The National Women’s History Project’s theme for Women’s History Month, March, is “Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business.”
But one area where the importance of women cannot be underestimated is in our faith communities. In my own church, St. Andrew’s Episcopal, Women in Parish Life organizes weddings, funerals and special events. Daughters of the King, another group, organizes events for baptisms, leads workshops on prayer, gathers baskets of supplies for women coming out of prison and more.
In almost every faith group women teach the young, visit the sick and bring other members to events who could not come otherwise.
Beyond that, we are increasingly members of clergy and theologians and historically, have been prophets. In Judaism, there were matriarchs Sarah and Rachel; Deborah was prophetess, as was Huldah. Rabi’a al-’Adawiyya was a great Muslim mystic. Dame Julian, of Norwich, in the Christian tradition, was also a mystic whose “Revelations of Divine Love” is considered one of the first books in English written by a woman. Sarada Devi was also a guru and mystic in the Ramakrishna monastic order. Lama Tsultrim Allione was one of the first American women ordained as a Buddhist nun.
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In the introduction to his book “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power,” former President Jimmy Carter claims that “prejudice, discrimination, war, violence, distorted interpretations of religious texts, physical and mental abuse, poverty and disease fall disproportionately on women and girls ...”
Furthermore, he says that a worldwide system of discrimination and abuse exists, touching “… every nation, perpetuating and expanding the trafficking in human slaves, body mutilation and even legitimized murder on a mass scale. This system is based on the presumption that men and boys are superior to women and girls, and it is supported by some male religious leaders who distort the Holy Bible, the (Holy Quran) and other sacred texts ... . Many men disagree but remain quiet in order to enjoy the benefits of their dominant status.”
To which we might add — And many women remain quiet to avoid violence and other forms of retaliation for speaking up.
In addition to Women’s History Month, March also marks the beginning of Lent in the Christian church, a time of prayer and reflection. For me, I hope to make it a time for stretching myself spiritually, while learning not to pull myself in so many directions that there is no stable center. The great women mentioned above — along with my family and friends (including my interfaith friends), are a huge support to me in this area.
As women, we have and continue to play multiple roles. There are many issues that our communities wrestle with. Bringing together our collective strengths across faiths and genders, we can work to bring healing to our congregations, to our communities and to our world. To do this we must know and understand our own histories and each others’ as well.
Michele Hamilton is a member of Interfaith Initiative Centre County and St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. She works at the Centre County Women’s Resource Center and is the president of the Pennsylvania National Organization for Women. For more information on local interfaith activities, contact InterfaithInitiativeCC@hotmail.com.