Day 188: In the company of wise women

Today, I am going to be in the company of wise women. As I grow older, it is becoming more and more important that I make time for such activities.

About a year ago, a friend and I talked about our experiences as women clergy — both good and bad — but mostly about how isolating it can be. We work in solo pastorates, or in campus ministries, or in entrepreneurial ministries — and we rarely have colleagues. If we do have colleagues, they are rarely other women in ministry. We wanted to change that. We wanted to create a space to be together, to share, to love one another, to uphold each other, to be companions for each other on our respective journeys. We started by gathering monthly virtually on ‘GoToMeeting’, and are for the first time gathering together in person. I can’t wait to be in the company of wise women.photo

There is something very special about women’s wisdom that is often forged out of our experience of community. Women, I believe, are more communal creatures than men — we have a much more profound sense of ‘ubuntu’ (the Swahili word which means, “I am, because we are.’) Women have a sense of needing to be in the company of other women with whom we can share our joys and our struggles. We need to know that we are not alone, that the struggles we share are not new, that this too shall pass. When we come together in this way to share our hopes, our fears, our dreams and our struggles, something beautiful happens. We forge community. We are community.

If you need a community like this one, find one — or start the conversation. We need each other, and we need to remember that we are not in this life alone. We need to experience ‘ubuntu’ in the here and now. We need to be in the company of wise women.

 

Day 137: Don’t play small.


“You understand Teacher, don’t you, that when you have a mother who’s an angel and a father who is a cannibal king, and when you have sailed on the ocean all your whole life, then you don’t know just how to behave in school with all the apples and ibexes.” 

― Astrid LindgrenPippi Longstocking

For decades as women, we have been taught that it’s important to behave well. Be a good girl. Play nicely with others. Don’t dominate the conversation. Be liked. Don’t be too strong, too knowledgeable, too smart or too well-spoken, or you will intimidate the boys.

I’m done with all that. I’m going to be exactly who God has created me to be, and I’m not going to apologize for it. I’m not going to shrink so the man that I work for can shine. I’m not going to keep my mouth shut if I have something important to say.

It doesn’t do the world a bit of good for me to be silent about the things that matter. It’s of no value to stop shining so that others can. There are a million stars in the sky and without all that shining, there wouldn’t be a universe.

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The institutional church has done much damage to its women clergy because they are uncomfortable with women shining too brightly. They are fine with the dim bulb. But the women I know are 100, or 1000 watts. They can outshine, out-pastor, and out-preach most of the men that I know. And I love male pastors — I’m married to one.

But he doesn’t expect me to be anything other than what God created me to be. In fact, he has told his congregation that I am the better preacher in the family. And after they heard me preach, they concurred.

I have had my “position eliminated” by two 60-something men who were afraid of the wattage that I gave off. This has also happened to my friends who are brilliant and young and smart and gifted. I’m over it. So now I’m on a mission to help other women shine in every way that they can — as pastors/ministers, in their roles as wives and mothers, and in every other roles that they serve. As Marianne Williamson has so beautifully put it,

We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

Shine on, sisters. Expect to see that light in others. Our playing small doesn’t serve the world.

Day 109: On trust and waiting.

“On Holy Saturday I do my best to live in that place, that wax-crayon place of trust and waiting. Of accepting what I cannot know. Of mourning what needs to be mourned. Of accepting what needs to be accepted. Of hoping for what seems impossible.” 
― Jerusalem Jackson GreerA Homemade Year: The Blessings of Cooking, Crafting, and Coming Together

Today is the ultimate “meantime.” It’s the time between the grief of the past hours and days, and the soon-to-be celebration of the not-yet. It’s a time for waiting and hoping and praying.

We trust that tomorrow we will be reminded yet again that death does not have the last word, that love is stronger than evil, and that new life awaits us in the here and now. We know the end of the story. The dead rise to new life and we are given life in all it’s fullness.

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But for today, we wait. We trust. We hope and against hope and we fear nothing because the worst has happened and we are still here. Tomorrow is another day.

What are you looking for? We are asked. Why do you seek the living among the dead? The one you are looking for is not here.

Do we believe it? We wait and we hope and tomorrow songs and alleluias will rise from our lips and our hearts will be moved but do we choose to live in the hope of the resurrection? What will we do differently knowing that the One who saves us delivers us even from the death of our own making?

Day 107: Lenten song.

Phillis Levin is the author of four poetry collections, including “May Day” (Penguin, 2008), and editor of the “Penguin Book of the Sonnet” (Penguin, 2001). She teaches at Hofstra University.

“Lenten Song”

By Phillis Levin

That the dead are real to us
Cannot be denied,
That the living are more real

When they are dead
Terrifies, that the dead can rise
As the living do is possible

Is possible to surmise,
But all the stars cannot come near
All we meet in an eye.

Flee from me, fear, as soot
Flies in a breeze, do not burn
Or settle in my sight,

I’ve tasted you long enough,
Let me savor
Something otherwise.

Who wakes beside me now
Suits my soul, so I turn to words
Only to say he changes

Into his robe, rustles a page,
He raises the lid of the piano
To release what’s born in its cage.

If   words come back
To say they compromise
Or swear again they have died,

There’s no news in that, I reply,
But a music without notes
These notes comprise, still

As spring beneath us lies,
Already something otherwise.


“Lenten Song” appeared in the July/August 2013 issue of Poetry. This came from the March 27th New York Times.

Day 99: From On Being Fired Again

From On Being Fired Again by Erin Belieu

I’ve known the pleasures of being
fired at least eleven times—

most notably by Larry who found my snood
unsuitable, another time by Jack,
whom I was sleeping with. Poor attitude,
tardiness, a contagious lack
of team spirit; I have been unmotivated

squirting perfume onto little cards,
while stocking salad bars, when stripping
covers from romance novels, their heroines
slaving on the chain gang of obsessive love—

and always the same hard candy
of shame dissolving in my throat;

handing in my apron, returning the cash-
register key. And yet, how fine it feels,
the perversity of freedom which never signs
a rent check or explains anything to one’s family…

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Day 98: To be in love.

To Be In Love by Gwendolyn Brooksfile000639937699
To be in love
Is to touch with a lighter hand.
In yourself you stretch, you are well.
You look at things
Through his eyes.
A cardinal is red.
A sky is blue.
Suddenly you know he knows too.
He is not there but
You know you are tasting together
The winter, or a light spring weather.
His hand to take your hand is overmuch.
Too much to bear.
You cannot look in his eyes
Because your pulse must not say
What must not be said.
When he
Shuts a door-
Is not there_
Your arms are water.
And you are free
With a ghastly freedom.
You are the beautiful half
Of a golden hurt.
You remember and covet his mouth
To touch, to whisper on.
Oh when to declare
Is certain Death!
Oh when to apprize
Is to mesmerize,
To see fall down, the Column of Gold,
Into the commonest ash.

Day 93: A dream deferred.

A #2 pencil and a dream can take you anywhere.  (Joyce Meyer)

I’m not exactly sure what Joyce Meyer meant by that, but when I think of #2 pencils, I see those standardized “darken the circle” tests that we took as kids, the ones that got scored by machine. I think of getting an education. I think of becoming the person God created me to be. That #2 pencil has gotten me a long way.

Although, I know others that hated those tests — my creative friends whose creativity was never tested, their dreams were never measured, their ability to think outside the box never praised. They hated #2 pencils, and everything that they stood for. Test days were purgatory at best and sheer unadulterated hell at worst.

On Tuesday, I made a new friend. I’m pretty sure she was one of the creative kids, because she is definitely one of the creative adults. We met as I was walking around the quaint little town of Chester, Connecticut and happened into a store called Lark. I didn’t realize that this was the first day that she had opened the doors of this new store to the public, nor did I realize that she hadn’t celebrated her “grand opening” yet.

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The beautiful “vegetable ivory” bracelet I bought at Lark.

Lark is not a typical gift store. It is a store whose spirit you can feel the minute you walk in, if you are attuned to listening to the spirit move in your life. She has beautiful pieces from around the world, gathered in a way that ensures the sustainability of the environment, and the economic welfare of communities. She also has artisans that she has “collected” — not only because they make beautiful things, but because they have beautiful stories and amazing spirits.

I was only in her store for a matter of minutes, but I knew that I had met a kindred spirit. We knew each other almost immediately. What a gift. This is for her the culmination of a dream — a dream she only recently realized that she had. She has been an artist for many years working the art shows and street fairs before she ever thought about opening a store.

Today, Suzie is officially opening Lark with all the bells and whistles. It is her official Grand Opening. Congratulations!  If you are anywhere near there, please stop by and meet Suzy and visit this wonderful little place.  If she hasn’t run out, she will give you a little stone to keep with a word that may mean something to you. Listen to what it says to you. I, of course, forgot to pick my stone, but I hope to go back there again soon.

In the meantime, I’ll doodle with my #2 pencil and dream.

 

Day 75: Listen to your mom.

Growing up, in church we had the homily; at home it’s what I call the ‘momily’ – the inspirational and instructive mom-isms that every family has.   (Christine Pelosi)

My mother has some distinctive phrases and ways of expressing herself. They are so distinctive that when a particular turn of phrase comes out of my mouth, my husband often asks, “Is that one of your mom’s expressions?” (And the answer to that question is most often, “Yeah. What’s so funny about it?”)

When it’s your mom, you often don’t realize that not every mom says the exact same things that your mom says. You just assume that every mom says exactly the same things. One of my husbands favorites is, when I am referring to the dust bunnies that inevitably grow under the furniture between cleanings, “There must be somebody coming or going under there.” (This refers to the Bible’s admonition that “we are dust and to dust we shall return.”) He also loves that my mom would refer to a very heavy rain storm as a “frog-strangler,” and all the while I am thinking, “What’s so strange about that?”

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My mother with her first great-grandchild in November 2011.

My husband’s mom was born and raised in Scotland, so naturally she didn’t sound like all the other moms in his rural Indiana neighborhood. But because she was his mom, he never noticed it. He recalls that the other kids would ask about it, but he never noticed that she talked differently because it was just how she talked. Accent? What accent?

Our moms are our first teachers and if we are lucky we learn well. It is only when we see other moms and hear their teachings that we realize that each mom is distinctive. Each mom has her own way of being in the world, and her own way of passing her wisdom on to her progeny. And when we become moms we will do it, too. It’s just the way the world works.

So today, take a minute to think about your mom, or the person who was a “mom” to you. What wisdom did she teach you? What particular “momilies” did you hear growing up?

One my friends very recently lost her mom. At the memorial service, we learned one of her mom-isms. When faced with a particular challenging person or situation, she was famous for giving the advice, “Pray for the son of a bitch!” (I’ve personally used that piece of mom-wisdom on more than one occasion.)

Those of us who still have our moms (or surrogate moms) living, take a moment to give thanks for all that this person has meant to you. For those who have passed, give thanks for the ways in which she touched your life. It is likely that it is her wisdom has shaped you and continues to shape your life in ways of which you may only be barely conscious. It is likely that she has left you with the momilies that have shaped every part of your life.

Day 72: Just be there.

The friend who holds your hand and says the wrong thing is made of dearer stuff than the one who stays away.  ~Barbara Kingsolver

I have read more than my share of posts in the ilk of “10 Things You Should Never Say” or “7 Ways to Support Friends in Crisis.” Here is the essence of all of those posts: drop the cliches and just be there. And in truth, even if you can’t do the former, doing the latter will make up for it.

We all say the wrong things when we least want to. We hurt the ones we love. But saying the wrong thing beats saying nothing — every day of the week.

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I’m reminded of the days immediately following my separation from my first husband. When people don’t know what to say, or are afraid to say the wrong things, all too often they decide to say nothing. They stay away. The silence is deafening. While I appreciate that the pain that I was experiencing was too raw and vulnerable for the faint of heart, it hurt a great deal to feel a lack of support from the very people I expected would support me.

I know that it’s scary to be married and watch the marriage of a couple with whom you are friends disintegrate in front of you. It feels awkward because you didn’t see it coming, or you did and were afraid to say anything. And now it’s over and you don’t know what to say that doesn’t sound trite, overly optimistic or mean.

But we don’t usually have to say anything; we just need to be there. To reverse a common phrase, “Don’t just do something; stand there.” Your presence can be more profound than your words. And saying the wrong thing and being present for friends in times of distress can be more important than saying the right thing.

So the next time a friend is going through a rough time, see if you can find a way to be present for them — a card, an email, a text, a meal prepared with love, a visit. Don’t wait for them to reach out, they probably won’t have the energy.  Trust me when I say that your presence and your love will mean more than you can ever know. I will never forget those who were there for me during my toughest times, and I am forever grateful to them.

Day 63: Make a friend.

The best time to make friends is before you need them.  ~Ethel Barrymore

Some say that the older that you get the more difficult it is to make friends. You see they believe that there are only so many relationships that we can have, only so many connections that we can make, and once our quota is full, we simply are not available to be a new friend or to make a new friend. While I’m sure that this theory is valid to a point, I don’t want to believe that I am too old, or too connected, to connect to someone new. I want to make a friend.

I find that I am always adding people to group of folks who I call special — my friends. People that I share history with, even if that history is measured in days and not years; people who are kindred spirits, or sisters/brothers from another mother. I collect friends as I would precious stones.

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But they are not stones, they are people with needs and loves and pains. I sometimes get to meet those needs, and sometimes I come up woefully short. I pray that when I do there is grace, forgiveness and love.

I have learned that I cannot be all things to all people; I cannot meet everyone’s needs. But I can reach out and I can try to meet them where they are — with the give and take that comes with all friendship. And yes, it has to go both ways. I cannot always be the giver or the taker.

So thanks, friends. You know who you are. Thanks for staying friends, or becoming my friend, before I needed you to be there, and walking with me through some challenging times. I appreciate that you were there before I needed you.