Shining a 21st Century Light on the Face of Mystery
First appeared in Feminism and Religion
Mystery: that which is beyond our ability to know except by revelation. This definition has always seemed to me to be only part of Mystery’s true meaning. While deeply meaningful and complete in itself to many, Mystery so defined was never a centerpiece of my own spiritual experience, whether because of my own lack of comprehension or because I longed for a Mystery that fit better into my nature and daily life-based spirituality. Recently, as I lay in a hospital bed, I was unexpectedly shown a face of Mystery that I found to be transformational, pushed my spiritual boundaries, and was both new and very, very old.
As I have contemplated various ancient Goddess-worshipping societies over the years, I have found aspects of Mystery that resonated with me, but which I never thought I would experience in my 21st century life. The stories, the art and architectural ruins, the household goods, and other artifacts left behind by these societies indicate to me a Mystery that is strongly connected to every day life. Statues of female deities buried near ovens, goddesses dedicated to spinning and weaving, oracles answering questions about daily concerns, and more speak to me of a Mystery that is intimate and lifts my seemingly mundane human life into its realm.The Mystery that I perceive in these societies is also deeply connected to Earth. Their Goddesses focused on the harvest, the seasons, plants and animals, mountains and rivers, the weather, and more. The Earth Herself as perceived in these societies is a Mystery, always giving life, heart-shatteringly beautiful, and ever-changing.
Images from these societies of women practicing flights into other realms and shape-shifting make me think that, to the societies that created them, it was the task of humans to mediate between the realms of what we have considered to be our world and those of Mystery’s energies, spirits, and power. We belong to more than one world and we all partake in the sacredness of all planes of existence.
Last month, as I was recovering from surgery, I came to see the emergence of a new, yet still ancient perception of Mystery that had these elements I had been seeking. From the first, the hospital encouraged me to activate my own inner healing powers through meditation and visualization using natural images. I could have received reiki from hospital volunteers. After I was home, my surgeon told me to listen to my body’s wisdom in determining when to return to work rather than giving standardized orders. As a result, I was less stressed before surgery, had an easier recovery, and now feel more confident in my own inner healing and intuitive powers. In other words, while I doubt the hospital and doctors perceived of it as such, 21st century life engaged with Mystery in a way that was essential to my daily well being, honored the power of the Earth and Nature as healer, and taught me to go on my own healing, empowering adventure.
What might my life have been like if I and all of society had embraced this expansive, new, yet very old, conception of Mystery always?
If our daily lives were honored as expression of Mystery, might women be able to take the time needed from work to care for family members without worrying about job security? Might more of the taxes we pay go to support daily life through food, education, and health programs? Might the movies, television and video games our families watch have more about everyday people doing extraordinary things and fewer explosions and alien invasions?
If our Mystery was Earth-based, perhaps we would never have to worry about becoming ill from environmental toxins. Everyone might live in neighborhoods where a public park or garden was never far away. It might never occur to anyone that our children’s or grandchildren’s lives may be much worse than ours as a result of climate change because our consumption would have been sustainable.If Mystery was truly honored as something in which everyone partook, as a place to which we could all travel in our own ways, maybe no woman would have ever felt that she was outside a boundary that separated her from a numinous, sacred state that others – whether men or religious professionals or others – claimed as a birthright. We might all have learned from an early age to use intuition. If we had all been taught early to use our bodies’ inner healing capacities, maybe I would never have needed surgery.
A 21st century-era version of ancient Mystery is profoundly important to women in particular. Women provide the vast majority of work that supports daily life, whether caregiving, agriculture, carrying water or more, much of it unpaid or vastly underpaid. Devastation of the earth’s environment will disproportionately affect women. Women experience discrimination and exclusion from religious and spiritual traditions that favor men. At the same time, feminist religion is leading the way in bringing Mystery back into our lives with celebrations to mark daily life passages, the honoring of Nature-based Goddesses, inclusive practices like circles and participatory rituals, and more. Now that I think of Mystery differently, I see how I have been living in its embrace for many years and that the beneficial possibilities as it joins to 21 century technology and knowledge are almost limitless.
As women’s spirits expand beyond concepts, beliefs, and practices that have been binding them for millennia, so, too, will we connect with Mystery in new, but also ancient, ways that can help us free ourselves and others to live in a more peaceful, just, equal, fascinating, and meaningful world. I got a firsthand taste in the hospital of how powerfully transformative joining 21st century realities with Mystery can be. Mystery: that which we know in ways beyond common understanding because it abides within our most essential being, infuses our daily lives, and connects us to the Earth, our home and Mother.