I gave a women’s retreat day at my parish yesterday, a very powerful experience for me and the 60 women who participated in the retreat. I used Joan Chittister’s book, The Story of Ruth: Twelve Moments in Every Women’s Life, as the basis for our time together. Chittister sees the biblical women Ruth and Naomi as metaphors, as models of all of the women of the world, and she uses their story as a way to identify the defining moments “that mark every women’s passage through time in a way separate from the men around her and that shape her as she goes.”
For me, there is tremendous power in that statement. If life is a series of defining moments that each of us as women passes through, then nothing I face is faced by me alone. My own transforming moments – my moments of loss, of change, of insight, of invisibility, of transformation – may be different from those of other women, but these moments of loss, change, insight, etc., are moments that we all face. And by “we all” I mean to include not just the 60 women I sat in a room with yesterday, or even all of the women living today, but rather every women through time.
That realization creates a kind of strength. Women of today stand in a long line of women who have all experienced the same kinds of transforming moments that each of us faces. The blood of all the Ruths and Naomies that have come before us, the blood of all of our soul sisters who have come before us, flows through our veins. When I say that, among the women I immediately think of are the ones I included in litany that was part of our opening prayer – Mary of Nazareth, Claire of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, Catherine of Siena, Therese of Liseaux, Edith Stein, Dorothy Day, Ita Ford and Maura Clarke. But add whoever you want to your own list. And draw strength from their stories, from how they dealt with their defining moments, as you give attention to the moments that determine who and what you really are, who and what you are intended to be, who and what you can become.
I should also add that we don’t just draw strength from the women who have come before us. One of the things that was so palpable yesterday was how women draw strength from each other. We need to find more opportunities for women to tell each other their stories, for women to take time from the care they give to those around them to nurture their own souls, their own growth.