If Women Rose Rooted

I’m reading a book my niece gave me called If Women Rose Rooted: The Journey to Authenticity and Belonging by Sharon Blackie (Palimpset Book Productions, 2016). The title of the book comes from a poem by Ranier Marie Rilke: “If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence/we could rise up rooted, like trees.” The book marries the rising up of women with the care and attention to the Earth or to give it the term of the final chapter, the “Eco-Heroine.” I’m interested that this book is a good non-fiction follow-up to the novel I recently read called The Overstory which I mentioned in a previous blog. It also weaves together the lives of humans with the lives of trees (without a feminist viewpoint, however.) I hadn’t read three pages into this new book before I was stopped by this paragraph:

The stories we tell about the creation of the Earth and the origins of humankind show us how our future views the world, our place in it, and our relationships with the other living things which inhabit it. And the key consequence of this particular creation myth is a belief, prevalent now for centuries in the West, that women are naturally disobedient temptresses who must be kept firmly in their place. We are weak-willed, easily persuaded to think or do evil, faithless , untrustworthy, mendacious, and motivated pure by self-interest. The story of Eve in the Book of Genesis is the underpinning for countless measures which have limited the actions, rights and status of women. No matter what women might achieve in the world, the fundamental message of the sacred texts of the world’s largest religious grouping, which for 2000 years have supplied the foundational beliefs of our Western culture, is that men should not trust women, and that women should trust neither themselves nor each other.”

I’ve long struggled with this story/myth myself. I can still feel some shame at being a woman when I was I first heard it as a girl, a sick sinking in my stomach. I think Blackie is right–it has at a deep level made me waver in my trust of self and yes, of other women. Even now, I can feel that sense of being less than, of being naughty and even more severe, of disobeying GOD who was, of course, male.

But I also remember thinking even way back then that if there was two creation stories in Genesis ( yes, two, check it out), why not another story of the events in the Garden of Eden; what if contained a story of a woman unafraid of the nature of GOD because she was a child of this GOD, gutsy and adventurous and a risk-taker, unencumbered by imposed rules. And I reasoned, (although I never asked this question out loud) who is this God that would create such a temptation? Why put this Tree of Knowledge in Eden in the first place if the knowledge was to be hidden? Perhaps this God put it there just to see what these humans he had created would do? All questions without the sure answers of the writers of Genesis. Yet that Eden story really has never been mine. It has never been my truth. At a soul level, I said no. And this is the first time I’ve acknowledged that fully. But isn’t it interesting that yet again, this story is about a TREE?

I want to write more on this. Stay tuned.

Maid, Mother, Crone: Does that Really Define a Woman’s Life Now?

When I was 60, a group of women gathered to create a croning ritual for me and two others. I was past maidenhood, past mothering my two children, so at the time, I did feel I was entering a new phase– something that Sherry Anderson in her book, Ripening Time, describes as a time where women ask, “Is there a map? I need a map for the new territory I’m moving into.” (p.3) But even then, as I was too was looking for that map, I didn’t exactly feel like CRONE named this phase. It felt differently to me. One with more vitality the name of Crone.

This past week, I came across some writings that challenge these old archetypes of maid, mother and crone as outdated, coming from a time when 1)women had fewer options without birth control and 2) women didn’t live as long (before antibiotics and other advances in medical care.) We have 20 to 30 more years than our foremothers to live and create on this planet! This alone is an astounding fact. What is this new time for? Instead of comparing the Divine Feminine as a companion trinity to the Masculine Father, Son and Holy Spirit, women writers began questioning whether it wasn’t more true that we have 4 seasons just as in nature, or 4 phases just as the moon, a feminine symbol.

That phase, just between Mother and Crone, new writers have called Queen. Others also describe it as Keeper, High Priestess, Heroine. But all point to the time of a woman having a phase of life to become true unto themselves, rather than mothering children (and possibly husbands too:) A time to ask new questions or to have time to search for answers to the old ones. This new archetype of Queen resonates most strongly to me, not as perhaps the traditional secular understanding of Queen, but Queen as one who is sovereign unto herself, and in doing so, heals herself and also the world. This is the time of my life in which I now reside. There is an internal sense of being regal and noble, not in the sense of being arrogant and somehow above others in any way; it is being Queen, being a Sovereign–free, autonomous, not subject to the rule of other. Being a Queen means my sense of authority returns to my Self. My ego, culture, society, family conditioning begin to take a lower place in my way of moving in the world. I begin to touch back in with the Source that dwells within me, that deep connection to True Nature or as I have also known it, the Christ Within. It also means feeling real again, a return to who I was when created, and in using my power in ways that empower others–yes, like listening. Like a listening life. Like a life of living with questions and being so every present to what is actually happening in my immediate experience.

In that same book, Ripening Time (p. 76), Sherry Anderson tells the story of Rose and the Wise Elder. It’s a story best told in its entirety, but too long for this blog. In its essence, it is about a woman who wakes at age 50 with a question no one has an answer to. She is advised to travel to see a Wise Elder who lives seven days distant by walking. But when she arrives, she is told the Elder is not seeing anyone this year. She is on silent retreat and Rose is advised to go home. But she insists in at least seeing where the Wise Elder lives. There she sees a young boy leave a basket of food for the Wise Elder and Rose, so desperate for an answer to her question, waits until the Wise Elder opens the door for the basket of food, and then hurls herself through the door to plead for that answer. The first time she asks, the Wise Elder slaps her across the cheek! And when Rose persists and asks again, the Wise Elder slaps her across the other cheek and throws her out the door. Rose is furious. Rather than wise, the Elder is stupid and cruel. But as Rose stomps down the hill, she is met by a woman who is ascending. She hears her story and then says, “I think I know why she slapped you. She slapped you the first time because you assumed that questions had to have answers. And she slapped you the second time because you were willing to trade your precious question for somebody else’s answer!”

This time of being a Queen is a time to stop searching for answers outside myself and also to have the noble maturity to live with those questions.

I was telling all this to one of the women who was ‘croned’ with me and she too agreed that she hadn’t exactly felt like a crone at the time. “But, Marcia,” she said, “do you remember? The women made us all crowns to wear!”

Holding On

Every Monday through Friday I get an email that I never skip over. A generous fellow called Joe Riley brings me the poem and a photo I need for the day from a site called Panhala. Today’s was no different. I want to share it and at the same time to honor William Stafford and his poetry. If you haven’t read his legacy of words, I give them to you as a gift. Read more of them. He wrote everyday before dawn without fail. This poem is called The Way It Is, written 26 days before his death (in a book by the same name.)

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change. People wonder about what you are pursuing. You have to explain about the thread. But it is hard for others to see. While you hold it you can’t get lost. Tragedies happen; people get hurt or die; and you suffer and get old. Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding. You don’t ever let go of the thread.

This poem follows me in this time of not knowing what is next and yet, to me, this poem implies that I am, at the same time, holding onto a thread that is familiar to me, a thin but unbreakable guide that has drawn me into the sacredness of my life, the deepest purpose of my life. This next step may be unknown, but at the same time, especially if I look back, I can trust it. Without this trust, this basic trust in life, we cannot open to the fullness of it. And we must trust it, no matter what life brings–and it will bring things that challenge that trust–tragedies, hurt, death, suffering and getting old to name Stafford’s list. I could add others.

I must trust that no matter what, I don’t let go of that thread–that I know in my belly that I will always be okay as “it goes among things that change.” It is such a freedom, such a relief from skepticism and cynicism and doubt and fear. Perhaps Stafford senses what the poet William Blake also wrote in Plate 77 of the poem Jerusalem, “I give you the end of a golden string; Only wind it into a ball, It will lead you to Heaven’s gate, Built in Jerusalem’s wall.”

Perhaps you are familiar with Viktor Frankl, an Austrain psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, remembered for his best-selling book called “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Yet it was originally published under the title, “Nevertheless, Say “Yes” to Life.” Nevertheless, despite the atrocities of death camps, he held onto this basic trust, this basic “Yes.” To use Stafford’s words, he never “let go of the thread.”

I’ve never been challenged so severely, but I’ve had some tragedies, some hurts, some suffering, some deaths and certainly I am growing old. This poem opens me up today. I can almost sense that golden thread now, woven through all five fingers on my right hand so it can’t slip away, so I won’t let go. I’m holding on, no matter what lies ahead. I’m holding on even when others don’t understand and can’t see “what I’m pursuing.” I’m holding on.