Interview with Jan Lundy: What is Women’s (and Men’s) Spirituality?
Monday, March 8th is International Women’s Day. To mark it, I really wanted to get a conversation going about women’s spirituality, and what it is and isn’t.
To get this started, I decided to interview Jan Lundy, one of my favorite bloggers and a dear online friend, about women’s spirituality and related topics. Jan is the author of Your Truest Self: Embracing the Woman You Were Meant To Be, as well as several other books. She is a spiritual director/mentor with an interfaith focus, an inspirational speaker, and she conducts regular workshops and retreats, many for women. She maintains two blogs – Awake Is Good, where she hosted the excellent 28-day meditation challenge in January that I mentioned then, and Awakened Living, which is a space specifically for women to come together on the spiritual journey.
This is just the basics of her bio. Like all of us, she is many other things, including a lifelong seeker. It was my great pleasure to speak with her by phone, and put a voice to the writing I have come to love.
Thanks for agreeing to this, Jan. The idea of a “women’s spirituality” has been around for awhile now, and there are a lot of opinions out there about what it means – whether it is valid to talk in terms of a distinctive spirituality for women, and what it’s value is. So I wanted to hear, what does it mean to you? Personally, what does women’s spirituality mean? And what does it not mean?
Great question. Well, first off, I think that women’s spirituality, and men’s spirituality, are absolutely valid ways of talking in terms of understanding self and understanding spirit. I think that men and women have unique ways that they explore these themes, and also that they have unique needs that have to be met in their spiritual lives.
Actually, [our mutual friend] Paul, of Original Faith, did a post in which he explored this a bit. There were people who commented that thought the idea of a separate women’s spirituality was a distraction [you can read that post here, or my interview with Paul here.] His post got me thinking quite a bit about this again. In reality, I think men’s and women’s journeys are not the same. In an ideal world, perhaps they would be. But as human beings, in human bodies, and in these cultures we’ve created, our experiences are very different. There is not gender equity, at this time, and so that contributes to men and women having very different experiences in life. It is one factor, along with our differing bodies.
So to me, women’s spirituality is not just a movement. It really is a deep attunement to what our spiritual needs are, our healing, our processing of our experiences in spiritual terms. And this is true for men too. My husband would absolutely agree. He thinks there is absolutely a men’s spirituality also – special spiritual needs for men.
That’s interesting. So what do you think those special needs are? For both men and women?
Well, ultimately we are the same. We grow a sense of self, and then we lose that sense of self, to become, in a sense, a ‘one-self’ with everybody. In my view, that is a universal journey. But the ways women and men get to it are often different.
On a general level, for men, it is often about letting go of initial programming, especially related to emotions and the expression of feelings. This has been so culturally negated in most cases, for many, many generations. And attunement to these emotions and feelings allows for a softening to happen, an embracing of those ‘feminine’ aspects, that have not been freely explored.
For women, on the other hand, it is almost an opposite journey, in some respects. Culturally women have been silenced, sequestered, negated, in history, in so many different ways, including in their spiritual journeys. As you know, from your study of women mystics, in so many cases, their awakening experiences were written off as ‘madness’, because they didn’t follow the traditional path, or toe the line as expected. So for many women, their journey becomes about grasping a sense of communication, and voice, and power – attributes we might associate with ‘male’ or ‘yang’ in the world.
Ideally, for men and women, we end up embracing both aspects of ourselves, yin and yang, and come to a place of equanimity.
I had not thought as much about men’s spirituality. It’s great that you and your husband have worked together to understand your differing needs.
Yes, the question I often get asked in women’s groups and workshops is “why aren’t men more spiritual?” And of course they are spiritual. But they don’t necessarily express it in the same ways. My husband really helped me understand this, that men may not be as adept at verbally expressing what is going on. And they may access it differently, especially through nature, and through ‘doing-ness’. I know many men who access their spirituality through hiking, and fishing, and camping.
As you know, I’m not one to debate things theologically. But I think sometimes you can just cut to the chase, to some sort of common truth, based on observation. I understand the perspective of many people, especially men, that these distinctions aren’t valid. The term ‘women’s spirituality’ has been bandied about much more than ‘men’s spirituality’. But I think women are the ‘way-showers’ in this regard. They are the ones buying spiritual and self-help books these days, and attending workshops. There is an increasing number of offerings for men, but women are really leading the way on this one.
I agree. My next question is, how has this unfolded for you personally in your own spiritual journey? I know that you, like myself, draw on many different religious and spiritual traditions. How have you handled the patriarchal histories and messages that often come through these? Has it been an issue?
Oh absolutely. You know from reading my blog that I have talked a little bit about that there. There was a time, when I was a young mother and my kids hit school age, that I began to realize that as progressive as I thought things were, little boys and little girls were still treated very differently. I guess you might say for me, this is when my feminist ire really began to rise. At the same time I was also beginning to question whether or not I wanted to bring my children up in the Christian faith.
At that point my feminism really went full-blown, and I did have this period where I was pretty angry about the idea of a male deity. And the notion of God that I was raised with was not a tender, loving one. It was more about being afraid, and preparing to be judged. I remember having an argument with a woman friend of mine who was preparing to ordain as a Lutheran minister. I was at the height of my ire at that point, and I really chastised her, saying ‘How can you buy into this? They are making you fight tooth and nail to get ordained.’
But over time, I began to realize there could be another path, one that nurtured my feminine side, and one that gave me permission to envision another image of the divine. I spent many years exploring that. And as my spiritual insight deepened, as I began to accept myself as I found myself, even in the midst of all this questioning, there was a softening that started to happen. I wasn’t so angry anymore. I could see the value and beauty in traditions I had rejected.
I still have a tremendous passion for the feminine. My house would probably have nothing but feminine images of the divine if I was left to myself, but I do also want to honor my husband’s path, and the symbols and images he chooses for himself.
What are some of your favorite feminine images of the divine?
You know, I just wrote about this on my blog. I love the idea of sacred spaces, and especially altars. I have an altar, and on one side I have Christian feminine images, especially Mary, who I feel a very strong connection to. And on the other side I have Eastern images that I connect with, like Kuan-Yin and Tara. In between I have a lot of art, much of it Native American, and largely focused on the sacred feminine.
I would love to meditate at your altar! It sounds beautiful. Next I wanted to talk about motherhood. You know I have young children, and it is very interesting to me that your own spiritual journey was really triggered when you had young children. What happened after that? What role has motherhood played in your journey overall?
Oh for me it’s been absolutely pivotal. It put me deeply in touch with my body as sacred, for one thing – the experience of pregnancy, and even holding my children. It opened me to a deep embodiment of the sacred. I’m a big nurturer, it is a major part of my being. I connect with the ‘divine mother’ in the core of my being, and I’ve come to realize it is the role I play in life. And so having and raising children really opened me, especially to love and compassion. And continues to do so.
When I had my youngest child, now 19, my next oldest was 6 years older, so there was a gap. And at that point my spiritual journey really blew open. I was attending workshops and seminars, and she came to all of these with me. There was something about having this child in my late thirties, that opened me to a deeper level yet. I really began to see the mother-child bond as an archetype, as a microcosm of a macrocosm. At that point a friend and I founded a women’s center, and that really expanded my awareness and growth in a new way also.
This continues, as I age and become a grandmother, and continue my work as a Spiritual Director. It feels like the connection to the feminine in me continues to deepen. This embodiment of the divine mother archetype continues to expand. I really could never have predicted I would end up in this place!
And now you are really a community-builder online. To me, that is a strength of your blogs, with all the people you feature and discussions you seek to trigger. You connect people to each other.
You know, it really didn’t start out that way. I came online kicking and screaming, you might say, because my publisher said I needed to. I don’t love my computer like some people do. But it has become the most amazing experience. I feel I have connected to others in a heartfelt way that has totally changed my life. There’s tremendous transparency on the web, and I feel like I can really feel the purity of someone’s heart, and where they are on their journey. I’m sort of blown away about how all this happened. I am older than many people online, although that is changing, and I do feel very motherly towards a lot of the people I interact with. But I feel support from them too.
Thanks so much Jan, I’ve really loved talking with you.
So readers, what do you think about the topics we’ve discussed here? Do you think it’s valid to talk about men’s and women’s spirituality as distinct? If you’re involved in a formal religious or spiritual tradition, how do you deal with the patriarchal history? Does it bother you? What are your favorite images of the divine feminine? Has motherhood been a big part of your spiritual journey? How about the web?
There are ALOT of different directions we could take this discussion, I hope you’ll chime in. Jan and I will be checking in as time permits over the next few days.