Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Voices of Women

"Tender Beauty"
- along a wilderness trail- 

Today is International Women's Day - an occasion for people from all over the world to mark the contributions women make and a time to call for greater equality for women in society. 

On this "Women's Day" I  just finished reading an article featuring a group of nuns who work at the Vatican lamenting over there fact that they are treated as less than second-class citizens by the powerful men who govern the Roman Catholic Church. One of the women who was interviewed noted, "When the priests and bishops pass us in the hallways, they act as if we are invisible." 

I've been thinking about that nun's comment. It seems to me that when it comes to religions in general, and Western religion in particular, women's voices are rarely heard. When the sacred stories are told from generation to generation, it's as if the women are invisible.

In the Hebrew scriptures we hear stories about Abraham or Moses but we almost never hear the story of Abraham's wife Sara or Moses' big sister Miriam, and the fact is that without Sarah there is no story of Abraham and Moses would have done nothing without the influence and guidance of his sister.  

The voices of women rang loud and clear back in Biblical times but those voices have been muted over the ages, barely even heard in our own times. 

In the Christian Gospels, the disciples we hear about are all men - Peter and Paul, the 12 male apostles whose statues have adorned churches throughout Christendom. But the truth is that Jesus also gathered together women into his band of disciples. In fact it was even somewhat scandalous that Jesus dared to call on women to be his trusted followers. Women were treated as "property" in the patriarchal culture of Jesus' day, and so it was a radical move to include them as disciples right alongside and equal to the men. 

In the Gospel stories about the resurrection, it was Jesus' female disciples who were the first to see the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene and not Peter may indeed have been the leader of the disciples after Jesus' mission on earth was completed; and without the support, influence and resources of some powerful women of the day there would have been no ancient Christian church. 

As time went on the men got scared of the influence of these strong, noble women, fearing that the women would usurp their rightful male role. And so the women's  stories were suppressed, their voices were muted - today we barely know about them in our own times.

As I see it, so many images and pictures of "God" are so masculine and male-oriented because the clear strong voices of women have been been so muted over time.  

We imagine "God" as an almighty father and a powerful king and forget that the Bible also depicts "God" as the tender mother who never forgets her children or that "God" is like the mother hen hovering over her brood with an abiding protective presence.  

In my own spiritual journey, those feminine images of "God" are far more appealing and evocative than the masculine depictions. 

So on this International Women's Day I want to celebrate and to hear again the strong clear voices of women - women from the past who have helped point the "way" - women in the present who are wise and holy guides. 

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