Lately books on religious topics are hot. This is not surprising since we live in desperate times. People are looking for a moral compass. Book clubs, like the general public, are reading books about religion.
Women’s book discussion groups are following this trend. Women are especially interested in finding the feminine side of God. Even this topic is controversial. There are books that appeal to both genders and there are books that are especially relevant to women and the changing times in which we live. What women’s book groups seek are spiritual answers to the problems that affect us all.
According to Rachel Jacobsohn founder of the Association of Book Group Readers and Leaders, about 80-85 per cent of reading groups are women only. I have enjoyed the Great Books group in my area and enjoyed the discourse among the male and female members. Certainly there are books that appeal to women especially. For example, Sue Monk Kidd’s novel The Secret Life of Bees and Kate Horsley’s novel Confessions of a Pagan Nun are following a recent trend: an interest in religion and a search for the feminine side of the divine. These books are not strictly on the straight and narrow path, but rather an exploration of religion as women have experienced it today and in the past.
In The Secret Life of Bees, a young girl who has lost her mother leaves her abusive home and unjust community to seek out links to her mother’s past. It is a search for the mother. What she finds is the Black Madonna, long an archetype of the feminine side of God. Although she is white, she is taken in by a community of black women in the South and nurtured by them. The women are beekeepers, thus the title. Each chapter is prefaced with facts about bee colonies: they must have a queen bee to survive. The parallel is obvious. Society needs feminine leadership. They worship the Black Madonna with rituals they have invented to fit their spiritual needs. The context of Kidd’s novel is the 1960’s when the Civil Rights movement is just beginning in the South. The Women’s Lib Movement is on the horizon. This book has resonated with many women I have talked to.
I myself made a pilgrimage to see the Black Madonna at Chartres Cathedral in France although I am not Catholic. As a Protestant, I had learned very little about the feminine side of God. I know the Black Madonna reaches a potent longing in women for the nurturing mother, Mother Earth, nature, the creative, feminine side of God. In Chartres Cathedral there were many candles burning at the feet of the Black Madonna who looked strong and confident rather than ethereal and sad as depicted in other religious art about Mary. She evoked confidence that life will go on and be reborn anew out of the dark soil. Many responded to her. On her lap she held her son who held up a sphere in his hand, a symbol of the self.