Asking Sacred Questions
Appeared on Feminism and Religion, April 7, 2014
If you could travel over space and time to an ancient holy oracle, a manifestation of the voice of Goddess, what questions would you ask? Imagine you are there, at the gateway to where the oracle sits, and consider which questions are closest to your heart, near your soul, the ones you have been trying to answer your whole life. Humanity has a long history of ostracizing, marginalizing, prosecuting, and sometimes executing those who question, especially those who question established authority and doctrine. However, you need have no fear at this place of the oracle where questioning is celebrated. Here you are at home because you are a feminist.
Feminists have long known the power of questioning to liberate, to enliven and enrich, to enact positive change, to expose injustice: “Should not women live free from violence? Have the nourishment, shelter, and health care they need? Vote? Hold property? Have their labor fairly compensated? What would a world in which all women are respected and celebrated as individuals with infinite dignity and worth be like, and how do we bring it about?”
These are all what I call sacred questions: questions whose answers require radical change, within ourselves or society, and that come from deep longings for truth, justice, and self-respect. Sacred questions cannot be answered by deferring to a higher authority or by relying on assumptions that reflect back to us only what we have been told we should see, think, or feel. A sacred question breaks down the walls that have protected oppressive assumptions about women, our worth, and our roles. Sacred questions illuminate the path to a better future that could perhaps not have been imagined before it was asked. Sacred questions expand our vision and reveal possibilities that have been undiscovered or hidden. Sacred questions may be related to religion, politics, culture or any other topic; it is their transformative power to make our souls and spirits deeper, richer, stronger, truer, and bolder that makes them sacred.
Author (on right) with mom and sister
Author (right) with mom and sister
The most important oracle to whom I asked sacred questions is myself: “What do I know from my own experience and intuition?” Sometimes, believing our deepest inner voice takes great spiritual courage, especially when we have always been taught to look to others for our spiritual guidance. My mother was brought up to believe that humans were basically sinful and to live her life in fear of everlasting punishment. After my sister and I were born, she questioned whether that worldview fit with her life experience and we were raised to trust in a benevolent universe and our own inner knowing as independent women, a perspective we have, in turn, passed on to the children in our lives. With one powerful sacred question, my mother gave her daughters freedom, self-reliance, and an affirming perspective that we have carried for half a century.
When we question and come to profoundly know ourselves, we give ourselves the unique and precious gift of our own souls. When we question others, whether directly or by heeding their words and deeds, we create for ourselves and each other a richer, truer, and more diverse understanding of the world. In the 1980s I worked for an agency that placed older volunteers in hospitals to comfort babies born with AIDS whose parents could not care for them. At the time, it was uncertain exactly how AIDS was transmitted. When one woman was asked if she was afraid she might contract AIDS, she said “We got through the Depression. We got through World War II. We’ll get through this.” She had answered the sacred question, “What is my true relationship to other beings?” with compassion, commitment to community, and a faith in the future whose powerful wisdom is a guide for what a mature, caring society for all should be.
Finally, we must ask those sacred questions that tell us about our larger place in all of Creation. To find the answers, perhaps we need only look at the manifestations of Goddess all around us, in the fierce magnificence of nature that also sometimes destroys, in the glory as well as danger of the cosmos above us, in the essential yet fragile balance of life in the oceans. One such sacred question is “How does the web of life, of which we are a part, balance itself?” We recently lost a 100-foot tall Hemlock that had stood guard over our house for a century. The tree had been a focus of natural beauty to our family, home to many wild creatures, and a link to the generations who had lived in the house before us. The arborist who removed the remains of the Hemlock also reshaped a nearby tree, explaining that living in the shadow of the Hemlock had left it off-balance as it strained for sunlight. We mourn the loss of the Hemlock while nurturing its sister tree so it can grow straight, tall and strong. Renewing life, accepting the inevitability of death, healing, protecting, mutual stewardship among all beings — all these aspects of a right relationship to all Creation are literally in my backyard.
Sacred questioning is elemental to feminism, for without those first, most basic questions about society’s oppression of women, would feminism exist? What if we questioned not simply because it is our nature and a means to progress towards feminist goals, but because sacred questioning was a spiritual practice that was encouraged and supported, a skill we all gained as we made it part of our daily lives? What if you had been taught to ask sacred questions by everyone you encountered from the time you were a small child? Who might we all be and what might our world be now?
What power sacred questions hold! You do not need to go to a place with a holy oracle to ask your most sacred questions. Ask them here and now. What will they be? Their answers are within you, in the lives and actions of other women, in the wisdom of Goddess as She manifests all around you. What will you ask?