Review of Voices of the Sacred Feminine: Conversations to Re-Shape Our World, by Rev. Dr. Karen Tate

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Reverend Dr. Karen Tate’s book Voices of the Sacred Feminine: Conversations to Re-Shape Our World, brings together interviews from her, “Voices of the Sacred Feminine Radio Show.” It includes transcripts from such notables as Jean Shinoda Bolen, Noam Chomsky, Riane Eisler, Matthew Fox, and Starhawk. The book includes 41 interviews, divided into five parts, so there is something for everyone in this book as it includes a broad range of scholars, activists, thinkers, creators and writers.

Part I is “Sacred Feminine. Deity, Archetype and Ideal.” This section examines devotional practices with specific goddesses, such as Persephone, Kali, Mary Magdalene, and the Virgin Mary.

Part II is “Embracing the Sacred Feminine. Ritual and Healing.” This section looks at themes such as altered consciousness, multiculturalism, equality and healing.

Part III is called “Sacred Feminine Values – Alternatives to Patriarchy. Politics and Social Change.” This section is quite interesting with Noam Chomsky’s discussion of “Feminism, Patriarchy and Religion;” Riane Eisler’s “The Essence of Good Business: Companies that Care;” and Jean Shinoda Bolen’s “Antidote to Terrorism.”

Part IV is “Rebirthing the Sacred Feminine. Sacred Activism,” which takes on topics like women in the role of the priesthood, changing the masculine pronoun language of religion’s talk of God, and Matthew Fox’s “Cosmic Christ and the New Humanity.”

Part V is a memorial to the late Layne Redmond.

In the introduction, Reverend Dr. Tate points out the imbalance in the United States that 52% of the population are women, but less than 20% of leadership positions in politics, academia, business and religious institutions are held by women. This creates a gender-biased imbalance, not only in terms of individuals, but also in a lack of representation of the feminine in the creation of cultural values and society. She writes that the dominant patriarchy “stands on four legs of a stool: racism, sexism, environmental and cultural exploitation,” (9) and she sees the Divine Feminine as a “great equalizer” to correct these imbalances.

There are a number of reasons why I chose to review this book. My own work my book, Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transforming Your Self, Your Practice, and the Culture of Medicine, draws on a re-valuing of many of the traditional feminine values in medicine, connection, compassion, caring, healing, nurturance, and strengthening relationships. I call for a compassion revolution and a counter-curriculum. The compassion revolution is similar to what Riane Eisler speaks her new book, The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economy in her talk, “The Essence of Good Business: Companies that Care.”

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She says that “Ultimately, the real wealth of a nation lies in the quality of its human and natural capital. I should add here that an investment in human capital is an investment in human beings,” (224). A large part of the argument for why contemporary medicine is so dehumanizing is the economic argument, but Eisler argues that caring businesses create healthier, more committed and more productive employees – so the compassion revolution in health care may result not just in better, more human care, but also in more economically viable and sustainable care (sustainably economically, but also emotionally for staff). Paul Spiegelman and Britt Berrett make this argument in their book, Patients Come Second: Leading Change by Changing the Way You Lead.

Rev. Dr. Tate writes that we “start by taking responsibility for our own educations,” (10). This is echoes my call for a counter-curriculum within medicine in health care, that in addition to learning the technical aspects of our trades, we must also take ethical and moral responsibility for maintaining and growing our humanity in the difficult setting in which we practice. While much of health care reform calls for external mandates and incentives, I call for individuals to take responsibility for their Continuing Human Education (CHE) as well as their Continuing Medical Education (CME).

Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen has written such influential books as, The Tao of Psychology, Goddesses in Everywoman and Gods in Everyman, and her contribution to anthology is called, “Antidote to Terrorism.” I found this quite interesting given my recent work with Veterans that I discuss in a companion blog post to this one. She says that “the feminine principle expressed in circles and the masculine principle of hierarchy must come into balance,” (226). Just as the hero’s or heroine’s journey can be viewed as a circle, the “intention to be in a circle with a spiritual center invites the invisible world of spirit or soul to be in the center of the circle and in the center of the psyche of each person in the circle,” (228). She states that a “soldier is taught to kill, which is also what a terrorist is taught. These are not lessons maternal women want their sons to learn,” (228). Furthermore, she points out that the “Mother’s Day Proclamation, written by Julia Ward Howe in 1870, was a call to mothers to gather together to end wars, so that their sons will not be taught to main or kill the sons of other mothers,” (228). I find these observations particularly relevant in regards to the step of the hero’s journey, the inner and outer union of masculine and feminine, as they show the imbalance of a lack of feminine values and influence within the military, within the individual returning Veteran, as well as, it could be argued, within the society that the Veterans return to.

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Let’s now look at Matthew Fox’s “Cosmic Christ and the New Humanity.” He describes the Cosmic Christ (a term that goes back to Teilhard de Chardin) as divine presence and the holiness of all being. The “New Humanity” is the creation of the capacity for mysticism, which he defines as “multiple experiences of unity,” “our unitive experiences – when you feel at one with being, one with others, one with yourself, one with God,” (312). Fox says that a healthy community for New Humanity does two things: “it turns out lovers – it turns out mystics, the mystic in every person,” and “secondly, it turns out prophets – that is to say spiritual warriors. The mystic says yes, the prophet says no. The prophet…interferes with that which is interfering with the glory, the sacredness of life,” (315). This focus on mysticism and the ability to say yes to the human and no to the dehumanizing also has relevance for my book, which seeks to develop the spiritual capability of health care providers in order to care for the whole person of the patient, which includes the spiritual dimension.

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In closing, there are a lot of different perspectives in Rev. Dr. Karen Tate’s Voices of the Sacred Feminine and there are many topical discussions not just for women, but for all human beings. The book aims to correct the imbalance in our culture and society of the domination of masculine values and the lack of equal representation of feminine values. What we worship and honor in religion and spirituality is a reflection of our behaviors and actions in our mundane lives. In attending to the Sacred Feminine, Rev. Dr. Tate does present many ideas that make us think about our current societal structures and values and these conversations do have the power to re-shape our world.

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