Looking through some old journals today as I work on a project, I came across this, from my 2016 Silent Retreat at the Jesuit Center:
“A brilliant moment. A brilliant and shining moment. Yesterday evening as I was intently collaging in the Ignatian Room in the basement, two women (Catholic sisters) ‘pssss-d’ at me from the doorway. They needed help to figure out their room and how to get settled, and so I broke my silence and directed them where to go. Pleasant connection.
Just now, I saw them coming in from packing their car, so I went to talk to them. (I feel a little shaky-giddy yet with the dearness and synchronicity of it.) They, too, are/have been educators. Sisters Mary Clare and Bridget, Sisters of Mercy from Dallas, PA.
They embraced me, embraced my story. They said that they will add me and my students into their evening Centering Prayers. They said they will send me the Energy of the Universe. They said that there are no chance encounters, no coincidences.
They kissed me and embraced me and blessed me. Oh marvelous world, that has such people in it.”
I remember them and their love so clearly. Indeed, there are no coincidences, no chance encounters. How will I, how will you, bless and embrace those we meet–with such purposeful blessing from the Universe?
Following her fascinating performance at the G20 this past week, I have been thinking about how Ivanka Trump typifies white American femaleness.
This is toxic white femininity at its most caricatured, I think. I remember being caught by her apparent (key word: apparent) candor and thoughtfulness in her speech at the RNC when her daddy was running for prez. She could parrot feminist-sounding ideas, and perhaps she even has some sense of (white) feminist conviction. (What was the phrase she used in the infamous video from the G20? Something about a male-dominated ecosystem?) She can look deeply concerned in interviews about children and poor people. Along with the Barbie-fresh have-it-all physical image she has cultivated, she builds up an image of ideological understanding that has no basis in real, significant thought and education. She’s young and beautiful and well-dressed, and knows how to play for power based on her sexual appeal. She has the family and the power-husband and the power-job and the handbags. From Image Menu C, she’ll help herself to a little pseudo-feminism (as long as it has no hint of intersectionality), a little furrowed brow and sad eyes when presented with the pain of non-white non-rich people. Ideology as image-boost. Like someone who has no idea who Che Guevara is wearing a Che t-shirt because it looks cool.
Please understand that this isn’t simply a hate-Ivanka fest. I want to come back to the main point. I think she absolutely typifies toxic white femininity. Isn’t this toxic white femininity in a nutshell? The image from the G20 that seems to hold it all is the doll-like and flirty Ivanka sitting with her daddy among all those serious world leaders, because vulnerability, because sexuality, because Disney-princess.
And I don’t exempt myself here. I swim in this cultural soup myself. I try to wake up and wake up and wake up again. White sisters, we can choose to use our privilege to pretend our way into powerful situations, we can parrot intellectual-sounding babble about the male-dominated ecosystem, we can weaponize our sexuality with flirty child-like princess-innocence, we can carry all the power-handbags we want, but we’ll be helping only ourselves. Consolidating our own power. Continuing the sinister and insidious mock-innocence of the white woman who could pretend concern for the enslaved people on her husband’s estate while brutally and capriciously abusing the house-slaves. Continuing the hypocrisy of northern white women who could give lip service to civil rights, but do everything in their power to keep black and brown children out of their own children’s schools.
I’m not sure how to wrap this up. I guess the point is more about unwrapping at this stage. How do we white women unthread ourselves from this toxic tapestry? How do we grow beyond the very modern fairy tale that so many of us find ourselves embracing? Let’s begin by walking into a different fairy tale, leaving the princesses behind. We’ve got new woods to walk in, new characters to notice and pay attention to. Here is the stark and liberating reality: we’re not actually the main character. Can we step out of the spotlight, share power, and choose to live authentically? Can we be true to our human selves rather than purchasing images of selves like America’s princess?
(Gratitude: My friend Christine Lincoln–a Poet and Activist and Grandmother and Wise Woman and so much more–is the one who gave me the analytical doorway into an exploration of toxic white femininity. I hope she writes a book. All Americans should read it.)
Friends I met on my walk yesterday: 1. Crow. Crow reminds me to get the wide perspective, to take on the adventure that any wind offers, to speak my mind. Crows don’t take heed for nothing. 2. Dogbane. Dogbane reminds me to be resourceful, to take note of the helpers who are always present, and to spin: cord, stories, prayers. . . 3. Deer. She ran across Schmuck Road, causing an SUV to brake. She reminds me to pause. She reminds me to love myself unconditionally, to live from the heart, to listen. 4. Monarch. He reminds me of resilience, how fragility and strength are not mutually exclusive. He reminds me to always look for beauty in everything. 5. Scarlet Pimpernel. A tiny five-petaled scarlet flower found in the grasses. When I was in college, I watched the old black and white movie The Scarlet Pimpernel, about a French dandy who uses disguises to rescue aristocrats condemned to the guillotine. What I took away from the movie is the importance of resisting the machines vengeance and death-dealing. Be surprising. Pop up wherever you’re needed.
I know. No posts for a week or more, and then two in one day. I’m out of school, and all the things I have not had time to think are now finding their way into my brain.
Here’s a plea: Can we please cut out the personal insults to the president’s appearance, please? It’s too easy, too below the bar, too off-point. We have too much at stake to muddy our message with meanness.
The tuxedo pictures with the Queen? Isn’t that just fat-shaming? Yes, Obama looked terrific in a tux, but I didn’t vote for Mr. Obama because of his body. I liked him because he did his best to try to level the playing field a little. I liked him because he read and understood liberation theology. I liked him because he was well-read and well-spoken, and a man of grace and character. I liked him because he had a plan to make health care accessible to all, and he tried his best to make it happen.
By the same lights, I don’t care what Mr. Trump looks like in a tuxedo. He could look classy and stylish and debonair, and he would still be someone who enacts fascist-style policies that tear children away from asylum-seekers without any intention of getting them back together again. He could be svelte and handsome and charming and still gut environmental protections while denying the climate crisis.
PThe fake tan? Can we just stop with the Cheeto references? Let’s not make fun of people’s skin color, okay? Even when it’s self-inflicted. Didn’t we learn that one a long time ago, from some wise man, that we should judge people on the basis of their character rather than the color of their skin? And there are more than a few aspects of Mr. Trump’s character that make me question his suitability to run a country: blatant misogyny, racism, religious bigotry, classism, narcissism. . . We really need to focus on those: they’re what make him a dangerous leader.
Basic Logic 101 teaches us about the ad hominem fallacy, attacking the person rather than the issue. We have plenty of strong arguments as to why this man is at best a poor leader and at worst a dangerous one, but we weaken our arguments with ad hominem attacks on his personal appearance. We lose our focus on the real dangers he poses to vulnerable people, and we trivialize the actual pain he and his policies cause, when we make fun of his appearance. Plus, it gives people an excuse not to take our very real concerns seriously. Also, would you make fun of your rotund cousin in his tuxedo? Would you make fun of your friend who has rosacea?
I am all for the work of the sacred clown in society, making fun of people who refuse to self-reflect. When a president has his press flunkies lie about the size of his inauguration crowd, then it seems fitting to point out the size of the crowd that turns out to protest his presence in the UK. When he uses Twitter as a platform to spew wild and conspiracy-laden ideas, as well as a forum for personal aggrandizement, then it seems right to point out the ridiculousness in his tweets. But the size of his belly and the color of his face have nothing to do with the size of his crowd or his Twitter status.
Meanwhile, children who have been torn from their parents (nursing babes, toddlers, all the way up to teens) are in camps and detention centers, receiving minimal care and no education, from what I am able to gather. They’re subject to sexual and physical abuse. Reporters are not allowed to film or photograph conditions, if they’re allowed in at all.
Meanwhile, transgender people are in danger of losing human rights protections for medical care. Meanwhile, women are losing reproductive rights. Meanwhile, the environment is being destroyed, and the warnings about impending ecological devastation are ignored or denied.
We need to actively work to remove this man AND his enablers from power, not sit around taking potshots at his appearance.
I hate to be a scold. I know it feels good in the moment to stoop to his level. I know that because I have done it. But it doesn’t feel good in retrospect, to get down in that mud. We don’t save this country by name-calling. We save it by truth-telling. By action on behalf of the vulnerable. By holding the greedy and power-hungry accountable for their speech and their actions. Let’s get to work.
If you could trust your voice completely, if you didn’t have to consider how how others would respond, if you didn’t have to be safe, to be tame, to be docile and humble, acceptable and charming and quiet, if you had not been trained to make your words into an easy chair, to turn your voice to honey: What would you say?
In 2005, my first pregnancy ended in a traumatic miscarriage. I recognize that all miscarriages are traumatic; this one, however, did not take care of itself. After the initial days of a slow bleed, I experienced a day of what I learned later (during the labor for my first live birth) was essentially hard labor. At thirteen weeks, my body went into full contraction mode to expel this pregnancy. I began to recover. I grieved. I went back to work, only to experience massive bleeding which began while I was teaching a class. I rushed to the ER at Women’s and Babies Hospital, where I was given surgical help to complete the miscarriage.
This was one of the most difficult times of my life. In the hospital, I received immediate and compassionate care from everyone involved. There was no questioning, no second-guessing. Of course my records confirmed that I had had a sonogram the previous week that showed a nonviable fetus. Still, I experience horror when I think of the stories I have read of women in my same situation who were forced to wait and bleed for hours or days because a rigorously anti-abortion hospital would not give surgical assistance without establishing the lack of a heartbeat. In some cases, women have developed infections or lost grave amounts of blood or even died for lack of essential medical care during miscarriage.
Will these merciless anti-abortion laws increase the risks for miscarrying women? I have absolutely no doubt that they will. On top of that, women who are experiencing the tragedy of pregnancy loss, of the self-doubt and shame we carry about how our bodies have let us down, will be placed in the position of being interrogated about whether they did anything to cause their miscarriages, with the risk of being charged as felons if they are not believed.
If some of us are particularly twitchy and quick to rage and grieving these days, it might have something to do with this, with having to re-open the trauma of our pregnancy losses–for whatever their reason or cause–finding ourselves imagining what the world will be like for women of the future who may have to endure what we experienced, only without compassionate care or empathetic understanding.
It’s time to trust women to understand what is happening to our bodies.
First of all: If this day when everyone speaks of mothers is a day unbearable to you, I wish you the spiraling green of a damp spring day, cool breezes which bring your skin alive, and birdsong which calls your spirit to adventure. If you just cannot do this day, I hope that you can make it your own. Call it the Day of the Lost and Venturesome Soul. Go forth and ride the winds with the joy of your own being in this place.
And also, I must mark this day for myself: First, for the mother who mothered me, who has shown me so much of beauty and goodness in the world, who reminds me to put on the brakes when I start sliding downhill into emotional pits. She taught me to look outside, and to look inside, to marvel, to wonder, to look at the crunchy emotions with as much curiosity as the soaring ones. She reminds me to trust my voice.
I know that not all of us have such women who raised us. In that case, I wish you nurturers in other guises, way-show-ers, path-markers, wise wells and founts of deep inner knowledge, who will mother and mentor you, no matter their gender or parental status. In my life, I have had many mothers who have been guides on this pathway, Hecates to my Persephone. Great gratitude to all of you, beloveds.
And my own mothering space is complicated, as yours might be, too. I began to lose my first pregnancy on Mother’s Day, and birthed my second in this season. I treasure these young souls in my care, and I love being their mother. And, befitting one of the besetting troubles of my own psyche, I feel inadequate to the task. I beat myself up for the many unmotherly things I have done. Still, I am grateful for this chance to grow more fully into myself with them.
On this day, I commit myself to finding my own mothering/mentoring role in the world, to point out the beauty, to encourage the inward look, to nurture, to guide, to mentor, to engage, to See.
No matter your relationship to this day, I wish you a sense of yourself as belonging in this world. Much love.
We are two days in to the season of Awakening, of Hatching, of Breaking Open. Two days in, through wind and sunshowers, through gusting rain and rushing cloud. Last year, on the second day of spring, a foot of snow fell in the hollow. This year, a seemingly endless drench of rain.
In the season of Brigid, back in February, we felt the Earth stirring, noticed the sap rising, watched pull toward birth and sprouting. Now we feel the promise, watch the winter aconite drop seeds for next years golden cups, and Persephone’s footprints–all shades of crocus–springing up across the lawns, uncontainable by flower beds.
What, in you, is hatching now? What thing, which has lain long and silently within you like a seed in the darkness, now seeks the sun and breezes? Hold that thing within you, like a seed. See the rough, hard casing which has protected it in its dreamstate. Breathe in the sun of spring, the chill air biting as it enters, and feel your lungs, your belly, your capacity, expand. Watch the casing of your dreamseed break open, and feel the roots push downward within you. Feel the sprout nosing upwards to the light and warmth of spring. What is being born within you? What new capacity? What new heartspace? What plan and purpose? Blessed be your seeds. Crack open. Seek the sun. Feel the rains of spring caress your growing roots.
Gratitude List: 1. The groundhog who is nosing around on the hillside behind the house 2. A day off, to ponder and paint, and catch up on the work 3. The fog of winter is lifting 4. Watching the children grow and become so gallantly themselves 5. The seeds which are sprouting
Today I am home from school with a sick child. It’s a nice chance for some slow, quiet time in between checking his temperature and beating him mercilessly at a game of Monopoly.
It’s Ash Wednesday, the beginning of that 40-day journey before Easter, a moon-bound season between the season of Brigid and the season of Ostara. As spokes on the eight-pointed solar wheel, Brigid and Ostara occur on the same days every solar year: Groundhog’s Day and Spring Equinox, ancient celebrations of the quickening of life in the earth, and the time of hatching and birth that is spring. But Lent is fluid, floating along the surface of the solar year, woven into the cycles of the moon and its dance with that Equinox sun. On Brigid’s February morning, we look to our shadows and consider whether the light we have within us will serve us until the spring. We take stock of our inner reserves and resources. In Lent, we take that question further, considering the question of enough.
During Lent, we look inward and wonder at the holes and spaces within. We see our lack, and instead of shrinking away in fear and despair, we say, “Yes,” and “Yes” again. Here is who I am. I know that I can be one who betrays the Holy One, one with the potential to deny my beloved. I know how I can cringe in fear, hide in shadow, whimper and whine in dread and shame. And I know, too, that I can walk toward those shadows within myself, because only in walking through those shadows will I encounter the shining lights that sparkle on the other side–also within me.
Last night, I gathered with a group of colleagues and students from my school to participate in the first of five Racial Justice Trainings (workshops? seminars? mentoring sessions?) that will happen throughout the spring. During the evening, our facilitator, Dr. Amanda Kemp, challenged us to keep a journal during these weeks of trainings, to ground and center ourselves so that we can hold space for transformation, to walk toward our fear, to challenge our assumptions and implicit biases. It feels to me like just the discipline to take up on this moon-clad journey toward Easter, to consider this time of training as my Lenten Work.
So often we get Lent wrong. We think we have to do penance for our evil ways, to enshroud ourselves in shame, to bewail our miserable selves. But when we simply throw it all off as just an exercise in self-flagellation, I think we get it wrong, too. This is a time to look realistically at who we are inside, what our strengths and our failings are. Lent is a time of discipline–not beatings and beratings, but careful training and thoughtful self-education. Amanda inspires me to take hold of this coming season as a time to consider my accountability, to look at the ways in which I participate in the unjust systems of today, just as the religious elite at the turn of the millennium participated in the destructive systems of their day. In this season, I commit myself to assess my inner world, to take stock of my role in the breaches and breaks, to walk toward my fears, to become a mender and repairer of the web.