“They will beat their swords into plowshares…”
-Isaiah 2:4 NIV
There is in woman the potential for
the preservation of the globe,
the health of society
and the community of life of the human race.
– Joan Chittister, Womanstrength
Traditional societies have honored the woman’s spiritual power. She has been a midwife, herbalist, healer, and teacher – the wise woman. She has been an advisor, a judge, an arbiter – one who uses insight honed by experience. She has been holy fury and knowledge, active wisdom – the one recognized as being close to life cycles, the leader of ceremonies for every event from birth to death.
Yet in Christendom, the woman has usually been feared and rejected, denied those very same offices at great cost to the men, women, children and the development of the Christian church – and American society at large.
Last month, I spent three days with several dozen brilliant Christian female leaders in New York City. We met in a beautiful old cathedral in Midtown, a space that for all its physical beauty still reverberated with ancient patriarchal symbolism. Yet for those three days, the musical wisdom that filled the halls of that old church was profoundly bold, electrically alive and thoroughly feminine. I kept finding myself overcome with emotion as we spent time together. As I would listen to the women preach one by one, I would well up with joy. My heart would be captured by the spiritual truth of each sister-preacher’s words and the conviction by which she delivered her heart. It was as though I were in the presence of Jesus. Tears would stream down my face. The power was unmistakable.
More than once – the strength of my emotion confused me. I hadn’t been the least bit interested in attending “church” in almost 20 years, not the “church” that had silently ridiculed, ignored and “othered” me when I ended a marriage to save my family twenty years prior.
Yet, over that twenty years, I had served this “church” and made “my church” in so many lovely and deeply satisfying ways that I had forgotten my pain until I sat in that cathedral.
As I listened, sang, shared and frequently cried in that space, I realized that I had never, not once in my 50-odd years journeying as a Christian woman, been entirely in the company of only Christian women preachers and leaders. And yet here, at long last, was what I’d never even realized I was missing: women called by God feeding and teaching each other, held in the womb of a cathedral.
Place, like the earth and soil, is the body of an experience. It is important. But like water to a fish, it can easily be ignored. Not one of these women were holding themselves back for fear of being ridiculed, told they were “too much,” “too angry,” “too opinionated,” “they didn’t belong,” “shouldn’t be preaching,” “shouldn’t be leading,” “shouldn’t be so expressive,” “shouldn’t be so loud,” “shouldn’t be so excited,” “shouldn’t be so authoritative,” “shouldn’t be so sure.” If you have grown up as a woman with a strong call on your life, you know too well, what it is to continually feel like you need to hold yourself back for fear of offending someone, somewhere. You know what it’s like to be constantly afraid of stepping on someone’s toes.
Being surrounded by these amazingly strong, brilliant women, each of them hell-bent on sharing their gifts, was like drinking ice cold water after being thirsty for 30 years.
It also revealed to me a tribe of women to which I belong – a tribe that understands what it is to be told at 12 that you had better tone yourself down or you will intimidate people, and boys will never like you. I wish I could say now, at 57, that that message had disappeared from our culture for good. But I was just at a retirement party for an accomplished female colleague last week, and one of the compliments she received from an outspoken equally accomplished female professional was this, “I was always told I should be more like you – not so bold – not always sticking my foot in my mouth – not always saying what I mean – more diplomatic. Unfortunately, I was never very successful.”
In 2017, no female should feel as though it were a slam on herself and a compliment to her colleague, to say in essence, “You were great because you spoke up just enough not to make the upper-level administration” (mostly men/status quo) “too uncomfortable. Way to go – way to help things look like they were going to change – without really having to. Way to ‘sort-of’ use your feminine power!” And, what is almost worse … is to not even notice that you are still captured by this narrative! This is to EVERYONE’S LOSS – and it is how we have settled for mediocracy or worse!
I’m not sure how change needs to happen. But I am confident that women need to lead the way – and it needs to happen in their bold feminine way.
What I can tell you, is that first week in May in New York City, there was truth among my sisters, and Jesus was in our midst!
I felt like I had my own “come to Jesus” week. There was a REAL concern for those who were being marginalized in our culture, a REAL desire to do something about the injustices happening around us, and a REAL love for each other. I FELT SEEN, KNOWN, LOVED AND ACCEPTED, in a way that I hadn’t felt among Christians in a very long time – especially in a worship setting.
It made me want to turn over the whole mess we’ve made of our country and our world to women such as these.