Tearing the Dress Off the Divine

To talk about Wise Woman Working is a bold thing. It’s about unifying the stuff that we know we ought to know and the daily, lived practice of putting such ideas into action. It’s about living with a sense of discipline that keeps us from sliding back into pettiness, despair, and ego driven defensiveness. At the same time, it is about living with a profound sense of compassion for our own frailties and those of the ones we love, and so often, the ones that we believe it impossible to love. Nothing I am talking about is a great departure from what we have all heard before in church or from a bag of Yogi Tea or a book by Caroline Myss or Eckhart Tolle.

Poised at the beginning this enterprise, I do not want to fall victim to losing track of Wisdom before I even have a chance to dip a foot into her still pool. I definitely do not think that wisdom is strictly a woman’s realm, and even if the face of the Divine that I am most likely to understand is marked by great goddesses and soft bellies and nurturing breasts I recognize that I should widen my stock of metaphors to encompass the masculine as well.

I call it Wise Woman Working for many reasons: my need to shroud language in as much poetry as possible (Wise Person Working sounds awkward); my sense of being human is completely influenced by my having two X chromosomes; and my renewed sense of respect for the Divine Feminine as a particular aspect of the One. My need to find “The Goddess” as I fled from the Catholicism of my childhood lead me to identify exclusively with the feminine expression of the creator. In addition to missing some essential parts of spiritual experience, this left me in a place of confused narcissism as I found myself in the thrall of people who peddled self-help pablum that equated woman with goddess and left out all of the vital bits about humility and service and cultivating awareness.

When I was finally able to tear the dress off the Divine I was able to reenter a relationship with Catholicism and Christianity. I can begin to welcome visions of Mary because I can separate her from my objections to patriarchal oppression. Now, I can find empowerment in specifically womanish images, but I believe that much of their potency comes from the play of opposites between feminine and masculine.

The claws of my college feminism have dulled and I am a much less fervent guardian of some mythical woman club. I hope that as I have redefined the nature of the feminine in matters of the spirit, the feminine can be re-envisioned in the pursuit of being awake to this world. Call this path what you will, I can only dream that it can resonate for all people, regardless of gender.


8 thoughts on “Tearing the Dress Off the Divine

  1. blisschick October 20, 2008 / 9:57 am


    When I read your posts (or your comments on mine), I feel like I have mysteriously found a long lost twin. (I am being both serious and silly there.)

    First, I am so in love with this concept of Wise Woman Working; I know I’ve already told you that, but it is worth repeating.

    Much the same idea is what compelled me to write blisschick and what formed its content and rhetorical approach. I just put it slightly differently, when in a fairly early post, I wrote “Action is the alchemy by which knowledge becomes wisdom.” Or “Wise Woman Working,” which is so nice in its alliteration.

    Second, I, too, am just making my way back to Catholicism, though it was not the religion of my childhood, except on Easter and Christmas, during which time my father would sit in the pew and cry his tears of self-pity. (Oh, that sounds awful, but I am betting you will understand.)

    And yet, even with that experience of it, I knew it was mine in a way that nothing else was. I knew I wasn’t a protestant from a very early age. I am a sucker for eye candy and pomp, but there is something deep residing in those things, something that emotionally and viscerally connects to us and something that can’t be easily discarded.

    My return to Catholicism — which is difficult as a lesbian — has mostly been through Mary. I am a devotee of the rosary — prayer beads that are not foreign to me like a mala and its sanskrit.

    Besides, I agree with the likes of the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh — that we are meant to find ourselves in our ancestral traditions (my family left Germany in the late 1800’s because they were Catholic and persecuted). Also, I believe that there is beauty and truth in Christ — beauty and truth that has been twisted and mutilated by much of Christianity but is there regardless. (Also there is beauty and truth in Catholic theology; for instance, the idea of the Eucharist not being a reinactment but the actual event — wow! Timelessness! Quantum Physics! All that stuff that people love when it comes out of the mouths of TV/book writing “spiritual” types.) So it is my job to be more rigorous in my discernment; it is too easy to leave and go for something fadish like Buddhism (the current fav of the liberal intellectual elites — a group to which many would think I belong).

    I’m writing too long here and now it’s threatening to go off in many directions. My point is that I respect your efforts and your willingness to share them.


  2. Tess October 20, 2008 / 9:59 am

    Marisa, thank you so much for your visit to and comment on my blog. I’m glad it has resonated with you.
    What you write here looks really interesting, I know I’m going to enjoy exploring.

  3. girlwhocriedepiphany October 20, 2008 / 10:51 am

    Tess: Welcome. It is so wonderful to find a fellow explorer.

    Christine: I embrace all of the seriousness & silliness of finding a lost twin!

    “So it is my job to be more rigorous in my discernment; it is too easy to leave and go for something faddish” – wow, that so echoes a conversation a friend and I were having the other day. We were actually looking at it from the opposite perspective and realizing how much less complicated it was for us to find the spirit in traditions other than our own. I am someone who uses a mala and still has the rosaries that my grandfather gave me in a childhood jewelry box. It definitely gives me pause that I embrace aspects of other traditions without all of the cultural context that makes them “real.” Catholicism, when I start really wandering around in it, cannot get put back on the shelf, cannot recede into the background fully, because I know just a little too much of the geography of its labyrinths. It all hits too close to home to be forgotten because in the end it is home, and no matter that I hate the dank basement or the rattling windows or the crazy uncles who sleep in the back room, I always go back for the warmth and comfort I know it can offer. For now, I think I will continue to dance between the different pathways that all lead to that same place of Union and I will drink as deeply as I dare from many traditions, but your point about finding ourselves in our ancestral beliefs is deeply powerful for me. I can only pray that along with wisdom I can pull together some bravery as well!

  4. blisschick October 20, 2008 / 11:08 am

    Oh, believe me, Marisa, I am a girl who wears many hats! 🙂

    If people want to put me in any sort of box, I tell them I’m a Catholic Yogi Pagan deeply interested in the yin within the yang and vice versa. Like you, I read absolutely everything from the momentarily popular to the sublime (though sometimes I am ashamed that I prefer good distillations to primary texts). Like I tell people, the mystics of all traditions are all saying the same things.

    Oh, and I would never mean to imply in any way that Buddhism itself is faddish. I have learned so much from Buddhism and continue to do so. It is a deep, beautiful, wise tradition that has much to teach the world. My point, which I know you got, is that people (including myself) are too quick to abandon the familiar sometimes BECAUSE it is the familiar.

    And we have to face the fact, of course, to put it bluntly, that Christianity is just not “cool” right now. When I tell people that I am re-exploring my Cathoicism, they raise their eyebrows and give me a look of empathy as if I have just told them I have some disease.

    Okay, going on too long AGAIN. But I am the library working and it is too quiet today!


  5. girlwhocriedepiphany October 20, 2008 / 11:27 am

    I totally hear you on the familiar being automatically suspect. It’s easy to look at how broken our “Christian nation” has become and look for a new drug to jump start this ailing country. Of course, then all you need to do is step back and realize that every religion has its plagues and its downfalls. I think the fact that other traditions have leaders who are something other than the old white men in Rome make them really attractive as well. There are definitely times when I wish I was born Jewish or Episcopalian so that I might have the chance to celebrate a service. But, like you, there is just something about the pomp and majesty and all those saints that keep drawing me back.

    I work at a liberal arts college where people are downright fetishistic about “primary sources.” It makes me feel a little guilty when I too prefer Stephen Cope’s shiny new commentary to actually reading Pantanjali… But in that case, I so love the familiar and picture myself sitting in the middle of the Berkshires with a handful of fellow seekers – or “strivers” as he calls them, right?

    I am rambling too – but then what else does one do on a sick day at home?

  6. Quiet October 21, 2008 / 3:19 pm

    I have just discovered your blog (from Beyond the Fields We Know) and look forward to exploring it more on the weekend.

    I too was raised a Catholic and regret it not at all. As a young adult I gradually became unable to intellectually accept some Church positions and later saw the Church as a principally political organisation with some unjustifiable moral views. Yet it was my first exposure to mysticism and I loved it.

    My attraction to the feminine found an anchor in the lives of women like Teresa of Avalon, Hildegarde von Bingen and Julian of Norwich. I never returned to the Catholic Church but deeply admire many women I know working within it. The women have defined ministry for themselves and do amazing work. My own mother was a devout Catholic but was always more attuned to Mary than Jesus! That does not surprise me at all now.

    Hope to return. I love to read the spiritual exploration of others and thank you for sharing yours.

  7. Quiet October 21, 2008 / 3:20 pm

    Oops – Teresa of AVILA. Waht a slip!

  8. girlwhocriedepiphany October 21, 2008 / 6:07 pm

    Dear Quiet,
    Thanks so much for finding me! I don’t think Teresa would mind the slip – after all, The Mists of Avalon taught us that all Gods are one God!

    I really appreciate hearing about your own experiences with Catholicism. As someone who still is trying to work out her relationship with the Church I truly appreciate hearing about how people make peace with it in so many different ways, both as members and as observers.


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