scene:

Jesus’ disciples and followers were gathered in their meeting place in Jerusalem, referred to as the “upper room.”  The women are rarely discussed, but they were there.  Since they are rarely mentioned in the Scriptures, we don’t know how many of the people in the room were women..  But we do know that among them were Jesus’ mother, Mary, Mary Magdalene, Joanna (the wife of Herod’s steward), several other Marys,  spouses of the disciples, and a number of other women who were followers of Jesus, just to name a few that are explicitly referred to.  Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary, James’ mother had been there at the crucifixion and later told the disciples about the empty tomb and the risen Christ (and were not, at first, believed).

The Holy Spirit is an elusive figure, at one time, in fact, referred to as the Holy Ghost.  But the Holy Spirit has been given substance, both in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, through the concept of Sophia, which means Wisdom in Greek.  This is where the Sophia class and the Heart of Centering Prayer come in.  In the Sophia class we learned that the Holy Spirit, or Wisdom, is the feminine aspect of God, or the Divine Feminine.  By feminine, I don’t mean girlish or dainty or ladylike.  The Divine Feminine doesn’t have to do with gender but rather is a type of energy. Feminine energy has to do with being, as opposed to doing, and is represented by such words and phrases as intuition, receptivity, inner focus, transcendence, mystery, and darkness.  Ii is a powerful force that exists within all of us, male, female, or nonbinary.  We know that the feminine aspect of God was known to those in the upper room because the Hebrew name of God, Yahweh, which is revealed to Moses in Exodus 3, is a combination of both female and male grammatical endings. The first part of God’s name in Hebrew, “Yah,” is feminine, and the last part, “weh,” is masculine. https://eewc.com/gender-remixed-sophia-word/

Brenda spoke a few months ago about the “imaginal realm” of experience.  This is where Wisdom, or Sophia appears.  In her book, Eye of the Heart, Bourgeault has said:

“And when all the intellectual attractions have been stripped away, and it is allowed to speak in its own native tongue, what it speaks of, with surprising simplicity and directness, is beauty, hope and a mysteriously deeper order of coherence and aliveness flowing through this earthly terrain connecting it to the infinite wellsprings of cosmic creativity and abundance … It calls us to a renewed sense of dignity, accountability, belongingness, cosmic intimacy, and love … Our hearts get this language. It is called ‘imaginal’ because, while it is invisible to the physical eye, it is still clearly perceptible through the eye of the heart, which is in fact what the word imagination specifically implies in its original Islamic context: direct perception through the eye of the heart, not through mental reflection or fantasy.

An article in the Hans India, an English daily paper published in India, says:

The feminine principle is a subtle energy, which has remained untapped within the psyche of both men and women. It is merged in the essence of our spiritual identity and is marked by qualities attributed to the more gentle side of the human being—care, respect, trust, patience, loyalty, love honesty, empathy, and mercy. When this principle is understood and realised, it is a force so powerful that it awakens us to new realities and realigns us to the true purpose and meaning of life .Both men and women possess this feminine principle but throughout history it has often been equated with emotion, weakness, and vulnerability and, in the context of social, economic, and political issues, flushed from the mainstream of development to a backwater and then labelled as ‘women’s issues’. The feminine principle was thereby controlled and crushed by the iron hand of patriarchal power, which almost invariably demanded nothing less than the sacrifice of intuition at the altar of rigid logic, the suppression of gentleness for the sake of brute strength, and the compliance of women with the dominance of men

https://www.thehansindia.com/hans/young-hans/the-feminine-principle-562498

I’m sure that many of us here are old enough that when we were first taught the Lord’s Prayer, we were taught to conclude it with “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, Amen.”  What happened to the Mother (or the daughter, for that matter).  What if the prayer had been called the Mother Prayer instead of the Lord’s Prayer?

Sophia is represented by many of the women in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament.  For example, we find her standing on a street corner, shouting her wisdom, with no one paying any attention to her.  She is the bride in the Song of Solomon.  Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary, particularly the black Virgin, represent Sophia.  In our present day churches, however, she seems to have been coopted by the patriarchy.  Of course, Catholics have the Virgin Mary, and the Christian Orthodox churches have Sophia, or wisdom, but these personifications largely lack the power and energy of the Divine Feminine, and they occur in the context of creedal and patriarchal structures that are governed by rules and laws rather than mystery and intuition, by the head rather than by the heart..

Imagine singing this hymn in worship (the words of which were written by Jann Alldredge-Clanton)

O Holy Darkness, loving Womb, who nurtures and creates,
sustain us through the longest night with dreams of open gates.
We move inside to mystery that in our center dwells,
where streams of richest beauty flow from sacred, living wells.

O come to us, Sophia; your image, black and fair,
stirs us to end injustice and the wounds of Earth repair.
The treasures of your darkness and riches of your grace
inspire us to fulfill our call, our sacredness embrace.

Words  © Jann Alldredge-Clanton, from Inclusive Hymns for Liberating Christians (Eakin Press, 2006)

Imagine seeing the communion cup as representing the womb (and hearing the words “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…”)  Imagine seeing its contents as the water that Jesus turned to wine at his mother’s request (though he grumbled about it), And then the bread — bread has always been at the very core and center of female ceremonies since the Neolithic age. Bread ovens were present in many Goddess sanctuaries of ancient Europe. Loaves were often shaped to resemble body parts of the Goddess of Life, such as buttocks, vulva and breasts, and were decorated with the ancient symbols of life and regeneration.  https://morenalucianirusso.eu/en/the-gift-of-bread-and-female-shamanism/

A pleasant fantasy, but lets look at something else. In Marjory’s last Sophia class, she asked us how Sophia, or Wisdom shows up at Seekers.  I took notes to use in my sermon today and though I’m not sure I got everything, I got a lot.  Here are some of the things people said:

  • Seekers is not creedal.  We have no one single creed or statement of faith that we adhere to.
  • The inner journey is a key element in Seekers values and practice.
  • We have an open pulpit.  We affirm that the Word (AKA Holy Spirit) is still coming to us and that we as individuals are receiving it.  We encourage sharing what we have received in sermons.
  • We have no single leader.  In her class, Marjory contrasted hierarchical and patriarchal laws and structures with shared and nurturing leadership.  In Seekers, reflections and contributions of everyone are expressed and valued . 
  • We have multiple paths to discipleship through Stewards, the Servant Leadership team, and the Mission Groups.
  • Seekers structures are nurturing rather than controlling.
  • We value and cultivate silence through silent spaces in worship and silent retreats.
  • When we read the Seekers commitment statement, we promise to care for every part of God’s creation.  The Earth and Spirit Mission group supports deeper connections with God’s creation in nature and our partnership with the CreatureKind program (https://www.becreaturekind.org/) helps us be sensitive to the welfare of farmed animals.
  • We have sermons that explicitly refer to Sophia and to the Wisdom tradition — for example, Brenda a few months ago and me today.
  • We believe in call as the center of our life together.  Discernment of call is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

The Pentecost story shows the Holy Spirit, or Sophia, appearing on the heads of the followers of Jesus in the form of tongues of flame.  People speak in many their many different tongues but understand one another perfectly.  What a beautiful picture of unity in diversity.  The feminine principle is about connection, cooperation, and oneness.  It is about making peace rather than making war.  How wonderful it would be if the tongues of flame appeared on the heads of everyone in the world—male, female, and nonbinary, oppressor and oppressed, powerful and powerless—and brought peace to all the people and nations of the world.  The Hebrew Scriptures say of Wisdom: “All Her paths are peace.  She is the tree of life.” (Proverbs 3:17-18)

In Seekers, we have many attitudes and customs that support unity and peace.  We have the peace and justice prayer and candle lighting before each worship service.  We have a statement on the Home page of our website that affirms our stand against white supremacy and systemic racism. We have a Racial and Ethnic Justice Vigil on Fridays and our Freedom Friday evenings, where we learn about and practice antiracism.  In spite of our efforts, our membership is still predominantly White, but we are always striving for more diversity and value and actively engage with our sister church, Covenant Christian Community, which is predominantly Black and shares our building.  We study and take classes together, participate together in a group called Sacred Conversations about Race, and members of both churches and other local churches come together to pack and deliver boxes for the annual “More than a Turkey” Thanksgiving distribution event.  Covenant, like Seekers, is a noncreedal church with deep connections to Sophia and the wisdom tradition.

In closing I am going to read a Pentecost poem I wrote a few years ago.  Please forgive me if you have heard it before.  Seekers has so many venues for self-expression that I often forget what I have shared with others and with whom I shared it.

That holy room
A poem for Pentecost
by Jacqueline Wallen

I’ll always remember the day
God’s spirit fell as tongues of flame
that rested on our heads but didn’t burn.
A powerful unity swept through the room,by
God was in us.  We wanted to tell the world.
We danced, even our arms
danced high and waving here and there.
I heard strange languages (and spoke my own)
but I understood each one.
In every language we were praising God.
Some of us talked, some sang, others shouted
People in the street outside shouted too:
“Shut up you drunks!”
But we were too drunk on God to stop.
It didn’t last, of course, we sobered up,
but part of me is still in that holy room,
beside ourselves crazy with joy.

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