Joan Borysenko in her book, A Woman’s Journey to God, suggests that our “blueprint for male spirituality is laid out in the story of Jacob’s ladder in the Book of Genesis.” And, given that religion has been dominated by men for thousands of years, naturally our church structure, liturgy and theology has a male bent that is very linear.
“Church” as we have known it has a definitive ladder-like quality. God has always been at the top of the ladder, while the earth (and our familiar “dominion of”) is at the bottom. Men have been a rung or two above women, hence the suppression of women in leadership roles, and the lack of feminine input in liturgy and theology. The ladder also represents the need to take certain steps to get to Heaven. In most traditional churches, getting to Heaven included doing the right things (baptism, confession, attending church, good works, etc.) and believing the right things (whatever that church told you to believe).
What is happening these days is that this earlier paradigm (as Marcus Borg might say) doesn’t work for many people anymore. Those on the more progressive end of the scale are evolving into what Joan Borysenko terms the Sarah’s Circle model of spirituality. In this emerging paradigm there is no hierarchy, all are on an equal level in the circle and all (from men to women to children to creatures to creation) are sacred and interconnected. God is not found at the top rung in the top office, but at every point on the circle. There are no rules to get you to heaven, no correct belief to ensure your salvation. In fact, the Divine can be found at any point on the circle and often appears when least expected (as in the story of Sarah conceiving a child post-menopausally).
Another interesting concept of the circular model is the idea that God is found within. For centuries we have been looking out and up to find God. Now we are finally starting to realize what Jesus said in the first place, that the Kingdom of Heaven is within. Just as the center of the labyrinth is meant to draw us deep into ourselves to find our deepest connection with the Divine, so Sarah’s Circle guides us to look not only everywhere for God, but most especially within for God.
Slowly the Christian Church is moving away from the ladder and toward the circle. But, as with all change, some resist louder and longer than others. This is a fascinating time to be a student of the spiritual side of life. It is exciting to watch the growth and the awareness change. It’s also very frustrating at times! Our understanding of God and community (or church) must evolve just as we have evolved socially, scientifically and emotionally.