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by Allison Vander Broek
A few weeks ago I attended The Liturgists Gathering here in Boston with a good friend of mine. I have a minor obsession with the Liturgists and their accompanying podcast—as in all my friends (and even a few random acquaintances) have had to hear me talk about multiple episodes, multiple times.
In the last few years, they’ve started holding Liturgists Gatherings in a few cities in the US each year. It’s a chance to go from being an online community of podcast listeners to meeting each other in real life—to explore a new type of spiritual community, ask questions about spirituality and faith, and dig into interesting and tough topics. Millennial spiritual pilgrim that I am, it should come as no surprise that when I found out they were coming to Boston, I bought tickets the day they went on sale.
The whole weekend was amazing but I particularly loved the first evening, which was devoted to exploring the idea of the sacred feminine and expanding our understanding of the divine beyond the usual masculine depictions of and metaphors for God, as well as considering what that means for Christians today. You can listen to the entire discussion here.
It’s hard to pick a favorite moment from that night. Between Christena Cleveland’s brilliant insight into patriarchy and religion, her stories of the Black Madonna, or the reworking of a few hymns and contemporary songs (This is Our Mother’s World, as just one example), the evening pushed the boundaries of how I thought about God and the divine. A particularly poignant moment was a reading of Allison Woodward’s beautiful poem. (You can read the entire poem here. Two of my favorite stanzas:
To be a Mother is to suffer;
To travail in the dark,
stretched and torn,
exposed in half-naked humiliation,
subjected to indignities
for the sake of new life.
To be a Mother is to say,
“This is my body, broken for you,”
And, in the next instant, in response to the created’s primal hunger,
“This is my body, take and eat.”
Such wonderful imagery of the sacred feminine and powerful, moving metaphors of God as our mother. Though it was just a two-hour discussion, I feel like it gave me a whole new way to think about God, the Bible, and the church. The rest of the weekend was just as beautiful and challenging, and the more time I’ve had to think about it, the more I’ve come to appreciate the diverse crowd that loves the Liturgists and the inclusive space that they offer. Atheists, “nones,” progressive Christians, evangelicals—all together for a weekend to discuss God, Our Mother. What a lovely and odd mix of people.
Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the potential power and healing in a feminine understanding and approach to God. And also seeing the ways I am already surrounded by the sacred feminine. Now, I encounter it everywhere. It’s come up in conversation while meeting a new friend from church for coffee. Or I’ve thought of it while watching my own friend with her toddler. Or two weeks ago, the first Sunday I was back in church after the Liturgists Gathering, and it just so happened that our rector wore a special stole for the service— a favorite of mine because it lists the names of prominent women in the Bible. And just this past Sunday in church when our visiting rector ended the service with a blessing: “God loves you as a mother.”
What a rich new world we can discover when we open ourselves up to feminine metaphors for God, to the power and potential of the sacred feminine, and to fuller understanding of the myriad ways God reaches out to each one of us.
Allison Vander Broek is a doctoral candidate in American history at Boston College. She is nearing completion of her dissertation, tentatively titled, Rallying the Right-to-Lifers: Grassroots Religion and Politics and the Building of a Broad-based Right-to-Life Movement, 1960-1984.