First appeared in Feminism and Religion, August 19, 2016
Outside my childhood home grows a yellow rose bush descended from one planted by my great-grandmother, Jennie, a century ago. That bush has given her descendants many gifts of spirit over the years— her love of beauty despite a life of tragedy and constant toil, her deep connection to nature persisting through four generations, her hope for the future inherent in planting anything that will take years to fully develop. When I contemplate my own fall garden and its plants sowing seeds for next year, I ponder the special responsibility we, as spiritual feminists, have for leaving to those who will come after us a legacy of inner resources that they will need to meet the challenges of the planet they will inherit and hopefully make into their own sustainable world of equality, peace and happiness.
In my mind I sit with a circle of spiritual feminists of the future. Around me might be a hairdresser or a President, a doctor, barista, poet, scientist, salesclerk, priestess, or elder. They could be old or young or in-between, from anywhere on Earth, of any spiritual tradition or practice. For one moment of time out of time, I can speak directly to them of what I have distilled from my life that I would like them to know. I say to them:
You are not alone in your struggles to remake the world. You are part of a great and growing family of people from many times and places — from priestesses at ancient and modern goddess temples, to foremothers whose souls were at peace, or on fire, even as everything around them denied the value of women’s spirits, to those grandmothers still beside you — who have all found sacredness within themselves, in nature, and in life and sought to make with that revelation positive change. The world needs your fresh eyes to see what must be done in your own time, but always know you may draw on all our life experiences and wisdom and feel our loving arms of support around you.
At times, when you have worked for decades with little visible change, you may think all is hopeless. But when you look from the perspective of many generations, you will see a slow, but inevitable progress that moves always, with some stops and temporary turn-arounds, towards wholeness, freedom, and truth. Some of your goals for the world dearest to your heart will not come to be in your lifetime, but they may in someone else’s, and you will have helped make them possible.
The Earth, in its natural state, is a beautiful, abundant planet and human beings have the capacity for immense love, compassion, curiosity, courage, and brilliance. Your birth is a gift to you and all who dwell on the Earth. Of course both natural and human-made tragedy exists, but we are reminded of those often and of life’s joys rarely. When what you see around you makes you despair, remember the joys and be renewed.
But the circle in my vision does not exist in space and time, so how will I, how will we, convey these legacies?
By how we live our lives. When my mother set her spirit free among the clouds by learning to fly planes in her 40s she taught me that women have always found ways to immerse themselves in divinity wherever they find it. My great-grandmother encouraged her daughter, my grandmother — and her great-granddaughters — to see worlds beyond her own by sewing hundreds of dresses and quilts for neighbors to pay to send my grandmother to college in the 1920s when few women pursued higher education. Each morning when we wake up, we are responsible for the stories our actions that day will tell.
By the visions we express. Why did Susan B. Anthony’s speech “Failure Is Impossible” declaring that women’s suffrage would prevail help make that come about decades later? Because she looked beyond the obstacles of her own time to see that women’s rights were moving forward and gave hope to future generations to keep striving no matter what the odds. In the midst of daily struggle, it can be easy to miss seeing incremental movement towards a grand goal, but as we get older, our long memories give us the means to dream big and the obligation to convey what we see.
By the art we create. When, as a young woman, I discovered a photo of Isadora Duncan dancing, in love with herself and her body, at one with her spirit, and a flower painting by Georgia O’Keefe, I witnessed divinity expressed in the beauty of the female body and physical manifestations of nature. When we write, paint, dance, act, play or compose in a way that reflects the shining that we see with our inner eyes, we affirm to all those who experience our creation the wonder of the world and that it is worth living in and striving to improve.
Like my great-grandmother, we are the gardeners of gardens we will never see, but of which we are an inextricable and essential part. We tend the soil that it may be fertile, plant seeds that we hope will become towering trees, create beauty for solace and renewal. In the center, the rose bush weaves its stems and blooms around us, uniting us into an unbroken line of generations through time. We each have our own messages and means, and what you say and how you say it will no doubt be different from mine. May we all be the rose’s blooms, roots and stems for each other and for all those descendants of many families, times, and places who come after us.