Women’s Herstory

Tall thin woman with big curly hair, in old newsprint photo, singing open-mouthed holding a tambourine.
Me at 29, singing and holding a tambourine

I’ve been going through old boxes from my past, and am currently working on the time I lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan, from 1979 to 1983. It was such a different time–not many photos, for example. But I found this one in a clipping from a women’s periodical, attached to an article I wrote about how women’s history is not just reading about women from the past, but an imperative for us to make history in the present–herstory. I still believe that!

My partner at the time, Gary, and I were trying to make history/herstory through non-violent activism, and through running a Catholic Worker hospitality house. We called it Grimke Community, named after Angelina and Sarah Grimke, white southern women who worked for the abolition of slavery in the early 1800s. We opened our house to a person or family in need of emergency shelter, often in cooperation with the local battered women’s organization. The house was in a kind of land trust, and we lived there rent-free. We could pay the bills if one of us had some sort of half-time job at minimum wage.

I held various jobs during those years, from being a maternity aide for a home-birth midwifery group, to visiting women in the local jail, to cleaning houses, to being a library “page.” I was also doing a lot of music those days, and performing in any local venue I could arrange, from nursing homes to social justice rallies. It is funny to look back at my big naturally-curly hair, my extremely thin torso, and my wide-open mouth. I was learning to use my voice!

In early 1983, when this picture was taken, I was trying to make sense of how to follow my calling. It was something like a call to ministry, but still being Catholic, and being a woman, I felt like I had to invent something totally new. Eventually, I was able to take the next steps by going to Chicago to attend the Chicago Theological Seminary, where I was lucky to receive a full fellowship. Gary and I moved to Chicago to take over also, serendipitously, the leadership of St. Elizabeth Catholic Worker House. Those were years of profound transformations. And after seminary, I did invent something new for myself–a ministry which was a combination of activism, offering feminist therapy for women, and leading feminist ritual and community education. (This was years before I eventually was ordained as a Unitarian Universalist minister.)

Now, looking back at my own herstory, I can feel the continuity between the me of now and the me of back then. But I feel some sadness that the changes for which I struggled, while meeting some success, have also faced incredible backlash and new challenges. Still, I don’t regret any of it.

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What now?

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Are you getting thrown off-balance by the shocking pronouncements every day from the Trump administration?  I have been wrestling with my heart, needing quiet, needing spaciousness to hear, underneath the din, the voices of the Spirits.  I think I am coming to some clarity.

It is easy to want to pass along the latest Facebook post with one more horror that is being perpetrated on innocent people or the earth.  So much outrage fills my heart when I hear about what is being done.  But it is their plan to stun us with horror, so that we are debilitated and unable to act.  So I plan to stop passing along horrifying posts. I will try to pass along posts of resistance and beauty and solidarity and compassion. I will also continue to post what news I hear from the resistance at Standing Rock, since that is often kept from the media.

Every week I am invited (via Facebook) to several rallies or vigils or demonstrations.  I am happy to see people in the streets–it is important.  But for me, I need so much solitude to keep on track, so much quiet to hear what is going on.  Unlike some people, I don’t find it empowering to be anonymous in a passionate crowd.  I can’t go to the rallies and marches every week.  Maybe I can do this once a month.  Rather, I need to make connections at a personal level.  So when something is coming down that might be hurting people, I will try to reach out to those with whom I have some possible link, to offer more personal support.

Similarly, we’ve been encouraged to inundate our elected representatives to try to stop what is happening.  I know this needs to happen, but it is generally not my own area of strength or passion.  (I have also come to understand that petitions aren’t usually effective, so unless it seems particularly well-suited, I am not going to spend energy on those.)  Phone calls are supposed to be the most effective way of getting counted.  So, I have found a website that sends an email once a week, with simple options for making phone calls on the current issues.  5 Calls uses your location to find your local representatives, and provides phone numbers and scripts so that calling is quick and easy.  I can do that once a week for 5 minutes, and maybe it might work for others too.

I don’t want the Trump administration to hijack my own calling, my own work.  I don’t want to be overwhelmed with guilt or “shoulds” or some internalized expectation of what an activist must look like.  The Spirits say to me, “Be a human being! You don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t have to be the “savior” of the world. Risk your heart. Use your preaching voice to speak the truth. Keep doing your core work.  It is still necessary to wake up to our connection to the earth, our connection to spirit, our connection to each other.  Stay centered in that work.”

Do you have core work that you need to do?  Please know that it is okay to Listen.