Monday, September 22, 2008

Balancing on Air

My local paper has been covering the closure of a number of churches in the area. Each church has its own unique history. Each has faithful people who have invested a great deal of emotional and spiritual capital in the living community that makes up the local church. It is obvious that a church cannot be closed without breaking a chain of history and hurting a lot of people. We should all be sad at their loss. Those in authority need to be blessed with more than their fair share of tact and sensitivity when they are faced with closing a church.

In the days when churches were normally open and anyone could enter freely at any time of day I would often spend time in one. To leave a busy city street and enter a church is to enter a different world where history matters, where the veil between the living and the dead is thin, where silence prevails, and where prayers spoken through the ages hang like magic in the air. To enter a country church you usually have to pass the graves of our ancestors who encircle the building in an embrace of love. Their presence reminding us of our debt to them and our duty to honour them.

Our historic churches have become part of the landscape and now appear as benign and beautiful as the trees. Walking into their peaceful interior spaces it is easy to forget that this was not always true. Indeed most historic cathedrals and churches were designed and built as much as symbols of power and authority as places of worship.

The gracious Norman cathedrals of England were a potent sign of Norman power and superiority, built strong, huge and impressive to remind a people that they had been conquered. Within decades of their construction there were expulsions of Jews from England, France and Spain and legislation against homosexuals was enacted across Europe. Many town churches were built to proclaim the power and prosperity of craft guilds that actively worked to exclude women from membership. Rich and powerful men filled cathedrals and churches with their tombs and memorials and stained glass displaying their coats of arms. Military flags festooned the ceilings. Special pews were installed for the local gentry, the rich rented seating at the front and the poor were sent to the back.

I mention this because Geraldine Charles has written an excellent article entitled, ‘Balancing on Air’ for the current issue of Goddess Pages. In this incisive article she addresses the question, "Yeah, but what about balance?" She writes:

"It should hardly need to be pointed out that a Goddess Temple exists for a reason – in part to redress, in a very small way, thousands of years of complete imbalance ... On the right hand I will put the x thousand years of patriarchy that affect my every thought in ways I cannot begin to enumerate, particularly as many of them probably aren’t even conscious. On the left – how shall I symbolize the deliberate decision to have no representation of the god, the male principle, in a small, one-roomed Goddess temple in an English country town?"

For me, discovering the Goddess Temple in Glastonbury was an absolute revelation. It is beautiful, peaceful, prayerful, overflowing with love, alive with creative energy and totally devoid of hierarchical power and authority.

In a world obsessed with power and dominion this small, one-roomed Goddess temple points to a better way.

In a world where fundamentalist, creationist leaders proclaim that only a God powerful enough to create an entire universe in six days is worthy of worship; it points to Goddesses who are present in a grain of corn and the hum of a bee’s wing.

In a country that spends £34 billion pounds on offensive capability and sells the means of death to nations around the world; it proclaims the true beauty of life, produces a riotous flowering of creativity and reminds us that we are all divine.

Our human society is desperately imbalanced. In England a small church closes and people are hurt and feel powerless in the face of authority. Not everyone has a car, buses are infrequent on a Sunday and some will find it hard to travel 2 or 3 miles to the next church. In Africa a woman regularly walks 15 or 20 miles to church in the tropical sun.

The Goddess Temple is 260 miles from my home and I know many who travel that distance and more just to be in this special place. When we cannot travel our hearts are our temples and the Goddess inspires all the choices made to work towards a better world.

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Blogger Aquila ka Hecate said...

In Africa a woman regularly walks 15 or 20 miles to church in the tropical sun.

Not here she doesn't - at least not very often!

You're more likely to run into her brand new 4X4 as it runs a red traffic light in her haste to get to the mega church down the road - where she will throw handfuls of money into the collection basket. Or her wedding rings.

I'm distressed by how western-civilized South Africa is. Increasingly so, now, when affluence and Christianity seem to be synonymous for many indigenous people.

Terri in the City of Gold

Blogger Paul said...


Africa is big! and diverse so a huge generalisation.

Actually I was thinking of something that was quoted in the papers from the Lambeth Conference when there was all the fuss about conservative bishops and homosexual clergy. It was about the focus of christianity moving from Europe to Africa. I think the quote went something like this:

The average Anglican is female, under 30 years of age, has 3 children, walks 15 miles to church and has at least two relatives who have died of Aids.

Aggressive proselytising monotheistic faiths rolling across continents horrify me. Maybe a 4x4 is the only right way to go to a church that mows down everything in its path.

Blogger Inanna said...

I have a dream of starting a Goddess temple in my small upstate New York town. Your post reminds me why. I long for that sort of sanctuary.

Blogger Andy said...

I love the way you write, Paul, I really do.

As a gay man, I more than understand the isolation, degradation, humiliation, pain and ostracisation of which you speak and so much of what you say resonates powerfully with me. The things that people have done to other people, over millennia, in the name of religion, patriarchy, and so on and so forth leave me incredulous. The fact that we continue to do so makes me angry.

The 'balance' word has been one that I have struggled with for some time. In my own spiritual practice I honour both Goddess and God, but what I see here, as opposed to 'balance' is relationship. Does Goddess need God to make Her whole, make Her complete or provide Her with balance? No, of course not. Does God need Goddess to do the same? No. As I see it, it's not about need, it's about choice, it's about freedom and it's about relationship - mutual, respectful and loving relationship.

Goddess and God are immanent, They reside within us and us within Them, we cannot and would not want to tear Them from our beings, even if it were possible. What exists is a powerful, dynamic, awesome relationship of which we are all part, because we are all part of The All. We're all one - and such is the Mystery!

Blogger Paul said...

Inanna may your dream of a Goddess Temple come to fruition.

Andy, I love your comments about choice, freedom and relationship. Thank you.

Blogger Geraldine Charles said...

Thank you for your kind comments, Paul!

I rarely pass a church that looks interesting without having a look inside. Certainly I'm no Christian, but I recognize the echoes of our culture everywhere, particularly in the older churches, and I get particularly fascinated when I see the hints of a different kind of belief system in the past .... great history lessons but also, as you say, the atmosphere of love and prayer and the ancestors' graves all make them worth visiting. Old churches in Wales & Cornwall are particular favourites, and I am always thrilled when I find a round churchyard or one that looks as though it once was circular ....

I don't see much love in the kind of Christianity that the likes of Sarah Palin would have us embrace and am frankly becoming more than a little disturbed by the huge numbers who seem to belong to these sects or at least subscribe to creationist, fundamentalist ideas.


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