Saturday, July 22, 2000
© 2000 - The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

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  Egypt's Isis, from left, with the solar disc on her head is seen by Jungian analysts as one prototype for Judeo-Christian images of Sophia and the Virgin Mary. At center is the altar of the famed shrine at Einsiedeln, the Chapel of the Black Madonna. At right is the wooden statue of Our Lady.

Understanding the feminine aspects of God

A-J Religion Editor

Several Christian denominations rocked with shock and dismay a few years ago when, at a women's conference, program leaders appeared to promote goddess worship.

Pulpiteers raged against talk of the ''feminine' aspects of God and cried heresy. Some of the criticism was undoubtedly warranted. However, much of the misunderstanding (on both sides) involved confusion about how to interpret and communicate through symbolic language.

Treading carefully in literalist country, the Rev. Peter Fritsch, rector of St. Paul's on the Plains Episcopal Church, cautions against taking symbolic language literally.

To do so misrepresents the message, he said.

For example, Proverbs 1:20-23 portrays wisdom as feminine. In the Greek, the word for wisdom is Sophia:

    Wisdom calls aloud outside;
    She raises her voice in the open squares.
    She cries out in the chief concourses,
    At the openings of the gates in the city
    She speaks her words:
    How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity?
    For scorners delight in their scorning,
    And fools hate knowledge.
    Turn at my reproof;
    Surely, I will pour out my spirit on you;
    I will make my words known to you.
Then, in Proverbs 2:10-13:
    When wisdom enters your heart,
    And knowledge is pleasant to your soul,
    Discretion will preserve you;
    Understanding will keep you,
    To deliver you from the way of evil,
    From the man who speaks perverse things,
    From those who leave the paths of uprightness
    To walk in the ways of darkness...
    Proverbs 3:13-18

    Happy is the man who finds wisdom,
    And the man who gains understanding;
    For her proceeds are better than the profits of silver,
    And her gain than fine gold.
    She is more precious than rubies,
    And all the things you may desire cannot compare with her.
    Length of day is in her right hand,
    In her left hand riches and honor.
    Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
    And all her paths are peace.
    She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her,
    And happy are all who retain her.
    (New King James Version)

The Benedictine Abby

  The Benedictine Abby and Basilica was originally built in 800 over an artisan spring. It was rebuilt in the 1600s. In the Swiss village of Einsiedeln, the church is home to the Chapel of the Black Madonna, a European center of pilgrimage since the early 12th century.

"The idea of wisdom (Sophia) is personified as a feminine vision of God," Fritsch said. "But you don't take Sophia or any other vision and literalize it. It is a symbol of a mystery, another way of understanding our experience of God."

Although God is beyond feminine and masculine, Scripture speaks in symbols that reflect concepts humankind can relate to and thus, comprehend. The Bible is filled with both patriarchal and matriarchal symbols, which is not a problem unless one image is interpreted as more valid than the other image.

When speaking of God, it is "both and," not "either or," a foreign concept for a patriarchal society.

In June, Fritsch and his wife, Brenda, traveled to Einsiedeln, Switzerland, to attend the C.J. Jung and Christian Spirituality 2000 conference, begun 16 years ago and held annually since.

The topic was "Dreaming the Healing: The Mystery of Sophia."

coloring exercise

  Sister Kay Wagner's art therapy exploring relationships to early goddess images within the Judeo Christian Image of Sophia inspires these creative images above, done in crayon by the Rev. Peter Fritsch. His efforts are inspired by slides of artworks from antiquity illustrating the retreat study, "Sophia: Healing through Our Dreams," at a monastery in a Swiss village.

"What I came away with was a type of healing," Fritsch said. For those who are troubled by references to God in tandem with feminine or masculine images, he said, a comparison that might cause less confusion is learning to value relationship as much as achievement.

"I felt I came back with some tools to (help others) do that as well as (gaining) some emotional tools within," Fritsch said.

"Work tends to dominate all sense of valuing myself ... I came back with a renewal of my valuing of myself as God's creation, a more holistic sense of self."

In the three weeks since they returned, he is reaping the benefit in creating a more balanced life, he said.

"I am setting more realistic goals for work, recognizing limitations and have more energy for family, home and some serious writing." He has found inspiration from an exercise prescribed by Sister Kay Wagner, a Franciscan from Rochester, Minn., who is the founding director of the Pastoral Counseling Center in Santa Fe, N.M., and an expert in working with traumatized children. Her topic was "Art Expression."

When she handed out crayons and paper and told him to draw a mandala, a symbol for wholeness found in all world religions, "I told her I don't draw. I'm a musician, a preacher." All the while feeling, "this is so dumb," he said, he took the art materials. He threw away his first effort, but then did four drawings within the hour. She sent the crayons home with him, and he is continuing the drawing exercise as a path to spiritual renewal. The colorful images of Sophia he has drawn are based on goddess images in other religions, but are only a representation of an idea, not a person or goddess, he said.

"I came back with a sense of renewal and hope, able to trust my intuition and creativity," he said. "God is, and (I have) an active sense of affirmation abut who I am and why I'm here."

The experience of the retreat made him "more sensitive, more open to the things of God, which is directly related to the work of a spiritual leader," he said. He is learning to be present in the moment by living reflectively, he added.

Living reflectively is the classical definition of leisure, and "worship is at the center" of the sense of being aware.