by Jennifer A. Hudson
I remember clearly the summer of 1997, a tumultuous period in my spiritual life marked by an accentuating sense of dejection, emptiness and isolation. I felt so lost, so depleted of positive energy and so desperate, that I ventured to my local bookstore hoping to find a burning bush that would lead me to the promised land. My bush appeared in the form of a book, titled A Woman's Guide to Spiritual Renewal, which I had happened to pluck off the shelf of the Self-Improvement section like the plume of some polychromatic peacock. Cynic that I was, I encountered that book with a great deal of vacillation. I thought to myself, "What good could all these meditations achieve for me? How can I possibly undo all the guilt and fear of God which years of Catholic education has ingrained deep within my psyche? Who is the Goddess and why have I never heard of Her?" Yet, I could not help but reason to myself, "What else is there to lose? Why not give it a go?"
Sitting Indian-style upon my bedroom carpet the following afternoon, I opened my burning bush and began to cackle like a hyena. My first meditation was to envision myself as a tree. I thought: "What the heck am I going to gain by imagining myself as a tree? How is that supposed to help me find my way?" Nevertheless, a voice from within instructed me to put my cynicism aside and proceed with the meditation. I complied and soon became a tree firmly rooted. I felt my roots reaching deeply into the ground and my branches reaching infinitesimally into the heavens. I was then asked to reflect on what I had been taught about God as a child in my journal. The following is what I had written:
"I was taught (and shown in religious icons) that God was male. When younger, I felt connected to that image of a grandfatherly-type God, because, after all, aren't grandfathers usually kind and loving old men? Paradoxically, however, I also felt alienated because God was a man and I wasn't. And men held power...they dominated."
As the weeks progressed, so too did my understanding of the roots of my spiritual pain and alienation. I continued using my tree meditation, even when I began my series of healing meditations. One such meditation invited me to reflect upon a nature image with which I felt a sense of connection. My image was the sea.
"The tides roll in and out...in and out, almost as one breathes. The flow of the waves occurs in a relaxed state, taking in and then letting go, becoming connected with the elements found in the shore. Our spirits flow connecting with those of each other in a state of harmony. Water is the source of life and has a renewing quality to it. It restores things to their original state. It is clear. Perhaps water is clarity itself, clarity of vision, the vision of the divine."
Soon afterwards, I sought and befriended the Goddess through meditation. One meditation, bringing me to the most poignant phase in my spiritual quest, was recorded as such:
"I personified it [my intuition] as a spirit form of myself and also the Goddess. I told my personified inner voice that I wanted to listen to her more in order to know the truth. She said to just 'listen'; that is how I am to be aware of the messages coming from the sacred place within myself. I think the reason my inner voice appeared to me as both a spirit form of myself and of the Goddess is because the Supreme Being and myself are connected. We are one."
I have shared the above anecdote and corresponding journal reflections in hopes to illustrate spiritual ecofeminism's potential. Although the woman-nature connection of spiritual ecofeminism (and the overall ecofeminist umbrella) often falls prey to essentialist and biologically deterministic views, I find that the underlying principles of spiritual ecofeminism are indeed invaluable and viable.
According to Rosemarie Putnum Tong in Feminist Thought, "spiritual ecofeminists posit a close connection between environmental degradation and the Judeo-Christian conviction God gave humans 'dominion' over the earth" (260). Moreover, it has been men who have traditionally held that dominion over the earth and, subsequently, over women. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, men have been posited as God-like, as closer to the spiritual, while women have been associated with the fecundity of the earth, an unknowable force to be tamed. It is little wonder, then, why I felt such a sense of spiritual emptiness prior to my quest. Men and God (in the Judeo-Christian sense) held dominion over me. I was a part of the Sartrian "self-other" paradigm in which I was the "other"!
I wanted to deconstruct that patriarchal binary thought pattern, the idea of the "me" and the "not-me". I wanted a sense of "oneness" rather than duality. In nature I found the sacred. Through the simple act of becoming a tree, I have come to the realization that everything is imbued with the light of divine presence. As all of creation is imbued with this light, it is connected and, therefore, possesses innate goodness and beauty which must be respected and upheld. We are all part of this loving energy and force of life, this "oneness" of reality. With the help of my burning bush, I was able to, as Tong aptly states, "break the culturally constructed dichotomy between spirituality and materiality and to recognize everything and everyone as worthy and deserving of respect" (274). I have replaced the Sartrian "self-other" paradigm with one that is "self-self". In this context, what I first believed was a rather silly meditation on becoming a tree, actually became a mind-opening and transformational event.
I am convinced that the voice from within, which warned me to set aside my cynicism at the beginning of my quest was not only my intuition, but the voice of the Goddess as well. The act of becoming a tree saved me holistically, for I found the connection between myself, the world-at-large and the Higher Power. I found peace. Therefore, I am proud to be a tree, one who is reconstructing herself and reality, growing out of the fires of the burning bush like a phoenix.