Dear Friends,

Last night I had an unusual experience and I’d welcome some insight. For
the past 7 years I have been “out” as a nontheist Quaker. I was raised a
Pentecostal preacher’s kid and embraced what I would’ve called a
“radical” variant on that tradition that included pacifism, feminism,
and socialism. Pentecostalism is an ecstatic tradition and I plunged
into nearly every practice from tongue-speaking, faith-healing, ecstatic
dancing, to prayer trance. Jesus and the Holy Spirit were the names I
gave – as they were given to me – to the sources of my experiences of
altered consciousness. Feminism and class struggle began to convince me
that my religious worldview was unhealthy, along with a personal
struggle to heal about a decade of depression, which was accomplished
with Prozac, not prayer. Science became my standard of truth, but I
always knew that religion needed to be revolutionized not discarded,
though some consider nontheism to be exactly such discarding.

Several things seem to have “set me up” for a new encounter with
spiritual possibilities. I am not returning to theism, but what occurred
last night has made me wonder how to talk about it without theistic
language. I have ways to use theistic language without theism, a trick I
learned from some deep theologians, but that is often misunderstood by
“hard” theists. Anyway, this introduction is getting too long. Let me
try to describe the experience.

I was walking home from the campus shuttle stop. I’ve been taking a
summer class on creative nonfiction and through it have been revisiting
my past religious and family baggage, which has stirred up some long
dormant emotions, especially grief about broken family ties, lost
friendships, and my former religious life. The walk was almost a mile in
the still humid heat of the present Chicago heatwave, probably in the
90F range. I began to feel a stirring within me and in front of me,
though not a visible presence. She, and it was she, or perhaps “ze.” I
melted internally into the glowing energy of the moment. I whispered
“goddess” and the energy began to surge throughout my body, just like
the old “Holy Spirit” did. “You are love, healing love” still whispering
and by this point the world around began to blur as I tried to continue
walking forward. This was a communion with a presence that was not
ordinary memory or thought or feeling, though it was all of those
things. I “saw” in my mind’s eye that her healing love was present in
every particle of every thing in the universe, something I’ve believed
even as a nontheist, but in that moment I was “feeling” it. I was nearly
in tears, I began to speak in tongues, something I’ve rarely done since
I left the faith. I sang under my breath, not wanting to attract public

Who was this goddess? I have admired the myths of Quan Yin, White Calf
Buffalo Woman, Gaia, and Ma’At but they were just stories about female
power that matter to me as a religious feminist, not really “my” sacred
stories. As I think about this experience, I remember when I first felt
this presence. It was while I was taking Prozac and I have felt it ever
since, but it never had a name or face until now. Before now, she was
“just” an invisible internal fairy-like glow of bliss that wove a floor
of healing support beneath me as I healed from my traumatic childhood.

I am still a nontheist, this goddess is a “persona” that my experience
has formed out of the energy of the ordinary world into an extraordinary
tool of consciousness transition. Is it more, is it “real” as in an
external being? I don’t even think that matters anymore.


5 thoughts on ““goddess”

  1. There are, of course, those who would say that the heat and your disturbed/altered state of mind caused you to perceive anything. And that may or may not be true; but to me is irrelevant. What is interesting to me is that you perceived this Presence / Kevod as feminine – a manifestation of Sophia or Shekhinah {?}. There is no inherent reason to perceive the Spirit as masculine or feminine except that our minds, and the English Language, have only those two genders to assign a “personal” identity to. So this means that you perceived the Presence as a person.
    . Doers this challenge your non-theism? Or is it just an apparition? If the latter, is it a projection from within you? Or of “that of God within you”?
    . Is it too hard to wrap your mind around the possibility that the categories “personal / non-personal” or theist/non-theist do not actually apply to the Supreme Being and Primum Mobile of our Universe?
    . In the end you will have to comprehend your experience in coherence with your life. I would like to believe that the Shekhinah manifested for you because you needed her — and if you’d needed a different experience of the Holy One, S/He/It would have appeared differently.
    . But i’m a theist and can’t help it, even when i accept all the non-“Hairy-Thunderer (and greater than a Cosmic Muffin) versions of God i’ve ever heard of.
    . I.E.: Does it really matter if any of us have had a parallel experience or can interpret it for you? Just keep walking in the Light.

  2. Like you, I normally describe myself as a non theistic Quaker. However, on some days I am more of a theistic Quaker! If the Society of Friends can accommodate both theists and non theists, perhaps we can personally too. Perhaps the non dualism of non theism is the most sublime of all states but there are many wonderful experiences to be had which are not completely non dual. We should not deny those to ourselves!

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