Encountering the Divine Feminine—Have Churches Assisted or Obstructed?

Last week I was invited to speak (by Zoom) on behalf of the Sophia Institute located in Charleston, South Carolina as part of a three-part series on: Wisdom, Love, Grace. 

Ukrainian (Kiev) Icon, Theotokos as Sophia, the Holy Wisdom, 1812. Wikimedia Commons.

It was a rich experience and I began by talking about Wisdom, choosing first to read some of the wonderful teachings found in the Hebrew Bible about Wisdom—poetry that moved me profoundly when I first encountered it in my Catholic parish as a teenager especially on Saturday mornings which at that time were always dedicated to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. 

Following my presentation on Wisdom, the founder and director of the Sophia Institute responded by saying that when she first encountered these biblical passages she became deeply angry. 

Why?  Because, having been raised Protestant, she was never exposed to this telling of the Divine Feminine as a child or young woman.  She felt cheated at having to encounter them quite late in her life. 

“Seat of Wisdom: Enthroned Madonna and Child.” Photo by Peter Roan on Flickr

Kudos to the Roman Catholic church for not having thrown them out the door and off the bus altogether. 

To its credit, it shared them in the name of Mary.  (Unfortunately, some of that sharing included Mary on a pedestal meant for eternal virgins, but at least the poetry was there.) 

And I for one—and I’m sure many other men as well as women—have been deeply moved and affected and influenced throughout my life by the teachings present there.  Clearly, Thomas Merton was.

See Matthew Fox, “Wisdom: Another feminine Face of the Divine,” in Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths, pp. 144-156.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: The Virgin of Montserrat, Santa Maria de Montserrat monastery, Catalonia, Spain. Photo by Enric on Wikimedia Commons

Queries for Contemplation

When did you first encounter the poetry of Wisdom and therefore the divine feminine in the Scriptures?  Did it make a difference in your life and view of the world?

Recommended Reading

One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths

Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.“Reading One River, Many Wells is like entering the rich silence of a masterfully directed retreat. As you read this text, you reflect, you pray, you embrace Divinity. Truly no words can fully express my respect and awe for this magnificent contribution to contemporary spirituality.” –Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

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13 thoughts on “Encountering the Divine Feminine—Have Churches Assisted or Obstructed?”

  1. Avatar

    I first encountered the poetry of wisdom and therefore the Divine Feminine in the scriptures, through learning the spiritual practice of Lectio Divina; from Eugene Peterson and his translation of the Bible, known as The Message; along with his companion Lectio Divina book titled Solo. (which I highly recommend for the beginner in this spiritual practice.)

    This spiritual practice of Lectio Divina was then expanded upon, through the teachings of Christine Valters Paintner and several of her books, such as 1: The Artists Rule – Nurturing Your Creative Soul With Monastic Wisdom; 2: The Soul of the Pilgrim – Eight Practices for the Journey Within; 3: Water,Wind, Earth and Fire – The Christian Practice of Praying With the Elements, and 4: Eyes of the Heart – Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice. (I highly recommend all four of these books to expand one’s journey into this spiritual practice of Lectio Divina)

    I then combined the expansions of this spiritual practice, with Sacred Journaling, which has and continues to deepen my encounter with the Divine Feminine and the wisdom to be found, through this artistically contemplative, meditative and reflective monastic tradition of Lectio Divina… and the spiritual practices to be rediscovered within the wisdom ways of the mystic.

    I wish I had discovered this through the teachings of the Church. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case. I basically discovered these in all honesty from the leadings and promptings of the Holy Spirit, which I simply responded to in trust.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, Lectio Divina is my spiritual practice as well. I do this with all of the spiritual books I read, and especially Matthew’s books which I have read all of them and they have been my aid in “spiritual formation.” You say to discovered this through the prompting of the Holy Spirit–well, I think it couldn’t have come to you from a better source…

  2. Avatar

    I recall being dazzled by the poem from the Book of Wisdom which Matthew read today. I recall being auite mystified that Wisdom was depicted as feminine. I agree that the Church deserves kudos for preserving this vision of the Divine Feminine in the name of Mary. But the history of the Church also includes a doctrinal rejection of real women living in ordinary time. That said, I was surprised and ultimately hopeful when I read in the documents of Vatican II that “Wherefore this sacred synod, while expounding the doctrine of the Church, in which the divine Redeemer brings about our salvation, intends to set forth painstakingly both the role of the Blessed Virgin in the mystery of the Incarnate Word and the Mystical Body. It does not, however, intend to give a complete doctrine on Mary, nor does it wish to decide those questions which the work of theologians has not yet fully clarified.” [Lumen Gentium.]

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Gwen, Matthew said, and you say you agree with, the idea that the Church deserves kudos for preserving this vision of the Divine Feminine in the name of Mary. But then you say, “But the history of the Church also includes a doctrinal rejection of real women living in ordinary time.” We can see this in Pope Gregory the Great (d. 604) who is responsible for identifying Mary Magdalene with the “sinful” woman who washed Jesus feet with her hair and anointed his with oil in Luke chapter 7. The result was for real women, was to make them either virgins or whores–neither of which are the normal estates of women. Pope John Paul II even tried to create a fifth Marian dogma (there are four) which would have made Mary “Co-Redemtrix”s which Pope Francis has rejected saying that it gives to Mary the work of Christ–who is redeemer…

      1. Avatar

        … It would seem that “Co-Redemptrix” would require a fixed meaning of Redemption itself. Mystics might have a different understanding of what redemption means than the Vatican has articulated. Was the doctrine of Papal Infallibility meant to be used as a final solution ‘trump card’?

  3. Avatar

    Hello Matthew. Although the entire Wisdom Chapter 7 is about what Wisdom (female) has taught the writer, why do the following three verses appear to attribute the teaching you read today to “he”–a male God? I understand Verse 15, but verse 17 interrupts the flow of the teaching from Wisdom, stating that a male God is teaching the cosmology. Is it the patriarchal church that interrupted the flow of Wisdom (female) by inserting these three verses before the cosmological teaching?
    15 May God grant me to speak with judgment,
    and to have thoughts worthy of what I have received;
    for he is the guide even of wisdom
    and the corrector of the wise.
    16 For both we and our words are in his hand,
    as are all understanding and skill in crafts.
    17 For it is he who gave me unerring knowledge of what exists,
    to know the structure of the world and the activity of the elements;

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Michele, the fact that Matthew is upholding the Divine Feminine in the Wisdom literature of the Bible, does not exclude God as the Sacred Masculine. Thank you for sharing verses 15-17 that demonstrate the role of the Sacred Masculine in all of this!

  4. Avatar

    Thank you again, Matthew, for your inspiring teaching last week. I am Protestant and learned about the sacred feminine at my UCC church almost 40 years ago, particularly in a group of women doing our spiritual autobiographies. We learned and shared and discovered that women had a different spiritual path of development and understanding. This experience led to deep appreciation of Sophia, especially in Proverbs 8:22-31, which I find similar to John 1:1-5., “Original Blessing” and the writings of Elaine Pagels, Marcus Borg, Bishop Spong, the Jesus Seminar, and others deepened my appreciation. I must say that the virginity of Mary has never impressed me as a positive belief, as well as possibly being a mistranslation of maiden or young woman, but I also honor those who have found Mary a great comfort and inspiration. But too often, the distortion of women by patriarchy has led to the dualism of mother/saint or prostitute as the only role models possible in the church. I agree with the goddess archetype for Mary, and also many of the saints appear to this Protestant old lady to replace the Roman gods and goddesses. The whole virgin birth–which, after all, appears only in Matthew and Luke–also seems very closely related to the Greek and Roman stories of gods interacting with humans. Just my thoughts, not meant to offend.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Sue, I was an ordained as a UCC minister and can relate to your position. I, however, because of studying with Matthew for over 20 years, have come to appreciate “what Mary has become” because she has become the embodiment of the Divine Feminine. And as for the saints–whereas tin the NT references to “the saints” refer to the people of God in general, still I believe that there are those who have gone beyond what most do, and in seminary we called these, “spiritual athletes” from the Greek “askesis.”

  5. Avatar

    I am still developing an understanding of the Divine Feminine. In trying to include Her in our Trinitarian understanding of the mystery of God, I am intuiting the ‘Three Divine Persons’ in very intimate Loving Communion as Father (Transcendent Formless Masculine), Mother (Immanent Feminine in Creation), and Holy Spirit (Divine Spirit of Love-Wisdom-Creativity both
    Feminine and Masculine). The Cosmic Body of Christ can be the quaternity of the Feminine-Masculine Trinity within All Creation…. As part of our evolving humanity, we’re Conscious Co-creators within this mysterious Trinitarian Creator God-Dess….

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Damian, very interesting point–a quaternity of the Father, the Mother, the Holy Spirit and the cosmic body of Christ…

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