Motherhood and the Divine Feminine

“Arise then, women of this day!  Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be of water or of tears.  Say firmly ‘We will not have questions decided by irrelevant agencies’.  Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of carnage for caresses and applause.  Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.  We women of one country will be too tender to those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.  From the bosom of a devastated faith a voice goes up with our own, it says ‘Disarm! Disarm!’  The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.  Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor does violence indicate possession.”

These powerful words were penned and spoken by Julia Ward Howe, a Unitarian and a Quaker who wrote the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” ten years earlier at the start of the Civil War.  This proclamation, written after that most bloody civil war as a response to the growing bloodshed she had seen in her own lifetime, was translated around the world into many languages.  It was the beginning of Mother’s Day.

Originally promoted as a festival to promote a Mother’s Day of Peace, the holiday envisioned by Howe and other women always began with this proclamation.  Until her death, Howe continued to insist that Mother’s Day should be a call to peace, but it was never made as such by our government.  Finally, in 1914, by popular demand but without reference to its pacifist origins, President Woodrow Wilson declared the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day; a day when we rightly honor mothers — but a far cry from its strident origins. (Source:

In honor of its truly noble and glorious beginnings, we celebrate Mother’s Day today.  Honoring our mothers, yes, but honoring them with the power of the divine feminine power envisioned by Julia Ward Howe.

There are many books written on the power of the feminine in our lives, but today I want to share with you the lessons I have learned from the women in my life, mothers all: my own mother Cynthia, my wife Frances, and my daughters Fiona and Portia — all mothers who have embodied the power of the divine in their role as women and as mothers. Some might find it odd for a man to talk about this today but, in fact, it makes most sense for me, a white middle-aged male, to share with you my lessons.

There is a saying in my house: “Watch out for the goddess.” By which I understand to mean the power of strong women saying what they will, feeling their way to the right answer. The greatest lesson I have learned is that I need to trust my intuition. I have become a very intuitive thinker – not at the loss of my reasoning abilities, which I depend on others for – which means I am prepared to feel my way to the right answer. Now, of course, that has its drawbacks to be sure. But it is the way I operate and it is a divinely feminine trait. Meaning deeply felt and fulfilling.

But the second great lesson I learned from the divine feminine in these mothers is the power of love and dedication. Those who know me know that I am fiercely dedicated to my family, my congregation, and my staff; in fact those who know me closest know that it can even be a fault. But I don’t apologize for it. It makes for a certain order to the world, concentric circles of concern. A love and dedication to the families who raise these children in difficult times.  A love and dedication to this Church, which is the home for our spirits.  And a love and dedication to our community and the world which we serve. With these two divinely feminine powers, intuition and dedication, I call on us to inspire others.

One of the other great heroines in my life is a little known Unitarian woman, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who lived and worshipped here at First UU Church Los Angeles in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1891 she was one of the first to break the stigma of domestic violence by writing about in a powerful little book The Yellow Paper. In 1923 she wrote another book entitled His Religion and Hers. Let me quote from this because this mother herself, who finally divorced her abusive husband and began writing, encapsulates the divinely feminine nature to our call as UUs.

“Birth-based religion would steadily hold before our eyes the vision of a splendid race…the duty of up building it. To the mother comes the apprehension of God as something coming; she see his work, the newborn child, as visibly unfinished and calling for continuous service…As the thought of God slowly unfolded in the mind of woman, the great power would have been apprehended as the Life giver, the teacher, the provider, the protector, not the proud, angry and jealous deity men have imagined.”

It is in this spirit, this Divine power which calls us to finish children and the world in dedication, that I call on us to rededicate our lives to those lofty values we hold so dear.  To reject the rhetoric and values which in Julia Ward Howe’s own words “reek of carnage and revenge”.  And to embrace those principles which we hold so dear: the inherent worth and dignity of all people, the goal of world justice and peace, the respect for the interdependent web of life and the use of democratic process.

Many who come here feel both relief and bewilderment.  Relief at finally having found a place to call home; a place that accepts us as we are and encourages us to find that spiritual center which must be a personal choice.  But we are bewildered as well; searching for that definition which so many other religions are all too happy to provide.  What does it mean to be a Unitarian Universalist?  Just what is it that I am asking you to dedicate your life and the life of our children to?

Across this country, I ask our young people “what is it that we stand for?”  I often get the blank look followed by a response something like “here is where you can believe in whatever you want.”  I cringe a bit every time.  No wonder other religions claim we have no spiritual center when the center seems to reach no farther than our individual preferences.  I am often asked, “What’s next, ‘We can do whatever we want’?”

In one sense our young people are quite right.  This is the place where you can believe what you hold to be true about why we are here and where we are going.  But that is only the door to the deeper life we ask you dedicate yourselves to.

This Mother’s Day, permit me to provide you with what I think we are about here and why we need to dedicate our lives to this church, our children, and the world.  “Arise then, women of this day!…say firmly we will not have questions decided by irrelevant agencies’”.  What were these ‘irrelevant agencies to which Julia Ward Howe referred?  Irrelevant agencies are those bodies of governments, religions and pundits who tell us that our faith in the future must be based on the prevailing norm of our time.  In our day, this would be the same thing as an acceptance that war is right, obedience is moral and that questioning is wrong and unpatriotic.  All of which run counter to what our faith teaches us.  Arise then, and speak a new truth.  This is the dedication we are truly about today my friends, a new truth.  We do not believe that revelation is sealed but open (our principle of the responsible search for truth and meaning).  We do believe that all people have the right to self determination (our principle of inherent worth) and that we will speak out against those irrelevant agencies that tell us otherwise (our principle of the democratic process).

Specifically, we are dedicated to the proposition that, on this Mother’s Day: war is not the answer and that we will lobby our elected officials and partner with other faith groups – even in this community – to do something about it.  We will do this because we believe in the essential goodness of people even if they do terrible things; the American people, the Afghan people, the Arab people, the African people, the Asian people, the people who, when we get up close and personal, are still just people.  That essential affirmation is our spiritual truth:  that people are still just people.  It is the original foundation of our Western society and is a deep a humanistic faith as one can have.  And the spirit of those people is greater than any one God, person or agency.  We dedicate our lives, this church and our children to this proposition.  And we take it as a statement of faith:  that we are, as my colleague John Corrado puts it, “more interested in getting heaven into people than people into heaven.” (From John Corrado, Quest, 2005). Amen.

We are, as Unitarian Universalists, dedicated to the proposition that there is a human spirit which is worthy of our regard and our effort and that all people have the right to live in freedom.  That is a faith stance as great as any other.  It is worldly, to be sure, but who said religion should only be about what happens after we die?  Religion is about connecting with each other and with meaning while we are alive; heaven into people, not people into heaven.

As Jim Wallis, an evangelical Christian on one hand, but a social progressive on the other, puts it in his wonderful new book God Politics: Why the Right has it Wrong and Why the Left Doesn’t Get It: “Who says faith is something that belongs to one party or another?  What are we progressives so afraid of?  Politics is about power, and faith is about meaning, why wouldn’t we try to use our faith politically.”  Or as Joe Lieberman put it so well in the 2000 campaign:  ‘A freedom of religion is not a freedom from religion’

We Unitarian Universalist have been so afraid to take a stand in our efforts not to ‘offend’ anyone that we have nothing left to stand on!  I say we do have something to stand on!  Five hundred years of speaking about the worth of the human spirit as the first and most important aspect of life; far greater than some unseen God someone else tells us about.  We stand on the tradition of great people, many of them powerful foremothers who dedicated their lives to the proposition that people should be our first concern; women like Julia Ward Howe, or Elizabeth Pinckney the first women in America to own her own business, or Abigail Adams, the conscience and the reason behind our second President, or the suffragettes Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, or Olympia Brown, the first woman to be ordained in America, or Marianne Wright Edelman, the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, and many, many more ALL Unitarians and Universalists.  Women and men who, like you, had a faith in the essential goodness of humanity.  That is our faith.  Cut away all that complicated verbiage about diversity and searching for truth.  We believe in people, even if they do bad things.  We believe and our dedicated to promoting that belief.

And lest you doubt such a simplistic faith has having meaning let me suggest to you an example: eBay.  How many eBay customers out here?  Do you know the story of this online auction company?  Started by a couple of people who believe in a simple premise “people are good”.  That is their advertising slogan: “People Are Good.”  And it works.  People put things up for bids.  The winning bidder sends payment, cash, check, whatever and the seller sends out the item.  If the item doesn’t arrive or is faulty the seller is ‘reported’ and no other bidders will buy from him.  Likewise if the buyer doesn’t pay or tries to scam the seller, they get reported and no one sells to them.  It is based entirely on trust.  And it works.  We have bought most of what we use from other people this way.  We even bought a car on eBay.

Political winds come and go. As Jim Wallis says, “Protest is good, options are better.”  We will need to dedicate ourselves to this faith to join together with our time and our money and other people of faith in this community: the UCC, the Methodists, the Jews and the Muslims.  We will need to join together to bring our faith into the public square to change our world for our children and ourselves.

I want us to dedicate our lives to the Divine Feminine, that has inspired mothers everywhere, that divinity of life giving, intuitive, completion of our world. I want you to dedicate your lives to this Church and our mission to make the world a better place.  I want you to dedicate yourselves to our children, like mothers and fathers all to a new world.  I want you to dedicate yourselves to the action that proclaims that people are basically good.  Be clear about our faith: we believe in each other and the world.  We stand against acts of evil and oppression, but we stand for people.  I believe in each of you.  I am asking each of you to believe in one another.  With love and dedication we will change our world.  Blessed be!


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