Voices of Prophecy and Integration
from Women and Spirituality, Ursula King, Macmillan 1989, ch. 7, pp. 206-232.
We all want a better world. We are all political. We all understand long-range struggle. As we break down the systems that oppress us, we must begin to form the future. Right now. Already the connection has been made between transformative ritual and political mobilization: At anti-nuclear demonstrations and at conferences on violence against women, women have led rituals that involve the transfomation of rage and depression into constructive, activist energy . . . What will political meetings, organizations, strategies be like once we acknowledge spiritual power? Spirituality enables us to feel a deep connection between one another. It heals and avoids the fragmented sense that often plagues political movements, in both personal and collective terms. Our bonding is profound. Do we know that yet?
Like feminist goals in education, law, health care, etc., feminist goals in spirituality are ultimately humanist. Some of our brothers want to work with us; can we recognize them? What divides us from a humanist future? We must expand our vision and propose options for restructuring. Floods of them.' Charlene Spretnak, The Politics of Women's Spirituality, pp. 397f.
Women are profoundly dissatisfied with the world as it is, and much of that dissatisfaction is directed at our contemporary political world and its structures. From the perspective of spirituality the often quoted feminist statement 'The personal is political' can be extended into The spiritual is personal and political'. That is to say spiritual concerns, orientations and choices do not only affect a person's own inner life but have social and community dimensions: they shape social structures, political behaviour and public ethos. Many feminists, perhaps the majority, are committed activists who devote much of their energy to political and social campaigns focused on numerous issues of urgent concern. Some women may not at all see these as connected with questions of spirituality often perceived as quite separate from active politics. Feminists who have become disenchanted with purely outward activism explore new paths of spirituality which sometimes can be excessively inwardly orientated and too much focused on the individual, especially when the spiritual quest is inspired by psychological and psychoanalytic theories. The journey inwards, the search for the true self, is pursued by many today, not only by women, but it must not be a journey without return to the outside. The health of social and political life is only possible if connections are made between the inner and outer, personal and social worlds. A life-affirming and action-orientated spirituality needs to animate personal and political life if we are to create a just and peaceful world. Whilst a few secular feminists criticise the growing interest of women in spirituality, especially when centred on the individual, as escapist, antipolitical and dangerous, there is no doubt that the spiritual power of the women's movement finds direct expression in decisive political concerns on which more and more voices speak out in meetings, demonstrations, publications and political action. What are some of these concerns which imply definite spiritual options?
Power, peace nonviolence and ecology
Women's protest and political action has been especially expressed through the peace movement. This is certainly the case in Britain, but numerous women's peace groups have come into existence all over the world, whether in the USA, Japan, Scandinavia, Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, the Middle East, Mexico, Central America, Philippines, South East Asia or elsewhere. The international dimension of women's work for peace was made highly visible through the presence of numerous women's peace groups at the 1985 International Women's Conference in Nairobi devoted to 'Equality, Development and Peace'. Everywhere women have come together to express their nonviolent protest against the destructive power of militarism and the proliferation of nuclear arms and policies. Contrary to some critics who regard women's quest for spirituality as opting out of political action, many women consider the unity of politics and spirituality an important, central aspect of contemporary feminism. In their understanding, both spirituality and politics are concerned with power, power which is both personal and social. Today women have discovered a new sense of power within themselves, the power of shaping their own consciousness, of trusting their own experience, and of creating a new, powerful web of connections between people. The evolution of a new female self linked to images of strength and a sense of identity rooted in the power of experience is central to feminist spirituality, and so is the theme of interlinking and networking.
The deep change in women's psyche also affects society and politics. Spirituality can act as a political force by helping to channel the energy of womanpower, the power within us, towards power without. Charlene Spretnak reflected on this in her essay on 'The Unity of Politics and Spirituality':
Politics, by its very nature, is partisan; spirituality affirms the inter-relatedness of all things. An awareness of this inter-relatedness must inform our sense of revolutionary urgency, as expressed in political ideologies, strategies and lifestyles. Our spirituality - the awareness of oneness and openness to new sources of power - should help us to deal with the inevitable tensions between goals and process, compromise and ideology, survival and revolutionary integrity.
It is the recognition of this intimate relationship between spirituality and politics that makes the women's movement different from other movements . . . We are in the process of re-evaluating power, recognizing the many kinds of power that exist.
Concern for spirituality does not mean false innocence, fear of power, or the avoidance of compromise often necessary for life. The attainment of power is necessary to change the position of women. What we are calling for is a new perspective on power, an effort to use power differently, and an openness to new sources of power and energy. (1982, p. 370)
Feminists sharply criticise and object to the existing politics of separation whereby international power politics and economics are kept separate from other areas of human activity so that politics fail to integrate a spiritual vision of life's goals and meaning, the nature of the human community and the sacredness of the earth. Nowhere is this more evident than with the issue of peace. Governments pay lip service to it whilst stockpiling arms and spending unimaginable sums on the military, thereby creating a mega-war-machine threatening to devour us all. Within the context of international capitalism the sale of arms is lucrative business, second only to that of oil, and the economies of many nations directly depend on it. But this is shortsighted opportunism and utter irresponsibility which cannot hide the haunting spectre of a universal dance of death moving in on us from the horizon.
But why should peace be a feminist issue? Some radical feminists have claimed that women's involvement with the peace movement means losing sight of some more immediate feminist goals, of being coopted into a male struggle. It is true that peace has always been a perennial concern for humankind, but today it must take priority of place. The goal of peace has been a central theme in all religious thought, yet traditionally this has focused more on inner than outer social and political peace and, given certain circumstances, religious leaders have been able to argue persuasively for the justification of violence and war (Ferguson, 1977). Most of these arguments now strike us as utterly untenable and completely unethical considering we are living under the cloud of the atom bomb. It also seems a tragic contradiction that western civilisation has created and continues to promote such an aggressive and destructive military industrialisation when one considers that one of the major forces which shaped the West - Christianity - has as its central figure the unaggressive man Jesus whom the church calls the 'Prince of Peace', a figure of love and reconciliation in stark contrast to western power politics of domination and exploitation.
Peace has become an urgent survival issue for the contemporary world, an issue of extraordinary magnitude ever since Hiroshima. In a way we are all survivors of that event which changed the face of history. The possibility of the self-extinction of the human species could now be so likely that some think we may not be viable species any more. Radical alternatives in thinking and action are required to save life on earth and make a future possible. An appeal from Hiroshima and Nagasaki for a total ban and elimination of nuclear weapons states quite categorically: 'The use of nuclear weapons will destroy the whole human race and civilisation. It is therefore illegal, immoral and a crime against the human community. Humans must not coexist with nuclear arms . . . There must never be another Hiroshima anywhere on earth. There must never be another Nagasaki anywhere on earth'.
Peace is truly the major issue today. Not peace as merely the absence of war and conflict - a peace under the tension of fear - but as something greater and more positive: the vision of a world community of justice and equality for all, a life worth living on planet earth. This vision is born from an ancient dream of humanity which calls today for new thinking, a new sense of responsibility for our togetherness, a sense of wholeness based on new linkage skills among humans - a revolutionary turning point in politics and spirituality. The consciousness of this need for change is rising fast, as is evident from numerous action groups and peace centres around the world. 1986 was the International Year of Peace and many institutions promote peace studies and peace education programmes. There exists a World Conference on Religion and Peace based on interreligious cooperation, and since 1974 we have an annual multifaith week of prayers for peace. It is in the same spirit that the Archbishop of Canterbury and Cardinal Hume have published a fine selection of Prayers for Peace (1987) drawn from different religious traditions. Given all these developments, what is the link between pacifism and feminism?
Women's work for peace did not begin with contemporary feminism but has a long history. The first Women's Peace League in Europe was founded in 1854 (Jones, 1983, p. 1), but it is less well known than the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Started by the American feminist Jane Addams in 1915, this still exists today as the oldest peace organisation of women. Over the last decade there has been a proliferation of autonomous women's peace groups whose work is documented by a wealth of literature showing the extraordinary richness and diversity of women's way of acting for peace (see Lynn Jones, ed., 1983, Keeping the Peace for many helpful resources, suggestions and contact addresses on women's peace groups around the world; Cambridge Women's Peace Collective, 1983, My Country is My Whole World; ISIS, 1983, 'Women for Peace'; Brown, 1984, Black Women and the Peace Movement). To name a few, there are such diverse groups as the Women's Peace Alliance, Women for Life on Earth, Women Opposed to Nuclear Technology, Women's Party for Survival, Women's Pentagon Action, Feminists against Nuclear Power, Women Oppose the Nuclear Threat (WONT), Women Strike for Peace, and various Women for Peace groups in Germany, the Netherlands and Norway (Burmeister, 1982). There also exist numerous women's peace camps of which that at Greenham in Britain is perhaps the best known as it has caught the imagination of people everywhere (see Cook and Kirk, 1983, Greenham Women Everywhere; You Can't Kill the Spirit: Yorkshire Women Go To Greenham, 1983).
Women have shown themselves to be imaginative, resourceful campaigners. Traditionally, they have often been peacemakers in the private sphere of the family, but now many women have decided to leave their homes to work publicly for peace, just as men for centuries left their families to fight in wars. Today, at a crucial turning point in history, women feel a very special responsibility for the continuity of life of earth, for the lives of their children and all future generations to come. It is a central part of women's experience to conceive new life, give birth, nurture and sustain the newly born. Thus they are most clearly in touch with the utter vulnerability and fragility of living beings. In the past, individual women writers have repeatedly expressed their protest against military masculine might which has created war and crushed human beings into death - lives which had been borne and cared for by women's toilsome labours, bodies which Olive Schreiner called 'women's works of art'. Today women's protest is no longer individual, but has become corporate and global. Women have raised their voices everywhere, not so much against the death of individuals as against the death of the entire species.
The rise of a separate women's peace movement is directly rooted in women's commitment to the values of life, in their capacity for compassion and care. Men as a group have shown an extraordinary insensitivity to the suffering of others. Perhaps women as a group use their imagination more vividly in visualising more concretely what war and destruction can do to their loved ones. Perhaps they acknowledge more honestly to themselves the utter fear, pain and agony they feel when contemplating human mass death in a world without a future.
Whenever I remember my experience of the bombing and conflagration of Cologne which I witnessed as a small child during World War II and which gave me nightmares for years to come, I think of this experience writ large a million times around the world in the minds of the children of Vietnam, Africa, South America, India, Pakistan, and the Middle East. I know the dreams of those children have been singed by the fire of destruction, by hatred and aggression, and their imagination and hope has been maimed for life. Perhaps it is more difficult to survive with such memories than to be dead.
Life is the most precious gift we have, and we must treasure it as a life worth living, a truly human life. Must we not all, women and men, strongly object and protest when we hear the American bombing of Tripoli/Libya (April 1986) described in a news report as a 'mission accomplished with perfect professional competence and accuracy'. What a horrendous way of referring to the deliberate killing of others, what a cold, objectifying turn of phrase to camouflage the immorality of war! Similarly, a British politician argued in a radio interview that women are not programmed to be in the military because, unlike men, they do not experience 'the joy of killing'. How can any human being have such joy in committing such acts of horror? Is men's nature perhaps programmed wrongly? We must seriously deconstruct our habitual thought and language in matters of peace and war so as to define more clearly, that is to say more holistically, what it means to be human today.
Although not necessarily true of every individual woman, women as a group often tend to emphasise cooperation more than competition. They work with consensus and compromise rather than through conflict and confrontation; they are more inclined to settle differences by negotiation rather than aggression. Perhaps the development of these qualities has had much to do with women's traditional position of powerlessness and vulnerability. Used in a position of strength, these qualities can bring about a fundamental change of values which will enable us to build a world of tolerance and mutual help rather than persecution.
Women feel strong and proud in acknowledging their feelings, in linking up with others in gestures and action of love. 'A woman of power walks the path of the heart' proclaims a contemporary magazine of feminism, spirituality and politics (see Woman of Power, published since 1984). The path of the heart is the path of love in which all being and thinking ultimately find their origin. Women also realise the importance and power of dreams, of imagination and symbols in shaping human life and action. In their demonstrations for peace women have often used innovative visionary action (such as threading webs, lighting candles, planting tombstones, making puppets of mourning and rage) - symbolic gestures indicating a change of orientation and values. These are prophetic acts based on hope and faith, but how effective will they be in solving the world's troubles? Will they merely remain the dreams of powerless dreamers at the edge of the real world of power politics? Or are they the potent signs of prophets whose vision will shape a different world for tomorrow?
Perhaps peacefulness has been rejected as too passive, too unmasculine for too long. Today women look at the power of peace differently. Fiona Cooper wrote on 'Women in the Peace Movement':
It seems to many women that the way men have been running things for centuries has come to its own end. The patriarchs are trying now to out-threaten each other; and the protection they are promising us only increases our fear.
The visions that women evolve are very different. There are as many visions as there are women. Some of the common features are an absence of strife, a harmony with nature, an awareness of the seasons and cycles of the earth, an acknowledgement of each person's worth. The symbols of theses vision are also new. At Greenham we use the sign of the tree of life: in one badge it can be seen splitting a rock with its own natural growth force. There is the rainbow, which expresses the variety and colour and hope of our lives. Above all there is the web: the sign of the ancient women's skills of spinning and weaving, a spider's web that grows stronger as it is tested. The web also symbolises our linking and joining together . . .
The feeling that 'we may not be here tomorrow' has sparked many women into action. Why follow the role of the home-maker and provider when the whole lifestyle is under threat? (1983, pp.135, 136).
One of the strongest messages of the women's peace movement is that education towards peace requires personal and social transformation, that it is linked to moral, spiritual and political changes. Peace will only become a realistic possibility when we learn to resolve our conflicts without resorting to violence. Peace does not come from above, but from below, through women and men working for peace. How can we encourage peace-making? The Catholic Women's Network in Britain has begun to sponsor 'peace preaching' as a new venture to develop preaching skills among Christian women in the peace movement. Particularly well known are the long-established efforts of the Quakers to work for peace and encourage peace education. Elise Boulding has argued that peace-making is an evolutionary capacity in the human species, that we possess the capacity to develop a peaceful social order, but that it will only be created with great effort. We are now beginning to pay more attention to the linking of knowledge and competence with spiritual maturity and to the sharing of strengths across cultures:
If there is an evolutionary transformation going on in this time of troubles, it consists of a growing awareness that we live on a tiny planet, and that technology and power alone cannot ensure peace or justice on that planet, nor control or eliminate violence and war. The dimensions of human caring has entered the public domain, and the need to understand the Other, the different, is beginning to be acknowledge as a condition for human problem-solving. (Boulding, 1981)
Women's work for peace is not only concerned with getting rid of nuclear weapons, but with abolishing the very structures which created these weapons in the first place. Currently half the world's expenditure on research and development is devoted to military purposes whilst millions of people go hungry. It is a desperate situation of overkill and undernourishment which women recognize as due to completely wrong priorities bordering on madness and insanity. We need new alternatives and new dreams to heal our divisions and create the wholeness the world desperately needs. Women's faith in the possibility of peace is deeply grounded in a faith in the strength and greatness of the spirit. One of the songs of the Greenham women expressed this succinctly:
You can't kill the spirit
she is like a mountain
old and strong
she goes on and on
Whilst the women in the peace movement are not necessarily all committed feminists, there is no doubt that many active feminists are deeply involved with peace issues, opposing not only nuclear weapons and war, but all form of violence. Global warmongery is the strongest expression of corporate male violence, inextricably rooted in patriarchal structures of domination and oppression. Our present political, social and economic institutions are linked to structural violence under which all people suffer, women most of all. Yet at a personal level many women also experience violence in a much more direct form through sexual abuse, rape, battering, assault, pornography, and the widespread use of women as sex-objects in advertising. Many feminists work for the abolition of particular forms of oppression and violence, but some explicitly link the whole philosophy of feminism with that of nonviolence. Nonviolence is seen in both practical and spiritual terms. At a practical level, women use nonviolent forms of opposition in their demonstrations whilst spiritually they link the idea of nonviolence to the web of life, to healing and to a new source of power which comes from within:
Nonviolence holds life to be the highest value - life in its full wonder. Thus, hunger, poverty, ignorance, psychological manipulation, the lack of meaningful work, the denial of people -these are all alike violent. They are also signs of patriarchal, capitalist society. Nonviolence is organized, and goes out to confront the violence of society . . .
Nonviolence entails a different understanding of power than that which predominates today. Usually power is understood as the power-to-do-to. In practice, such an understanding of power leads people to dominate, to want to control, to belittle, to deny the existence of the other, or to consider the existence of the other only in terms of one's own self-interest. In the extreme, such an understanding of power leads people to seek the utter extinction of other people. The power of nonviolence, on the other hand, is the power to simply do, or the power-to-be. Talk about power from a nonviolent perspective is expressed in terms of empowerment of ourselves, of others, communication, sharing, creating an alternative social order which draws boundless strength from having incorporated the energy of everyone's reality. (Michalowski, 1976, p. 43).
The connection between the women's movement and nonviolence is again not new. It goes back to the early nineteenth century when, inspired by the Christian faith, the non-resistance movement grew out of the American abolitionist movement, just as the early women's movement did. Lucretia Mott, a radical Quaker activist, was one of the women pioneers advocating and practising nonviolence. More recently, women's thought on nonviolence has also been much inspired by the example of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. In 1965, the American folk singer Joan Baez, together with another woman, established the Institute for the Study of Nonviolence in the United States. For many women today the issues of feminism, pacifism and nonviolence are intimately interconnected (see the numerous testimonies by women edited by Pam McAllister 1982, Reweaving The Web of Life. Feminism and Nonviolence).
Feminists maintain that there are spiritual imperatives for nonviolent action if we want to transform our warring world which goes on using organised violence to solve national and international problems. Women want to change the world through their commitment to life, joy, creativity, love and truth. Women believe in the power of nonviolent discipline as an inner, spiritual energy which can make us experience the essential harmony between ourselves and the world around us, and lead to human reconciliation. Margaret Bishop ends her reflections on 'Feminist Spirituality and Nonviolence' with an expression of the belief that we not only, can but must change:
If we love ourselves, then we also love the changes that we must, as living beings, go through, as well as the changes that make life around us possible: changing seasons, changing vision, and the changing states of one's body. We hold to the faith that as we have found positive ways to change and grow, others can change as we have changed . . . truth does not come to us from books or any authority, but from careful exploration of ourselves, tempered by a love that embraces our world. This exploration involves not only our intellect, but all those less verbal aspects of our consciousness as well. I believe that those of us who have embraced feminist thinking have already begun to use this process. We must continue in this, and begin to bring deep reflection, 'cosmic spinning', into our lives not only as a reaction to crisis, but daily. As we deepen our commitment to ourselves and the world, we will build a spirituality which will speak to us so deeply and seriously that we will never compromise with violence again. We will be moved to speak actively against the pervasive and deadly cultural passivity that surrounds us and isolates us from each other. (1982, p. 161).
Feminist commitment to a new spirituality finds expression through campaigning for peace and nonviolence, or rather campaigning nonviolently for peace, as well as in its strong support for ecology. There exists such a fertile cross-connection between feminist and ecological ideas that some writers speak of 'ecofeminism' inspired by a vision of the interrelationship and unity of all life on earth. Ynestra King (1984a) has described ecofeminism as a movement where the spiritual and political come together. She said at a meeting of Women for Life on Earth:
We here are part of a growing movement of women for life on earth, we come from the feminist movement, the anti-nuclear movement, the disarmament movement, the holistic health movement. We have come because life on earth and the earth itself is in terrible danger. . . We're here to say the word ecology and to announce that for us as feminists it's a political word . . . It's a way of being which understands there are connections between all living things and indeed we women are the fact and flesh of connectedness . . . feminism and ecology are where politics come face to face with biology, and where the spiritual and the political come together. These movements come together in the way that they understand the world . . . This is something that the left and socialism in general has not been able to come to terms with, that the crisis of this civilisation which has led us to the brink of nuclear annihilation, is spiritual as much as it is economic. And that it has to do with a world divided against itself on many different fronts . . . Both (the feminist and the ecology movement) are deeply cultural and even spiritual movements, whose principles explode the categories of the political to include the biological on the one hand and the spiritual on the other, (1984a, pp.4, 5,6)
Traditionally, the Semitic religions have taught that the human being is lord and steward of creation rather than its servant and beneficiary. A hierarchical worldview has proclaimed the human right of power and control over nature and, used irresponsibly, this had led to a domination and exploitation of natural and animal resources (Ruether 1979b). It has been argued that men, in their objectifying distancing from nature, particularly since the development of modern science, have oppressed, exploited and raped her in the same way they have dominated and oppressed women (Merchant 1982; Griffin 1984). As Ynestra King has written elsewhere, from a feminist perspective it is important 'to understand the connection between the misogyny and violence against women in our culture and the contempt for nonhuman nature that has resulted in the rape of the earth by men, especially white men. Women and nature are the original "others" in patriarchy - those who are feared, the reminders of mortality, those who must be objectified and dominated' (1984b, p. 56).
Rather than being set apart, humanity is an integral part of the larger nonhuman nature on whose power of generation and self-renewal it is wholly dependent. The scientific revolution with its exclusive, onesided use of analytical reason, combined with uncontrolled human greed, have so endangered natural life that we might be faced with an imminent death of nature if we do not radically change our attitudes and behaviour. Increasingly, more and more women are raising their voices to save life on earth and protect the resources of our natural environment (see the testimonies in Caldecott and Leland, eds, 1983, Reclaim the Earth. Women speak out for Life on Earth). Women fight to preserve the land, save trees, undertake planting and growing, campaign for natural foods, global 'Green Polities' (Capra and Spretnak, 1984), and many other goals to restore a harmonious balance between human beings and nature.
Global militarism is inextricably bound up with considerable violence against the land. In Japan the Shibokusa women have put up a strong fight of nonviolent resistance against the Japanese army to defend the right to their land at the foot of Mount Fuji (Caldecott, 1983) whilst elsewhere in the world many small women's groups combine their strength to preserve the renewable resources of their environment and encourage 'good housekeeping' through the balanced, non-exploitative use of the powers of nature. This also involves a non-hierarchical, non-anthropocentric view of nature which respects the rights of other species. Feminists refer to the interstructuring of four forms of oppression in contemporary civilisation to which they are equally opposed: racism, sexism, class exploitation, and biological destruction which derives from human domination over nature and 'speciesism' - the belief that the human species is superior to animals rather than part of the same natural world. To restore ecological justice and balance, our attitude needs to be biocentric rather than anthropocentric, life- rather than human-centred.
Women strongly affirm the celebration of life and a new spirituality of the earth which praises the ever new wonder of creation, the beauty and splendour of nature in its myriad forms. In the last few years ecological thinking has opened up into a new 'Gaia spirituality', a spirituality of the earth, with which some feminists strongly identify. For the ancient Greeks Gaia was the personification of the earth - Mother Earth who watches over human and animal fertility. This spirituality is being enhanced through a new scientific approach to the study of the earth which sees the totality of life on earth as a single, self-regulating organism, a biosphere or sphere of life in which all living is interrelated with the earth which provides the sustenance for all of us (Lovelock 1979). This is an integral vision of the sacredness of life which sees all living things bound up together in one single interdependent web without any boundaries. It is a vision of an unbroken bond and continuum, a vision more akin to eastern religions than to the western tradition, and to the primal vision of humankind of which we still find traces in archaic and tribal cultures. Adapting a saying from the Indian Chief Settle recorded in 1854 we can say:
Whatever befalls the earth
befalls the daughter and sons of the earth.
We did not weave the web of life:
We are merely a strand in it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
Women's voices speak out powerfully for peace, nonviolence and respect for nature - for a new spiritual and religious attitude towards life on the planet. However different these voices are, taken together they strongly affirm the unity of the personal, spiritual and political and thereby provide an inspiring new paradigm for our culture, a radical alternative based on the strength of insight, experience and feeling, a sense of kinship and bonding, a mode of thinking and acting which makes more use of integrative than analytical skills by stressing the interplay and connectedness of all polarities rather than their separation, opposition and conflict. These are voices of prophecy and integration which proclaim the strength of the spirit and the vision of a new world.
But are feminists strong enough to move beyond the power of experience and vision so that they do not only live in harmony with nature but shape the world of culture, history, and politics and thereby give their vision concrete expression? The answer to this will probably not depend on feminism alone but also on the vision of others to which feminists must learn to relate. I have indicated that the very strength of feminism lies in its diversity and the encouragement of pluralistic models. Given this pluralism, one must ask what are the unresolved paradoxes, the dilemmas and choices inherent in present-day feminism? The critical principle of feminism must also be applied to the ideas and actions of feminists themselves if the internal difficulties and contradictions of feminism are to be resolved.
Feminist dilemmas and choices
Any social, political or spiritual movement, if it is truly dynamic and alive, will include a wide range of different views and options, some of which may well be incompatible. Feminism is no different in this. Yet it is a sign of its coming of age that the tensions and contradictions inherent in feminist views are increasingly criticised and clarified from inside and outside the movement. Women philosophers have carefully examined and highlighted the philosophical problems facing feminism (McMillan, 1982; Midgley and Hughes, 1983), These relate to the understanding of biology, the different meanings of nature, the place of both reason and experience in human knowledge, the definition of what it means to be a woman as distinct from a man, and the symbolic value assigned to 'feminine' and 'masculine'.
Some dilemmas and choices, existing in feminism as a whole, but recurring in the lives of individual women, are particularly significant from a spiritual point of view. Looked at critically, there can be little doubt that feminist experience and consciousness, in spite of their vision of integration, are in practice a source of profound conflict. These conflicts arise first of all within the individual woman regarding her identity and role, her self-determination and choices for action. The conflicts also arise in families when women are no longer willing to take up traditional roles without questioning. And they arise in society and all its institutions, not least religious institutions, with their traditional chains of authority which always relegate women to the bottom of the ladder. What space do women need? Which roles do they want to perform in public and private life? Which parts of their identity do they recognize as pregiven (through biology, inheritance, or education) and which aspects are they truly free to create and shape?
Have individual women the inner resources - a sufficient awareness for critical self-examination, the conscious power to choose, and the determined will to act - to face and resolve these conflicts? Have religious institutions made any efforts to help women to cope with situations of conflict requiring decision? To overcome the ambiguities within feminism and within themselves, women have to become increasingly more aware of the great significance of the choices now open before them: the choice of gender role, the choice of work, of experience, of relationships, of motherhood, of an authentic existence and of reaching out to transcendence. For the individual woman the question of what kind of choice, what kind of identity, and what kind of self are central and closely interwoven with her way of relating to others, whether through bonding with other women or with men and children. How each woman will resolve the difficulties posed by these choices will in turn influence and shape her spiritual outlook and options.
The right kind of choice - a choice which is personal, spiritual and political - is the central issue for feminists as persons and for feminism as a movement. Agonising questions as to what is the ethically right choice arise with regard to many issues facing women today (and men too). How to resolve the paradox between advocating and guarding the sacred powers of life, of nature, of the earth, and yet campaign at the same time for the right to abortion? How to defend sexual freedom and a pluralism of sexual lifestyles and yet prevent powerful male groups from exploiting female sexuality as a marketable product?
There also exist many obstacles within the feminist movement itself which prevent women from coming more closely together. Most important are perhaps the great differences in historical consciousness and contemporary experience among different groups of women. These can lead to deep misunderstandings and tensions between black and white women, between women from the West and women from the third world. There exists an 'unacknowledged misogynism' in the women's movement itself (Morgan, 1982) which has to be fully faced and dealt with.
Criticising patriarchy as a system which is 'normative, exclusive, hierarchical, impersonal, alienating', women in a workshop on 'Women's Spirit Bonding' described the features of the feminist alternative as 'pluralistic, inclusive, egalitarian, personal, integrating': 'The feminist vision is pluralistic. Because it strives for unity rather than uniformity, it affirms diversity. To this end it works to build coalitions with constituencies that reflect the diversity of the human race and human concerns' (Kalven and Buckley, 1984, pp. 234,235). The future of feminism and its power to transform the world will depend first on whether this pluralistic vision can be maintained within the feminist movement itself without one position developing into a dominant ideology, and secondly, whether the strength and adaptability of the feminist web is great enough to relate to and integrate other plural visions into itself.
The newly discovered power of women's experience is a major resource for shaping our human future. But its potential must not be marred by women's own politics of separation. If feminists oversimplify the burning issues of our times, their large vision will become parochial and sectarian, and thus lose its power of transforming the world. If women's experience is understood as an exclusive, separate norm, set over and above all else, then feminism will grow into a deforming ideology leading women not into the liberation it promises, but into another kind of bondage. This also relates to what is perhaps the major dilemma in contemporary feminism, the emphasis on women's newly defined otherness versus their equality with men. Sometimes this is seen as a difference between the women's movement in the USA and in Europe, a difference in campaigning either for autonomous women's institutions or for women's full integration into existing institutions and structures.
But is this alternative really necessary? At the present time of transition one can argue that both developments are needed. Women need to create space for themselves to nurture their own growth and test their strength. Thus they need to develop separate groups and structures and yet women - perhaps not always the same individuals - also need to take an equal part in existing institutions so that these are restructured and changed. This does not necessarily always mean being co-opted into a male-dominated world as women, if present in sufficient numbers, can create a revolutionary transformation from within existing institutions, as well as from without. This is true of religious institutions too. In order to gain their equal share in the shaping of society, politics, religion and spirituality, women must actively participate in all decision-making processes - and change those very processes by making them more personal, more holistic, more life- and community-centred, more truly spiritual.
Another feminist dilemma concerns the value assigned to time. Feminists are primarily interested in changing the conditions of women and of the world in the present, and in decisively influencing its shape in the future. It therefore seems almost contradictory that some feminists assign such a normative status to women's experience in the past, to the existence of matriarchy for example, or the worship of the goddess in ages gone by. Why should the past have such special significance? Why should it provide a model for the future? The past may be an important source of inspiration and strength, but feminists need to be clear in their own mind that their vision points to the creation of a new world, not to a revival of the old.
Feminist ideas now circulate so widely that they affect most women in one way or another, even when they do not fully understand or when they reject them. Young women now growing up have already internalised many feminist ideals. They have to make a conscious choice who they want to be and which aspects of women's traditional experience they wish to affirm, reject or transform. The radical challenge of feminism does not only create personal problems for individual women, but for men too, and it affects the relationship between women and men. Seen in its widest dimension, feminism is ultimately a challenge to reflect on what it means to be human today in quite new ways and under new conditions. Do feminists primarily wish to underline differences between women and men and thereby emphasise polarities and tensions? Or is the feminist vision large enough to heighten our sense of personhood and common humanity, not in the way it was one-sidedly defined in the past, but in a new holistic way where women's voice is fully articulated and integrated into a larger vision of the human? This is the vision of a life of human dignity and worth for all, a life sustained by the hope that wholeness and peace are possible and that the miracle of life on earth will retain all its gracious, gratuitous wonder and beauty. Seen not from within, but from a wider context outside, feminism is a process of conscientisation whereby the significance of what it means to be human - human as female and male - is being transformed and redefined. This seems to me the most crucial contribution of feminism which relates to a profound transformation of consciousness marking a new era in the history of humankind.
Transformation of human consciousness
It is possible to see the rise of feminism as part of the modern process of secularisation, and yet it also points to new religious and spiritual developments which affirm the resacralisation of nature, the earth, the body, sexuality, and the celebration of the bonds of community. But above all feminism articulates a new stage of critical reflection concerning the meaning of sexual differentiation for individuals and society.
Sexuality is constitutive of being human, whether one is sexually active or not. Sexual differences are basic to human beings and undergird all other differences, whether racial, cultural, social, political or educational. But through most of human history this basic human bi-polarity has been so taken for granted that few attempts have been made to elucidate its meaning at the level of critical reflection, and they have been made by men alone rather than by women and men together. The critical examination of the social nature of the human being begun by Marx, and of the depth-dimension of the human psyche pioneered by Freud and Jung have opened up for us entirely new areas in understanding human-being-in-the-world. Similarly, the great awakening of women which is now taking place can be seen as yet another threshold in the history of human consciousness. Ultimately, it may transform the depth structures of self and society more radically than previous developments have done.
It is possible to discern within the history of human consciousness a threefold movement of conscientisation regarding the existence of sexual differences. Initially, one might speak of a 'presexual' or 'asexual'phase of consciousness when sexual differences were not explicitly acknowledged or accounted for in human reflection. This stage has characterised most of human history whilst now a second, explicitly 'sexual' phase has begun where sexual differences are fully explored and emphasised. Sexuality and sexual differences are now critically examined and reflected upon in all areas of human activity, including the area of spirituality. Initially, this may heighted differences and be a source of tension. Yet we can already perceive a further development consisting of a 'post-sexual' or rather 'trans-sexual' phase of human consciousness. This does not mean a denial or exclusion of sexuality and sexual differences, but their recognition, affirmation and integration into a newly found wholeness. This phase represents a new kind of unitary consciousness which fully incorporates the meaning of sexual differentiation and relates to it in an integral manner. It is also an affirmation of the primacy of human personhood irrespective of gender, but in a way which is profoundly different from the past.
An integral, unitary consciousness allows for the growth of an integral spirituality beyond all dualisms. This can lead to true spiritual freedom and wholeness, not only to liberation from oppression. Such freedom is positively, not negatively, defined as unity arising out of the experience of complexity, a unifying wholeness relating to and integrating differences rather than denying them. Such a spirituality has the integrative strength of a truly interconnecting web, and when such connections are made, the split self and all separations are healed and made one, all life possesses new significance, meaning, and value.
To find an integral spirituality it is not only women who have to be liberated and made whole, but men too. There is also a need for 'liberated work' and 'liberated marriages' (Clinebell, 1973), for a new reciprocity in relationships so that women and men live and work out together the meaning of being human. Writing about the masculine and feminine in the human psyche Sukie Colgrave has said:
The emergence of a feminine consciousness whose salient characteristics are those of recognising and helping to create relationships, of being receptive and recognising harmony, depends on a prior differentiation by the masculine principle of human awareness; we cannot receive, integrate and harmonise before discovering the separate parts both in the outside world and within our own psyches. (1981, p. 98)
We need a new, holistic self-understanding of both women and men based not on a 'politics of separation' advocated by some feminists, but on a 'politics of integration' to develop a truly humanistic civilisation. If the so-called 'feminine' values are recognised and pursued as truly human values by all, then the world will be transformed. What I have described as an integral consciousness and spirituality Patricia Doyle (1974) refers to as a call 'for a new, "androgynous" or "bisexual" unity in religious, secular and psychological capacities, skills and consciousness'. She quotes an earlier study by Erik Erikson in which he appeals to women to transfer to the public realm the values they have developed in private life:
Maybe if women would only gain the determination to represent publicly what they have always stood for privately in evolution and in history (realism in householding, responsibility of upbringing, resourcefulness in peacekeeping, and devotion to healing), they might well add an ethically restraining, because truly supranational, power to politics in the widest sense. (Quoted in Doyle, 1974, p. 35)
The global rise of feminist consciousness makes women around the world articulate similar views and address challenging questions to long established religious institutions. Yet at the same time, through their actions and words, women affirm the need to face the important religious issues of our times - the issues of peace, justice, equality, and freedom, the meaning of human life on earth and the urgent call for a world community. The themes of feminist spirituality explored in this book relate to the creation of several new paradigms: that of a new self and a new identity, that of new relationships, of a new social order, of a new culture and civilisation, of peace, ecological harmony and nonviolence. Beyond the stridency of feminist debate and the clamour of protest one can discern the promise of a new world, not only for women but for the entire human community.
But will the powerful transformative potential of the feminist promise come true?
At its strongest, deepest and largest the feminist vision is a spiritual one linked to the strength of faith and the dedication of spirit. It is a vision which ultimately calls for a new kind of sanctity and holiness. But other faiths too, traditional religions and their secular substitutes, possess a transformative potential which is part of their continuing attraction. And yet how often has their promise remained unfulfilled and even been contradicted in the institutions they have created? Will this happen to the new vision of women too? Or will feminism remain faithful to its prophetic vision and change the face of the world as we know it? Looking back on the late twentieth century, will people in the future judge the rise of feminism as of the same decisive influence in shaping the twenty-first century as the thoughts of Marx, Freud and Jung were in shaping the twentieth?
These questions can only be answered in the future as it is still far too early to assess the full significance of feminism. One thing is certain, however. The protest and promise of the women's movement opens up a new horizon for human development which touches the horizon of transcendence. Women's voices of protest and challenge have spiritual implications and much in contemporary feminist experience has religious significance, though not necessarily in a traditionally understood sense. Feminists speak of a 'post-patriarchal' spirituality, but this term is too circumscribed by one idea, as if patriarchy alone represented all evil and oppression, so that once this particular evil were overcome, all evil would be done with and we would be whole. I prefer to speak of an integral, holistic spirituality which I see not so much defined by that which needs to be negated than by being linked to the central feminist theme of making connections, of weaving a new pattern. Feminist wholeness affirms pluralistic ways of being. It is part of this larger vision of pluralism to be able to perceive parallel searches and intentions in the attempts of others to create transformative, holistic spiritualities elsewhere. There also exists a pluralism of the spiritual quest. The search for a viable spirituality is not only found in feminism, but in many other movements today.
Feminism and spirituality: An integration of perspectives
Feminism is concerned with constructing a new order which has social, political and spiritual implications for all peoples, not only for women. Feminists challenge traditional spiritualities because they see them as profoundly dualistic and divisive, and they seek instead a new unitary and holistic approach to life. Women often experience traditional religious teachings as alienating, and yet women's new consciousness is creating new connections to age-old spiritual concerns. Thus the wider significance of feminism for our culture relates as much to the understanding and practice of spirituality as it does to that of politics, even though some feminists may be too shortsighted and dogmatic to perceive this. Examining the psychological and cultural implications of the relationship between women and religion Patricia Doyle has written:
The debate on women and religion is the single most important and radical question for our time and the foreseeable future precisely because it concerns religion and because it affects all possible people and peoples . . . Feminist analysis of culture and society stops prematurely if it does not dare to tackle religion. When feminists take on religion they oppose the most deeply held motivations, beliefs and life orientations. It is this dimension of religion that makes the debate the most radical of all feminist encounters with cultural and individual thought and feeling. We should not be surprised if the dispute thus results in radical resistance within the churches and individual men and women, as well as in the possibility of radical cultural, psychological and religious transformations for others. Nonetheless religious consciousness cannot help but be changed by the impact of the question, and even those who resist change will have to struggle with the issue if and when they decide to repudiate women and the feminist challenges to religion, culture and individual orientations. (1974, pp. 15, 16)
Over the last few years the interest in questions of religion and spirituality has grown considerably among women in the feminist movement although this has as yet found little recognition in women's studies courses. Not only do women write on women's spirituality (Washbourn, 1979; Giles, 1982; Spretnak, 1982; Coghill and Redmond, 1983; Garcia and Maitland, 1983; Iglehardt, 1983; Ochs, 1983; Yates, 1983; Krattiger, 1984; Sorge, 1985; Conn, 1986; Hurcombe, 1987); they organise spirituality meetings, new rituals, prayer and meditation groups, and retreat houses for women. In a way these activities are all signs of faith growing in new forms, of a new religious consciousness which re-examines spirituality as a dimension which seems to have been lost and needs recovering in our present world (King, 1985b).
These developments are paralleled elsewhere. For example, there is at present a lively debate in Britain about the place of spirituality in religious education in state schools so that the British Journal of Religious Education devoted a special issue to the theme 'Spirituality across the Curriculum' (summer 1985). This is only one expression of a much wider attempt to reappraise spirituality in our technological world. Much of this reappraisal is also apparent in the various experiments of New Age thinking and in the attempts to foster a new creation and Gaia spirituality mentioned earlier. Then there is also the widespread holistic movement in science away from an outdated mechanistic model of energy, nature and life to a more organic perspective which sometimes brings together the unifying insights of mysticism and science. Some scientists even go so far as to assert that the current more holistic scientific analysis points to a profound paradigm shift which indicates the need for a quasi-religious transformation of contemporary culture. One of the few women writers who weaves these larger perspectives into her feminist reflections is Robin Morgan who in her book The Anatomy of Freedom (1982) connects current developments in feminism with those in the new physics and in global politics.
Robert Muller, the Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, has argued that at the present stage of technological development we need to combine the powers of science with those of love in order to create a more humane world. Does that not express in another way what women's voices are saying when they plead for the transformation of our scientific-technological civilisation? Out of his wide secular experience of working for global economic and political development Muller has reflected on the contemporary need for interiority and spirituality. In his book New Genesis'- Shaping a Global Spirituality (1982) he pleads for giving urgent attention to questions of spirituality, even in the work of the United Nations, as efforts for global physical, mental and moral wellbeing alone are not enough to meet all the needs of humanity. What is, according to him, most required today is a sense of direction, an education towards interiority (the dimension concerned with the self), in morality (concerned with the self, others, and the world) and in spirituality (concerned with dimensions of transcendence). Only then can we hope to bring about a greater unification of the human family rather than its disintegration and destruction.
A similar idea has been expressed by Barbara Hubbard in her book The Evolutionary Journey (1983) which is concerned with an exploration of how the collective potential of the human species can be realised to transform the nature and destiny of our society:
When we fuse as a group, our consciousness begins to rise to a new kind of spirituality. We crave to stay connected. This deepening togetherness stimulates a form of consciousness that does not yet have a name. Evolutionary consciousness, co-creative consciousness, may be appropriate. It is a synthesis of mystical and secular awareness emerging in this super-rich information environment under the pressure of convergence and growing responsibility. (1983, p. 62)
These few examples show how the search for a viable spirituality commensurate to the needs of our world exists among many people, not only feminists. Whilst some women understand feminist spirituality in an exclusive manner, others define spirituality in much more general terms so that it is easier to make connections between women's interest in spirituality and that of others. Writing about spirituality and feminist experience Gayle Yates maintains that the definition of spirituality 'includes collective and institutional attitudes, expressions, and experiences, as well as those of individuals', but she believes that 'the word is most easily understood as the core of a person, the center from which meaning, self, and life understanding are generated' (1983, p. 60). Charlene Spretnak in her introduction to The Politics of Women's Spirituality gives a still more wide-ranging description of spirituality:
In truth, there is nothing 'mystical' or 'other worldly' about spirituality. The life of the spirit, or soul, refers merely to functions of the mind. Hence spirituality is an intrinsic dimension of human consciousness and is not separate from the body . . . From one perspective, we realize that we need food, shelter, and clothing; from another that some sort of relationship among people, animals and the Earth is necessary; from another that we must determine our identity as creatures not only of our immediate habitat but of the world and the universe; from another that the subtle, suprarational reaches of mind can reveal the true nature of being. (1982, p. xv)
Spirituality so understood is not the privilege of a few but it grows in all of us as a horizon of transcendence in the midst of life. Feminist
spirituality too is not just a fringe interest but it lives in the lives of all women as they learn to be attentive to what is spirituality significant in their experience. Among religious experts, too, spirituality is much debated, but this debate is often far too past-orientated as spirituality is approached more from a historical than from a contemporary point of view. The practical applications of traditional spiritualities may be many (Jones, Wainwright and Yarnold, 1986), yet male writers on spirituality are unfortunately little aware of the implications and importance of feminist thinking on spirituality.
Spirituality must relate to the burning issues of our times. For this it needs to be crosscultural and interreligious. But spiritual awareness must also be attentive to gender differences and the new consciousness among women which calls them to wholeness, unity, and a larger community. It has been said that we are entering an era of civilisational mutation with a change from a material-centred to a life-centred civilisation which requires new theological and spiritual reflection. We need a change in orientation and perspective, we need to see with mind and heart, and care with passion for the future of our world. We have to find new visions and call on all the powers of our imagination, feeling and will to link up together in a larger human and cosmic web.
As women see it, the old androcentric way of viewing the world has to give way to a new integral vision. But women's vision has to expand to include other visions too. What is often a monologue of feminist voices has to become a dialogue so that women's voices are heard and listened to. Only then will the world be awakened to the powers of radical change, of true liberation, and of spiritual transformation. Only then will it recognize that feminist awareness is the source of an authentic religious vision and a witness to the life of the spirit.
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