- Grammars of the ImaginationReflections on Jewish Goddess, Disability Ethics, and Theological Particularity
disability, feminist theology, Jewish, nature
When I was maybe four years old, my father built me a sandbox. I used to run my hands carefully beneath the plywood seat, into the shaded sand, and if I got lucky, I'd find a big beautiful toad. I remember cradling a toad in my cupped hands, his skin smooth and cool, his belly soft and languid. I remember that perfect moment when he opened his eye—when I realized he was alive.
For me, theology is grounded in that recognition of connection: that sense of an eye, opening up and looking back. I am a rabbi, a woman whose spiritual life is rooted in the rhythms of Jewish text and tradition. Intertwined with Jewish ritual and practice, I also lay claim to another spiritual language. Raised in a religiously indifferent, nominally Christian family, I found my own outlets for spiritual yearning. I grew up talking to trees, listening to stones, inhabiting what Charles Taylor calls an utterly "enchanted world."1
In Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology, Carol Christ and Judith Plaskow make a compelling case for beginning theological reflection with experience, with an account of the way our theological reflections are bound up with the particularity of our own stories. When I talk with people about their spiritual lives, I rarely ask them what they think about God. I ask about a time they felt a sense of wonder, a sense of connection to something larger than themselves. I often hear stories about the birth of a child, the touch of a friend. Most of all, people tell me about their connections to this [End Page 111] world: that moment when the sunlight shafted through the forest, the silent wonder of ghosting in a kayak at dawn across a lake.
I too have a moment like that, a moment when I felt Goddess like a live wire down my spine. I was fourteen, standing on my grandparents' balcony, letting gravel stones slip through my fingers, watching the sun sink into the trees. The sky was turning purple, shot through with gold. The rocks were humming in my hands and Presence flooded through me: ancient, alive, feminine, entire.
That meeting is the center of my story, the way a stone drops into the center of a lake and sends the water rippling out in slow, certain waves. It is my heartbeat, the bass line that anchors my theology and grounds my ethics. In the years that followed, I came into Jewish community. I found myself caught and claimed and cradled by the intricate depth and luminous beauty of Torah and Talmud. I made my way to graduate school, committed to the study of text; I entered rabbinical school, committed to a life of service. I struggled with spiritual dissonance: caught amid the too-tight strictures of "acceptable" Jewish theology, torn between talking about God in ways that felt safe and giving voice to the God my own bones know. For all that I speak freely now, I still remember keenly how lonely it was to feel I couldn't speak of Her, to keep my own heart's truth shut tight inside my chest.
Reading and working with Judith and Carol's book over these past several months, what most moves me is their deep, abiding interest in one another's spiritual lives—and their willingness to probe, generously and seriously, their theological differences. The book is built around a significant disagreement about whether God/dess is the generative ground of all being that encompasses good and evil or an intelligent embodied love who cares deeply about the world.2 Carol and Judith first approach the critical chapters "with some trepidation because we have been taught that there are always winners and losers in arguments about ideas."3 But they come to realize that serious engagement with their disagreements allows them both to clarify their ideas and to recognize that "more than one—but not every—view of divinity can provide a theological foundation for the more just and harmonious...