As we enter the new millennium that has brought us a world beyond any of our darker imaginings, we find religion robust and thriving in America-95 percent of us believe in God-; yet it is not the religion of our parents. Today’s seekers yearn for a more intimate and personal experience with the spirit. Whether it is facing east or west, traditional or new age, contemporary spirituality is based less on the awesome, unimaginable God and more on the presence of the holy in everyday living.
A quick perusal of best-seller lists shows that two subjects, the emerging feminine presence in our society, and matters of religion and spirit, fascinate Americans. Photographer GAY BLOCK and I are interviewing leaders of all faith traditions for a book and photo exhibition tentatively entitled WHITE FIRE: A PORTRAIT OF WOMEN SPIRITUAL LEADERS IN AMERICA. The book will be a collaboration of interviews and photographic portraits of the subjects.
White fire refers to the spaces which surround black letters and words on a page. Today we can only read the “black fire”, but one day we may be able to read “white fire.” Women are the white, invisible, and overlooked voice in religion. It is our hope that this work will bring forth that other voice into a world that needs to hear the full sound of the spirit.
While many of these women lead traditional or untraditional communities, not all are ordained. Some are writers or teachers with no liturgical function, and some look after abandoned children who know no prayer except the face of the one who feeds them. In this work, I define a leader as one who either has a following and/or is changing religion’s path by her ideas and presence. Because this project was originally conceived as part of the National Millennium Survey, it also has narrowed the focus of this book to those having a following in the United States.
Their disparate journeys reflect the narrative of the Five Books of Moses and this book is organized similarly. Genesis describes the birth of a world and a people; Exodus tells of a journey to freedom; Leviticus sets forth the laws of civilization; Numbers recounts the struggle to live within the law; Deuteronomy brings everything full circle with a retelling of all that has happened in the earlier books.