Religious Women Discuss the Meaning of Faith

For many people, their faith is a great comfort. It explains why bad things happen and why good things happen. For some, religion is the only thing they can count on in a chaotic world.

Four female spiritual leaders sat down with "Good Morning America" to discuss the way faith has affected them, as well as the world in which they live.

"People who live in that fear of, 'Is it the end?'" said evangelical pastor Paula White, whose Tampa, Fla., church is one of the largest in the United States. "We cannot predict. Is it tomorrow? Is it a million years from now? But we can maximize today and make the most of today. Kiss your children. Say goodbye to them. Make sure you wrap your arms of love around people that you care about. Go for everything in your heart. Find your purpose and live life to its fullest."

People may look at current events -- war, hurricane, earthquakes and terrorism -- and feel lost and alone. But Cheryl Richardson, a life coach and author, said it was a time to strengthen one's connection with his or her God.

"Those kind of tragedies give us a chance to strengthen our faith and also hopefully serve as a reminder that the way to have strong faith during those times is to be developing it actively during the good times as well," she said.

In times of personal tragedy, some of the faithful may look directly to God, while others see their faith as the foundation of their worldview that prepares them to deal with the bad times when they arrive.

"Of course we're confronted by fears and doubt and uncertainty," said Rabbi Sarah Reines, who serves at Central Synagogue in New York City. "My faith, Judaism, is one that really demands that we respond to the world as it is, and don't get wrapped up in ourselves, and that we need to be a part of a greater whole."

Gender can impact spirituality. Take the Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox Church. Leadership roles are clearly divided along gender lines -- women cannot be priests or bishops, but may serve as nuns.

"Our lives are different and so we approach ... the Scriptures -- we preach about it different," said Suzan Johnson Cook, the only female chaplain for the New York City Police Department. "I certainly pick out more women than men ... because I can identify, I can see them where they are. I ... walk with them through their journey, and I find myself preaching many more sermons about women."

Richardson said she had found that women have a more personal relationship with God, but Reines said that differentiating on the basis of gender made her nervous.

"I think in the past it's been used to exclude, first of all," Reines said, "and I don't like to make assumptions about where people are based on their gender or their race or their sexual orientation, or anything else. Because you never know what's inside a person and what's going to touch a person and reach a person."

Religious leaders like Reines and Richardson said that choosing whether or not to believe in God was up to the individual.

"God reveals God's self differently to every single person," Reines said. "That there is no one picture or understanding of God. I think it's less about belief and more about experience. Sometimes I can help people by saying ... put aside belief for a moment. But tell me, has there been ever a moment where you might have experienced God in some way?"

Richardson said she would tell nonbelievers to go into nature and look at the beauty of something as simple as a flower.

"How can there not be a God when I see the extraordinary beauty that exists in the world?" she said. "Go out into nature to ask God to reveal himself or herself to you."

The important thing, White said, is to not allow anger to prompt one to abandon God.

"It's OK to be angry," said White, who served in the Clinton administration. In Ephesians, it says "'Be angry and sin not.' What he's saying is, in your anger, don't do anything stupid."

White said that she believed that God's shoulders carried all the burdens of life if people would let go and "give it over to God."

"One of the first things God deals with is their humanity before their spirituality," she said. "He says grieve, and there's a five-stage process to grieving, and part of that is be angry. You know, negotiate, bargain, depression. Then you get to a place called acceptance."

Richardson said those who want to strengthen their relationship with God could create a sacred place in their homes, talk to other people of faith, surround themselves with sacred books and pictures, and get in the habit of talking to God every day.

"Remember that we are mind, body and spirit," White said. "We spend a lot of time ... stretching the mind intellectually, certainly working the body. But also take some time for your spirit. Connect in the way that you need to connect and make time for yourself and then you will find God."