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Guided by the Goddess: On Judy Chicago, Prayer, & Divinity

For the past eleven weeks, I have spent every Monday evening in the company of engorged, embodied breasts. 

A huge stitched painting, all lilacs melting into periwinkle, figures that melt into landscape and most definitely: breasts front and center, belonging to the eponymous goddess.  She hovers above the other figures.  She has hands, but no lower limbs.  What might have been/could be a head are rays that extend in all directions.

Though overwhelmingly and deliciously lilac and periwinkle, there are four white points that draw the eye: two of them are the engorged milk leaking from the goddess’ breasts, landing as two drops emptying into an open mouth, which leads directly to throat, which leads not to stomach, but to heart.

Some of the figures are barely distinguishable from the landscape, somehow believably part of the rivers and mountains.  Others are clearly human creatures, fully embodied, nothing apologetic, even one figure with an orifice between her legs exuding some flowing substance.  Commonsense, since this is part of the art mission called “The Birth Project,” says that this is menstrual blood and the orifice is a vagina.  When I have braved the social taboo and asked some of my classmates, they have expressed the opinion that it is a vagina.

Yet the angle isn’t quite right.  The slightly scatological rascal in me is inclined to think it’s a different body cavity whose name is unpoetical but which has numerous slang terms such as “backdoor” and “chocolate starfish.”  As the famous children’s picture book says, “Everyone Poops!” and though I have not, personally, given birth, I understand from Anne Lamott in her book, Operating Instructions, that it is possible to make “a little poo” under birthing circumstances, so just maybe I am correct here.

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The Birth Project was the brainchild of the feminist artist Judy Chicago.  I was first introduced to her work in my Women’s Studies 101 class in the spring of 1986.  Over a quarter of a century later, I was thrilled to walk into the classroom to find this piece of art nearly enveloping the whole room.  I knew immediately what it was, who had made it.  At our final class, I asked the professor and she told us the story.

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From 1980-1985, Judy Chicago created a pool of 150 needle-working women interested in working with her after her highly celebrated The Dinner Party.  She designed and painted the canvas and then the needle workers took on the rest, depicting artistically and with no holds barred the experience of birth.

So what does all this have to do with god? Or, as the class was supposed to be about, prayer?

The assumption behind (and below and around and through) quantum spirituality is paradox, change, and dynamism.  What is here can also be there.  What traditionally is seen as opposite is, frankly, not.  What might be true in one realm of logic does not hold at the subatomic level which is the cosmological level as well.  And though there is ever-change and relativity, there are also essentialities, things that we can call “true” though that begins to pin them down; things we can count on, but not too, too much.  It’s what more orthodox religionists would call absolute or ultimate.  We cannot approach them straight-on, yet we can sidle up to them, learn the wisdom of peripheral vision and the audacity of tangents.

In this context of quantum spirituality, and in this classroom in particular, there is the expectation of change.  Many of my fellow students experienced that change, loosed of their taught and narrow images of God, broadening into those images and engagements that dally among the the mystics.

My perception of god did not change much over the course of this class.  I would say that there was clarification, refinement, and even enhancement, but not really change.  I know this because I happened to have written a post on this very blog about my understanding of god.  This is what I wrote:

Yet for all the coherence I experience in my spirit and soul when engaging in Buddhist practice and discourse, I sense a sacred glue that is all-encompassing, within and without, interpenetrating and animating.  It is the deep and essential life pulse that is beyond.  Beyond what?  Human comprehension, to be sure. Time and space: yup.  This planet, this universe: I’d bet on it.

So if my perception of god didn’t much change, my experience of the divine did.  Much to my surprise, and following the Spirit of which my fellow seminarians spoke so easily, early in the term I found myself telling my whole class that I am a sexual assault survivor, something I did not plan or even really want.  And it was healing in a profound way that I could not anticipate.  I found myself, again without knowing what was coming, asking for my beloved smaller pod of fellow students to pray for me and my family, discovering that once those words left my mouth, these quirky, earnest, spiritual peoples stood around me and laid their hands on me, vulnerable and loosed of control as I was.  And I felt deeply held and deeply loved.

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