Woman Wisdom

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Watercolor art by Kathy Manis Findley.

I remember the many spirited discussions in meetings during my career. Often the dialogue deteriorated into a rancorous exchange, but inevitably, someone would rise to speak words of conciliation and wisdom. The gathering would settle down, and forward progress was possible. The voice of wisdom? Well, nine times out of ten, it was a woman’s voice.

When things are as they should be, women form themselves into positive friendships and relationships. In such groups, their collective energy and gathered wisdom can be a force to be reckoned with. Groups of women are unstoppable. They get things done. They serve others and they serve one another. At the very foundation of that kind of group is wisdom, the kind of wisdom that sees beyond the present situation and is able to dream something better and stronger.

Wisdom births strength and the courage to lead. It was this kind of wisdom that compelled Deborah, a prophet and judge of Israel, who rendered her wise judgments beneath a date palm tree. Deborah offered counsel before battle and declared that the glory of the victory would belong to a woman. The Song of Deborah is a hymn that celebrates a military victory helped by two women: Deborah and Jael. The Biblical account ends with the statement that after the battle, there was peace in the land for 40 years (Judges 5:31). 

Wisdom formed the bond between Shiphrah and Puah, Hebrew midwives who refused to follow the Egyptian Pharaoh’s genocidal instruction to murder all Hebrew male children. Their courage to refuse his order may well be the first known incident of civil disobedience in history. Some scholars have called the two midwives the earliest, and in some ways the most powerful, examples, of resistance to an evil regime.

Woman wisdom can be a powerful force of change, of compassion, and of love. At their best, women join together to create invisible nets of love and caring that hold up those who are weak and protect those who are in harm’s way. Women can dance into hope in the presence of danger and sing with great joy when life brings celebration.

Unstoppable! Wise! Committed! Calm! Courageous! Persistent! 

Just a few words that describe woman wisdom, and words that remind us of the inner strength, courage, and power we possess in great measure. Enough measure to change the world!

So sisters, let us join hands and do it. The world needs us. The children at the border ripped from their parents need us. The places of pain all around the world need us. Our sick neighbor needs us. The hungry families in downtown alcoves need us. The woman being beaten by her husband needs us. Children, abused and neglected, need us. 

To help them, all of them, is no easy calling. To know how to help them is no simple mission. We will need to dig deep, call up every ounce of wisdom we have, and then follow that wisdom, hand in hand, toward a better day.

May God strengthen us for the task.

Hidden Away

878930EE-0F89-44EE-B45A-4352E1A8387DShe was like the moon—part of her was always hidden away. 

Dia Reeves, Bleeding Violet

Yesterday, I watched a clip from the 2018 ESPY Awards. I could not help but pause to listen to the athletes tell their stories of years of abuse by U.S Olympic Team doctor, Larry Nassar. I wondered how many years of silence they each endured, holding the horrible secret inside where it had the power to do great harm. That’s the thing about sexual abuse — it’s often a big, bad secret. Victims hold the shame in the place where they pack away their secrets, and the rest of the word hopes never to have to hear about it. So the secret is safe, hidden away, at least for a time.

But not this time! The “sister survivors” of the disgraced sports doctor’s abuse accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2018 ESPYS. Dressed in glittering gowns, holding hands in solidarity, more than 140 women gathered onstage to share the award given to athletes whose bravery “transcends sports,” as the audience rose in a standing ovation.

Sarah Klein, a former gymnast who said she was among Nassar’s earliest victims three decades ago, was the first to address the audience. “Speaking up and speaking out is not easy,” she said. “Telling our stories of abuse, over and over and over again, in graphic detail, is not easy. We’re sacrificing privacy, we’re being judged and scrutinized, and it’s grueling and it’s painful, but it is time. We must start caring about children’s safety more than we care about adults’ reputations.”

Tiffany Thomas Lopez, who in the 1990s played softball at Michigan State University where Nassar practiced, had a message for other victims who might still be silent. “I encourage those suffering to hold tight to your faith, and stand tall when speaking your truth,” she said. “I’m here to tell you, you cannot silence the strong forever.”

Olympic gold medal gymnast Aly Raisman was the last to speak. She was unsparing in her criticism of the adults who she said for years failed to protect the victims, instead opting to silence her and others “in favor of money, medals and reputation. But we persisted, and finally, someone listened and believed us.”

In January, more than 150 women and girls gave victim impact statements at one of Nassar’s three trials. In a Lansing, Michigan courtroom, they spoke of abuse under the guise of medical treatment, which for some began when they were elementary school age. Following their testimony, Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina sentenced Nassar to up to 175 years behind bars.

When the years of silence ended and the women released their secrets, justice followed, relief followed, inner peace followed. Therein lies a lesson for us all. How many times have women kept silent to protect others? How many times did we guard a secret because revealing it might hurt other people? Did we realize that by hiding away the secret, we were harming ourselves? The words written by Dia Reeves is true of us:

She was like the moon—part of her was always hidden away. 

And so it is with women. There are always parts of us that are hidden away, often for many years. There are parts of our stories that we hold in our souls, secrets we would rather not speak. It seems important, though, for each of us to develop the wisdom of knowing what we should hold in silence and what we should speak. As for the big, bad secrets — well, saying them out loud breaks their power. The chains of our silence fall to the ground, broken! 

And finally, we have freed ourselves! 

Looking into the Sky

C6F419F0-5C81-4A26-B890-76C7BCD762FCFor Christians around the world, the end of the Christmas holiday occurs on Epiphany, the 12th Day of Christmas. It commemorates how a star led the Magi, or the three kings or wise men, to the baby Jesus. Epiphany is about finding Jesus — again — in a fresh new way, looking into the light that has the power to change our lives.

In his homily on Friday before Epiphany, Pope Francis called on the faithful to be like the Magi, who, he said, continued to look at the sky, took risks and set out bearing gifts for Christ.

If we want to find Jesus, we have to overcome our fear of taking risks, our self-satisfaction and our indolent refusal to ask anything more of life. We need to take risks simply to meet a child. Those risks are immensely worth the effort, since in finding that child, in discovering his tenderness and love, we rediscover ourselves.

Looking into the sky and taking risks is a way of life for women. We have found the need to look up, above the hurts of our lives. We have looked into the sky to escape misogyny, discrimination, disrespect and abuse. We have looked into the sky to search the heavens for hope when we have felt only despair.

It has not been for us just a flighty inclination to retreat from unpleasant realities through fantasy. Instead our sky gazing has been a way to pour our souls into the kind of change that makes life worth living. We have dreamed improbable dreams. We have been wise. We have been brave and persistent. We have taken risks and defied whatever was holding us hostage. We have been determined emboldened and empowered.  We have been inspired and ennobled. We have changed our world.

Like the three Wise Men, we journeyed, wise women in search of the child that would more fully empower us. Our desire and longing led us, like a fire burning within, until we found the flaming star in the night sky. And there we found Jesus —  again. So we celebrated. We rejoiced, because Jesus wanted for us a new day, a new life of respect and well-being and inspiration and hope. That is epiphany. Amen.

Celebrate!

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I celebrate that today is a brand new day for my Granddaughter, for all little girls with big dreams. She has now seen a woman chosen as the Democratic nominee for President of the United States. When Hillary Clinton spoke night before last, I had a big lump in my throat. I felt the swelling of emotion overtake me. My body shook as I tried to hold back a full-on crying event. My eyes filled with tears.

I was watching history, and with the ears of my heart, I heard the shattering of glass. I heard the voices of Fannie Lou Hamer, Geraldine Ferraro, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and so many other trail-blazing women. I remembered Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Mary Church Terrell, organizers of thousands of African-American women who worked for suffrage for all women.

I thought of the words of Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Most of all, I thought about my granddaughter, Jordan, who now sees that a woman can hold this nation’s highest office. And I am grateful that she will not feel and experience all the limitations I experienced in my lifetime.

It’s a fresh, new day in America. It’s a fresh, new day in my heart. Thank you, Hillary, for standing firm in following your dream. You are among an incredible circle of women who persisted and who made change in the world for all of us. I celebrate you this day!