As seems only right this week as we bear down on Christmas Eve, we will celebrate women, those busiest attempting to create holidays full of wonder, beauty, and joy, in spite of the conditions in which we find ourselves!
It is time, it is necessary.
For a long season, women have struggled in a world where invisible norms still diminish us, our values and our work. Despite the many advances into professions and careers traditionally the stronghold of men, female medical students are warned by older women not to consider demanding specialities if they want to have children. Women continue to accept inadequate maternity leave times and juggle work-home responsibilities unequally. They hold down the home front while their partners justify endless hours away on the merits of lopsided metrics of value.
Perhaps most importantly, women in the main still tend to the emotional life of relationships. It is they who observe and bear the childrens’ needs, mostly; they who cultivate the atmosphere of the home; they who tend the feeling life of the marriage and the social life of the family.
These are the unseen forces in the private sphere. We are now recognizing the extent to which, in the other area of life, women are subjected to reductionist sexualization by sad but powerful men.
Illumination can be a dangerous thing. It can shed light. But handled in unskilled ways, it can also burn us up. The stories of rape and blackmail and threats and denigration have triggered countless more women than those who have stepped up to on #MeToo. I don’t know a woman who has not been marked by multiple occasions of inappropriate rage, or the silencing that arises from verbal innuendo, inappropriate touching, and intimidation.
Women are at a crossroads of consciousness. For more than a century prescient social observers, psychologists and theologians have predicted this. We must not let the shock of the unfolding narrative obscure its inevitability, nor its deep implications.
We need to ask – in strength, not as victims — these questions:
Why is the feminine so despised in this culture?
Why it is so feared?
What shattered inner compass drives so many men to the pathology of objectification and violence?
Is this partly because women remain the bridge to an intuitive and spiritual world that many men have become separated from? Is it easier to drown out our voices with bullying and assertive posing than to hear what would require self-examination and change?
Our spiritual intelligence is our great strength. Indeed, the point of greatest friction and anguish for many women I know is the tension that comes from trying to live our lives as spiritual creatures while meeting the demands of work, and even social lives, that have a distant connection to the life of the soul.
As we begin this soul searching — hopefully with good men who are also appalled and hurt by the actions of other men — it is important to consider we can face into the darkness of abuse and rage and violence without burning ourselves up?
Women have navigated and preserved our integrity, and our gifts until now. We have done so through our creativity.
At this time, it is important that we stay grounded in these wellsprings — our creative visions and imagination and our stories. We need to share with one another the ways in which we transform our daily struggles, and the place we make for creative expression, that allows us to renew, heal, and bring our best selves forward with each new day.
This Advent, my Christmas gift to myself is this painting which I’ve recently acquired from my dear friend, Anne Darby Parker.
The figure speaks to me of woman’s strength, her ease, and her comfort in her own natural sensuality. What I love about this painting is that she seems caught in a private moment, a woman alone — just being — poised, relaxed, unhurried, contemplative. She is just beginning her day, I imagine, and she has paused, with no sense of urgency or hurry, to ponder before she steps into action.
Perhaps she is scanning the day ahead; perhaps reflecting on a comment her husband has made, or the flowers that need deadheading in the garden. Perhaps she is just looking out at the sea.
This isn’t a figure bowed down from being violated or shamed or completely disregarded by a gathering of men.
She is waiting, confident and competent, with a kind of receptive openness that is perhaps the posture of natural prayer.
Anne has given me a true and valid image of women, and I want to start the week by sharing it. While she tells me that she doesn’t title her paintings because she wants the viewer to bring her or his own experience to the work, for me, this figure is a muse for our every Monday. She is what I want to be each day: grounded, contemplative, and fully myself.
Do you have an image that you hold dear of the feminine in such a posture of natural prayer?
In times that suffer the terrible distortions of power, women need to honor and share the stories of our forebear’s courage and creativity and risk. And we need to honor and share those we discover within.
It is necessary. It is time.
[If you are interested in seeing more of Anne’s work: @annespaintings www.annedarbyparker.com]