I had the honor and privilege of interviewing Dr. Sherry Ruth Anderson on the themes of women’s spirituality and aging based on her two books. Sherry and Patricia Hopkins (1991) published “The Feminine Face of God: The Unfolding of the Sacred in Women” and subsequently, Sherry published (2013) “Ripening Time: Inside Stories for Aging with Grace”. Both books are brilliant with thoughtful insights about women searching and encountering the sacred or Divine in daily life throughout the life span and practical applications of spirituality in living with meaning and purpose. Both the books discuss cultivating skills for well-being. Sherry is a very accomplished woman with a doctorate in psychology, former associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto Medical School and former head of psychological research at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, psychotherapist, author, and former head teacher of Zen Buddhism at Ontario Zen Center. She currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and has been teaching in the Diamond approach since 2000. Patricia Hopkins is also a very prolific author, who has written numerous books, and works with different spiritual organizations.
This post consists of my brief discussion of the books and my interview with Sherry. I found Sherry to have a very intelligent, loving, wise and compassionate presence. As Sherry shared her experiences with passion, warmth, and wonderment, I was immersed fully in listening to her. After the interview, I felt light-hearted and remembered the importance of “being” in the journey of life in general, rather than overfocusing on the “doing mode”. One of my goals in life is to cultivate the “being mode”, especially as I am now an empty nester. I very highly recommend these two books to readers due to the clear and concise writing style, profound knowledge and wisdom discussed, especially, cultivating skills in finding meaning, purpose and well-being in life.
THE FEMININE FACE OF GOD: THE UNFOLDING OF THE SACRED IN WOMEN
I first grabbed Sherry and Patricia’s book, “The Feminine Face of God: The Unfolding of the Sacred in Women” as I was searching for the feminine face of God after my mother passed way at a very young age. Having had a mother and being a mother myself, I have a deep longing for the Divine Mother figure to take over the duties of protection, unconditional love, and compassion for me in my faith journey. During my experiences of growing up in India, I was exposed to the Divine Mother images (“Ma” or “Devi”), characterized as sources of shakti (strength), wisdom, love, and compassion. I think of the Divine Mother, as characterized by the female qualities of God, who manages the everyday affairs of her worldwide children, humanity, at large. Even while attending catholic schools, I related better to Mary as a mother figure. I found Sherry and Patricia’s discussion of “Shekinah” (feminine face of God in Judaism) and Sophia (feminine face of God in Christianity) very fascinating. I have heard of feminine faces of the Divine or sacred in other religious or spiritual traditions. For example, in my previous blog post where I interviewed Ms. Helwa about Islamic spirituality in her book, “Secrets of Divine Love”, she discussed that Allah’s love for his children is greater than the love that a mother has for her children. Buddhist traditions have female bodhisattvas, like Tara, known as “Mother of Liberation,” who teaches about qualities of compassion (Karuna) and loving- kindness (Metta).
Another reason that the book was very powerful for me was that Sherry and Patricia interviewed spiritually mature women in different walks of life about their encounters with the Divine or sacred in their daily lives and how these spiritual experiences translated to living lives with deeper meaning and purpose. I love the rich and complex themes in the book about practical applications of spirituality in living meaningful lives. One powerful theme is regarding the uncharted nature of women’s spiritual journeys, where women are often traveling unknown and uncertain terrains with letting go of roles and norms prescribed to women in patriarchal societies. Sherry and Patricia discuss the theme of women feeling guilty and selfish when starting to do things for themselves as women at times are socialized for roles of caregiving and pleasing others. Another theme describes the duality of the homecoming journey: the joy of finding the true authentic, inner self, and the painful process of the home-coming journey, which may include anxiety, depression or “dark night of the soul”. The impact of women’s spiritual development on their relationships is also discussed with rich insight. I, especially, loved Maya Angelou’s powerful ideas about prayer, as Sherry and Patricia interviewed Maya Angelou, who is one of my she-roes.
Sherri and Patricia interviewed women throughout Canada and the United States. It is important to remember that womanhood is not a monolithic group, but, has great diversity within the group, based on various sociocultural and geopolitical contexts (social structures, roles, and norms).
RIPENING TIME: INSIDE STORIES FOR AGING WITH GRACE
This book presents the aging process as a “ripening” phase, which can lead to spiritual awakening and maturity. I found Sherry’s writing on the aging process of women to be very wise, humorous, and brutally honest, inclusive of the light and dark aspects of aging. Sherry discusses that despite the longevity revolution, where people are living longer with the help of modern medicine, there is no direct map of aging for women. Due to lack of existence of a map for aging, women must discover and walk their own paths. She argues that to age wisely, women need grace, courage, and greater comfort with vulnerability. I love her diving deeper into the Jungian concept that evening phases of our lives tend to be different than the morning phases and we need to embrace this, rather than deny it. She writes about the myths of aging in a youth celebrating culture, which we internalize and then project our fears of aging onto others. Sherry elaborates that rather than fighting the aging process, we need to develop curiosity for the ripening process (unfolding and unwrapping of what is developing with age). She writes that the gifts of aging are many: more presence or being fully present in mind, body and spirit in daily life, more openness to the sacred in daily life, more comfortable with selfhood, and birthing of elders (holders of wisdom and stories for guidance in living life, links to ancestors, ancestral knowledge and serving as glue in holding communities together). Sherry is bold in talking about her vulnerable experiences. She very candidly writes about her experiences with cancer and how hearing about the diagnosis of cancer initially stopped her world. With her treatment of cancer and follow up where she is given a clean bill of health, she talks about her gratitude and appreciation of life. She depicts the joyful experiences of the sacred in seemingly ordinary aspects of daily life, such as walks in nature, eating breakfast with her husband. After reading the book, one recognizes the profound sacredness in the ordinary tasks of life.
However, she points out that the gifts of elders are not always wanted by our youth obsessed culture. The discussion of intersectionality of ageism and sexism in patriarchal cultures, where younger women are valued more than aging women, is also very powerful. Sherry is also very honest about the tough stuff of aging, such as grief and loss of what was, processing endings, and the loss of youth which is cherished in our culture. She talked about the fears of aging, such as, fears of decline in health, dependency on others, and death. Hard topics that most folks grapple and struggle with.
Please see link below for video of my interview with Sherry.
Contact information for Sherry: https://www.diamondapproach.org/
There seems to be no map or charted terrain in either women’s spiritual development and or the aging process. Sherry and Patricia invite each woman to share their journeys and help each other. I will end with Sherry’s beautiful and uplifting comment in her book, “Ripening Time: Inside Stories for Aging with Grace” that each person must live fully no matter what age he or she.