Waiting for the doctor and caught without anything to read, I flicked through a stack of a glossy magazines, choosing one designed for younger women. As I haven’t fitted that category for many years, the pages devoted to make-up, hair and designer clothes were of limited interest. Likewise the advice columns, focused as they were on how to capture, keep and then get over your dream man. I suppose you could say the articles lacked depth, because they failed to pick up that dimension of human existence that goes beyond glossy hair, beautiful clothes and the kind of relationship that is the stuff of dreams.
Women are relational and they need markers and sounding boards to process their experiences. So they read advice columns in magazines or online, regularly get together with friends for coffee or spend hours on the phone talking about their lives. Once a month a little group of women gather in my lounge room for what we call a Sophia Circle. Between us we have quite a few years of life experience but we still feel the need to talk about it, to know we are not alone, to join the dots and make connections.
There’s something about a circle that is very feminine. At recess time in secondary schools you’ll see little circles of teenage girls dotted all over the playground. If men talk about their lives at all it seems to be in straight lines, ever moving upward in logical steps, like a ladder. It’s theoretical, not relational. Maria Harris in her book ‘The Dance of the Spirit’, says that the way women talk about their lives reminds her of the curves of a circle or a spiral.
Women talk about connection and brokenness, about love and work and experiences of powerlessness and vulnerability. Their words and experiences never move in a straight line. Backward and forward they go, now repeating themselves then moving on with another connection before returning to the beginning. To the casual listener, and most males, it can seem disconnected, fragmented and repetitive, never going anywhere. But it’s always about the ever widening dimensions of relationship.
Our monthly Sophia Circle does all this and more. It’s a time and space to explore our spirituality. People talk so much about spirituality that is has become a cliché`, veering between tarot cards and piety. Christian spirituality has to do with the interweaving of the God-life that is rooted deep within us and our life story. Back and forth, round and around, the women at the Sophia Circle talk about the familiar and the ordinary as well as the life changers. Almost without noticing it their God relationship deepens as they learn recognise the subtle voice and movements of the Spirit In the constant to and fro of storytelling. In church-speak it’s called theological reflection.
Groups like Sophia Circle are sometimes described as ‘feel-good’ spirituality. Maybe that’s because over the centuries the institutional Church equated growth in relationship with God with structures, rules and regulations, all wrapped up in theological language. Such a masculine process devalued the way women relate to God. Women’s religious experience centres around pregnancy and birthing, nurturing, life and death and an openness to their emotions. Continually spiralling from light into dark and back to light seems very scriptural to me. And this is the stuff of women’s spirituality