Changing Church: Rev. Dr. Susan C. Hamilton, Dean, Sancta Sophia Seminary, Tahlequah, Oklahoma

Rev. Dr. Susan C. Hamilton

                                   Seeking Sophia

Again I mull through the mountains of paper arranged as books
                      again I desperately seek for your face in
      someone else’s words,
                          someone else’s images,
                                           someone else’s song
               someone else with greater access to wisdom.
       Again I am impressed by the sheer volumes written
     again I am inspired with the beauty of your reflection
  in another’s experience,
                     another’s dedication,
                                    another’s eloquence
                                                  another’s ease in your presence.
     But today you call me, stretch me, implore me to stop
               today you urge me to set it all aside and be
                     be with you,      be open,     be real
     be in the truth that you are closer than I dare believe.
 The seeking is over, the journey ended and yet just begun
             the seeking unnecessary. For you are the one
                            within,     among,     around
                and through all that I creatively am and do.
    I have found you, Holy Sophia, in time for the teaching
         I have found the words to encourage the seeking
        I have found you – not out there in someone else,
                          but in here,    in me,     no less.
                                                                                   Susan Hamilton

With this poem, Rev. Dr. Susan Hamilton concludes her book Seeking Sophia: 33 Lessons for Discovering the Divine Feminine. She wrote this book initially for her doctoral project with the purpose of developing a curriculum to lead church people to understand the presence of the Divine Feminine in Hebrew and Christian Scriptures and to increase their awareness of the universality of Sophia in creation and creativity.  This eight-week study series, which she has led in local congregations, is now a personal devotional book (; 800-386-7161) and an online class:

I have found Seeking Sophia to be a much-needed practical guide to internalizing the power of the Divine Feminine to transform our world. This book engages body, mind, and spirit to make feminist spirituality appealing and accessible. Sophia comes alive through women in the Bible, through Divine Feminine symbols in the Bible and other sources, and through vibrant illustrations. Following each lesson in the book is an exercise challenging us to discover Sophia through such practices as breath prayer, meditation, journaling, coloring mandalas, dancing, singing, walking in nature, and writing poetry. The chapter, “Sophia as Creation,” inspires the prophetic work of ecofeminism as it links exploitation of women and the earth. The delightful chapter on creativity invites us to be “Co-Creators of this world.”

In the introduction to Seeking Sophia, Dr. Hamilton writes the story of her calling to this project. “It was while I was attending seminary, in preparation for becoming an ordained minister, that I first was introduced to Sophia. Rev. Carol Parrish had founded a community, church and the seminary which I was attending, all dedicated to the Holy Feminine. The name given to the seminary is Sancta Sophia meaning ‘Holy Wisdom.’ Little did I know that twenty years later I would become the Dean of the seminary, but then, none of us ever know how and where Spirit will lead us twenty years into the future.”

“Sophia was illusive and mysterious to me in the early 1990’s and She’s not much more tangible now. How can we ever fully comprehend the Divine Mystery? Having been raised in a Protestant faith tradition, anything resembling a Holy Feminine figure was foreign to me. People who venerated the Virgin Mary were only found in Roman Catholic parishes. Likewise, when I was called to serve as pastor of a mainline Protestant congregation, praying to or honoring God the Mother was not part of our doctrine nor worship style.”

“Yet, it made sense to me that there would be something feminine in God’s nature if we women were created in God’s image as is recounted in Genesis. So, She continued to call me toward a greater understanding and experience of Her. When I struggled to decide on a subject for my doctoral dissertation, I eventually heard Her call and proposed the abstract. The project resulted in the development of a series of lessons with Protestant women in mind. Through the studies, my students and I could begin to plumb the depths of the feminine aspect of our Creator. Grounded in the biblical tradition of Christianity, we found Her hidden within the scriptures and women of the Bible.”

Susan Hamilton cites her ecumenical background as influencing her expansive theology. “Being raised as United Methodist, taking a brief tour as a Southern Baptist, then a spin around the Presbytery, ending up in the United Church of Christ, I would classify myself as eclectic to say the least. The UCC solidified my passion for social justice and therefore gender equality, but it was my education at Sancta Sophia Seminary that introduced me to the Divine Feminine face of God. Embracing Sophia as a nomenclature for Her Holiness brought into balance my social concerns and my spiritual aspirations.”

Rev. Dr. Hamilton’s formal education includes a bachelor’s degree in psychology from California State University and two graduate degrees from San Francisco Theological Seminary. For fifteen years she pastored Parkside Community United Church of Christ, a multiracial, multicultural, multigenerational congregation in Sacramento, California. Her ministry shows that a church can take prophetic action and grow. Rev. Hamilton led Parkside to become an “open and affirming” and a growing congregation, to have innovative worship services, to build a new sanctuary, and to develop effective church leaders.

In February of 2011, Dr. Hamilton became Dean of Sancta Sophia Seminary. She says, “Now my ministry is in developing curriculum and career paths that embrace the Divine Feminine for seminarians in their preparation.”

Rev. Dr. Hamilton believes that changing the language and symbolism of the church to include the Divine Feminine is vital to justice and peace. “The goal is actually to return the Divine Feminine to Her holy status which She held for nearly 25,000 years prior! Language shapes our thinking which shapes our actions—ask any behavioral psychologist—and symbols speak when words are inadequate—ask any artist. Therefore, changing language and symbols to include both the feminine and the masculine in describing the Holy Other is essential to shifting our consciousness toward mutual respect and ultimately, unity and peace.”

Including female divine names and images in worship changes church and society, Susan says. “Inclusive language begins to change the consciousness of adults and youth alike. Worship services can become more creative and fluid with the incorporation of feminine principles, sensitivities, and images. It brings the ‘heart’ into what has been predominantly a ‘head’ experience on Sunday mornings. Ultimately, we raise the respect for women which can have global societal impact in reducing domestic violence, sex trafficking, and ‘gendercide’ of girl babies.”

Female divine images also inspire our respect for all people and our respect for and care of the earth, as illustrated in this prayer and litany by Rev. Hamilton:

Holy Mother of the World, as we gather this day remembering the earth upon which you danced at creation, we seek your wisdom. Guide us in our time of reflection and worship, but also guide our actions that we may truly honor your body in our daily life. Teach us to respect your waters, your earth, and your air. Teach us to respect our animal brothers and sisters. Teach us to respect each other and offer tender care to all created by your loving hand. Blessed be.

One:            Come enter the dance of life.
All:              We come rejoicing in the gift of life given to us by our Mother.
One:            Open your hearts to one another and to Her presence among us.
All:              We are joined together and to Her as our Source.
One:            Let us worship Her grace in this sacred space.
All:              Holy, Holy, Holy is Her name above all names.

The beauty and power of inclusive language also come through this Advent prayer by Rev. Hamilton:

In this time of expectant waiting, we pause to consciously nurture the space within each of us where new ideas, new love, and new creativity are born. The Holy Mother and the Holy Father live within us. We are created in their image and their sacred union produces the blessed Holy Child of our Soul. In this Advent time of celebrating the Christ Child born so long ago, guide us Mother/Father God, to also celebrate the Holy Child you birth within us.

Gender inclusive church leadership, Susan says, also brings beneficial change. “When female children see female clergy, their world expands! An internal ‘that could be me’ awareness is created and another prospective minister is cultivated. The compassion and tenderness which female clergy can bring to the pastorate ministers in ways traditional male clergy have not. A young woman with an unwanted pregnancy will likely experience greater understanding and empathy with a woman pastor than with a male. Inclusivity and hospitality extend to welcome all into worship and God’s embrace. Those with disabilities have access, those of same-gender loving preferences, and those in sexual identity transitions are all welcomed into Sophia’s House of Justice.”

Even in a seminary with the Divine Feminine in its name, Dean Hamilton has faced challenges in the implementation of inclusive language throughout the curriculum. “While Sophia is in the seminary’s name and we certainly honor the Divine Feminine in our worship and thought, the extent of equality in educational practice has room for growth. Many of the esoteric texts historically used in our curriculum are from a time period (early 1930s) when language was all male dominant. The attitude of some of the faculty has been that students (and the teachings) are ‘beyond that feminist issue’ and above thinking in terms of male superiority. However, my experience is that mutual respect in personal relationships has not been demonstrated consistently.”

“The Board of Governors did, however, recently establish an inclusive language policy for all students’ work. We are improving. Educating our students and each new faculty member on the importance of inclusive language often results in an extended explanation of ‘why.’”

Susan finds plenty of inspiration and strength for the challenges. “I have a strong community of supportive women surrounding me in my work—a great team! There is humor, play, and there is a shared value of regular discipline in prayer and meditation. We often begin the day together in our intentional spiritual community with a half hour of meditation, taking turns leading the group activity. This grounds and centers us. Music also helps tremendously as a few of us sing harmoniously together—the blending of voices blends the heart and mind into one accord (pun intended).”

Rewarding experiences also give Susan continued energy for her prophetic ministry. “One reward was in hearing a parent tell me that her little girl (age 7 or so at the time) wanted to grow up to be a minister like me. She’s still a teenager at this time so we’ll see how Sophia shapes her life. Rewards always come to me from our students as their eyes and hearts and minds are opened by new discoveries. When they begin to understand their own biases and expand their circle of who they ‘love,’ I am rewarded.”

Rev. Dr. Susan Hamilton articulates an expansive, eloquent vision of the transformation the Divine Feminine is bringing to the church. “It’s a done deal! She’s out of the bag, as they say, and She’s not going back in. Sophia has returned and brought with Her the gentle awareness of the necessity to balance love-wisdom in this new era. Humanity is poised ready to receive and the church will be transformed in the process. We are currently undergoing yet another reformation and the structure of church will shift. Hierarchical forms will give way to councils and wisdom circles and shared leadership. Church worship itself will enter the cocoon for transformation and emerge as a new (unrecognizable to us now) form that is as free-flowing as a butterfly’s flight pattern. Her Spirit is loose in the world and nothing will remain the same!”


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