The Central Value of Relationship

This post was originally published in The Oracle, the publication of Global Goddess and is based on a lesson I completed during one of my classes at Ocean Seminary College.

According to one of my favorite Goddess scholars, Carol Christ, the central ethical vision of Goddess religion is that all beings are embedded in a web of interconnected relatedness. All beings are part of the web of life. Everything is in relation—indeed it is possible to have relationships with the sun, sky, wind, and rainbow, as well as to other people, animals, plants, and the Divine. Everything is interconnected and does not exist without connection/relationship. Connection is strength, not weakness, and it is central.

As Christ explains, “The rituals and symbols of Goddess religion…[bring] experience and deep feeling to consciousness so that they can shape our lives; helping us broaden and deepen our understanding of our interdependence to include all beings and all people; binding us to others and shaping communities in which concern for the earth and all people can be embodied.” This connection is celebrated ritually through:

  • Invoking the four directions in ritual
  • Earth-honoring practices
  • Invoking the four elements in ritual and including symbolic representations of them
  • Visioning the Earth as the body of the divine
  • Venerating the Divine Female, which celebrates rather than denigrates women, the body, the earth, and the natural cycles of life
  • Wheel of the year orientation/celebration

These things are the mythos of Goddess religion and the ethos that results is:

  • Women who have pride in being female and pride in and love for their bodies.
  • Men who respect women as inherently valuable
  • A planet that is treated responsibly and with care
  • People who act as if they are a part of rather than apart from it—damaging the earth becomes no longer acceptable
  • Nurturing life and caregiving are acts that are valued
  • Motherhood and children and parenting are treated as worthwhile and meaningful activities and this is reflected in cultural, social, and political practices (such as in paid maternity leave of adequate duration)

Goddess ethics are “discovered within the web of life” rather than imposed from without. This has been true for me as a non-religious person for much of my life, who later discovered Unitarian Universalism and through that Goddess spirituality. I’ve never seen the need to have religion define for me what is a good, moral action and what is not (my experience is that many people with Christian backgrounds can’t understand how this is possible). What feels right and good and moral and ethical can be learned through living and in the context of family and relationship, it is does not have to be doctrine. Some people would argue that you cannot trust your “feelings” as to moral action, but I find more evidence to support the idea that ignoring your feelings and doing what you’re told instead has historically created a good deal of harm.

Also according to Christ there is “no self that is not created in relationship with another.” I used to struggle somewhat with this notion—my inherent understanding of the world was of the central value of human relationship, but if this is true, then without my relationships who am I? Relatedness as central originally seemed to me to make humans your “god.” I spent what feels like years trying to figure out who I was independent of other people and it is basically impossible to do so, BUT, this also gives other people too much credit or responsibility for my identity. I was consumed with needing to find my core self, my true self, and I chafed at the notion of “no self” or “selflessness” from Buddhist traditions. I have since learned that defining myself in the context of relationships to other people is too narrow a lens, I left out many other pieces of the web of connection. I exist in relation to the world, not just other people, and that includes Goddess power/energy. I name the holding web as Goddess.

It is profoundly disordered to think you can exist independently of others, but I also believe that you can be in relation to yourself, in a sense, in a healthy and strong way.

Interestingly, it was through my discovery of women’ spirituality and Goddess that I finally was able to regain a sense of myself as inherently worthy and valuable and NOT have this worth tied to doing for others, because I found that I could be related/relational TO the web or larger whole rather than just other people, whose affection towards or need of me may be transient. I used to feel so buffeted by the whims of others, rather than having a solid sense of being held in the hand of the Goddess (embedded in the web of relatedness). My sense of related embeddedness allows me to still be intimately engaged with and related to, while still not dependent on others for self-concept/identity/definition. My sense of self can come from within a relationship to my perceived place in a larger whole or web of existence. I feel I have reached a point where I can value all relatedness/relationships, rather than identity seeking through relationship or role exclusively with other people.

My favorite quote about the concept of existing in the context of relationship comes from another of Christ’s books, She Who Changes:

“Martin Buber, there can be no ‘I’ without a ‘thou,’ no self apart from relationship. Martin Buber said that before speech is developed, the hand of the infant reaches out for its mother (or other nurturer).’ In other words, before Descartes could formulate a thought, and certainly before he knew that he thought, he reached out his hand in relationship. The existence of the other is as certain as the existence of the self. Long before infants learn to speak, they come into relationship with others besides the mother, and with the physical world, with cribs, toys, sunbeams, shadows of leaves blowing in the wind. The existence of a world and the existence of others can be doubted only by someone who imagines that he or she could exist apart from relationships. According to process philosophy, a person who imagines he has no relationships is to be pitied-or committed to a mental institution. His thoughts on this matter certainly should not have become the foundation of modern western thought.” (Christ, 74)

I have learned a lot about the fundamental truth of relatedness through my own experiences as a mother and the quote above brings chills to my body. Relationship is our first and deepest urge. The infant’s first instinct is to connect with others. Before an infant can verbalize or mobilize, she reaches out a hand to her mother. I have most definitely seen this with my own babies. Mothering is a profoundly physical experience. The mother’s body is the baby’s “habitat” in pregnancy and for many months following birth. Through the mother’s body is how the baby learns to interpret and to relate to the rest of the world and it is to mother’s body that she returns for safety, nurturance, and peace. Birth and breastfeeding exist on a continuum as well, with mother’s chest becoming baby’s new “home” after having lived in her womb for nine months. These thoroughly embodied experiences of the act of giving life and in creating someone else’s life and relationship to the world are profoundly meaningful. With my last baby, I actively introduced her to the world—taking her out one morning and touching her feet to the earth and introducing her to the planet.

With my baby, I also see so clearly how she sees herself reflected in my eyes—loved and worthy and wonderful and true and beautiful. She looks to me, in my eyes, to gauge safety and danger as well as worth and respect. She sees me seeing her and what I see is SO GOOD. (And, I also see her seeing me and I’m pretty great myself!)

Molly is a certified birth educator, writer, and activist who lives with her husband and children in central Missouri. She is a breastfeeding counselor, a professor of human services, and doctoral student in women’s spirituality at Ocean Seminary College. She was recently ordained as a Priestess with Global Goddess. Molly blogs about birth, motherhood, and women’s issues at http://talkbirth.me and about thealogy and the Goddess at http://goddesspriestess.com

References: Carol P. Christ. She Who Changes: Re-imagining the Divine in the World. Kindle Edition.

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Categories: feminist thealogy, Goddess, spirituality, thealogy, women, writing | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “The Central Value of Relationship

  1. Thank you for sharing this beautiful article. I really enjoyed how you addressed the web and how it is not about relationship as solely with other people; far from it, for everything in existence is interconnection and affecting everything else.

    When I referred back to your linked blog, you said “this fluid conceptualization of divinity is profoundly and dramatically challenging to traditional religious structures” and that is SO true. I’ve written about that as well … the fluidity that comes from being on the Goddess path.

    Wonderful flow to this piece! Bright Blessings.

  2. Pingback: Thursday Thealogy: Interconnection | Theapoetics

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