Love in the Face of Death
Feeling that my life was not turning out as I hoped, I decided to quit my job as a university professor and move to Greece. I longed to write poetically about the Goddess and live happily ever after with a Greek man of my dreams. Things are never that simple. I did fall in love with a Greek man, but our relationship fell apart. When that happened, I lost my enthusiasm for life.
The depression I fell into lasted for several years. It stemmed from feelings of being betrayed by the man I loved, who, because he was a drug addict (though I did not know this at the time), was incapable of returning love. I lost faith in the Goddess, who I thought had led me to this man. I felt I could not trust my intuition or the feelings of my body.
Numb and empty, I had no desire to write anything at all, and certainly not the Goddess theology I had been working on. During this time, I never doubted my decision to move to Greece. I must have known that my depression was part of a process that I needed to go through—even though it did not feel like that at the time. I was saved by three very good friends and the project of using my hands (rather than my head) painting, refinishing furniture, hammering nails, learning to connect electrical wires, and sewing curtains to create a new home in Athens.
During that time, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. While my mother was dying, I came to the realization that I had never loved anyone as much as I loved her. One of my friends encouraged me to write a letter to my mother expressing my feelings. My mother replied that my letter “was the nicest letter she had ever received in her life,” and she invited me to come home to be with her. My mother was told that her cancer was not in remission shortly after I arrived. She died only a few weeks later, in her own bed, as she wished.
She was on an oxygen machine, and I heard her call out. When my dad got to the room, he turned up the oxygen, but it didn’t help. Then he called the doctor, who reminded him that my mother had a living will stating that she did not want to go to the hospital under any circumstances. My father sat by her bed and held my mother’s hand. As my mother died, I felt that the room was “filled with love,” and I sensed that she was “going to love.”
Prior to that moment, I had often felt that I was not loved enough, especially in the wake of failed love affairs. I would feel helpless and abandoned and could think only that “no one loves me, no one will ever love me, I might as well die.” Although my life continues to have its ups and downs, from the moment when the room filled with love as my mother died, I have never doubted I am loved, nor have I contemplated suicide again.
The experience I had when my mother died did not come with any words except “filled with love,” and “going to love.” I did not feel that my mother was entering into eternal life. I simply felt the palpable presence of great love in the room. Reflecting on this experience, I came to the conclusion that Goddess is love. This is not primarily an intellectual interpretation of my experience of my mother’s death, though it is that, as well. Most importantly, it is a feeling that permeates my daily life that was made possible by the experience I had when my mother died.
As I thought about what I had learned, I realized that, in my desperate search to find the “true love” I did not have, I had been ignoring many forms of the love I did have, from friends, family, animals, and the whole of the natural world. It felt as if a veil had been lifted that had clouded my vision. Like Alice Walker’s Shug, I began to sense in my body that love is everywhere and that “everything wants to be loved.”
Though I recognize that the power I call Goddess may also be called God, the word God is too bound up with images of war, violence, and domination for me to feel comfortable using it in my prayers and meditations. I have had troubled relationships with my father and academic father figures, while my relationships with my mother and grandmothers were full of love. This makes it easy for me to think of the loving arms of Goddess embracing the world.
Carol P. Christ is one of the foremothers of the Women’s Spirituality movement and author of eight books on women and religion. This blog is an excerpt from her newly pubished book with Judith Plaskow, Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology.