In earlier posts of September 29 and 30 I wrote about the characteristics of feminine spirituality as gleaned from the book by Beverly Lanzetta, Radical Wisdom. I am coming to the end of the book and would like to finish presenting Lanzetta’s insights that she gained from studying women mystics of the middle ages, primarily Julian of Norwich and Theresa of Avila. The characterstics I wrote about in my earlier posts were that women found that they could enter into a personal relationship with God without an intermediary, at that time, the male priesthood. They believed that all life experience, physical, emotional and relational, is spiritual in nature. Secondly, they found that entering into the pain and sorrows of life rather than flight or denial leads to one learning the lessons God has to teach us.
Today I add a third. Lanzetta reported that Theresa was forbidden by Church leadership to read the scholarly books of her day. As a woman hungry for God this was incredibly painful for her. In the end she found that God could teach her directly. She even took a stand against scholarly language used to keep “lay people and women” below and under the control of scholars and hierarchy. She learned a new language of the heart from within that could be understood only by those who “know first from experience”. Experience, it seems to me, is the characteristic of this inner knowing.
Years ago a friend of mine had an experience that challenged her faith. She had a neighbor whose child was not expected to live after a serious accident. My friend, a woman of intense faith, told her neighbor that she was sure her child would survive. The child died. My friend was devastated. Her idea that God would grant a prayer of a sincere heart was shattered. Her experience told her that what she once believed was flawed in some way. Her faith was not ruined. It was deepened by an encounter with life as life is, rather than some mental concoction of what life or faith is supposed to be.
To believe something that out and out contradicts one’s experience is dangerous. We don’t have to have all the answers. We don’t have to understand the whys and wherefores of all that happens. But we do need to be “true to ourselves” or to accept only what truly makes sense to us. We should not be coerced into accepting someone else’s doctrine or belief systems if it truly does not make sense to us. I agree with Theresa.