There was a wonderful line in Call the Midwife on Sunday night - Sister Julienne is holding Sheila tightly as Sheila's labour progresses and it is hard ... Sheila had been a sister, developed TB, left the community, returned as a nurse and midwife and married Doctor Turner. In response to Sheila's uncertainty and anguish, Sister Julienne says something like: "Every woman is the sum total of all the girls and women she has ever been ..." (Later - watched it again - the quote is "Every woman alive is the sum of all she ever did and felt and was...") I love that. I've spent a long time integrating the girls and women I have been - anxious child, terrified teen, and especially the Sister of St. Margaret I was and therefore in some ways still am - along now with one who broke apart and put together (with God's help and a lot of others), parish priest, director of Mile End Mission, writer ... and one who is wondering what retirement will mean ...
Here is the talk: At a point when I asked questions, I didn't expect responses - especially the second question - What is the little girl in you afraid of. But many DID respond. So moving.
Women’s Day 2017On one of my first trips back ‘home’ to Bermuda, I walked to Grape Bay Beach and, alone except for my friend Judy, I danced a dance of freedom in the soft sand along the edge of the turquoise waters – imagining myself connected to my fore-mothers – aware of a long history of strong, courageous, fearful, amazing women - my Mum, Frances, my Gram, Emily Millicent, born in Bermuda, leaving as a 12 year old for England and then Montreal – with ‘African’ features but fair skin, passing for white because it was, and is, easier to be white in our world… my great-grandmother, Laura Mary and her mother, Susan Jane Smith who was born a slave in 1832. At the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, August 1st, 1834 her owner Elizabeth Hayward was paid 14L 10s 16p for a 2 year old slave’s freedom … Susan Jane’s mother was Joanna Virgin and her mother Margaret Burrows … Smith, Virgin, and Burrows were all the names of slave owner families in Bermuda. Since slave records are difficult to find – that’s as far as I can go. My DNA shows 7% African, mostly from Nigeria and Mali with 1% North Africa and 1% Central Africa hunter – gatherer.
How Gram and her sister, Auntie Jenny were teased about their colonial accents and probably their hint of colour – and their intelligence. How Gram won a scholarship to teacher’s college, but they emigrated to Montreal before she could finish – and she was always saddened not to have become a teacher. How she had green thumbs and then some. How she was always homesick for Bermuda – and returned (with my brother Jim and me) in 1963 for the first time in 57 years – and died the following year.
|from Google Images|
What women do you dance with? Do you dance? What kind of dance?
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,“ he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. … Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” (page 17) “…Except to the people who don’t understand…”
It’s scary, though. We carry broken bits and sorrows as well as joys and triumphs.
If you were to stop and look inside – and find the child that still exists in you – who would you find?
What does she love?
What is she afraid of?
Katherine Paterson, a well-known author of children’s books, twice received the Newbury medal (top prize in children’s literature). Paterson was born in China to missionary parents. And yet, competent, creative, and well-known as she is, she writes that every time she walks into a room full of people she feels like the little girl she was who was dressed in clothing from the missionary barrels.
Childhood – Deaths and insecurity in my first few years led to my being an extremely anxious and extremely good little girl. I made myself largely invisible – I remember the moment it began - unconsciously terrified of being sent away or of people dying and abandoning me. Every morning before school, I’d run upstairs to kiss my Gram good-bye … terrified on some level something might happen to her if I didn’t. One morning I was late and going out the door – no – I ran up, kissed Gram (who was in bed) good-bye, and ran back out. Control – imagining we are in control is, as children, preferable to realizing the world is chaotic and unpredictable.
My little anxious child eventually led me to look for a stable family in community – at St. Margaret’s Convent in Boston. I also loved God. The first part I didn’t understand at the time.
I see Lori. She’s here today. Lori who has awesome gifts with people of every kind – who is able to bring together, respecting both, a heavily alcoholic and difficult man in need of a new health card and the man behind the desk who tries to push them away and refuse to help. Lori who was told, in frustration, by a board member, “You never used to speak up like this.” Lori replied, “I didn’t have to. Ros was here.” That’s when I knew I’d done my job at Mile End Mission. Empowering women to recognize and live out their strength and wisdom. Lori’s good! So quick to respond effectively in situations that might take me 15 minutes to two days to come up with – to trust my knowing …
There are very few places where, or people with whom, I feel I can be confident - confidently say I’m doing a good job. I’m saying it now. I’m retiring. And I’ve done and am doing good ministry. Why should that be so scary? Will someone need to put me down? Can I/we be confident and show it? Can I/we stand tall and be less dependent on external acceptance?
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Have you been put down by another woman – put in your place – had an experience of “Who do you think you are?”
Have put down other women, tried to put them in their place – wondered about another woman : “Who does she think she is?” If so, Why?
There’s a wonderful story of my great-grandparents. The Virtue family lived in St. George’s. Mr. Virtue, a white man, inherited a pew in the front white section – Pew # 26. The Virtues shared their pew with my great-grandparents. For years I’ve wondered how my great-grandma, Laura Mary, a woman of colour, got to sit in a front pew in the 1800’s. Two years ago, I met Sandra, the great-granddaughter of the Virtues. I asked her my burning question. Turns out Mrs. Virtue was also a woman of colour, but it wasn’t provable. I laugh every time I think of some of the white people at St. Peter’s looking at Pew # 26 and thinking to themselves, “Who do they think they are?”
From The Sacred Journey by Frederick Buechner concerning the Feast of All Saints'
...HOW THEY DO LIVE on, those giants of our childhood, and how well they manage to take even death in their stride because although death can put an end to them right enough, it can never put an end to our relationship with them. Wherever or however else they may have come to life since, it is beyond a doubt that they live still in us. Memory is more than a looking back to a time that is no longer; it is a looking out into another kind of time altogether where everything that ever was continues not just to be, but to grow and change with the life that is in it still. The people we loved. The people who loved us. The people who, for good or ill , taught us things. Dead and gone though they may be, as we come to understand them in new ways, it is as though they come to understand us—and through them we come to understand ourselves—in new ways too. Who knows what "the communion of saints" means, but surely it means more than just that we are all of us haunted by ghosts because they are not ghosts, these people we once knew, not just echoes of voices that have years since ceased to speak, but saints in the sense that through them something of the power and richness of life itself not only touched us once long ago, but continues to touch us. They have their own business to get on with now, I assume—"increasing in knowledge and love of Thee," says the Book of Common Prayer, and moving "from strength to strength," which sounds like business enough for anybody— and one imagines all of us on this shore fading for them as they journey ahead toward whatever new shore may await them; but it is as if they carry something of us on their way as we assuredly carry something of them on ours. That is perhaps why to think of them is a matter not only of remembering them as they used to be but of seeing and hearing them as in some sense they are now. If they had things to say to us then, they have things to say to us now too, nor are they by any means always things we expect or the same things...