The purpose of RE-imagining was nothing if not ambitious. The conference, its organizers proclaimed, signaled the dawn of a Second Reformation. This Second Reformation . . . is much more basic and important to the health of humankind than the first, declared Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, one of the many feminist theologians who took part. Were taking things forward in a way Luther and Calvin couldnt imagine. Promotional materials left no doubt about conference goals: We are serious about reimagining all that has been passed on to us through two thousand years of Christian faith.
In the preface to the conference program, Mary Ann Lundy and Bishop Forrest Stith”Presbyterian and Methodist cochairs of the U.S. Committee for the Ecumenical Decade”justified the need for radical theological surgery. Our churches, they insisted, must free themselves from the grip of sexism, racism, and classism. Speaker after speaker elaborated on this theme: the Church remains womanless because current doctrine and practice stifle womens voices. Women require a new theology grounded in their uniquely female, everyday experiences of the divine. Rather than pursuing the Truth, then, RE-imaginings focus was on encouraging each woman to imagine her own truth. The new reformations aim, in the words of liturgy director Sue Seid-Martin, is to creat[e] that wonderful space where we are truly free to be ourselves.
RE-imaginings Second Reformation unfolded in a variety of forums. Two plenary sessions tackled the central topics: Re-imagining God and Re-imagining Community. In addition, participants chose among multi-format option groups, featuring titles such as Racism/Sexism/Classism: Linkages? Lofa Women from Liberia Doing Moonlight, Listening with Our Hearts: The Prophetic Voice of Lesbians in the Church, Women and the Song of the Earth, and Our Names Are Legion: Clergy Sexual Abuse. Worship services such as Sundays grand finale”billed as the Living in the Struggle Ritual and the Struggle for Transformation Ritual”evoked a particularly enthusiastic response.
While Reformation No. 2 seemed short on ideas and debate, it appeared to thrive on exotic self-expression. The Meadowlark Singers, representing various South Dakota Indian tribes, kicked things off; as the conference program explained, The drum is feminine and the drumbeat is the heartbeat of the earth. Arranged in Native American talking circles, participants engaged in scribble writing with crayons and pastels, blessed rainsticks, danced holy manna, and joined in Hawaiian chants and rousing Zulu songs. At the urging of Indian feminist Aruna Gnanadason, they anointed themselves on the forehead with red dots to celebrate the divine in each other and to protest the oppression wrought by Christian missionaries.
The multi-format option groups gave participants the opportunity to learn belly dancing, to call out to the divine from a womans body, and to listen as educator and retreat leader Sr. Roseann Giguere shared her wisdom on the theology of darkness, the goddess, creation spirituality, midlife transitions and dreamwork. The daily RE-imagining newsletter was larded with solemn announcements”The women of table 110 have named themselves Women of the Eagle; The women of table 60 are Tawonda!”as well as earnest pleas for social justice. The shampoos in the rooms at the Hyatt are made with oil of mink, ran one. Why not leave a note in your room at checkout time, protesting their choice of shampoo?
By now, these trappings of secular feminist consciousness-raising and New Age therapies are familiar to those who monitor mainline and WCC-related church events. What was not so familiar”even to RE-imagining participants”was the star of the show: the goddess Sophia, designated as the Spirit of Wisdom, the Spirit of RE-imagining. Sophia is the suppressed part of the biblical tradition, and clearly the female face of the human psyche, explained Seid-Martin, a former Instructor of Ritual Studies at the School of Divinity at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.
Organizers pointed to scriptural passages such as Proverbs 3:16 and 8:30, Luke 11:49, and 1 Corinthians 1 and 2 to justify their worship of Sophia as the eternal feminine. Why Sophia and not Wisdom? queried the conference newsletter. To remind us that the Scriptures portray this Wisdom as a someone who walks, talks, plays, cries, eats, creates, and loves. Though participants never seemed clear how”if at all”to associate Sophia with the triune God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, they appeared to flock happily to her altar. The whole assembly prayed to her, blessed every speaker in her name (Bless Sophia, dream the vision, share the wisdom dwelling deep within), and invoked her repeatedly as Creator and Mother. In the ritual of Making Holy Time, attendees were urged to dream wildly about who we intend to be . . . through the power and guidance of the spirit of wisdom whom we name Sophia.
Standing guard throughout were fifty monitors who admonished and exhorted attendees whose participation seemed less than heartfelt. Hanging back in Sophia-worship would not be tolerated, the conference newsletter advised: [P]articipation is intended for ALL in the gathering-rituals are not spectator events . . . We thank you all for your full, active, conscious participation. May Sophia continue to bless your pilgrimage.
Naming Sophia was the central focus of RE-imagining God, the first plenary session of the conference. To the sound of the water drum, participants gathered in their talking circles to ask, Who is your God? What does your God sound like, taste like, look like? Name God”tell each other at the table! Reimagine your God in name and image!
Yet despite all the hubbub, Sophias identity should have proved a mystery to no one. Participants had only to look in the mirror to find her. The conference program put it succinctly: Sophia is the place in you where the entire universe resides. As deity of the Second Reformation, Sophia seemed the answer to the prayers of a multicultural, therapeutic world. She does not judge, nor does she recognize any sin but the corporate transgressions of racism, sexism, and classism. Sophia has only one commandment, as participants learned”Freely bless your own experience.
While the four days of RE-imagining left no doubt that Sophia resides in ones own navel, it became increasingly clear that she is most fully manifest in bodily functions and sexual encounters. At Sundays communal blessing of milk and honey, for example, two thousand women clinked glasses over rice milk (found at most health food stores, and safe for people with allergies to milk products), while repeating the following prayer:
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