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Sera Beak's The Red Book: A Deliciously Unorthodox Approach to Igniting your Divine Spark

The Red Book: A Deliciously Unorthodox Approach to Igniting your Divine Spark
Sera Beak
2006. Jossey-Bass

This is a delightful book. Aimed at young women in their 20s and 30s, The Red Book (TRB) speaks to its audience in their language: sassy, eclectic, well informed, and very funny. The Red Book is 7" by 7" and artfully designed with graphics, call-outs, and creative typography; each page engages the reader with intriguing and outrageous ideas. Although written primarily for the audience I mentioned, this book could speak to any age or gender.

In an email this summer, Beak told me that she wrote this book with her little sister in mind because she found that most books about spirituality are too self-conscious, preachy, or boring to capture and hold the attention of today's young people. I think of my daughter, who used to call me when she was filled with college angst. In more than one conversation, I suggested that she consider giving her spiritual life a boost or even a nod, and she assured me that nobody her age has any interest in spirituality. Quite the opposite, I have had a deep abiding interest in Spirit all my life and was very much the seeker when I was in my 20s.

Sera Beak, a "spiritual cowgirl" and Harvard-trained scholar of world religions, shares that life-long fascination. Despite her rigorous training and field studies, Beak describes herself and her generation as anti-authoritarian and individualistic. After studying numerous religions with the intention of discovering the divine feminine within them, Beak was disappointed by the patriarchal basis of those religions. She points out that Goddess has been neglected for centuries and desperately wants to re-emerge, but she does not believe that an all-female spirituality answers all the world's problems. Beak says that in some of the places, such as India, where remnants of Goddess religion are still living, misogynistic treatment of women is still flourishing unchecked. Although Beak remains connected to Goddess, her approach is one of strongly establishing self-authority and includes blending pieces from various spiritual traditions.

"Exploring a new spiritual path doesn't have to be complicated . . . New spiritual tastes are things you simply start to include in your life, become more aware and appreciative. Just fold them in, like rich chocolate swirls in your divine batter. This is how it begins." (21)

Concepts of discernment, embodiment, intuition, meditation, sacred sexuality, direct communication with divinity, humor, authenticity, self-knowledge, and self-acceptance are the solid foundation beneath this book's youthful packaging. "You can't establish an authentic relationship with the divine if you don't take the time to establish an authentic relationship with yourself." (110)

As a central piece of authenticity, Beak harkens to a red book in her life — a big red journal that her older sister gave her as a tool to help her grieve her grandfather. Beak found that the red book was indeed helpful in this process, as she found herself pouring out her honest thoughts and feelings in creative journaling — writing and making collages of magazine pages festooned with expressive tidbits from her life. Beak encourages her readers to create their own red books as an expression of themselves and their connection to the divine, as "The ethereal dances deep within the tangible." (45)

The Encarta® World English Dictionary, North American Edition, defines syncretize as combining aspects of different systems of philosophical or religious belief or practice. Voudoo and the other Caribbean religions come to mind as wonderful examples of living and ever-changing syncretic traditions, as does the approach in this book. Beak acknowledges she has been accused of spiritual appropriation — an issue that she takes on with her characteristic directness. She talks about her struggle to abstain from "gorging at the spiritual banquet," and how "I finally learned, despite my initial resistance, the importance of not limiting how the divine shows up in my life and, perhaps most important, not judging how it shows up for others." (37)

So how does this philosophy work for us who have been in the Goddess movement a long time? I think Beak's approach is about balance, keeping an open mind, and being in dynamic relation to the divine. While walking my dog the other night I was thinking about this book, and it occurred to me that in our information age, we seekers are constantly influenced by a panoply of ideas. The caution is that we may not have consciously questioned some of these ideas because they are so integrated into our culture, practices, assumptions, and spirituality.

Given the amazing array of religious information available, it seems a bit false to put politically correct strictures on those exploring spirituality, particularly when the seekers have all the world's ideas at their fingertips. At the same time, the obvious danger to having so much information is the possibility of superficially dipping into ideas and practice. I like Beak's measured approach and her admonition that we explore religion deeply and respectfully (while still having fun).

I find Beak's dance with the divine to be reciprocal and organic; she believes that divinity loves the engagement and energy from us as much as we enjoy the ecstasy of a divine connection:

"Remember, the divine is continuously discovering and recreating itself as it evolves through the course of our human lives. And that means it's our duty not to bore her." (53)

I think TRB offers insight into (or, as Beak might say, gives a kick in the ass to) anybody's spiritual seeking. Woven throughout Beak's hip humor is a well-researched thealogy notably lacking new-age platitudes. The book includes excellent resources, as does her web site.While urging the reader to be open to an amalgam of thought and practice, Beak stresses taking responsibility for our actions and having a clear and conscious intention.

Beak's book reminds us in the neopagan / women's spirituality / Goddess movement to critically view our practices and thoughts. I have spent a good deal of time in women's circles in which the lack of young women was conspicuous, and I have heard the leader of a prominent Goddess spirituality group say, "I'm old, and I'm not changing." Whatever happened to "She changes everything she touches?" (Thanks to Dawn Work-MaKinne for a conversation that clarified this point.) And more crucially, who but young people can carry forward the hard work we've done getting Goddess scholarship taken seriously and practicing in ways that may become traditions? I think Beak has a message here that is worth heeding.

When she was home at the Winter Holidays, my daughter saw The Red Book sitting next to the couch. She picked it up, was captivated, and asked me to send it to her when I was done reviewing it. Aha! Dance on!

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