Genesis of Eden

Genesis Home


Plaskow, Judith; Christ, Carol 1989 Weaving the Visions,
Harper, San Francisco ISBN 0-06-061383-1
Also: Christ, Carol; Plaskow, Judith 1979 Womanspirit Rising,
Harper & Row, New York ISBN 0-06-061385-8

NOTE: This extract is included as an essential reading for transforming the world. You are requested to purchase the book yourself as it is, without question, essential reading material.

Extract from: On Mirrors, Mists and Murmurs.
From: Plaskow, Judith and Christ, Carol 1989 Weaving the Visions, Harper, San Francisco

Rita Nakashima Brock

Without embracing suffering there is neither love and intimacy nor wisdom and compassion. With grief and healing come our ability to hear another's pain and to stand in solidarity with all who suffer. For at the deepest levels of our suffering, we encounter our profoundest connections to others as we come to know our relationships both hurt us and heal us. In this revelation we embrace fully the meaning of incarnation, the incarnation of both the divine spirit and the lives of others in our very being. Asian American women often express this embrace of suffering in images of the cross, not as the symbol of a substitutionary death or self-sacrifice, but as the image of solidarity, of how God suffers with us and of what it means to suffer with another. While our language about the cross and liberation sounds Western, our words are spoken with a different undercurrent. To understand the Asian American approach to suffering, we need to shift our perspective from Western Christian to Mahayana Buddhist. This shift reveals the distinctive Asian American theological contribution to the meaning of suffering. Buddhists assert that we must embrace suffering compassionatelyto experience and acknowledge it-before it can be healed. To heal suffering, we must be willing to suffer.

The Buddhist Joanna Macy, in Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age, speaks of feeling our own despair and fear as the key to loving, to hoping, and to acting. But this ability runs against the dominant American preoccupation with success in which all pain is viewed as dysfunctional. "We lack the mirrors that tell us the truth about our lives.... A sanguine confidence in the future has been a hallmark of the American character and a source of national pride," and the admission that we know fear and pain "can appear to be a failure of maintaining stamina and even competence."' To allow ourselves to suffer means risking feeling stupid, guilty, unpatriotic, doubtful, powerless, panicky, too emotional, or a failure. We can be accused of provoking disaster or causing others distress, but to deny our own suffering and the suffering of others leads us, according to Macy, to live an alienated double life haunted by self-doubt, to hedonistic or compulsive displacement activity, to passivity, to the psychological projection of our pain, to destructive behaviors, to burnout, to intellectual apathy, and to the inability to receive painful information. We choose these options instead of pain, "often immobilized by the fear of moving through that pain." But to be healed we must be willing to suffer.

No one is exempt from [pain for the world], any more than one could exist alone and self-existent in empty space.... It is inseparable from the currents of matter, energy and information that flow through us and sustain us as interconnected open systems.'

The Buddhist seeks to embrace the suffering of our whole aching and groaning cosmos. Denial of suffering severs life-giving connections to ' others and denies our experiences of the interdependence of all existence. And, as Macy asserts, our sense of radical interdependence is crucial to our survival as a species. What is it [that] allows us to feel pain for our world? And what do we discover as we move through it? ... It is interconnectedness with life and all other beings. It is the living web out of which our individual, separate existences have risen, and in which we are interwoven. Our lives extend beyond our skins, in radical interdependence with the rest of the world."' Buddhists have tended to focus on intense inner self-awareness as the key to ethical behavior and to set compassion and wisdom 'n the larger aesthetic context of harmony and beauty, the beauty of the cosmos. I believe this Buddhist undercurrent in Asian American thought has much to offer Western Christianity, which has tended to split its concerns for the therapeutic, aesthetic, and ethical into competing spheres and disciplines. In pointing to Buddhist undercurrents in the thealogical concerns of Asian American women, I am aware that Buddhism too is embedded in patriarchal cultures and carries its own misogyny. Buddhists are weak in their analyses of the political and social issues that lie between the intrapersonal and cosmic spheres. The Buddhist lack of social analysis renders talk of community vague or authoritarian. Buddhists often do not articulate differences between suffering that is caused and preventable, such as woman or child abuse or poverty, and suffering that is a part of the ebb and flow of life, such as death. Lack of social analysis casts Buddhist language about suffering in a fatalistic mode, exemplified in Asian America by the Japanese concept of shi kata ganai-it can't be helped-a phrase murmured in the face of injustice and oppression. Deficiencies in Buddhist and Christian analyses of the human condition intersect in their tendency to 'gnore or disparage feelings. Human passions-intimacy, anger, affection, and emotional pain-are not integrated into their analyses. Instead, they are usually rejected with the body as lower than mind and will. This lack is the point at which feminism, especially in 'ts union of social, political, and psychological theories and its attention to passion and the body, is strong in its analysis. Feminists address the question of the middle, interpersonal ground that Buddhism ignores. They have convincingly argued that patriarchy at its core is based on repression, oppression, and institutionalized violence." Their work demonstrates how social, political, and economic factors in patriarchy affect intrapsychic processes and oppress us all. Alice Miller, for example, argues that the production of oppression and violence is grounded in social forces and relationships that hurt us and teach us to repress and project our feelings, especially pain, reproducing violence on a massive social scale. Repression becomes oppression. 13 The embrace of our own pain cannot happen through vicarious idenification with others' oppression or suffering-a strong emphasis in traditional Christology which allows us to project our suffering onto others and to take up everyone else's causes.

However, in acknowledging suffering, I prefer to make the focus not so much a cross-centered suffering, but a communitycentered one, the global community of all creation. Asian American women hold the ties of community, no matter how frayed, as sacred. We have a greater global consciousness than many other Americans because we live with the reality that we are interconnected to many and often far-flung worlds. Sometimes this awareness is forced on us by a racist society, but it offers a strength, for we see the wider connections that affect our lives and we know we must overcome the narrow nationalisms that destroy our interconnections. Asian American women have spoken of this sense of community with profound insight.

Every cell in my body speaks to the ancients. I can understand in my body all the movements of faith that have been from the beginning.... We are all connected and feel the impact, literally and figuratively, of what happens on the other side of the globe."

Some of us use the shamanistic resources of Asian religions, with their often women-centered activity and spiritual depth as resources for self and spiritual understanding. Robert Ellwood argues that the shift from an earlier egalitarian, shamanistic religion with a horizontal cosmology to a male-dominant, priest-centered religion with a vertical cosmology characterizes the rise of patriarchy in japan. Ellwood argues what many Asian American women have intuitively felt: that the ancient shamanistic roots of our spirituality affirm our experience of incarnation. Shaman women felt internally the presence of spirits which guided their wisdom and spoke intimately through them. The move to male-dominance involves ascending and descending gods, mostly male, who visit priests in revelatory dreams and speak to, not through, them. The intimacies of spirit and flesh, wisdom and feeling, person and nature, are lost.

Shamanism provides a corrective to theologies that envision God as remote, apathetic, punitive, or alienated. Indigenous Asian spirituality is a thealogy of the incarnate spirit and not a theology of the transcendent father. In my quest for a healing incarnate spirit, I find the ties that inspire and strengthen my connection to others not in universal abstractions and doctrines, but in attending to my love for the particular, ambivalent, and diverse worlds in which I live and move and have my being. The physical embodiment of spirit is crucial to understanding spirituality. The natural world is the root of our lives: the rivers, seas, trees, flowers, birds, animals, the very earth itself in its exuberant and sometimes terrifying power, the human body in all its sensuality, tactile pleasure, and joy. The earth is the conduit through which we are touched by the spirit. Shamanistic healing trances reveal the spirit through the integration of feeling, thinking, and sensuality." Trance allows us to touch the deepest parts of ourselves inaccessible to us when we focus on the cognitive aspects of doctrine and belief. In these deepest parts of ourselves we find the transformative, empowering, enlivening, and wholemaking spirit that connects us to all creation.

To explore these deepest parts of ourselves involves surrendering control and giving ourselves to a process without a definable end or final goal. As in Morton's description of the journey of a metaphor, the ending cannot be determined in advance.