There is Jian Gomeshi, who beat up women for sport and got away with it for years because we all wanted to believe he really was the charming and likeable man we heard on the radio.
And then there is Bill Cosby who drugged and raped possibly dozens of women who came to him for advice, and also got away with it because he was Dr. Huxtable, and he was the voice behind “NOAH!” and you just HAVE to be able to trust someone who’s that fun and likeable.
And then… different but still related… there’s Darren Wilson, a police officer who won’t be punished for killing Michael Brown.
And there is Daniel Pantaleo, who forced Eric Garner to the ground in a choke hold, listened to him say “I can’t breathe” repeatedly, and kept going until he was dead. He won’t stand trial either.
And there are countless other young black men dying. And countless young Indigenous girls dying. And their deaths barely warrant a mention in the newspaper.
And then there is the ferocious beast called the economy that gobbles up the earth and spits it out in its hunger for more, more, MORE.
All of these things are different and yet the same. All are about the damage done when force is left unchecked.
And I want to scream “How did we end up here?!? How did we get to this place where women can be beat up and raped by celebrities who get away with it? Where the police have the right to kill with impunity? Where pipelines are given permission to plow through sacred land? Where we turn a blind eye again and again to rape, destruction, and murder?”
And though I scream it into the wind, I know that the answer sits like a lump of toxic waste in my heart.
We ended up here because we have created a culture in which the conqueror is revered above the nurturer.
We ended up here because we placed power above love, hierarchy above collaboration, progress above community, and economy above conservation.
We ended up here because we consistently allow our leaders to build up our military might, and make decisions based in fear and protectionism.
We ended up here because we have allowed ourselves to believe that the financial economy in its present state is the only way an economy can be shaped, and if it doesn’t grow we are all doomed.
We ended up here because of patriarchy, a system rooted in fear.
Patriarchy is afraid of losing control, afraid of the unpredictability of a system not based in hierarchy, and afraid to give power to women or anyone who might upset the status quo.
You may say “but Michael Brown and Eric Garner died because of racism, not patriarchy” and I would argue that it’s all related to the same problem. It’s all rooted in a system that creates an imbalance of power and allows one race to dominate over another and one gender to dominate over another.
Patriarchy is not about men and women. Patriarchy is about dominance.
In a patriarchal system, where fear guides the decision-making, anything that does not comply with the established social order must be locked up or destroyed. So they create stronger police forces, they make it harder for women to control their own bodies, they create an image of God as a controlling masculine figure, and they justify the rape and pillaging of the earth. Patriarchy is the bully in the playground who must have everyone follow his rules or he mows them down.
Patriarchy is a monster hungry for dominance and afraid it will disappear if it gives up even a little bit of its power.
It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when the nurturers were revered along with the conquerors.
There was a time when women were revered for their ability to give birth, for their gifts of healing, and their deep connection to the earth. There was a time when religions were not dominated by masculine deities and the goddess held an equal place.
But then fear began to grow like a weed and the healers and goddess worshipers were branded as witches and the midwives were branded as charlatans. The weed grew, and millions of women were tortured and burned at the stake for knowing too much about the earth, for having too much power over the female reproductive system, and for adhering to a spirituality that could not be contained by those who sought control. (Some say as many as 8 million were tortured or executed in a couple of centuries.)
And so the weed spread, and patriarchy joined hands with racism to mow over anyone in their path and dominate all whose unpredictability made them uncomfortable.
And all those in its path remembered the burning times for generations to come and the memory of it kept us in our place.
How do we stop the weed from spreading further?
There is no simple answer to that question, but we each have to begin by opening our eyes and seeing the weed for what it is. And we have to begin the slow and sometimes painful work of plucking its roots out of our own hearts and our own communities. Because each of us, whether we know it or not, has been infected by this weed and each of us has been taught to be complicit in its growth.
We have been taught how to comply, how to stay in line, and how to not get burned at the stake. We have been taught to guard ourselves and our sons and our daughters. We have been taught to go underground with our deviant belief systems and our connection with Mother Earth. We have been taught to accept the dominant system because not accepting it may cost us our lives. We have been taught that rising up is too dangerous, accusing our rapists is too dangerous, and challenging those in authority is too dangerous.
But gradually we are waking up. Gradually we are rising up. Gradually we are finding each other and daring to stand together in a new power, a shared power. Gradually we are learning to replace dominance with collaboration. Gradually we are overthrowing power. Gradually we are returning to the wisdom of the earth.
Gradually we are releasing the power of the feminine into the world again.
Gradually we are returning to and honouring the nurturer, the healer, and the midwife that we once burned at the stake.
There are many days that feel discouraging, many days that feel like this is taking too long. There are many days when the weed seems to have been fed fertilizer and its grown is exponential. There are many days when those of us who are imagining a new world feel like our efforts are useless. Those days have come fast and furious in recent weeks when celebrities are found to be repeated sexual offenders and cops have gotten away with murder.
But we must not give up. We must continue to tend the new seed growing and trust that it will one day outgrow the weed.
It took centuries to burn the power out of women and it will take centuries for it to come out of hiding and rise up again.
Let us continue to dream of a day when both nurturers and conquerors will have equal power.
I am nearing the mid-way point of my journey. Tomorrow I leave the west coast and head to the east.
I have been trying to write a blog post about my amazing experience at Lake Tahoe, at the annual Gather the Women gathering. I have been trying to come up with the words to describe what it means to be held so tenderly, honoured so graciously, encouraged so generously, loved so fiercely, and seen so clearly, but the words fail me. It will require more processing than I’ve had time to do. For starters, this is what I wrote on my Facebook status:
For the past three days, I have been beautifully held – by a circle of women, by the earth, and by the Divine. I opened my heart, and it was guarded tenderly. I danced on the earth, and my body rejoiced in every cell. I spoke from the depths of my wild heart, and my wisdom was welcomed with grace and openness. I stood on the shores of the lake, and was healed by the beauty. I was hugged and held and touched in tender, nurturing ways that soothed the wounded child in me. I was blessed with an eagle feather and many words of love, and I offered back as many blessings as I received. I am woman, I am loved, and I am whole. Thank you Gather the Women for creating such a safe space for growth, healing and emerging power.
I don’t fully know how to articulate it, but I know that this is really, really important – this container that women create for each other – this safe sacred space where we can weep with grief, dance with passion, embrace with tenderness, speak with wisdom, and shine with the light of the Divine. Rarely have I been in a place where women can show both their vulnerability and fierceness (and many things in between) and be honoured in the whole beautiful complexity.
The women are rising. The feminine is waking. The energy is shifting, and we are the light bearers and the water carriers. We are the midwives and the edge-walkers. We are the healers and the dreamers. We are not only the caretakers and nurturers, but the fierce warriors who have the love and the power to help birth this brave new world.
We cannot do this work alone. We need a powerful container that can hold the birthing, heal the wounding, and balance the emerging power with fierce, unconditional love. That container was beautifully demonstrated in a circle of women on the shores of Lake Tahoe.
I am honoured to be holding my place in that container. May we have the courage to birth what is coming next.
Note: Please consider joining Gather the Women. Anyone who holds a vision like you see in this post is welcome. We need a container that can hold all that is emerging, and if you feel called, that container welcomes you.
Also, if you feel called to do this kind of work, please consider joining the next offering of Lead with Your Wild Heart. It will break your heart open, challenge you, encourage you, and prepare you for whatever your work is in bringing in this brave new world.
This morning, I had the sudden urge to watch the sun rise over Matthew’s grave. I’d been working on the re-write of my book and was thinking about him in the early hours of the morning. And so, before anyone else was awake, I headed to the graveyard.
Something caught my eye when I got there. A statue of a woman, only about 50 feet from Matthew’s grave. Though she stands about 15 feet high, I’d never really noticed her before.
I carried my camera across the snow and took a few pictures of her. I wasn’t sure who she was. Mary was my first thought, but then I puzzled over why she was holding a book and standing in front of a globe and a stack of books.
It wasn’t until I started walking away that I had a sudden realization… she’s holding a BOOK! I came here (like I’ve done many times) for guidance about a book. She’s holding MY book! Only, what came out of my mouth was…
“She’s holding MY FUCKING BOOK!” (Yes, I swore. It was one of those moments.)
What I wrote in my journal was: “Sophia God is holding my book. I guess I’d better trust her with it then.” And with that thought came a huge sense of release and comfort.
I don’t have to worry about my book, or about how I’ll get it published or whether people will want to buy it. It’s in God’s hands. All I have to do is show up and finish it.
I don’t know what the statue is meant to represent to other people who visit the grave, but I know what she means to me. And I can’t help but be amused at the way she remained hidden from me all these years, until now, when I’m standing on the precipice of finishing my book and getting it into print (my hope for 2012).
Sophia God has a sense of humour. And a lovely way of bringing surprise and wonder into our lives.
UPDATE: After I wrote this post, I opened my daily email from Fr. Richard Rohr. At first I skimmed it, thought it didn’t interest me, and ignored it. But then I opened another email from a friend who’d quoted Rohr’s email, so I re-opened it. Wouldn’t you know it… December 17th is the day associated with Sophia, feminine wisdom. Don’t you love synchronicity?
Today, December 17, (according to the Antiphons) begins with the letter S for sapientia. Wisdom—sophia in Greek, sapientia in Latin, sabiduria in Spanish—was the feminine metaphor for the Eternal Divine, as found especially in the books of Proverbs and Wisdom. One might partner or compare Sophia with Logos, which is the masculine metaphor for the Divine. It is interesting that Logos was used in John’s Gospel (1:9-14) and became the preferred tradition, but Sophia was seldom used outside of the monasteries. On December 17 we invoke the feminine image of God as Holy Wisdom. – Richard Rohr
There’s a question that’s taken up residence in my heart. It’s a big question, so it takes up a lot of room. Even when I try to ignore it, it keeps nagging at me, imploring me to engage.
What could happen for the world if all of us – women AND men – learned to trust our feminine wisdom more and let it inform the way we live, the way we lead, the way we treat our earth, and the way we make decisions about justice and politics and relationships?
It’s not a question that’s easy to answer. It’s one of those big, potentially world-changing questions that is sometimes easier to ignore because of what it demands of us. It’s a scary question – one that requires the kind of stretching and changing that can be uncomfortable for all of us – individuals, organizations, governments, non-profits, and communities of every kind.
It’s scary, but I have come to believe it is absolutely necessary. We have to ask the question and we have to be prepared for how it might change us. There are enough crises going on in the world today that we cannot deny the urgency with which we need to explore alternatives to some of our past models.
This blog is going to serve as a space for inviting that question into our hearts, sitting with it for awhile, and letting it gradually change us.
The question is not about whether women should take over the world. That would only shift the kinds of problems we have, not overcome them.
What I’m talking about is the wisdom that we ALL have access to, gifted to us by our Creator. It’s the kind of wisdom that is embodied in the Greek word Sophia. It’s wisdom that is spiritual, intuitive, visionary, compassionate, creative, and yes, feminine. It sits in circles sharing stories and wisdom. It welcomes art and music and dance into the houses of power. It remembers that wisdom resides not only in our minds, but in our bodies and in our souls. It believes in the Sacred and allows for spirituality to impact the way we treat our earth.
When we learn to trust that kind of wisdom, and give it equal space with masculine wisdom that is more rational, direct, practical, assertive, then I think we can make transformative things happen for ourselves, our communities, and our world.
Let me just say that I don’t claim any proprietary ownership of this question. It’s a question that is on the hearts of many great thinkers in the world today. I’ve been exploring the wisdom of some of these great thinkers, and some of them will be joining me for some meaningful conversations in this space.
Stick around – I know there will be lots of interesting ideas explored here.
I’m so glad you’re joining me in this quest.
Let’s be sojourners together on this journey.
Let’s do it for our daughters and our sons. Let’s do it for the earth. Let’s do it for ourselves.
Note: If you want to learn more about the birth of Sophia Leadership, I’ve added some of the posts from my personal blog below this one. You may also want to visit the “About Heather” page for a story of my journey to Sophia. And if you want to see a list of some of the books that have inspired me on the journey, check out the “Sophia Reads” page.