I am a member of 6 diverse women’s groups.
None of these groups started out explicitly as women’s groups; three are public boards. It’s just that often I find myself in a happy serious working coven of strong women, going about the restorative work of the commons, doing what needs to be done. Having called myself a womanist for over 30 years, I am now growing into the deepest incarnation of that self-description. In each of these groups I am inspired, challenged, led to responsibility and cared for.
One of my groups is a book group. We read novels and non-fiction organized around issues of social and racial justice. The conversation is an island of possibility where we take the chance to express ourselves passionately. These are strong women, graduates of a state-wide leadership program, each captains of their own industry. My wife invited me to this group. Every gathering I leave feeling as if I have been showered with a fall of blessings.
I’m also part of a ritual group, a “worship committee” which gathers to plan large events marking the wheel of the year, particularly the equinoxes and solstices. We call our work “Gathering the Tribes” and our clear intention is to create a wild and safe communal open space where the seasonal, the celestial, the creative and the personal can meet and pollinate each other. On a regular basis we break bread and drink wine together, check in with each other and spend hours “chopping wood and carrying water,” doing the work of our spiritual commons.
I have a plant ally group that meets monthly. We have a wide net and sometimes men actually attend this one. We are creating a seasonal calendar for the gathering of wild edibles and medicines; we share wild foods and explore the deeper narratives of plants. We eat, we talk, we work, we walk somewhere nearby and explore what’s growing in our back yards and open spaces. This is church for me: intimate, positive, mysterious and kind.
My public boards are Family Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Chatham County, the Abundance Foundation and the Dogwood Alliance. Of these only Dogwood has a significant percentage of men on their board. John, Neville, Rod and Dan prove the exception to my experience that mostly it is women who show up.
Michael Meade published an article this year in Speaking Truth to Power titled “Where Have All the Wise Men Gone?” “We live in a time of great forgetting”, he says, where precious life-sustaining elders are being replaced with just ‘olders who fail to recommit to the great ideals that sustain the deepest values of human life . . .’
I find this so true of men in general, and it is a great source of sorrow for me. On the other hand, my life is rich with women who show up over and over again with a grounded vision, the courage of conviction and a willingness to self-sacrifice, the luminous qualities of the elder.
I take a charge from the poet Adrienne Rich:
My heart is moved by all I cannot save
So much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
Who, age after age, perversely,
With no extraordinary power,
Reconstitute the world.