I was about 40, I remember. I was attending a publishing conference on Long Island, in New York state. It was either early spring or late fall—there was frost on the lawn in the morning and no leaves on the trees.
I think I was the only Canadian there—at least, it felt like that.
The organizers had set up the conference to explore the imperial manner in which American corporations manipulated world markets for their benefit.
So we had speakers about American weapon sales—equal to all the rest of the world combined. Not surprising, since the rest of the world was their market.
And about pharmaceutical companies selling outdated prescription drugs to Latin America.
And about mining companies funding right-wing paramilitary squads to subdue local peasant protests.
And about children’s sweat shops sewing soccer balls in Bangladesh and women’s sweat shops churning out blouses in Thailand and South Korea.
A few industry representatives offered vigorous defences. But the whole event proved a pretty heavy guilt trip for most of the American editors.
I had a somewhat different reaction. Because I learned that some American multinationals were buying Canadian mining companies to do their dirty work in the civil wars raging in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. They were seizing control of Canadian rail companies, Canadian grain companies, Canadian publishing companies.
I didn’t feel guilty. I felt like a victim.
And then the conference ended. A group of American editors invited me to share their taxi to La Guardia airport. I barely knew their names, but I accepted gratefully.
I settled into a corner of the taxi’s back seat while they chattered animatedly to each other. Despite their friendliness, I still felt like an outsider.
And then an astonishing thing happened. Suddenly, unexpectedly, I felt warm, comfortable, as if I had been wrapped in loving arms.
The only comparable experience I could recall was when, as a child, I had a stomach ache or a skinned knee. I would run home, crying. And my mother would lift me into her lap and wrap me in her arms until the hurt went away.
But this could not be my mother. She had died three years before.
In those brief minutes of numinous awe, I realized I had two choices. Either my mother was reaching out to me from beyond the grave. Or God was enfolding me in what pietistic hymns call “the everlasting arms.”
Either way, it felt like a distinctly feminine presence.
Was it real? Was it hallucination? Was it a delayed reaction to three days of brainwashing? I don’t know. I will never know.
All I know is that ever since, I have had no difficulty using feminine imagery for God. God is Mother as well as traditional Father. God is She as well as He. God is soft and gentle, as well as stern and powerful.
But most of all, God is more than an abstract concept.
I am now confident that God is, whether or not I can define her.