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Birthing God: Women's Experience of the Divine

Overview

Powerful narratives of suffering, love and hope that inspire both personal and collective transformation.

"Our spiritual stories are full of missteps and unabashed celebration. They are narratives of suffering and of hope; lessons in shedding fear and learning to love ourselves. Ours are embodied stories that begin with emptying so that we can glimpse the Holy Other, this Light who appears in ways unplanned, unexpected and unsettling. Our lives are the surprise that begins with ...

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Birthing God: Women's Experience of the Divine

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Overview

Powerful narratives of suffering, love and hope that inspire both personal and collective transformation.

"Our spiritual stories are full of missteps and unabashed celebration. They are narratives of suffering and of hope; lessons in shedding fear and learning to love ourselves. Ours are embodied stories that begin with emptying so that we can glimpse the Holy Other, this Light who appears in ways unplanned, unexpected and unsettling. Our lives are the surprise that begins with the response, 'Let it be.'"
—from Part 1

In Birthing God, forty women relate Spirit-filled moments: a grieving pastor walks a labyrinth and rediscovers the Rock of her existence; a human rights advocate re-encounters Allah in an intensely visceral moment in the sun; an educator, moved by an ancestral vision, launches a global tree-planting project to heal the wounds of slavery; a revolutionary awakens from a coma and realizes that all of life is infused with Spirit; a peasant woman under fire discovers within herself the God who gives her courage; and a disabled doctor, embraced by Shekhinah, turns her heart to rabbinical studies.

Grounded in raw experience and ideal for spiritual seekers and leaders of all faiths, these engaging and powerful stories invite you to consider the origins of your own spirituality and to deepen your relationship with God.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Reflect[s] a shift in consciousness regarding the Divine, one that is shaped by a deep and personal relationship with the Sacred within us and all around us, a knowing that is beyond images and names, a unifying energy that weaves into one all life on our planet. Shows how this Spirit-driven force within feminist spirituality continues to add to the universe story a multifaith, multicultural dimension steeped in wisdom and compassion and oriented toward planetary justice and peace. May these sacred stories give rise to many more."

Miriam Therese Winter, professor, Hartford Seminary; author, Paradoxology: Spirituality in a Quantum Universe

"Amazing ... restores balance to our human understanding of the Divine [and] brings readers face to face with a Divinity who empowers and accompanies women of many religious traditions and blended faiths. A must read!"

Joan Borysenko, PhD, author, A Woman's Journey to God

“Heartful, multifaceted ... generous and inspiring. As a Buddhist practitioner, I generally don't use theistic language to describe deepest connections of love or clarity, so I found many of the perspectives in Birthing God to be especially interesting and thought provoking.”

Sharon Salzberg, author, Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program; co-founder, The Insight Meditation Society

“At last, a vibrant investigation into the lived spirituality of God-intoxicated women! Lana Dalberg’s Birthing God is more than a series of snapshots into the lives and thoughts of deeply spiritual women; it is a glimpse into the living Divine as She makes Herself known to us through these amazing seekers. The result is a spirituality of radical openness that offers a much-needed alternative to the closed-hearted and narrow-minded spirituality that dominates so much of contemporary religion.”

Rabbi Rami Shapiro, translator/annotator, The Divine Feminine in Biblical Wisdom Literature: Selections Annotated & Explained

“[A] valuable resource [and] a real eye-opener.... Many insights into how this translates into traditional worship services. It is also a journey of self-discovery with the help of questions for reflection and a marvelous collection of meditations and visualizations.”

Kay Lindahl, co-founder, Women of Spirit and Faith; co-editor, Women, Spirituality and Transformative Leadership: Where Grace Meets Power

“Offers a kaleidoscope of opportunities to invite in the Divine Feminine in myriad forms ... it can’t help but expand our ways of thinking how we can experience the Divine. Helps all women realize we belong to God/dess.”

Carolyn Bohler, PhD, author, God the What? What Our Metaphors for God Reveal about Our Beliefs in God and God Is like a Mother Hen and Much Much More ...

“Challenge[s] us to understand divinity and spirituality beyond traditional ideas of gender and dogma. Offers reflection, inspiration and even practical guidance for anyone seeking to experience her faith more deeply.”

Lisa Catherine Harper, author, A Double Life: Discovering Motherhood

“As women’s stories are told, the depths of women’s souls begin to be known. Speaking of the presence of Goddess and God in their lives, women transform religions.”

Carol P. Christ, author, Rebirth of the Goddess and She Who Changes

“Would you like to meet forty women who are confident that in union with the Divine Feminine, they are going to give birth to vibrant new justice in this tired old world? Then treat yourself to this book—it will leave your heart brimming with life and love.”

Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, PhD, author, Sensuous Spirituality: Out from Fundamentalism and other books

“How diverse is your Spirit, Holy One, as these women testify. How many and varied are your Paths. Readers, explore these stories to clarify your own Way.”

Mary E. Hunt, co-director, Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER); co-editor, New Feminist Christianity: Many Voices, Many Views

“Crosses boundaries to unite human and Divine.... Both draws on and departs from religious traditions ranging from Islam to Lutheranism, Catholicism to Zen Buddhism, simultaneously diving deeper into and transcending the limitations of that which we think we already know about the Divine.”

Caryn D. Riswold, PhD, associate professor of religion and chair of gender and women’s studies, Illinois College

Spirituality and Practice - By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

Lana Dalberg is a feminist lay theologian and storyteller who leads workshops linking spirituality and social justice in congregations and retreat centers throughout the United States. The Christian church has a history of torturing and killing midwives, healers, and psychic women; this despicable and unjust persecution of the most gifted people in the community makes us sick at heart. Today, even though women are exploring the Divine in many diverse ways, a lingering prejudice against them remains, and we realize that the patriarchy is still alive, even though it is gasping for air.
In Birthing God, Dalberg interviews women who are animated by Spirit and who share their stories of suffering and hope, faith and challenges. Among the more interesting profiles are those of a community organizer in El Salvador; a Union Seminary professor who was imprisoned and tortured in South Korea; a member of the Lutheran Volunteer Corps; a human rights advocate whose faith in Allah is renewed; and a disabled doctor who makes a decision to devote her energy to rabbinical studies.
These women become spiritual teachers for us as they model new occasions to know God, celebrate the Mother's diversity, see the Divine in each other, appreciate the sacredness of life, refuse to fear death, listen to Mother Earth, and let justice roll down like water.

Christian Feminism Today - Reviewed by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott

Birthing God began its gestation period with three words that came to author Lana Dalberg in the middle of the night: "Birthing God. Kenosis." She immediately recognized the title for her book, but had to check her seminary notes to remind herself that kenosis in ancient Greek means “self-emptying,” becoming receptive to Spirit so that one becomes an incarnation of Spirit.

Then followed interviews with forty women from a variety of religious traditions—Taosim, Judaism, Zen Buddhism, Islamic Sufism, Indigenous, Hindu, Religious Science, and Christianity, including several women who are part of Ebenezer Lutheran Church, more commonly known as “herchurch.” Each of the interviews became a chapter in the book, which is divided into three parts: Divine Love and Love of Self (13 chapters); Divine Connection (15 chapters); and Divine Change (12 chapters). Each interview-chapter concludes with questions to be discussed with one's own inner being or with friends, and then offers an exercise to help readers connect with their own deepest Selves.
There is also an enthusiastic Foreword by Kathe Schaaf, co-editor of Women, Spirituality, and Transformative Leadership; helpful introductions to each section plus an Epilogue, all by Lana Dalberg; a set of eight meditations or visualizations; a copy of the questions used in Dalberg’s interviews; informative footnotes; a list of thirteen healing retreats and ministries; and a list of seven blogs, including one prepared by Dalberg herself, www.womenspiritandfaith.com. Bonuses include endorsements from sisters like Mary Hunt and Carol Christ, and ads for other relevant books from Sky Light Paths Publishing in Woodstock, Vermont. Every feminist should be aware of this relatively new publishing house, which features books on various religions, mysticism, spirituality, and women’s concerns.

For each woman interviewed, Dalberg supplies some description of her body language and general tone. Each describes an instance when she felt the divine presence in a palpable or powerful fashion, as well as the life-context and subsequent results of that experience. Each also describes her sense of community, how she connects spirituality and social justice, her attempts to heal society and the planet, and her advice for younger women. Dozens of wonderful insights emerge.
For instance, EEWC’s own Dr. Jann Aldredge-Clanton talks about the necessity of having a symbolism that supports our desire for peace and freedom from oppression: “We have denied the Divine Feminine, so the world is out of balance” (p. 256). Jann’s work of providing feminist words for old hymn-tunes and writing new hymns and liturgies is providing transformative symbolism that cherishes nurturing and birthing. In this way she is helping to heal society and the world we all inhabit.
In another chapter, Dr. Chung Hyun Kyung of Union Theological Seminary describes the loss of her mother when she was only one year old, leaving a hole in her heart. One day, that hole was filled when she discovered during meditation that the hole went all the way into her own womb, which now held the entire world. Thus her biggest trauma was transformed into her biggest power. She lost all fear and dared to travel the world by herself—even into 17 Muslim countries, some of them at war. Accordingly, she urges us all to love and trust ourselves, acting upon our “womb power, womb intuition, womb wisdom!” (p. 33).
I was of course delighted to learn that Rev. Lori Eickmann, a Lutheran pastor, had learned about the Divine Feminine from my book by that title. In every church where she serves as interim pastor she leads a three-week study in “female imagery for God in the Bible” (p. 24). Lori has on three occasions experienced God as rocking her: once a stunningly powerful rocking, once a more tender Jesus-rocking, and finally as a slow gentle mother-like rocking—one experience with each member of the Christian Trinity.
There are so many transformative experiences in this book that I will share just one more, in the hope that many people will get and read Birthing God for themselves. SaraLeya Schley, who is both a gynecologist and a rabbi, speaks of the Shekhinah as “a sense of protection and belonging” that in the later Jewish mystical tradition (the last 600 years) has become “a feminine aspect of the Divine” (pp. 189-190). The term Shekhinah comes from the Hebrew word shokheyn (“to dwell”). So it is the “aspect of the Divine that dwells within us and around us” (p. 190). She refers to “a saying in Jewish texts: 'small mind and large mind,’ ” and urges us to keep ourselves constantly open to the large “track in our consciousness that’s always aware of the Divine.”

I close this review with Miriam Therese Winter’s feminist version of the Lord’s Prayer. It was quoted by Anna Yang, a retired nurse who loves to be held in the arms of Quan Yin, the ancient Chinese goddess who provides unconditionally loving comfort. Here is Winter’s Mother Prayer:

“Our mother who is within us, we celebrate your many names. Your wisdom come. Your will be done, unfolding from the depths within us. Each day you give us all that we need. You remind us of our limits, and we let go. You support us in our power, and we act with courage. For you are the dwelling place within us, the empowerment around us, and the celebration among us, now and forever, Amen.” (p.60)

Indeed, certainly, Let It Be!

Patheos Faith Forward - Deborah Arca

A few years ago, I sent out Christmas cards with a Meister Eckhart* quote on the front: "What good is it that Christ was born in a stable in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago if he is not also born in me?" Inside, the card read: "How is God being born in you this Christmas?"

The Advent season is always a time, for me, of making space for God — making space for God to be born in me. Quieting down, listening deeply below the holiday hustle and bustle for what is good, true and real, trusting God's presence in the darkness, and waiting expectantly to become a light-bearer, a God-bearer.

Early last month, I traveled to the Bay Area for a gathering called Alchemy: Occupy Your Sacred Self, hosted by the organization, Women of Spirit and Faith. The purpose of the event was to nurture, empower and give voice to the divine feminine in all of us gathered women — old, young, black, white and brown, Christian, Muslim, Native American, Jewish and Pagan. I joined a drum circle, I chanted Sufi music, I learned to tantric dance, I entered a womb of women and wailed for the world, I was smudged by First Nation grandmothers and their daughters. I sat in circle after circle of women, listening to stories and sharing my own, of deep longings for the world, for ourselves … for the new thing that wanted to be born in us, in greater service to the world.

What good is it if Jesus was born 2000 years ago, if he is not also born in me today?
Alchemy is one such powerful place where God is being mid-wifed among women. My experience of the Divine was honored, enhanced and expanded by these sisters of Spirit. One of the many remarkable women I met during the weekend was Lana Dalberg, a soft-spoken progressive Lutheran woman, musician and writer, and most recently author of Birthing God: Women's Experiences of the Divine. Perusing the book and its spiritual narratives from a variety of women this third week of Advent, I’ve been pondering the feminine-ness of the Christmas event, when God entered the world through Mary … when Mary birthed God. And I’ve been wondering about the many, intimate ways women experience and reveal God’s love in our world everyday.

I sought out Lana recently to ask her about the stories in her book, and how we, as women are uniquely receiving and bearing God in our lives.

What inspired you to write Birthing God?
In meditation, I had experienced God as mother — a powerfully affirming and exquisitely loving experience — and so I wanted to hear how other women experienced the Divine. I wanted to hear from all kinds of women, whatever their faith tradition, whatever their cultural and socio-economic background. The women themselves inspired me to put their stories together into a book.

Is there a common thread that runs through the stories of these women?
How women experience the Divine seemed to be a braid of three strands: Women experiencing divine love actually love themselves; women experiencing the Divine also connect (in nature and with loved ones); and women experiencing the Divine embrace change — whether that be illness, the death of a loved one, fresh creativity, or a new life direction.

What surprised you in listening to the stories of these women?
I interviewed nearly 60 women, and every single woman had a spiritual story to share. Listening to these women, I felt like I was unearthing a treasure trove of intimacies with the Divine: God radiating love at the deathbed of a murdered brother, God cradling her children, God alleviating anxiety with wind-lofted, loving words. Women described divine hands holding them as they were being physically tortured or when they were being hunted by soldiers bent on killing them and their children. They spoke of a peaceful confidence, a certainty that emerged from within in these excruciating moments. Others described the incredible, seemingly impossible task of giving birth or the joy of midwifing, when a soul “moves from that side of the veil to this side, from there to here.”

How do women’s experiences of God differ from men’s?
I believe that women often experience connection at a deeper level than most men and intuit the needs of those close to them. Women likely honed this ability over millennia because human infants’ survival depended on mothers developing a sensitivity to their nonverbal cues. Whether or not they were biological mothers, the women I interviewed talk about connecting deeply with people and in nature. They express a profound awareness of God in daily life. Men also experience God’s presence but often do not possess the natural proclivity or desire to connect that is innate to most women.

What are some of your favorite stories from Birthing God?
Viviana Martinez, comatose and on the brink of death, experiences Spirit for the first time and the interconnectedness of all life. Upon awakening, she changes the direction of her life, ultimately serving as a shamanic healer and spiritual director.

Then there’s Belvie Rooks, who was just 13 when she was inwardly forewarned of a collapsing structure that would have killed her. She reflects, “I was profoundly grateful that there’d been this inner urging. It created an awareness that there was Something larger than me that when listened to and honored was protective.”

Dr. Chung Hyun Kyung is the woman who describes feeling embraced by divine hands while she is being tortured in a South Korean prison. She says, “Despite the horrible pain, I felt very soft and warm hands holding me… Whether I lived or died, I knew that I could not be separated from this great love of God.”
I am a different person for having heard these moving and transformative stories.

Who do you hope reads this book and what do you hope they take away from it?
I hope that readers will be moved to deepen their own intimate moments with the Divine, this One who yearns for us, who waits to be born in our lives. I hope that this book engenders self-acceptance as readers give expression to Divine Light and Love in their own lives.

Is there anything else you want to say about the book?
The women’s stories inspire reflection, and so I added questions as prompts for discussion or personal meditation. Each story also includes a suggested practice such as participating in a guided visualization or walking a labyrinth.

Where can people find out more about your book?
The book can be previewed and purchased at SkyLight Paths Publishing [hyperlink to: http://www.skylightpaths.com/page/product/978-1-59473-480-9 ], Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

“We are all meant to be mothers of God…,” wrote Meister Eckhart, “for God is always needing to be born.” What are the ways you are making space for God in your life, and how is the Divine being birthed in you this season?

* Meister Eckhart was a 13th Century German theologian and mystic, who is also credited with another of my favorite sayings: “If the only prayer you ever make to God is 'thank you,’ it will be enough.”

Library Journal
This collection of interviews is an excellent study of women's personal spiritual experiences across various faiths. Lay theologian Dalberg interviewed 40 women on their relationships with the divine, which they may identify as God, Goddess, Mother, Creator, or various other terms. Each interview runs approximately five pages in length. Respondents answered enquiries such as "Think of one instance when you felt in a very palpable or otherwise powerful way the presence of the Divine" and "What had been your religious experience up to that point?" Following each interview, Dalberg includes questions and an activity that is in some way tied to the essence of the preceding interview. Many of the activities involve meditation and relaxation techniques, yet others require movement, such as walking a labyrinth. The book also has a section titled "Meditations and Visualizations" with step-by-step instructions for several practices. The brief "Suggested Resources" section includes not just books and blogs but retreat centers, ministries, and related places. VERDICT This book will appeal to readers with an interest in women's spirituality, feminist spirituality, ecofeminism, and interfaith examinations of religious experiences. Its structure also makes it a good choice for reading groups.—Stacy Russo, Santa Ana Coll. Lib., CA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594734809
  • Publisher: Skylight Paths Publishing
  • Publication date: 2/1/2013
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 1,399,224
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Lana Dalberg, a feminist lay theologian and storyteller, leads workshops linking spirituality with writing and social justice in congregations and retreat centers throughout the United States. Her award-winning writing has appeared in many publications and anthologies.

Lana Dalberg is available to speak on the following topics:

  • Women's Spirituality and Women’s Spiritual Stories
  • Writing from the Wellspring of Spirituality
  • The Divine Feminine
  • Enhancing Spirituality through Guided Visualizations
  • Earth-Based Spirituality and Eco-Feminism

Click here to contact the author.

Kathe Schaaf is co-founder and past president of Gather the Women Global Matrix. She currently anchors many collaborative conversations connecting women and women's organizations internationally.

Kathe Schaaf, Kay Lindahl, Kathleen S. Hurty, PhD, and Reverend Guo Cheen are co-founders of Women of Spirit and Faith.

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Table of Contents

Foreword ix

Part I
Divine Love and Love of Self 1
Esperanza: Great Courage within Me 9
Lindsey: Where We Find God 16
Lori: Rocking in the Mother's Arms 21
Hyun Kyung: From the Palms of God into the Vortex of Becoming 26
Susan: Worthy to Stand Here with God 34
Sridevi: Rooted in the Divine Feminine 40
Arisika: The Body as Gateway to the Divine 44
Rachel: The Sacred within Me 53
Anna: Circling into the Womb of the Mother 58
Alice: Resonating like Home 64
Sarah: Hanging Out the Wash like Prayer Flags 70
Ann: Seeing Ourselves with Love 75
Rhina: The Church of the Open Door 81

Part II
Divine Connection 87
Jeanette: Dropping into the Hands of God 93
Irma: A Mother's Embrace 99
Kimberly: Welcoming Occasions to Know God 106
Elena: Celebrating the Mother's Diversity 112
Belvie: Who Can We Become Together? 119
Malisa: Seeing the Divine in Each Other (Namaste) 128
Sadaya: The Womb of God through Which We All Come 134
Carolina: Light and Love in All Beings 140
Debbie: Experiencing the Divine in the Multitude 147
Teresa: God among Us 152
Susan: Appreciating the Sacredness of Life 157
Marci: Like Family 162
Emily: Seeing the Glory 165
Alison: Restoring Our Sense of Interconnectedness 172
Judith: Swirling in the Mandala That Connects Us All 177

Part III
Divine Change181
SaraLeya: Under the Wings of Shekhinah 187
Lucy: Embracing Our Imagination 192
Ayesha: Madly in Love with God 198
Allison: Not Fearing Death 204
Viviana: All of Us Spirit 210
Zoharah: Who Am I and Why Am I Here? 219
Kristin: Listen to Mother Earth—She Has a Lot to Tell You 228
Dionne: Drumming to Heal the Mother 235
Stacy: Climbing into Her Branches 242
Virginia: Stirring the Ashes 250
Jann: Let Justice Roll Down Like Water 256
Katie: Would You Hug Me, Jesus? 261

Epilogue 266
Acknowledgments 268
Meditations and Visualizations 269
The Interview Questions: Eliciting Spiritual Stories 278
Notes 280
Suggested Resources 28

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