Grounded in raw experience, forty women relate Spirit-filled moments. Ideal for spiritual seekers and leaders of all faiths, these powerful stories invite you to consider the origins of your own spirituality and to deepen your relationship with God.
Foreword by Kathe Schaaf
6 x 9, 304 pp | 978-1-59473-480-9
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.
“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
“An excellent study of women’s personal experiences across various faiths.... Will appeal to readers with an interest in women’s spirituality, feminist spirituality, ecofeminism.... A good choice for reading groups.”
“[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
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
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
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
Meditations and Visualizations 269
The Interview Questions: Eliciting Spiritual Stories 278
Suggested Resources 28
What inspired you to write this book?
My personal meditation experiences made me want to hear and gather other women’s spiritual stories. Because I had studied theology, I knew that accounts of women’s experiences of God are underreported, and I wanted to bring more of them to light.
What makes women's experiences of the Divine special?
Women, in addition to birthing life, seek to meet their infants’ needs long before they can be verbalized. Mothers learn to hone the skill of intuiting their child’s needs. Women, whether or not they have physically birthed and nurtured a child, are usually adept at connection. Their perspective is helpful in understanding the Divine Spirit who births and sustains all of life.
Why do you think women’s experiences of the Divine should matter to people?
When the Divine is only expressed in male terms and images, it severely limits our collective and individual understanding. The splitting off of the feminine from the Sacred has profound impacts for our spiritual, mental, and physical health. Naming the Divine as male or cloaking the Divine in male-only images is one of the principal roots of women’s victimization. We have only to look at the world to see women’s disproportionate burden of poverty, malnutrition, and violence. Many of the women I interviewed felt themselves to be inadequate at their core, which correlates with the lack of representation or the outright denigration of feminine attributes in our symbols and language for the Divine.
What new perspectives did you gain from writing this book?
I learned many things as I interviewed these women. Women shared that their self-worth blossomed in response to visceral encounters of God’s love. They shared that at the heart of God’s divine creation, we are all connected and deeply loved, and that this understanding evokes greater compassion for others. They exhibited a mindset of welcoming change�that is, trusting in the Spirit that sustains all of life and its many permutations. They made me feel part of the human community and our varied experiences of God. I am deeply grateful to all who shared their stories with me.
Part I: Divine Love and Love of Self
- In which moments did Esperanza experience God’s presence most intensely?
- How does Esperanza characterize God’s presence within her? How do you sense this Spirit within you?
- How does Esperanza draw on “the God within” when fear presents itself? How can you deal with fear differently?
- What spiritual moments did Lindsey describe, and how did she open herself to them?
- How do you think Lindsey’s experiences contribute to her ability to say, “You are loved for who you are”?
- How do you experience divine love in your life, and how does it influence your view of yourself?
- How did Lori make room for divine inspiration and divine love in her life?
- What do you feel about Lori’s experiences of being rocked? How did Lori’s experiences contribute to her love of self and lead to a rebirth in her sense of vocation?
- What are the ways in which you experience the Divine in your life? In which moments do you feel loved by God?
- How did Hyun Kyung’s most difficult experiences affect her faith and the direction of her life? How were they transformative?
- How did Hyun Kyung’s deepest wound become transformed into her greatest strength?
- Think of your deepest wounds. How might they become transformed into your greatest strengths?
- What experiences of loss or of new understanding affected Susan? How did she conceive the Divine differently?
- How has your spirituality changed, in relation to both your outer world and your inner experience?
- How would you characterize your conception of God today vis-_-vis your previous conceptions? How is this birthing a new understanding of the Divine in your life?
- How did Sridevi’s upbringing inform her spiritual experiences as an adult?
- Sridevi is aware of the Divine all around her. When do you feel this way in your life?
- How do positive feminine images contribute to your self-esteem?
- What beautiful images do you see within yourself?
- How did Arisika’s childhood and her choice of profession influence her spiritual experiences?
- What do you think about interpreting the word virgin to mean a woman who belongs to herself? How do you practice that concept in your own life?
- Arisika suggests that telling our stories invites a rebirthing�an honoring and valuing of ourselves and our life experiences.
- What is your most memorable experience of the Divine?
- What do you know of your mother’s or grandmother’s experience of the Divine?
- What thoughts, feelings, or images does the word birthing bring up for you?
- What experiences brought about changes in Rachel’s spirituality?
- How would you characterize Rachel’s moment at Machu Picchu? How do you relate what she experienced to your own life?
- How, for Rachel, is Christianity an embodied religion? How does her experience and point of view relate to your faith experience(s)?
- How did Anna’s ailments affect her spirituality? How were they labor pains for birthing a new understanding of the Divine?
- How is Anna’s sense of the Divine different from yours? How is it similar?
- Where do you see labor pains of birthing new understandings�of yourself, God, community, or vocation�in your life?
- Which experiences led to Alice’s revelations?
- What would you characterize as an epiphany of “I’m of worth” in your own life? In what ways is that epiphany a rebirthing of yourself?
- What actions or reflections can you undertake on a daily basis to open up your mind and heart to the experience of divine love for yourself in both body and soul?
- How does Sarah describe the sense of God within her as she faced vocational decisions?
- How did Sarah’s experiences of God change with loss and motherhood? How has your experience of the Divine changed?
- What is your go-to image for God? How has it changed over the course of your life?
- What beliefs did Ann examine and why? When have you felt inclined to examine your faith? What changes occurred?
- Ann states, “Who I am is authentic goodness.” What is good within you? Name at least twenty things.
- How did Rhina’s discovery about her sexual orientation open up her spiritual experience of God and help her to rebirth herself?
- How did Rhina experience divine love in moments of pain and transformation? Who was the face of the Divine for her during these moments of transition?
- Describe when you feel God’s presence. When have you felt God ministering to you through other people? How have these moments aided self-discovery and self-acceptance?
Part II: Divine Connection
- What experiences in Jeanette’s culture and childhood influenced her understanding of the Divine?
- Describe the value of accompaniment for Jeannette and how it affects her spirituality.
- How does your relationship to family and other people important to you impact your understanding of the Divine?
- What is Irma’s experience of faith? What do the worship vestments do for Irma and why?
- How do the words Irma receives in prayer reinforce the words she shares as a mother to her children and vice versa?
- What do you gain from Irma’s experience of prayer? What do you experience in prayer?
- When you are fearful, how does your relationship to God or understanding of God help you to address fear?
- Think about Kimberly’s words, “Mystery is essential for faith. The challenge is to see the mystery as something beautiful and not as something fearful.” How would you apply her words to your own life?
- What does your understanding of mystery say about your relationship with the Divine and with yourself?
- What experiences in Elena’s childhood stand out to you? How do you feel you would have responded in her situation?
- What is your experience of the Divine in moments of profound stress?
- In your view, how does a Divine Mother differ (if at all) from a Divine Father?
- What elements of Belvie’s childhood shaped her sense of self and the Divine?
- How does Belvie see humanity? How does she see the relationship of humanity to the earth?
- How do you see your relationships, both with other humans and other species? How does your understanding of the Divine enhance your relationship with others (including other species) and the earth?
- Malisa talks about seeing the Divine in relationship, and often it’s in relationship that we grow the most spiritually. Think of at least one instance of a relationship in your life where this is true.
- For Sadaya, how do movement and chanting lend themselves to prayer and connecting with the Divine?
- How do dreams impact Sadaya’s life and decision making? How do dreams factor into your daily living?
- In your experience, how is God both lover and beloved, as well as love, all at the same time?
- How did Carolina’s experience of exile influence her faith?
- In what ways did meeting and engaging with people of different faiths influence Carolina’s own faith?
- What are some universal values that you identify in the faith traditions you have encountered?
- Which value resonates most for you?
- Debbie describes feeling the Divine in a sea of people moving together with a common purpose. Have you ever felt the presence of God in this way?
- How did Debbie see her spiritual choices in relation to young women around her? How do you see your faith-related decisions in the context of your friendships, family, and other relationships?
- How does Debbie express Tai Chi’s effect on her faith?
- What does Teresa describe as important factors in her spiritual life? What, in your life, is most nourishing and stimulating to your faith?
- In what ways are you, like Teresa, diving into life and diving into faith? How do you find your spiritual aspirations and desires strengthened in working with others? How do these activities build your happiness and your faith?
- In what ways are you a vessel for the Divine Spirit?
- What factors in Susan’s given family informed her spirituality?
- Why was it important to Susan to create new ways of being family?
- What are Susan’s values? What are your values, and how do they influence your relationships? How does your relationship with the Divine influence how you relate to others in the world?
- What factors in Marci’s religious upbringing contributed to her skepticism?
- What qualities did she find in the community of herchurch that allowed her to address her doubts? How did relationships with others in her church community impact her well-being?
- How would you characterize your own doubts? How do they impact your actions and your relationships? How do they impact your view of yourself?
- What experience helped Emily to “suspend her disbelief”? What experiences in your life do you attribute to divine influence?
- How are you present to other women in your life? How do you exemplify the Divine to them or allow yourself to see the Divine in them?
- What does chanting do for Alison? How do you regard chanting as a spiritual practice?
- What happens for you when you sing with others?
- What examples of interconnectedness can you draw from your own life?
- What interconnections do you see around you? How do your body and spirit respond when you encounter them?
- How are you influenced by sensory experiences, and how do you express your response?
- Are there new ways in which you can conceive of the Divine, particularly in the areas of movement and sensory perception?
Part III: Divine Change
- What changes in SaraLeya’s life led to her spiritual growth?
- In what ways does she experience the Divine?
- In what ways and areas of your life can you practice what she calls “small mind and large mind”?
- Where do you see rebirth and growth in Lucy’s experiences of loss?
- Looking back over your own life, where do you recognize instances of “found art”? How have you grown from the experience of adapting to things you thought couldn’t possibly go together or work out?
- What do you think of Lucy’s encouragement to trust your imagination? Where might your imagination lead you?
- Describe the impact of life-threatening illness on Ayesha’s spirituality. How have illness and bodily changes affected your experience of faith?
- In what ways did 9/11 affect Ayesha’s life and that of her community? How does your faith change in relation to events that unfold around you?
- What losses in Allison’s life enabled her to “go further” in exploration of the Divine? What is her view of death? of change?
- How does Allison’s sense of humanity as community (“the human matrix”) resonate for you personally? When do you feel connected to other humans and members of other species?
- What do you think of Allison’s opinion that spirituality is felt and that once it’s codified, it loses its vitality?
- What is your experience of spirituality as something that is felt? How has loss or other difficult experiences influenced it?
- What childhood and young adult experiences led Viviana to her understanding of Spirit?
- What is her attitude toward change? Why would she say that “prayer is gratitude for everything we are given, as well as for everything we are not given”?
- What was your gut response to Viviana’s advice to love yourself more than you love your neighbor? How do you apply this wisdom to your own life?
- How did racism and other social and economic injustices influence Zoharah’s evolving spirituality? In your own spiritual development, how do social and economic circumstances play in?
- What do you think of Zoharah’s suggestion that you must become the change internally that you are seeking to affect externally?
- Zoharah speaks about spiritual teachers. Can you think of a mentor or teacher who aided your spiritual growth? In what ways were you most impacted?
- What are some of the childhood circumstances that influenced Kristin’s spirituality?
- How would you describe your feelings when you are resting or reflecting in a quiet place in nature? What do you learn in those moments?
- How did Kristin react to the changes in her life?
- How does Kristin distinguish between her near-death experience and her stroke? For you, what’s the interplay between your ability to control and your trust in the Spirit?
- What impact did Dionne’s childhood and background have on her spirituality?
- How do loss and other changes inform her spirituality? How do they inform yours?
- Reflect on the ways in which your spirituality has changed due to loss(es) in your life.
- How did Stacy address challenges in her vocation and in her life?
- Which of the images or metaphors that Stacy mentioned speak to you?
- What does Stacy mean when she suggests that the power of women and the Divine Feminine need to be seen not just as feminine metaphors but in real-life examples, “women like yourself”?
- How are you an example of the Divine at work and at play in the world?
- Which of Virginia’s experiences resonate most strongly for you?
- Where does Virginia’s inspiration for creativity come from? How does she nurture it?
- What does Virginia say about trust and how it relates to the changes in her life? How would you characterize your own faith in terms of trust?
- What changes did Jann experience in her life? How did she look to the Spirit in embracing those changes? What has changed as a result for other women?
- Where does Jann draw her inspiration for writing songs from? What moments in your life can you characterize as engagement with what she calls the Creative Spirit?
- Jann talks about the importance of spiritual symbols. Which spiritual symbols are affirming and empowering for you?
- What changes was Katie going through during the time of her mystical experiences?
- Katie is now painting in addition to composing. What strikes you about the changes in her life and the way she has grown with them?
- How can you adapt so that opportunities and challenges that come into your life can facilitate growth?
- What are your stories of the Spirit at work in your life?