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Just Getting Started: Feminist Writings on Religion

Let’s start here: I am not an expert in the field of thealogy, theology, religion or any such thing. However, spirit has always been a truth I’ve felt in my bones and I have chosen to embark on graduate studies in the field of counseling and spirituality, with a feminist and gender studies focus. Classes start September 2020 and I know I will have many interesting things to share with you as I progress through my program. For now, to get us started, I’m sharing some of the ideas, thoughts and critiques I explored in the past year through some prerequisite religious studies on the topic of women and religion as well as indigenous spirituality.

We’ll see where belief, mythology and love take us…

 

I was raised an atheist, my only experiences in Church those of random moments – a rare holiday spent with the aunt and uncle who live far away, a few times with the step-grandparents who were part of my life for only a few years, one strange day when my father took me to a beautiful church in the countryside where we sang, feasted and I could truly feel the love so many call God.

Then when I was a bit older and free to explore spirit on my own, the beautiful Catholic Churches of Central America, standing tall at their honoured place in each town square, always called me in. But I felt out of place. I felt inappropriate, to be honest. I knew almost nothing of this God and feared it was sacrilegious to sit there if I didn’t really believe, or unkind to sit there in bewilderment maybe. I didn’t get it, didn’t know the stories everybody knew. I didn’t know this God or what he stood for.

My experience with spirit didn’t live within walls. I felt connected in the woods, at a little stream near my home. I felt it on the beaches, not far from those Catholic churches, with the steady beat of waves leading my heart. I saw the magic in the sunsets, the grace in the winds, the truth in the body.

I felt spirit inside me. I felt spirit around me.

I felt it.

I knew it.

In my heart. In my gut. In my soul.

So I dabbled…. I sat in those Catholic pews, the sweat of the tropical heat sticking my bare legs to the wood. I took an Eastern Religion course during my undergrad, hoping Buddhism would call to me. I prayed, but only sometimes. I did yoga. I tried to meditate.

And then there’s the time Jesus saved me… I was surfing on a point break in El Salvador, unfamiliar to me, and got caught in a current. I swear I would have drowned there if another surfer hadn’t paddled in, gave me his leash to hold onto and towed me back out to safety. With deep gratitude, I asked him his name. “Jesus,” he said.

Not really what people mean when they say they were saved by Jesus but I’m alive so I’ll take it.

But unless I’m in just such a drowning situation, I don’t believe Jesus is coming to save me, or anyone else for that matter. I believe Jesus was a real man, a prophet. I believe he saw truths the people of his time were unable to see. I believe most of us are still unwilling to see those truths, still unwilling to value the lives of the less fortunate, to extend love to everyone, regardless of race, gender, culture or beliefs. I believe in THAT Jesus, and the woman who walked alongside him, Mary Magdalene. I believe they both found the truth of love in their hearts, that they both knew the answers were only to be found inside of us, not within church walls or bestowed upon us by a higher power.

Be on your guard so that no one deceives you by saying “Look over here!” or “Look over there!” For the child of true Humanity exists within you. Follow it! Those who search for it will find it. – Mary 4 : 3-7

And so whether you are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Pagan, Anishinaabe, Buddhist or anything else, I believe we are all looking for the same thing. We are looking for the humanity that lives within us. May we call it spirit, love, truth, faith, it doesn’t matter. We are all searching for connection. The connection that lives within us all.

I believe in the goddesses, the witches, the Marys. I believe in the divine feminine and the divine masculine. I believe in love and spirit. I believe in the power of faith.

I’m going to use this space to share with you some of the things I learn about women and their experiences with religion. There will be criticism. There will be ideas you’ve never thought before. If you were raised religious, you might not like everything I have to say. That’s ok. We all need to stretch sometimes. I am just learning. I look forward to your comments and additional resources you might have to share. I will trust that we’re in this together, that we are all here for the same reason.

We all want to feel connected to spirit. We all want to have faith.

 

Next week I’ll be looking at the Eve & Adam story from the Old Testament (isn’t it hard to read it when Eve is written first???). With a critical, feminist perspective I’ll bring this old story into an interesting “new” light and gain a greater understanding of the motivation and impact of this pivotal piece of scripture.

 

 

Sola: To be female and alone

It’s quiet. They’re gone. It’s just me, a glass of pinot grigio and my laptop.

I do love my kids, so very much. And yes, I often miss them when they aren’t here.

But also, I so very much love my time alone.

I love the quiet. No interruptions. Following my own rhythm through the moments, the days. No one to cook for, no argument to resolve. Yes, I very much like my time alone.

But it is more than that. More than a craving for the previous, pre-kid life when my life revolved around, well, me. It’s more than that.

It’s more than being tired after years of sleepless nights with littles.

It’s more than being bored of preparing multiple meals a day.

It’s more than a need for a reprieve.

Yes, this pull to be alone is much more than all that.

It’s me.

Sola.

 

I think I’m different than many, but not all. It is our society that tells us that being alone is wrong, unfulfilling, something only one would want should they be damaged goods.

50 year anniversaries are what we’re taught to aspire to. Forever. Happily ever after. Always.

But I never wanted those things. Forever didn’t sound good to me. I was pretty sure I would change my mind about this, that and the other thing sometime between now and forever. How could I commit to happily ever after? How could I know today, or 10 years ago for that matter, what I would want every day after?

All I knew that I could depend on, all I knew to be true, was that I would be forever with my own damn self. That I would be spending every day, every moment, with me.

And that kind of forever, well it gets me all a-flutter. That kind of always feels juuuuuuust right.

It’s me.

Sola.

 

I want my life to be my own. I want my days to be filled with my priorities, my dreams. I want to read when I want to and do the dishes later. I want to feed the kids cereal again and eat yet another bowl of kitchari. I want to be first in line. I want to be my own number one.

I know when I do this, I am filled with more joy.

I know when I do this, I have more energy.

I know when I do this,  I mother a thousand times better than before.

It’s not easy, in a world of couple-privilege, to choose to be alone. To tell the world, no, I do not want a husband. And yes, I do own this house.

No, they don’t need a step-dad. And yes, I’m rocking this on my own. Thank you very much.

Because I got this, this alone thing.

It’s everything I always wanted.

It’s me.

Sola.

 

That doesn’t mean I don’t love, that my time is so preciously mine that there’s no space for friendship and romance and community.

In fact, my life is FULL. Really full.

I’ve got good people. Ones to laugh with. Ones to call in need. Ones to help and ones to care for. I’ve got people, same as I’ve always had people.

And now I can love them the way I’m meant to. Now I can give them my best.

Because my best only shows up when I follow my own rhythm, when I make my own moves.

My best comes from the quiet, the solitude, the rest.

My best comes from the afternoon reading, the lonely kayak down the river, the hour on the deck with wine and my laptop.

I’m meant to be alone. It is not something I wish could be different. It is something I chose.

It’s me.

Sola.
 
 

Thoughts on Rest & Intimidating Women

Yesterday was a hard day. I muddled through the morning well enough, no yelling to get the boys out of the house early for my oldest son’s piano lesson before school. I had hoped to then be able to walk my other boy the 5 blocks to kindergarten but I got pulled back to my bed, needing a few minutes rest and then we weren’t ready in time. So like every day, we drove.

My next hope was to walk downtown to my appointment with my counselor, but for that too, I went too slow, ended up sitting on my bedroom floor wasting ten minutes scrolling Facebook and again, wasn’t ready with enough time to walk.

But I didn’t get angry which is progress. I didn’t beat myself up for not being able to stay focused and get out the door on time. I was, however, disappointed. Disappointed that it feels like it’s too hard to be me these days, so hard I can’t even walk my kid 5 blocks to school the one day it’s an option this week.

Counseling was excellent though. Big, huge, insightful connections made. Yes, I do feel the need to adjust myself to make others happy. And I mean everyone, at all times, always. I can see how hard I tried as a young girl to make my parents happy, to never cause a fuss, to be perfect. Maybe even perfect enough that they would be happy.

I thought I had that much power.

As children do.

But my parents’ happiness doesn’t belong to me.

Nor does yours.

My logical brain understands that. My traumatized brain does not.

When I got back from counseling I decided I would let myself rest. This is always my debate: Do I need to rest to care for myself or am I being lazy?

Usually the answer is the former but for most of my life I’ve beat myself up believing the latter. Almost every time I’ve “rested”, I’ve had a tape on repeat in my head telling me I should be doing more, trying harder. I tell myself I should be active or catch up on cleaning or do some damn work. But the PMDD holds me down. Keeps me cuddled and cocooned on the couch.

But what came together at counseling today, the realization that I’ve spent a lifetime adjusting myself to fit the needs of others, has shown me that I am exhausted and rest is exactly what I need. Along with the PMDD, all signs point to Adrenal fatigue too. So yes, I need to rest. I do not need to use my time to be what I think others want me to be, think I should be.

I need only use my time to rest and heal.

Which sometimes often means an afternoon on the couch, a little stoned, watching reruns of Grey’s Anatomy.

I think I’ve discovered why I love Meredith enough to rewatch the series too many times. She is wonderfully imperfect. She drinks too much, rarely communicate well, makes an endless number of “mistakes”. Yet she is brilliant, talented, respected. She is a horribly imperfect woman who is powerful, smart and strong.

The imperfect woman. Not often allowed. Rarely celebrated.

Intimidating.

Yes, the imperfect but strong woman may often be described as intimidating.

But my favourite internet meme of 2018 says it all:

“You are not intimidating, they are intimidated. There’s a difference.”

We are shifting, this world of ours, from seeing women as intimidating to realizing rather, that we, the societal “we”, are intimidated. We’ve lived a hundred lifetimes in a world that fears women, that fears them so deeply that they have been pushed out of every leadership position. Out of religion. Out of politics. Out of medicine. Into the home. Into motherhood.

But then still, the power of women as mothers is too scary so we medicalize birth, pull it away from the midwives, promote formula and send women back to work. We push them away from the feminine that is connected and powerful, intimidating.

I believe I am someone who intimidates others and I’ve spent my life thinking it’s my responsibility, my duty as a woman, to not do so. To always acquiesce, to always bend myself for another’s comfort. No wonder I’m tired. No wonder I’m sick of it.

No wonder I like watching an imperfect woman learn to own her fierceness and become someone who most definitely leaves many intimidated, and better for it.

So when I get off my couch, when my rest is done and my hormones are finally balanced again, I plan to love my own imperfect fierceness and leave in my wake a wave of intimidated men.

(Mis)Stepping Into Vulnerability

Too many days on the couch. Too many Netflix episodes watched (thank you, Jane The Virgin). Too many moments spent feeling sorry for myself. Too many hours thinking I should be more productive.

Week after week.

It’s been just over five weeks since I fell, missing a step and landing on my toes, rolling forward with my foot taking all my weight in a way it is simply not designed to without on pointe ballet shoes and years of training.

And we were in the middle of a month long trip to Costa Rica.

I’ve tried to write about other things, really, I have. But this is all I can think about – how fucking pissed I am that I lost two weeks of our trip. How fucking tired I am of lying on my couch with my foot up. How much I want to feel strong and capable again instead of scared and helpless.

Yesterday, a mid-February day in Ontario, it was unseasonably warm outside and I was committed to walking around the block, the farthest, by far, that I have walked in the past 5 weeks. So there I was, getting myself ready to go and casually asked my sweetie to join me but he said no. He said he had work to do. I flipped out, as one does when their first steps in the sunshine are not seen as momentous to others as they are to the one who has been on the couch for weeks. I ranted and raved about him missing out on the sunny day, about how we have this time we could be spending together and all he ever does is work. I threw my fit. He threw his.

Alone in the bathroom, post-argument and just minutes before putting on my winter clothes to leave the house, I realized that I was scared to go without him. I realized that in fact, if he didn’t come, I wouldn’t feel safe going on my own. What would I do if I came across a big patch of ice? What if I slipped and fell and got hurt again?

And yet I didn’t tell him this when I emerged from the bathroom. I stuck with stubborn and told him I expected him to come with me no matter what, staying quiet about the fact that in that moment I felt like I needed him.

Because I’m pretty sick and tired of needing him, truth be told.

Needing him to make me a cup of tea, to get me down the back stairs to the car, and in those early days before we had found crutches (not the easiest items to find in a tropical paradise) I even needed him to get me to the bathroom, to get the clothes I wanted to wear from my suitcase. I’m not keen on being needy. I’m not keen on losing control.

I’m not keen on messy, imperfect, difficult life realities. I prefer life to do as I expect it to so that I can find my way through the days without having to come close to anything that might taste like vulnerability.

Only in my writing do I find my vulnerability interesting, soothing even. Only when the fears shape themselves into words do I feel safe exploring them. This has done me well so far in life, using journals and blog posts to examine my inner workings, the harder feelings, the scarier truths but I know another possibility is calling me, one that gives space to real life, face to face vulnerability. To the deeper connections that are only available in messy relationships that hold space for vulnerability, that honour its power.

Vulnerability has power. Don’t doubt it. It takes what may appear simple and dull, and illuminates its truth, its sparkle, its depth. It cracks open windows and lets in the fresh, sunny air. It weaves together incredible, committed love. In fact, its power might be what scares you must about it.

 

So perhaps, if one was to look for meaning in my busted foot, one would see the opportunity to be needy, helpless and vulnerable as a good thing. As a learning opportunity. As growth. But, lest you think I’m starting to like this, I will admit that right now the idea of being more vulnerable in real life makes me nauseated, makes me squirm with discomfort, in fact as I write this, a look of disgust is coming over my face. I don’t do real life vulnerable. But unfortunately, I know a commitment to it is on my path.

In the weeks leading up to my injury, as I contemplated a theme for 2017, words like “messy”, “naked” and “trust” came up again and again. Ultimately I landed on “Sacred Connection”, knowing that would only be realized with a very deep commitment to vulnerability, truth and faith. Despite the angst this theme caused me, I knew it was the one that most deserved my dedication. So considering that, if you really want to take the woo-woo to the next level, one might even see this injury as the universe delivering me exactly what I asked for. But fuck, I would have appreciated a simpler lesson. (Though it could also be argued that the universe has been trying to teach me this lesson for awhile now…)

Or maybe, shit just happens sometimes. Sometimes you just miss a step.

Either way, being the introspective, find-meaning-in-everything kind of person that I am, I will try out vulnerability in real life, daring it stay longer than the walking cast or cane. I will choose to see its power rather than fear its process. I will allow it to crack open a window, letting in the fresh air and sunlight in little ways that keep the discomfort at a minimum, and in big ways too, nausea, squirmy-ness, disgust and all.

 

And so, as I write these last words, I will muster up the courage to once again ask for a little help, this time in the form of strong shot of espresso delivered to me here, on the couch.

I Need Not Be Perfect To Be Loved (Nor Do You)

It’s another stunning sunset on Playa Jaco. The sky transforms from crystal clear blue to vibrant red, orange and pink…

My sweetie and our youngest play in the sand, digging holes and filling the plastic dump truck until it overflows…

I’m sitting a few feet away on a folding chair brought from our rental house, my foot, in a removable brace that goes halfway up my calf, resting on an upside down sand bucket. I wish I was on the ground playing or bobbing between the salty waves. I wish I could run and splash and be silly.

But I can’t, so I sit and watch.

And in a moment when self-pity and disappointment are threatening to wash over me, I am suddenly overwhelmed by a knowing that this is OK. This moment, this incredibly imperfect moment is OK. No, it’s not how I imagined it would be. Yes, I would love for it to be different. But it is what it is, and it’s OK.

Imperfectly, I am still sitting on this beach, watching this sunset. My youngest is covered in sand, building memories with his father (well, he probably won’t remember them because he’s three, but we will). My oldest is back at the house, beating his grandfather at Rummy.

Not every memory needs to be perfect to matter. Life doesn’t need to follow a pre-planned path, each day organized for optimal experience, to be right, worthy and wonderful.

 

Life can be messy. Everything can fall apart – you can break your big toe and strain all the muscles in your foot halfway through your month in Costa Rica – and it’s alright.

A good life is not made up of perfectly executed moments but rather a good life is one full of love, no matter the mess.

Love.

And my sudden realization goes a bit deeper… not only need our life not be perfect to be grand, but we need not be perfect to be loved.

I, in fact, don’t have to be perfect to be loved.

Unable to cook for the kids, or wipe poopy bums, or take a shower without help, my sweetheart has loved and cared for me every moment of the last 10 incredibly difficult days. He has not lost his patience once. He has reassured me every time I’ve cried.

And right here I am brave enough to say I would not have been so patient were the roles reversed. You see, I expect perfection. From life. From myself. From those around me.

Oh, the joys I am missing because of that foolish expectation!

And so I go even deeper in this new found respect for imperfection…

I don’t have to be perfect to love myself.

I can love the imperfection in me. I can love the mistakes. I can love the parts of me that are not ideal. I do not need to withhold love to any degree, awaiting some unattainable achievement of an ideal self.

 

How did I not know all this before??

In this moment it seems so simple.

Of course life is not perfect. Of course we are not perfect. And yet there is still love. Deep, true, authentic love.

Imperfections and all.

Sitting here, as the sun made it’s final dip below the horizon, with my busted foot on an upside down sand bucket, there’s love.

Why We Left Beautiful Vancouver & Moved to “Onterrible”

My sweetie, two kids and I are one of the many families that sold our way-too-expensive “family” home in Metro Vancouver and headed East. Way East, all the way to my little hometown in Ontario.

It wasn’t an easy decision despite the clear financial benefit. Like anyone living in Vancouver or the Lower Mainland, leaving is tough. It means saying goodbye to the mountains and ocean – the meeting of which truly do create one of the most beautiful places on Earth. It means leaving the mellowest Canadian climate, with winter temperatures that rarely dip below freezing. It also means leaving the very liberal mindset which is one of the biggest attractions for Canadians that are fed up with some of the conservative values more likely to be found east of the city. 

For us it also meant leaving family since my sweetie was born and raised there – the family that had been there for the birth of my boys and every milestone after. They were, by far, the hardest to say goodbye to.

But before I tell you what led us to our decision to leave, I want to back up a bit and share a bit more of my story…

I moved to Vancouver nine years ago, at the end of August 2007. When I booked the plane ticket I was only planning on staying for a few months. I was a bit of a wanderer back then, usually spending winters in Costa Rica and summers in Ontario. But when I got to Vancouver, it didn’t take me long to realize my wandering days were over and I had found a place to stay.

I remember walking north on Commercial Drive from Broadway that first day. The busyness of the neighbourhood, the groceries with their food out on the sidewalks, the gorgeous mix of people… I was enamored. In the days that followed – filled with yoga classes, hanging out in the park, chilling on patios and wandering the small organic grocery stores – I felt like all the parts of me had finally shown up in one place, with the majestic North Shore mountains watching over everyone.

And I decided, I would stay forever.

I met my love about a year and a half later. Our lives were typical Vancouver lives – we would head up to Squamish on the weekends for rock climbing, perhaps Pemberton for a romantic getaway. Winter days were spent snowshoeing on the North Shore. Life was beautiful from the tops of mountains and rocky crags. The beers at the Howe Sound Brew Pub after climbing The Chief on my 28th birthday were the best beers I ever tasted.

Then babies entered the picture and a few years later we found ourselves with a hefty mortgage, two kids in daycare and no time to play in the outdoor playground that surrounded us.

We tried. We really tried. We watched our budget. We made sacrifices. We understood that eventually it would be easier. Eventually we wouldn’t have the costs of daycare. Eventually the kids wouldn’t be so little and we would have more free time. We knew that was coming and we were waiting for it.

Then last summer, things started to shift… After years of dealing with serious body pain following a rock climbing fall and undiagnosed concussion, I had a major back spasm that kept me in bed for weeks. And despite the love I received on Facebook, no one showed up to help. I was barely able to walk and still had to manage all the day to day responsibilities of motherhood. Thankfully, my mom flew in from Ontario and got me through the last weeks of that horribly painful time.

And I don’t blame people for not being there for me. Rather, I see that as just a reality of life in the city. People are busy. It’s hard to support one another when there are big-ass mortgages to pay off and too many kid drop-offs and pick ups.  On the path our lives had taken, our “people” were spread out across the Lower Mainland – from Squamish to White Rock, Kits to Coquitlam – a common occurrence when family life forces you out of the cute city neighbourhoods. So quite literally, there was a traffic jam between their houses and mine.

And as a small town girl who was used to community, I realized that this wasn’t OK for me. This wasn’t how I had ever wanted to live my life – disconnected, isolated.

Fast forward a few months and it’s Thanksgiving. Growing up it has always been my favourite holiday. In Ontario it means crisp, cool air, and nature at its best with red, yellow and orange leaves filling the landscape. After big family dinners as a kid, my mother and I created new traditions with great friends when she separated from my step-dad. It was always a big table. Always filled with love and laughter. People I had known my entire life would come together to celebrate, to connect, to eat.

But on this rainy Thanksgiving day in Vancouver, people were once again busy. And my little family was sitting at home, just us. I sat down to read my boys a book – Franklin’s Thanksgiving.

The story goes something like this…

Franklin’s grandparents, who traditionally come for Thanksgiving dinner, write to tell Franklin that they can’t make it that year. Franklin is devastated but in the days that follow he gets the great idea to invite others from his community to his family dinner. Unknown to him or each other, both of his parents come to the same decision and when Thanksgiving dinner rolls around their guests are so plentiful that they need to move the feast outside. And there they sit to eat, surrounded by community. Surrounded by love.

Reading this to my boys, I couldn’t hold back the tears. I thought of my community back home, sitting around a table together to feast and I was struck with one simple question:

Why aren’t we there?

Suddenly, with the biggest emotions since the birth of my children washing over me, I realized that I had to go home, that I needed my community. I realized that waiting around for the mortgage to become reasonable and the kids to get a bit older and new friends to become old friends was ridiculous. I needed my people. The ones that had always been there. I needed them to be happy, to be the kind of mom I aspired to be, to create the life I wanted. And I wanted my children to grow up with the same sense of community that I had been blessed to know. I wanted them to be raised by a village.

Six weeks after my tears fell upon Franklin’s Thanksgiving we sold our house and four months later, our plane touched down in Ottawa on a Friday evening. We were tired and pretty weirded-out by the fact that we had packed up our lives and left the city we thought we’d raise our boys in. My mom picked us up at the airport and we drove to our new house, in my old town. We pulled into the driveway and there it was:

Community. On our back porch, waiting for us.

After nine years away – I had fallen in love, had two children, changed careers – there they were. With food, drink and helpful hands. With smiles. With tears. With love.

Family and friends, welcoming us home.