A Twist of Faith - Chapter One
Our Father in Heaven
This first chapter summarizes our concern for women and the church today. Please take a look at the massive cultural movement that is enticing God's people to twist His Word and to trust feelings and experience rather than on His unchanging truth. The result is deception, disappointment, depression, and despair. But God shows us the way back to His peace and protection.
Peggy's struggles seemed endless. She wanted to be close to God, but she rarely felt His presence. She wanted her teenage son to love Him, but the occult posters in his room became daily reminders of unanswered prayer. She joined a Christian ministry, but satisfying fellowship with God kept eluding her. Eventually she left the ministry to return to college.
She called me a few years later. She had begun to find herself, she said. Her search had led her beyond the familiar voices that had provided "pat answers" to her spiritual questions. The Biblical God no longer seemed either relevant or benevolent, but a college teacher had been helpful in her journey toward self-discovery. This teacher-counselor called herself a witch -- one who believes in the power of magic formulas and rituals to invoke power from spiritual forces.
Some years passed. When Peggy called again, she had left her husband and moved away. "I had to find me," she explained. "My spiritual journey has opened my eyes to a whole new paradigm . . . ."
"A new paradigm?"
"Yes. A brand new way of seeing God and myself -- and everything else. It's like being born again."
"Who is Jesus Christ to you now?" I asked.
"He is a symbol of redemption," she answered. "But I haven't rejected the Bible. I'm only trying to make my spiritual experience my own. I have to hear my own voice and not let someone else choose for me. Meanwhile, I'm willing to live with confusion and mystery. I feel like I'm in God's hands whether God is He, She, or It."
Can you identify with Peggy? Or do you have friends on similar journeys? Like millions of other seekers, Peggy longs for practical spirituality, a sense of identity, a community of like-minded seekers, and a God she can feel. She remembers meaningful Bible verses, but they have lost their appeal as guidelines. Somehow the Bible no longer fits her thinking or her personal wants.
She wonders why God isn't more tolerant and broad-minded. After all, He is the God of love, isn't He? Maybe a feminine deity would be more compassionate, understanding, and relevant to women. Perhaps it's time to move beyond the old boundaries of Biblical truth into the boundless realms of dreams, visions, and self-discovery?
Multitudes have. What used to be sparsely traveled sideroads to New Age experiences have become cultural freeways to self-made spirituality. Masses of church women drift onto these mystical superhighways where they adapt their former beliefs to today's more "inclusive" views. After all, they are told, peace in a pluralistic world demands a more open-minded look at all religions and cultures.
Those who agree can find countless paths to self-discovery and personal empowerment through books, magazines, and new kinds of women's group. They meet at the YWCA, in bookstores, in traditional churches, at retreat centers, living rooms . . . anywhere. Here, strange new words and practices such as "enneagrams," labyrinths, Sophia Circles, and "critical mass" -- offer modern formulas for spiritual transformation. Therapists, facilitators and spiritual directors promise "safe places" where seekers can discover their own truth, learn new rituals, affirm each other's experiences, and free themselves from old "boxes" and boundaries.
Perhaps you are part of such a group. You may have friends or relatives who are exploring these new paths. Or you may be among those who wonder how those weird, mystical activities could possibly touch your life. Unlike the women seeking truth in pagan circles, you may know your destination and feel no need for spiritual alternatives. You're safe in your family, in your church, and among your personal friends.
Are you sure? This new spiritual movement is transforming our churches as well as our culture. It touches every family that reads newspapers, watches television, and sends children to community schools. It is fast driving our society beyond Christianity, beyond humanism -- even beyond relativism -- toward new global beliefs and values. No one is immune to its subtle pressures and silent promptings. That it parallels other social changes and global movements only speeds the transformation. Yet, most Christians -- like the proverbial frog -- have barely noticed.
This feminist movement demands new deities or, at least, a rethinking of the old ones. So the search for a "more relevant" religion calls for new visions of God: images that trade holiness for tolerance, the heavenly for the earthly, and the God who is above us for a god who is us.
The most seductive images are feminine. They may look like postcard angels, fairy godmothers, Greek earth goddesses, radiant New Age priestesses, or even a mythical Mary, but they all promise unconditional love, peace, power and personal transcendence. To many, they seem too good to refuse.
The seductive masks of feminine gods
You probably wouldn't expect to find goddesses in a conservative farming community in North Dakota. I didn't. But one day when visiting my husband's rural hometown, a neighbor told us that a new bookstore had just opened in the parsonage of the old Lutheran Church. "You should go see it," she urged.
I agreed, so I drove to a stately white church, walked to the parsonage next door, and rang the bell. The pastor's wife opened the door and led me into a large room she had changed into a bookstore, leaving me to browse. Scanning the shelves along the walls, I noticed familiar authors such as Lynn Andrews who freely blends witchcraft with Native American rituals, New Age self-empowerment, and other occult traditions to form her own spirituality.
Among the multicultural books in the children's section, one caught my attention. Called Many Faces of the Great Goddess, it was a " coloring book for all ages." Page after page sported voluptuous drawings of famed goddesses. Nude, bare-breasted, pregnant, or draped in serpents, they would surely open the minds of young artists to the lure of "sacred" sex and ancient myths.
Driving home, I pondered today's fast-spreading shift from Christianity to paganism. Apparently, myths and spiritualized sensuality sound good to those who seek new revelations and "higher" truths. Many of the modern myths picture deities that fit somewhere between a feminine version of God and the timeless goddesses pictured in earth-centered stories and cultures. Yet, each can be tailor-made to fit the diverse tastes and demands of today's searching women
These and countless other women share two radical views: traditional Christianity with its biblical boundaries are out, and boundless new vistas of spiritual thrills are in. Anything goes -- except biblical monotheism, belief in one God.
Angels. Terry wears an angel pin on her jacket. She believes that today's popular angels offer all kinds of personal help, guidance and encouragement. While God seems distant and impersonal to her, she counts on her personal angel to help and love her. She showed me a set of angel cards on a rack in her gift store. "May this Guardian Angel... give you hope and strength to meet each new tomorrow," suggested a sympathy card, complete with a tiny golden angel pin.
Sophia. "Sophia, Creator God, let your milk and honey flow.... Shower us with your love..." chanted more than 2000 women gathered at the 1993 Re-Imagining Conference in Minnesota. "We celebrate sensual life you give us.... We celebrate our bodiliness.... the sensations of pleasure, our oneness with earth and water," continued one of the leaders. Representing main-line denomination, the women had come from the Presbyterian Church USA (about 400), the United Methodist Church (about 400), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (313), the United Church of Christ (144), and Baptist, Episcopal, Church of the Brethren churches about (150). About 230 were Roman Catholics. To most of these worshippers, Sophia symbolized inner wisdom and "the feminine image of the Divine." Playful, permissive, and sensuous, she has "become the latest rage among progressive church women."
Mother Earth. Terri is a regional Girl Scout leader in Santa Clara County, California. To prepare forty young scouts (ages 10-12) for an "Initiation into adulthood" ceremony, she used guided imagery to alter their consciousness and meet their own spirit guide. According to a concerned California scout leader who observed the campfire ceremony, Tracy, dressed as a Native American, invoked the Great Spirit and the spirits of the woods, the North, South, East, and West. After explaining their entrance into womanhood and marking their foreheads with ashes, she led the girls on a meditational journey.
"Imagine a meadow..." intoned her mysterious voice. "See a young woman sitting under a tree. Talk to her." This wise person would be their lifelong companion and helper. With such a constant and faithful spirit guide, who would want to follow advice from Mom, Dad, or God? Why invite a contrary opinion when the guide speaks what one wants to hear - at least in the beginning?
- A goddess. Sharon grew up in a Christian home. Disappointed with her church's chilly response to her environmental concerns, she turned to witchcraft. Since her coven accepts any pantheistic expression, Sharon simply transferred what she liked about God to her self-made image of the goddess. She describes her feminine substitute for God as a loving, non-judgmental being who fills all of creation with her sacred life. Sometimes this goddess appears to Sharon, bathing her in bright light and a "loving" spiritual presence.
The broad umbrella of feminist spirituality covers all of the world's pagan religions -- and many of today's popular distortions of Christianity. Most seekers simply pick and mix the "best parts" of several traditions. Someone might start with Buddhist meditation, then add Chinese medicine, Hindu yoga, and a Native American wilderness initiation called "Spirit Quest." Some of these combinations match today's feminist visions better than others, but most involve--
Pantheism:All is god. A spirit, force, energy or god(dess) permeates everything, infusing all parts of creation with its spiritual life.
Monism: All is one. Since the pantheistic god is everything and in everyone, all things are connected.
Polytheism: Many gods. Since the pantheistic force or god(dess) makes everything sacred, anything can be worshipped: the sun, trees, mountains and eagles -- even ourselves.
Paganism: Trusting occult wisdom and powers. Throughout history, tribal shamans, medicine men, witchdoctors, or priests have contacted the spirit world using timeless rituals and formulas which are surprisingly similar in all the world's pagan cultures.
Neopaganism: New idealized blends of old pagan religions. To make paganism attractive in today's self-focused atmosphere, its promoters idealize tribal cultures and pagan religions. Instead of telling the whole truth and nothing but, they tell us that spiritual forces link each person to every other part of nature. Any woman can now function as priestess, contact the spirit world, manipulate spiritual forces, and help create worldwide peace and oneness.
Gateways to the goddess
Like most Neopagans, Diane believes that earth-centered spirituality brings peace and personal empowerment. A pretty young woman with long black hair and the slender look of a vegetarian, she is a local hairdresser. She is also married, looking forward to starting a family, and a member of the Bay Area Pagan Assemblies. While cutting my hair one day, she told me how she discovered the goddess who empowers her.
"I always liked to read," she said, "especially books about magic and witchcraft."
"Which was your favorite?" I asked.
"Margot Adler's book, Drawing Down the Moon."
"That's almost an encyclopedia on witchcraft. How old were you?"
"A senior in high school."
"How did you find it?"
"Browsing around in the library. But I had already read some other books, like Medicine Woman by Lynn Andrews.
My thoughts drifted to another young woman who read Medicine Woman some years ago. Lori's high school teacher had encouraged her to explore various spiritual traditions -- even create her own religion. Fascinated with Lynn Andrews' blend of Native American shamanism and goddess spirituality, Lori ordered a Native American tipi from a catalog, set it up in her backyard, and used it for candle-lit rituals inspired by Wiccan magic (witchcraft). Like most contemporary pagans, she had learned to mix various traditions into a personal expression that fit her own quest for power and "wisdom from within."
Some months before Diane first cut my hair, I had met a charming Stanford University student who also called herself pagan. Beth, an education and philosophy major, had read my book about environmental spirituality and wanted to discuss it with me. While we ate lunch together at the college cafeteria, she shared her beliefs.
"Who introduced you to witchcraft and lesbianism?" I asked after a while.
"Two of my high school teachers," she answered.
I wasn't surprised. By then I knew that an inordinate number of pagan women have chosen the classroom as their platform for spreading their faith and transforming our culture. Like the rest of us, they want to build a better world -- one that reflects their beliefs and values.
While Beth talked, I glanced at her jewelry. The golden pentagram and voluptuous little goddess dangling from a chain around her neck spoke volumes about her values. So did her earrings: two large pink triangles pointing down, an ancient symbol of the goddess as well as a modern symbol of lesbianism.
"What about your jewelry?" I asked. "Do people know what the pentagram and triangles symbolize? Do they criticize you for wearing the little goddess?"
She smiled. "No. Everybody here is supposed to be tolerant of each other's lifestyles. Nobody would dare say anything."
I pondered her statement. What does it mean to be tolerant -- or intolerant -- these days? If intolerance is the self-righteous attitude that despises people with "different" values, it would be wrong. Jesus always demonstrated love and compassion toward the excluded and hurting women of His times. Yet, He never condoned destructive lifestyles or actions that harmed others. What would happen in a culture that tolerates everything?
One result is obvious. The last three decades have produced an unprecedented openness to what used to be forbidden realms. Fortune telling, occult board games, and Native American rituals, along with countless other doorways to paganism, have spread from the hidden chambers of professional occultists and tribal shamans to our nation's classrooms, environmental programs, Girl Scout camps, and churches.
Leading "Christian" theologians no longer hide their spiritual preference. "The deconstruction of patriarchal religion -- in bland terms, the assisted suicide of God the Father -- left many of us bereft of divinity," explains feminist theologian Mary Hunt. "But the human hunger for meaning and value. . . finds new expression in goddess worship."
This human hunger for meaning was designed to draw people to God. He created us to need Him, not man-made counterfeits. As the 17th-century philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote, "There's a God-shaped vacuum in every heart." But an astounding number of seekers try to fill that void with seductive substitutes.
Celebrating the goddess
On June 2, 1994, that spiritual longing brought hundreds of women to San Francisco's Renaissance of the Sacred Feminine Conference. Belying the nearness of Summer Solstice, a chilly wind swept along the stony walls of Grace Cathedral as I waited with the swelling crowd lining the sidewalk -- and prayed.
It grew colder. We buttoned our jackets and huddled together. Some of us studied the program. The cover featured a sensual goddess dancing in front of a large circle -- perhaps a sacred sun, or a Buddhist wheel of life, or a Sioux medicine wheel.... It didn't matter which. Today's goddess is universal enough to encompass all the world's earth-centered religions and female deities.
An introductory paragraph suggested that this pantheistic Goddess would unify people and save the planet:
"This participatory event celebrates and honors the presence of the Divine Mother at the heart of the emerging global civilization. The Sacred Feminine has a central role in the healing of our divided minds and endangered planet . . . Without spiritual transformation on a massive and unprecedented scale, humankind will not survive...."
No survival without an occult transformation?
I looked at the faces around me. People were growing impatient. The 6:30pm entrance time had come and gone, and their pleas for shelter inside had fallen on unsympathetic ears. "Remember we're on a cyclical path, not linear like the old patriarchal ways," was the only excuse given. I smiled, hoping that goddess-spirituality would continue to prove its true colors.
Twenty-five minutes late the doors flew open and the crowd rushed in, filling the large Episcopal cathedral. While eerie chants to Mother Earth echoed between the gothic pillars, I glanced at a green slip of paper someone handed me at the door. "Failure," it said.
Curious, I turned to a woman next to me and whispered, "What did you get?"
The woman read her green slip and frowned. "Slavery!"
"Ah Ma-ma! Ah Ma-ma! Ah Ma-ma..." chanted the Bay Area Lesbian Chorale Ensemble.
As others joined the chant, a large screen flashed pictures of goddesses from around the world. The images ranged from voluptuous fertility goddesses to gruesome blood-guzzling avengers demanding human sacrifice.
The goddess is supposed to be kind and compassionate, I thought. Yet, in many of her own myths she is cruel beyond words. My mind drifted to the Hindu goddess Kali with her bloody tongue and serpentine necklace.
A voice summoned the presence of the many-faced goddess: "Salutations to the great empress who came out of the fire of pure consciousness..." Silently, I kept praising God. Then Alan Jones, dean of the cathedral, shared his delight in our "post-traditional" culture and "the new ways and forms to express the spirit."
A four-step journey toward conscious oneness with this "Sacred feminine" began with collective surrender: "We bow to your sacred power, the holy wisdom of Sophia, our beloved mother who is in heaven and earth..."
"Our Father in Heaven," I prayed silently, shutting out the other sounds. "Holy is Your Name...."
The second step, Chaos and Ordeal, meant experiencing the "ordeals of birth, womb, and transformation." We were told to imagine the condition written on our green slips of paper, enter its darkness, feel the pain, invoke the dark mother goddess, then groan, weep and wail. As the wailing sounds of imagined pain surged through the room, I kept thanking God for His triumph over darkness.
The third step, Embracing and Understanding, offered only pagan myths and hollow affirmations as solutions to life's pain. A story about the Japanese sun goddess ended with a futile solution to fear: a mirror for gazing at one's own glory.
Rapture and Transformation, the fourth step in the journey toward "the Sacred feminine, Source of our being," was led by Andrew Harvey, a guru to Westerners seeking Eastern mystical experience. Like most contemporary pagans, he blends beliefs and practices from many earth-centered traditions to create his own expression. His personal mix of eastern meditation, western witchcraft, Sufi mysteries, and Jungian psychology seemed to have won him the status of a revered master.
Mocking the Ten Commandments, he listed "Ten Rather Firm Suggestions." The ninth suggestion typifies the sensual focus of contemporary paganism:
Ten rather firm suggestions:
1. Adore me... the Mother. Know that I, the Mother, am immanent and transcendent.
2. Adore every sentient [feeling] being... with my total tenderness.
3. Dare to adore yourself as my divine child.
4. Know... that nature is the sacred body of my sacred life.
5. Know that my love is eternally active....
6. Shine to all four directions.
7. Dissolve all social barriers between sects and religions.
8. Dissolve all barriers between the. . . sacred and the profane.
9. Discover and cultivate sacred Eros in all its ecstatic connections.
10. Know that I can be contacted anywhere at anytime through one sacred syllable: "Ma". No intermediary needed.
Since Harvey communicates directly with pagan spirits, he receives the mystical kinds of messages that fuel today's spiritual rebellion. Recently, the "Divine Mother," told him that "everything will be transformed when you know and see me.... I have willed the end of homophobia. I have willed the end of reason. I have willed the end of denial of the sanctity of the body... I have willed... the end of the exploitation of nature. For I have willed a garden. . . ."
The Sacred Feminine conference would continue for two more days at a local Unitarian church, but I had seen enough. Driving home, I thanked my Lord for His victory over occult deities and the forces they represent. He alone can bring a renaissance of truth and light into this spreading darkness.
Will there be a garden under the reign of the Goddess? Harvey's "Divine Mother" said there would, but who is she? She whispers mysteries the world longs to hear, but what makes her myths so believable -- even to church leaders? What happens to women seduced by her promises, and where is she taking our children? What happens to nations that turn to "other gods" and values? What happens to Christians in such cultures?
These and other crucial questions will be explored in the rest of this book. In each chapter we will look at a phrase in the prayer Jesus taught His disciples, then show how it is turned upside-down by the feminist spirituality movement. Following the outline of the prayer below, we will explore the main myths fueling today's pagan revival, and the major truths that lead us back to intimacy with God.
Praying to God Affirming the goddess Our Father in heaven Our Mother, the Earth Holy is Your Name Sacred and perfect am I Your Kingdom Come My vision come Your will be done My will be done Give us... daily bread Don't give . . . I own . . . Forgive us...as we forgive I choose to forgive--or curse Lead us not into temptation Temptation? I form my own values Deliver us from evil There is no sin or evil For Yours is the... power Mine is the power . . .forever! Nothing is permanent or absolute
To women seeking new directions, feminine faces for God, and a better image of herself, the path to feminist spirituality may look bright with promise. Yet, like Peggy, many find themselves in the depths of spiritual confusion and loneliness once the initial euphoria fades. Some are trapped in downward spiritual spiral they can't escape. All too late, they see that its promises bring conflict and confusion instead of love and peace.
A worldwide sisterhood of angry, militant feminists is rising to power. The United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing gave a glimpse of its influence. It left its leaders with marching orders designed to revolutionize our schools, homes, churches and culture. If the feminist movement gains what it demands, no one will escape its global influence. American Christians will face the kind of hatred that drove persecuted masses to our borders, but there would be no place to hide outside of Christ.
As we look at these changes in the light of God's Word, He helps us understand the crisis and prepare for the coming conflict. If we trust Him, He will not only keep us spiritually safe during our journey, He will show us a joy and victory only possible for those who have dared to face reality, refused to compromise, and set their mind to trust the Shepherd.
I have not yet added the ending or the endnotes, and I may not have time to do it later. We seem to have too much new information each week to add the time-consuming details that we have in our books. But you can email me if you need them -- or read the documentation in Chapter 1 of A Twist of Faith.
To order the whole book, click on A Twist of Faith
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