Gendered Language, Spirituality & Female Exclusion

Guest Post for The Revelation Project by Kathleen Schwab.

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I began to experience God as a young teenager, not long after my 14th birthday. I don’t want to go into that story here, but I’ll just say that the experience was so powerful and visceral that my whole life changed shape. It wasn’t just me in my life anymore, it was me and God. So I started going to church, because that’s where people go to be close to God. The idea that being female would automatically shunt me to second class status didn’t occur to me: I would find that out over the next decade. Our whole culture uses language to exclude women, but in my experience exclusion in spirituality packs a particularly painful punch, because it strikes at the deepest part of us, the intuitive center that helps us find our way through a dark world, that feeds and sustains us when nothing else can, that part of us that connects to God.

Language is a powerful tool in this exclusion. Words shape how we understand the world. Freud said that people who cannot name an emotion cannot fully experience that emotion. We’ve all had the experience of struggling to put something into words, and then feeling the relief of finally being able to express it, even if only to ourselves. If you can’t put something into words, you don’t own it; you can’t inhabit it with confidence. 

Language is a powerful tool in this exclusion. Words shape how we understand the world.

When I first experienced God, I didn’t know language could be used to push me out, but I learned. When I was 16, the chaplain of my high school mentioned that I might like to take a look at some of the old church classics, and he pulled The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis down from his shelf. It is a 15th century text, which gave my suburban teenage self a bit of pause. Would I be able to make sense of a writer from five centuries ago? But, opening the book, I fell directly into the universality of experiencing God, and the sense that living a life devoted to Jesus crossed all barriers of time, culture, and place. This monk from 500 years ago was just like me, all people everywhere had something within them of a common pattern, the Kingdom of Heaven within that Jesus talked about.

And then. And then I hit Thomas a Kempis’ warnings that if a Christian was serious about the spiritual life, better to stay aloof from women. I realized that this book was not written for me, but for male Christians, as though they were the only Christians. A physical pang went through me. I not only didn’t count as a Christian, I was a danger to Christians, just by being myself, a girl. Somehow, I was no longer in the warm center of a communal spiritual experience, I was the enemy outside the gates, the one who undermines. 

At the time, I just put it aside and went on. I saw over time that male Christians didn’t exclude women on purpose; they simply didn’t think about us. In any mixed gender group men’s perspectives and experiences were “general interest,” and women’s perspectives and experiences were “women’s,” and therefore didn’t get group time. 

The fact that this is an unconscious bias was demonstrated by a Christian musician playing a concert at my women’s college one year. All the music was written by himself, and by the second song he stopped and spoke to the sea of female faces looking back at him, “You know, I never realized how male my lyrics are.” He stumbled through the rest of his set, every song describing Christians as strong men and brothers, every pronoun male, and every expectation masculine. He had clearly never even noticed this about his music before. Ripples of laughter went through the audience as he began, towards the end of the performance, to self-consciously try to make his lyrics more gender neutral. 


That happened back in the 80s, but I’ve wondered about him since. Before performing, he came to my dorm, where the Christian fellowship had set up a meet and greet for students and the performers. He was a gregarious fellow, married with several small children, and he was perfectly at ease in this women’s college, in a room full of women. Any church setting is at least half women, usually more than half. We are the majority, but to him we were invisible. In his songs, which I think simply express his view of the world, Christianity was for men, and female experience was a side issue that didn’t concern him. “I never realized how male my lyrics are.” I wonder if his perspective changed after that experience, if he began to look out at audiences and see the women as people, just as much as the men. I wonder if it changed how he saw the world.

I’ve just given an example of a man not seeing female experience, but I think women have also been trained out of seeing our lives and experiences. We don’t have the words either, because our culture tells stories from a masculine perspective, and all of us shape our stories around the larger voice of our culture. 


Even a woman writer with decades of experience can struggle. This is Ursula LeGuin in an introduction to a recent edition of her EarthSea novels:

“Why was I, a woman, writing almost entirely about what men did? Why, because I was a reader who read, loved, and learned from the books my culture provided me; and they were almost entirely about what men did…. I knew what men did, in books, and how to write about them. But when it came to what women did, or how to write about it, all I had to write about was my own experiences – uncertified, unapproved by the great consensus of criticism, lacking the imprimatur of the Canon of Literature, piping solo against the universally dominant and almost unison chorus of the voices of men talking about men.”  

At 51 years old, I feel like I am just beginning to find my rhythm talking about spiritual ideas authentically, from my own experience, from my body, from my life. I’ve finally stopped editing out anything that sounds too feminine, for fear it will be relegated to some kind of ‘special interest’ area, as if being a woman is as rare as being born with albinism. When I saw an article about a Calculus teacher who uses knitting to explain complex math ideas, spiritual parallels immediately jumped to mind; this time, instead of keeping my thoughts to myself because knitting is for girls, I wrote my ideas on my FB page Messages from God. The post ended up very popular. I don’t think people responded because it was about knitting per se, but because I was writing from wholeness, and not editing myself. In the coming decades, this is my goal: to be fully myself

The Enigma project, which broke the Nazi's secret code, was made up mostly of women, since so many men were soldiers. How did these women manage the advanced math needed for code breaking? Have you ever looked at a sweater pattern? You would think it was some sort of computer programming or an alien language - but in the WW2 generation, girls, moms, and grannies deciphered those patterns together over cups of tea, cheerfully turning out tiny perfect baby outfits, and Christmas sweaters with mind-boggling cables. They thought they were just making a nice holiday, knitting up a pair of argyles to make a boyfriend smile, but they were preparing to defeat Hitler. It's a story of the meek inheriting the Earth, as epic as the story of two humble hobbits traveling to Mordor because they are the only ones who can destroy the ring.

Whoever you are, and whatever large or small things you have done in life, you are capable of more than you know. God uses all our days to prepare us for the coming Kingdom, and to build the great Kingdom we all carry within us.

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Bio:

Kathleen Schwab is a lifelong lover of God, a literature teacher, and a wife and mother. Together with her book partner Therese Kay, she is the author of Messages from God: An Illuminated Devotional, a five week devotional inspired by the synergy of words and art in medieval illuminated manuscripts.

Link to my book Messages from God: An Illuminated Devotional here.

Link to the Messages from God Facebook page here.


The Sound Of Feminine Heartbreak

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What do you do when your own country breaks your heart and the sound of it happening to your other half is deafening? When your leaders and representatives repeatedly fail to live up to the aspirations of it’s citizens with the most modest of requests, such as decency, safety and honesty?

What we are witnessing right now through the response to Kavanaugh  is a large-scale dismissal of the feminine reality.  It’s a mass trauma perpetrated by leaders who would tell women in their most painful of moments that it’s actually men who are the real victims here (also known as gaslighting).

I can't imagine that any one of us isn't feeling the hot sting of what's happening here. If you are part of our community then I'll assume that you are deeply activated on some level and If not then I’m sorry you’ve had to go numb.

Since The Revelation Project was founded almost 9 years ago, Ive witnessed a massive shift, especially in the last year. Women have gradually and sometimes painfully awakened, and courageously mobilized to call out the toxicity of our failing culture. Many of us have gravitated towards programs, movements and forums to help us make sense of this deeply disturbing time.
I have had deep gratitude for the comfort and grace of our growing community on facebook and other social platforms, as well as the many of you who have actively supported our mission and been involved in our online programs, personal workshops and retreats.

To be clear, this movement  isn’t  about hating men. We don't rage at our men, but at the system that man created at the exclusion of women that keeps women from knowing the same respect, opportunity and representation. It's an unjust and unfair system that serves no one.

Throughout my feminist studies in University, I never imagined that I would be alive to witness a period that holds such significance, hope, and importance for women and minorities. While my heart is deeply saddened by the current turn of events, I'm also hopeful, because If the The Revelation Project has taught me anything, it's taught me that what is revealed, is eventually healed.  

I know that on the surface, almost nothing is what it seems. I believe that there are forces of love at play, despite the vitriol of hate on display that there must be a universal moxy that’s been working to reveal the ugly places where our planet and people are in desperate need of healing.

I choose to look at this time in America as a disguised gift, otherwise we might have continued on this way,  largely unconscious to the horrendous frequency and scale of violence and aggression that continues to live in the shadows while undermining our progress as conscious and thoughtful citizens. While we have not yet seen the tides change for the better, what we have witnessed, is what needs to change for the better. 

By challenging today’s existing harmful narrative, we can begin to use our own voices to narrate a new vision for our collective future. In other words, this is hardly where our story ends. This is, in fact, just the beginning. 

Life is a journey of consciousness where awareness and action are intertwined. Each new mystery or challenge that presents itself is driving us toward new revelations that will inform our future. There is not just one answer, but usually several that weave together to inspire and empower us, bring clarity, and help us to facilitate healing.

Therefore, we can’t give up. There is always another layer of healing that we need in order to move forward. When we are stuck or stopped, it’s not a sign for us to quit or give up, but actually a call to dive more deeply under the surface to get curious about who we are becoming. It's also a whisper to lean in, and notice where our sisters are hurting and hold each other as we process our pain and to sit with each other in the invitation of it’s infinite wisdom.

For now, sitting with the pain and sharing our feminine stories with one another is the wisest and best thing we can do. When we do rise to  begin again, we do so with a mended heart and the crystal clear eyes of women who see a new possibility for a better tomorrow. 

With love and hope,

Monica Rodgers

Please reach out if you need an ear to listen, or you want to write a story to share on our blog. Please also check out our upcoming retreat, which is right on point for this moment in time.
email me : [email protected]




Revealing: Where The Wild Things Are

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I've been on an odyssey of self discovery lately.  Some parts of the journey have been beautiful and enlightening, and some have been equal parts messy and terrifying. 

Here's what I'm learning: 

Abandonment is a huge trigger for me. 

It runs so deep you guys. 

Are we all afraid of being left behind? 

Also, I've learned that feeling unseen, unheard, or misunderstood makes me intensely angry, even to the point of rage.  

Rage scares me. 

Rage has always been a place I've avoided because it seems so WHITE HOT and... 

DANGEROUS.

But it can also be transformative. 

That is if you allow yourself to get curious about what's beneath...

Rage (often called fury or frenzy) is a feeling of intense, violent, or growing anger. It is sometimes associated with the fight-or-flight response, and is often activated in response to being in the presence of a threat. The phrase “thrown into a fit of rage” expresses the immediate nature of rage that occurs from extended exposure to a threat. If left unchecked, rage may lead to violence against the threat.

and then later...

Cases in which rage is exhibited may directly be related to cognitive dissonance in relation to an individual’s ability to manage the terror associated with death and dying..

Ahh... cognitive dissonance,  terror of death and dying. There it is.  

Recently we experienced a health scare in my home, and while everyone is ok, and it ended by being the best case scenario for an outcome, it still sent me whirling down a dark and ugly rabbit hole where my monsters live.

I found myself going through this strange cycle as I processed. 

First I was calm and concerned about the person I love.  Then, grateful.

"WHEW, that was a close one!" 

and then, "We have so much to be thankful for.."

A day later, I'm feeling a bit anxious and withdrawn, then I noticed that I was in fight or flight. 

"What the heck? How could we not have seen that coming, and what if it was worse, and..... ?"

Then the rage visited me, like a tsunami, and suddenly the person I love the most , who just narrowly escaped something that could have been horrible, was suddenly the object of my rage. 

Where was it coming from? 

Why was I so angry? 

Monsters.

I remember them well.  They lived in my bedroom at night and started to visit me when my life became confusing and scary. 

I recall that they were linked to all the thoughts I had about myself, the things that were happening to me, and when I considered losing or disappointing the people I loved most in all the world. 

The monsters became the faces of each new fear and before long, there were too many to count. 

After hysterically waking my parents night after night, my fight or flight fully activated, they became exhausted. Their way of finally dealing with it, was to lock their bedroom door.

I'll never forget the night I ran through the dark hallway like a bolt of lightening, only to splat flatly against their unyielding door while scrambling frantically to turn the uncompromising knob. I could hear my dad state firmly from behind the door; 

"ENOUGH! GET TO BED!"

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and then I knew for sure.. 

No one is coming for me. 

No one would save me. 

No one would hear my cries.

This must have gone on for quite some time because I recall developing coping strategies.

For example I had a strict policy for using the loo after dark. I would carefully adhere to this protocol as a prudent matter of safety.  If I had to pee at an ungodly hour, then I had to L-E-A-P from the bed to as close to the bathroom door as possible because then I could simply step on the tile because monsters can't work with tile, they dissolve instantly. My brother told me. 

I shudder to think what would have happened had I not known this critical fact.

IF, and only IF,  I managed to attend to my business without incident, I would then have to make the trek back. Obviously, I would need a running start to L-E-A-P back into the bed and burrow myself under the covers as quickly as possible, and then I would need to squeeze my eyes shut immediately while saying three times:

You can not see me, I am invisible. 
You can not see me, I am invisible.
You can not see me, I am invisible. 

It was a process to be sure.

As time went on, the monsters escalated, and seemed more threatening then ever, and no matter what I would do to try to sleep at night, they would bump and thump and grind their teeth and smack their lips, making terrifying and disgusting sounds. The circles under my eyes resembled the bruises on the bananas I peeled for my morning cereal, and Miss. Borrowski sent a note home to my parents to let them know that I had been falling asleep in class.

My mother tutted at me, and my father scowled as he folded the pink paper, referring to my night terrors as "utter nonsense". 

I became desperate to do something about it and knew that I needed to employ a bold new strategy. I found it quite by accident that night while lying in bed as a deep smoldering shame began to arise while thinking about my parents disappointment in me. 

I was tired of this. I was being a stupid baby! I was dumb for letting this keep me up at night and an idiot for letting everyone see how scared I was. 

This was going to stop. 

I sat up with gritted teeth and hissed my ferociousness to the monsters who lurked in the darkness of my room. 

"SHAME ON YOU FOR BEING SO MEAN!"

"PICK ON SOMEONE YOUR OWN SIZE!!" 

"YOU ARE AN UGLY BUNCH OF BULLIES AND YOU DON"T SCARE ME ANYMORE!!" 

I knew then, that I needed to show them that I meant it, so from then on, I walked deliberately to the bathroom completely disregarding the rules of engagement they had forced me to create. 

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I snarled at them over my shoulder: 

"I DARE YOU TO TRY IT!"

My heart would beat it's loud whooshing in my ears while I feigned boredom at them so as not to arouse suspicion. 

Never let them see you sweat. 

This anger tactic seemed far more effective in controlling my monsters, and eventually I would fall asleep believing that I had created a fortress of powerful explosive energy around myself. 

The Wisdom here
is that YOU have to be more ferocious
than the MONSTERS themselves,
to make them stop. 

Fast forward, and after my fit of rage the other day, it occurred to me that all these years later, I've been employing the same strategy.  

When I feel betrayed, invalidated, locked out, terrified, ... I lean into rage as a way of coping with my deep fear of being abandoned, left alone, or feeling inadequate. 

In some ways, the health event provoked the perfect storm of opportunity to go deeper into My Revelation Project, to see my reaction more clearly.

Anger and rage has become the mask I wear for the situations that terrify me or threaten my feelings of safety.  Unconsciously,  I've been baring my teeth to the darkness, to keep the monsters away. Except that I'm not a child anymore,  and these rituals of self preservation no longer serve, they only keep me from the truth of what's really happening: there are things I can't control, and this is scary.

These days, my monsters, while still hidden in the shadows, seem less threatening overall. That is, until I'm triggered by some deep, unconscious fear that's still rooted in my past.  The confusion comes from having to reach back through all those layers to reveal the true source of my upset.

It's surprising to me that there in the center of all of the swirling confusion, rage, & chaos is a very frightened and vulnerable little girl, standing barefoot, in a cotton nightgown, right where I left her.

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We don't realize the moments we toss our own selves out of the garden of belonging to ourselves, but we do it.  Usually based on an experience that brings us shame, or a sense of powerlessness.  We begin to loath ourselves for not being strong, brave, smart, worthy or lovable enough. We think we are deserving of our alone-ness. 

No one is coming for me. 

No one will save me. 

No one will hear my cries. 

Everyone gives lip service to this concept of "The Wounded Child", and I get it, but it's hard for me to see my own, and how entrenched she is in some of my less then stellar adult behavior.  

In this moment, however, I can see her so clearly:

She's lonely, confused and going through some big things. She's keeping secrets and and she's just not capable of putting language around what's happening. She's lost her sense of security and belonging, and she's utterly terrified. She's abandoning her true self for a mask that will hide the inadequate pieces of herself so that she can endure. 

As I sit here, I can taste the salt of my tears as I realize how separate I've needed to be from her pain in order to survive to this point.  I can see her standing there alone, so small, so innocent. 

From this vantage point, as an adult woman, I think of my own daughter at that age and so easily my instincts kick into gear ( it's so much easier to rescue everyone but ourselves!) 

Suddenly I'm running toward her as fast as my legs will carry me. 

"WAIT,  You are not alone... I'M HERE!"

My life seems like a hologram in these moments.  This is vaguely familiar, over the years, collecting the parts of myself I've left behind, betrayed, or disowned along the way. I've learned that these parts of our disembodied selves never stop calling out to us to bring them home. I just don't think I've known this version of my child-self, the one who uses rage to keep anyone from seeing her fear.

I allow a vision to surface:

My strong, courageous, kick-ass, grown-up woman-self is here now, and I can see that she's cradling the small scared version of my child-self in her arms.  As I pull her to me, I whisper the words she's been needing to hear from me all these years, and as I do, I release her from her prison of shame and isolation:

I SEE YOU.

I HEAR YOU. 

I LOVE YOU. 

Then I tell her that she's not alone anymore.

 

 

What If The Pain Never Ends?

Lately, I've been coping with more pain than usual and trying in vain to find some relief.  I've noticed that by the early afternoon, I'm exhausted, tight lipped and short.  My only escape from it has been to sleep.  

My Dad, the original cynic, used to tell me that:

"Moniker, pain builds character, ... for more pain."

If I am left to interpret his prophetic statement, then I'll assume he means that it's a given, like paying taxes and breathing, it's part of life.  As pain continues to have it's way with my psyche, the fear burrows into my dreams. In middle of the night, last night, I recall sitting up and asking Austin in a panic..

What if the pain never ends? 

oh, my Dad would have a good laugh at that one, deeming it rhetorical, no doubt. This morning I considered canceling my appointment with my coach, Jessica, because I knew "pain" would end up being a topic, because, that's how we roll. 

I discovered that exploring pain is even more painful then the pain itself, but it's also productive in providing relief.

Some ground we covered: 

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Being with pain: What is that like for me? 

  • Sometimes it feels too big for me to handle or hold.
  • It makes me feel powerless, trapped and imprisoned. 

What does this feeling of prison bring up for me?

  • It makes me think about my life and having come so far in terms of being free from some pretty heinous emotional pain, only to now be plagued with physical pain. WTF is THAT all about? 
  • Feeling like a pain free life is always somehow just out of reach for me.  (Just you Monica!  everyone else has a pain free life!)
  • Feeling like the self-compassion well is dried up, or like the last drop of self- compassion essential oil has been used up, it's essence, GONE. 

If pain had some geography what would it be? 

  • A Wall. 
  • I just come to a place where there is a wall of pain.
  • There's just me against the wall and I'm so tired of coming up against "the wall".

What else? 

  • The pain makes makes me ashamed, it makes me needy, and I fear being seen as if I'm somehow broken and useless.
  • That this pain is being "done to me" or perhaps I choose the pain in another life (lol- because that's the sick twisted thinking you can count on me for!).

What would pain be if it were something to practice being with? 

  • Patience. Oh how I hate you. 
  • Patience can be a useful practice when one is healing. 

What can "be" in the meantime? 

  • Rest
  • It's ok to rest when I can't do anything else. 
  • It's ok to be tired of the pain.
  • It's ok to be pissed off about it. 
  • It's ok to to be afraid.

Still in pain with no resolutions, and yet somehow, I'm feeling way better than I was. 

What Gender Inequality Issue?

What Gender Inequality Issue?

I was reading to my twelve year old son in his bed, he pointed out a part in the greek myth where Helen of Troy runs off with Paris. Her "husband" refers to her in the story as his property, and sets off to re-claim her.  

"Is a wife like a house, mom?" 
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