The Void

At different points in my life, I’ve experienced what I have recently described as The Void.

I experienced The Void in moments of uncertainty or alienation as a child because I was different from my peers. I experienced The Void in moments of fear as the unknown approached me. I experienced The Void as I anticipated exciting events. I experienced The Void when we returned to the United States and everything I knew no longer existed. I experienced The Void in the moments of continued silence as my anguished cries yielded no response from Divinity. I experienced The Void as my parents divorced, my home disappeared, and my family evaporated. I experienced The Void as I journeyed to new places where I could learn about myself, my beliefs, and what I wanted my life to be. I experienced The Void every time I celebrated a birthday or holiday away from my family and loved ones. I experienced The Void as I faced the abandoning of childhood ways in order to more fully embrace who I knew myself to be. I experienced The Void every time I faced an empty bank account but held bills in my hand…or faced a move to a new job without knowing how it would be financed…or finding a new place to live…and many many many more situations.

At the time, I called these moments The Wilderness Experience or The Truth Facing or The Revealing. I didn’t understand what they were…but I knew they were profound…life altering…transformational.

Recently, I experienced The Void in a completely new, and very disconcerting way. For several months at the beginning of this year, I experienced a complete breakdown of the very essence of my being…the core of my identity in this dimension. Everything that I knew to be true no longer seemed to hold any certainty of truth. All my coping mechanisms crumbled…all my insights dissolved into nothing. The foundation on which I built my identity and my life slowly but surely disintegrated.

Grief overwhelmed me. For three months I had no words…no way to describe my experience…no way to share with my loved ones what was happening. Although surrounded by people, I was, in essence, completely and utterly alone.

And then, I surrendered. I allowed the grief to wash over me in waves and convulsions…even though I had no idea what I was grieving. I allowed the tears to flow…the sobs to clean my heart. I allowed myself to stay present and fully experience the gut-wrenching not-knowingness. I allowed myself to just sit…and be…and breathe…The Void…that space of nothingness…the in-between.

As The Void persisted, I gradually relaxed out of exhaustion. Soon, I found peace in this space…and as I surrendered to the peace, I felt comfort. Not in the warm, cozy way I’ve felt comfort previously. This was much more nebulous. I felt support and endless expansiveness. As I became aware of that space, I experienced disorientation and fear again until I found security in the openness of the support…the potentials. And then, I discovered the gift.

The gift of The Void is creation. In that space between the teardown and the rebuild lies all the potentials. It the place and moment where anything and everything is possible…all you have to do is make your choice. This womb of creation is the ultimate place of empowerment, personal responsibility, self-control, and determination. And, in that space, The Void speaks life, encouragement, enough-ness, being-ness.

Caitlin Matthews calls this experience, an encounter with the Black Goddess aspect of the Sacred Feminine. She calls Her the Black Goddess, not because of a particular color, or that in this form She represents evil. Rather, she calls Her the Black Goddess because She’s elusive, veiled, disembodied, yet “…at the heart of the creative process.” She identifies the qualities of this Dark Mother as being “…immanent and brooding with unknown and unguessable power, or as a Virago, a potent virgin.”

She continues:

The Black Goddess lies at the basis of spiritual knowledge…Our own search for the Goddess is one that is begun in darkness and unknowing. Ours is the knowing ignorance of the child in its mother’s womb: we have to be born, and we are frightened of the extrawomb dimension. Once out of that womb, we begin to be terrified of our origins. But one of the prophecies of Sophia is, “I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places (Isaiah 45:34).” Those treasures of the Divine Feminine lie deep within us, waiting to be discovered.

We have only to consider the mystical experience of the Dark Night, as exemplified by John of the Cross and other mystics. Within the darkness of night or the cloud of unknowing, we discover the heart of our spirituality. This is the seed of experience of spiritual growth, to be held fast in the dark earth, to suffer the coldness of winter, that germination may take place. It is return to the spiritual womb, in which we find the dazzling darkness spoken of by the mystical poet, Henry Vaughan

…This school of dark-night spirituality is found in most traditions that venerate the Black Goddess, not because she is sinister or evil, but because she is the powerhouse from which our spirituality is fuelled. It is a way of unknowing, of darkness and uncertainty. Yet the experience obtained by this path is one of illumination, when the sun shines at midnight…

…We fear the Black Goddess because we project our terrors onto whatever we do not know and what remains hidden from us…Communion with the Black Goddess is usually nonverbal, nonintellectual–it derives through the body itself, for she is our basic prima materia…Our fear of being exploded, diffused, or made chaotic may be our reaction to the idea of the Black Goddess who, like dark matter, “controls the structure and eventual fate of the Universe (John Gribben and Martin Rees).”

The Black Goddess is the mistress of the web of creation spun in her divine matrix.

She is not separate from it, for she is it.

I know this to be true…for I have tasted Her, and She is good.

What Is More Sacred Than Woman?

As I journeyed through the process of converting to Judaism, I kept smacking up against sexism…particularly in the Orthodox practices. I hated all the dark, restricting, fashionless, entire body-covering clothes…as though a woman’s body is shameful and must be covered up because men aren’t disciplined enough to control their urges. The mechitza rankled me…particularly when it meant that women weren’t allowed to touch the Torah or participate in the service at all. The minyan, a requirement of ten people present in order for a sacred service to occur, was the last straw to my silence. I, as a woman, would not count toward a minyan…either in the Orthodox or Modern Orthodox communities…only men.

I was frustrated. I was angry. I was indignant.

Why is my value as a woman limited to keeping house, having children, and pleasing my husband? Why is my value as a woman not even noticed if I’m single or childless? Why is my value as a single and childless woman only noticed in terms of getting me married so that I can get on with having children and pleasing my husband? Why is there no value of me for me? Why is my intellect not valued? Why are my other skills as a business woman, musician, writer, teacher, philosopher, scholar, and wild adventurer not valued? Although I ultimately chose to convert Conservative so that all these things that I value in myself would also be valued by my community, this philosophy still irritated me…and still does to some degree. Particularly because if I were ever to go to Israel, Orthodoxy rules…which also means even though I converted Conservative, I will not be considered to be a Jew in Israel. Only those who convert Orthodox are fully accepted as being Jewish and given rights to Israeli citizenship. But, as long as these prevailing practices and attitudes toward women remain, I will never embrace Orthodoxy.

One Shabbas, I was ranting on this topic to my spiritual “Jewish father,” and, true to form, he listened to me with his full attention and interest.

When my words were exhausted, he asked, his eyes twinkling in delight with my thoughts, “Are you finished?”

I flopped back into my chair, indignantly sulking, and stated, “YES!”

“May I suggest an alternative view?” he offered.

I snorted. “I don’t see how that’s possible.”

“Weeellll,” he mused, “it’s debatable by some, and it’s simply a suggestion, but…it might help a little.”

“Ok.” I finally agreed. “I’d love to change my mind and attitude around this issue because it’s using up a lot of energy. I’m listening.”

He nodded and began. “You know my wife?”

I chuckled reluctantly and nod.

“You know that she doesn’t observe many Jewish practices.”

I nodded.

“She always uses her leather purse…regardless of what day it is,” he continued. “She talks on the phone on Shabbas, she’ll go to the store on Shabbas if she needs to, she drives on Shabbas, she may or may not attend services…you get the picture.”

I nodded.

“I, on the other hand,” he placed his hand on his heart, “go to minyan twice each day, attend all services, attend an Orthodox Torah study on Tuesday nights, keep kosher, walk to shul on Shabbas, don’t turn lights on or off on Shabbas…in other words, I’m observant.”

I nodded again.

“Who do you think is the most spiritual?” he asked with a smile.

I looked at him suspiciously, “Spiritual, or religious?”

He smiled as his head nodded, his index finger waggling. “Spiritual.”

“Well,” I hesitated, “just because she isn’t observant doesn’t necessarily mean she isn’t spiritual.”

“Exactly!” he responded. “Why do you think that is?”

I looked at him. “Please don’t tell me that housework inherently creates spirituality.”

He laughed. “I would never dare to say such a thing. But,” he chuckled, “there is a connection.

My eyes narrowed

“Hear me out.”

“Continue…with caution,” I said.

“Have you ever considered,” he spoke slowly, choosing his words carefully, “that a woman is inherently spiritual? That she doesn’t need all the trappings of the Jewish practices?”

My eyes widened slightly, my head cocked in interest. “Continue,” I said.

“These rituals that are required by men…that I observe…are meant to refine the soul in order to bring the soul into a union with Divinity. A woman doesn’t need them…my wife doesn’t need them…I definitely do.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because Divinity is not Who I think of naturally…or easily. I think of myself. I think of my needs…my wants…my desires…my ego. Women, and of course there are always better examples than others, have an easier and more natural access to Divinity on a regular basis.”

“Really?” I asked skeptically.

“Yes,” he insisted. “My wife doesn’t need a service to bring her close to Divinity…she infuses Divinity into everything she does…including housework.” He grinned at me, “She doesn’t need to be limited by ritual because she’s beyond that. Ritual is for beginners.”

“Huh.” I said. I’m still not sure I wanted to give up my rant…although, this makes for an interesting substitute.

“This is not to say that the accompanying attitudes around ritual are at all welcoming or appreciative of women…but perhaps this perspective can help ease the sting around that failing,” he offered.

I nodded slowly as I sort through my thoughts. “Where did you come up with this idea?” I asked.

“The Torah,” he grinned.

My eyes rolled upwards, my hands facing the sky, “Of course you did.”

“Seriously!” he insisted. “Remember the story of creation in Genesis?”

“Which one?” I countered.

“Any of them. For this purpose, it doesn’t matter.”

“Ok.” I replied. “Yes, I remember.”

“How does it begin? What is created first?”

“Mmmmmm,” I pondered, “that’s a really hard question.”

“Not philosophically,” he encouraged, “just what is stated in the story.”

“Oh,” I laughed, “you want the simple answer of light.”

“Yes!” he laughed in return. “How hard was it to create light? How complicated is light?”

“Weeellll,” I began, “You’re talking about the foundations of existence and potentials, so….”

“Ok,” he conceded, “but we’re going for simple here. For argument’s sake, let’s just say that it was easy.”

“Ok.” I agreed.

“Then what comes next?” he asked.

“Darkness,” I replied.

“Again, easy,” he said.

I nodded, beginning to understand the parameters of the argument.

“Then?”

“Atmosphere and separating water.”

“Good!” he seems pleased. “Harder or easier than light?”

“Ok.” I said, “I’ll play along…not harder or easier, but more complex perhaps.”

He conceded with a simultaneous hand/face gesture. “Continue through creation. Each day, does the creation get more complex or more simple?”

“More complex.”

“Good!” he agreed. “Now, what happens on the sixth day?”

“Humans are created.”

“Ah.” He agreed, “But in what order?”

“Well, if you’re talking about the conjoined human, then they were created at the same time.”

“True,” he shrugged, “but look how that ended.”

I laughed, “They were separated at the rib and Lilith ran away.”

“So then what?”

“Ah!” A light dawned. “Woman is created…separately…not attached to a man…whole and complete on her own.”

He beamed proudly.

He continued, “If you look at Creation from a simple-to-complex continuum, where is woman?”

“Most complex,” I said slowly, in wonderment.

“Almost,” he said blissfully. “If you look at Creation as also being a movement toward sacredness, where is woman?”

“Most sacred,” I said breathlessly.

“Almost,” he said enraptured. He paused, breathing in ecstasy before saying, “The only thing created that is more complex and more sacred than woman, is Shabbas. And yet!” he emphasized with a finger and a chuckle, “Who’s to say they aren’t one, for she was created Erev Shabbas.”