Finding strength

I am not a goddess. And I don’t have super-powers.

I am ordinary, flawed, and often rather boring. My laundry room is in a perpetual state of disaster, I often take the easy route and feed my kids processed food, I don’t floss regularly, and I haven’t thrown a dinner party in a few years because it takes too much work. Sometimes I even pick my nose.

But you didn’t come here to read a list of my flaws, did you? Especially not the nose-picking thing.

Sometimes the language I read around blogs and self-help books targeted toward women worries me. We’re supposed to claim our superhero alter-ego, step into our power, and become goddesses. Now, if you’ve used that language, please forgive me – I’ve done the same on occasion. I understand the point of it – we want women to feel special and empowered and endowed with the Sacred. There’s nothing wrong with those things.

BUT… the problem is, if I have to have a superpower or be a goddess, then it starts to feel like I’m putting way too much pressure on myself to be invincible. I don’t want to be invincible. I want to be okay with being flawed. I want to be able to forgive myself for sending my daughter to school in dirty pants because I didn’t get the laundry done (again). I want to be ENOUGH.

The other thing is, in those moments when I’m feeling weak and flawed and at the end of my capacity to cope, I want to be able to reach for some kind of source of power that is external to me. I don’t want to BE a goddess, I want to SURRENDER to a Goddess and have Her carry me.

If being a goddess is up to me, then where do I go to be refilled when my tank is empty?

You can call religion a cop-out or a panacea – that’s up to you. But I still need it in my life. I still need there to be a God/dess, I still want to know I’m cared for by a Creator who thinks I’m special and beautiful, I want to be extended grace and forgiveness by a compassionate Being outside myself, and I want to know there is Sacred power that has absolutely nothing to do with my capacity.

It doesn’t matter to me what you call that Higher Power, but for me, I’m becoming more and more comfortable with the concept of Sophia – the feminine nature of God. (A concept, by the way, that originates in the Old Testament.) When I feel weak, I call on Sophia for wisdom and grace. I picture Her as a beautiful, full-bossomed, long-haired wise and fierce grandmother type. I curl up in her arms, and her long flowing hair hangs around me like a curtain, sheltering and protecting me from harm.

This is the image I turn to most these days, but I am also still quite comfortable with God as father-figure – the kind of Father who is the embodiment of the strong and compassionate masculine nature I mentioned in my last post.

Having a God/dess in my life helps me take myself off the hook when I just can’t seem to get things right. S/he thinks I’m good enough.

Note: This is part of a blog round robin called Support Stories – Strength from Within. Click the link to find other stories of finding strength.

What makes your spirit sing? What connects you to the God of your understanding?

Yesterday I happily finished my business earlier than expected and ended up with a free afternoon to wander in Toronto. There were two things I’d been hoping to do: find the “Paint your Faith” mural and visit the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario).
I started out in search of the mural. As I walked I thought “this is a good chance to pause, to do what you promised to do for Lent, and just pay attention to the way your senses connect you to the sacred”.
Before I found the mural, I arrived at the awe-inspiring Metropolitan United Church. I knew the mural was close by, but I couldn’t resist first wandering through the church. There was a free organ concert playing inside, so I found a seat on a straight-back wooden pew in the back, closed my eyes and listened. Organ music isn’t really my thing, but who can’t be at least a little moved by the sound of a magnificant pipe organ in a century old church? The sounds, the stained glass, the steeples – it’s not hard to imagine why people building churches back then felt they were honouring God with beautiful spaces in which to dwell.

Metropolitan United Church, Toronto

When I left the church, I found the mural – a very different way to reflect God’s space in the world. It was painted by four graffiti artists who were asked to collaboratively interpret what faith means to them. It’s pretty far removed from stained glass and organ music, but it no less reflects the sacred spaces in which God dwells. I was moved by the colour, the vibrancy, and the energy it exudes. (To learn more, be sure to watch the video on this page.)

Paint your Faith, Toronto

After the mural, it was off to the AGO and the much hyped King Tut exhibit. I hadn’t really cared about the exhibit at first, but it seemed like a once in a lifetime experience, so I couldn’t resist.

Talk about awe-inspiring! In a way I wasn’t expecting, I was moved almost to tears by the more than three thousand year old artifacts, jewellery, sculptures, and even the wicker bed dear ol’ Tut may have slept on.

I pulled out my notebook and started jotting down details I didn’t want to forget. Mostly, I was inspired by what careful artistry was demonstrated in almost every piece. This wasn’t crude or rudimentary – this was intricate and absolutely stunning. Tiny gold beads blended together to make a collar or necklace, carved statues of rulers and gods and princesses, gold finger and toe coverings peeled from Tut’s mummy, and gold sandals meant to carry him into the afterlife.

What struck me as I stood there in awe was how much of the intricate, beautiful artisanship was meant primarily to connect people to their gods. Not only were there sculptures of several Egyptian gods, as well as artifacts (urns, alters, etc.) used in worship of them, but there were so many items in Tut’s tomb that had been placed there specifically to prepare him for the afterlife when he would join the gods in their heaven. Many of the items were plated with gold, because the believed gold to be “god’s skin”.

Something powerful and a little mysterious struck me right there in the gallery. If I hadn’t been surrounded by so many people, I might have dropped to the floor in tears.

For thousands of years, people have been searching for God and trying to connect to the sacred in one way or another. There has always been, in people’s hearts, a sense of “the other” and, along with that, a deep, deep longing to find a connection to whatever it is.

And for thousands of years – because God is a God of beauty, majesty, and creativity – one of those connecting points has been through art. The Egyptian artifacts, the stained glass windows, and the mural – all were saying the same thing. “We long to be witnesses of the presence of God in the world. This is as close as we can come to reflecting what that means.”

Part of my emotional reaction was the result of many years of suppressing this in my own life. In an evangelical protestant upbringing like I’ve had, art rarely plays a central role in spiritual practices or in the way that people seek out God. It’s not that art was seen as bad – it was just kind of frivolous and wasn’t worth as much as traditional prayer and service and the ultimate good of “leading people to Christ”.

There has been a longing in me that’s hard to describe. A longing to paint, to create, to express myself and be true to my own spirit. After years of not fully understanding it, I know that this longing is one of the ways God calls me into meaningful relationship.

Not long ago, my friend Stephanie profiled me in an article about women in leadership. After asking a few questions about what art means to me, she ended the article with my quote, “art connects me to God.” I was so happy to see it conclude that way. It took a long time to learn this, but it sure does feel good now that I’m a little closer to understanding.

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