Long ago, in 1986 to be exact, I entered London’s Kensington Library to explore their section on women’s spirituality as I prepared to lead a retreat for a group of Catholic nuns. The male librarian was annoyed that I asked for such a “non-existent subject matter.” “All spirituality is the same, Madam!” he answered rather abruptly as he brushed me away with a flick of his hand.
That led me to a deeper search to find out more about women’s ideas of the divine, women’s social work, women’s relationships with other women, women’s contributions to the corporate world, women’s changes in family life, women’s basic philosophy of life. Slowly the questions grew in my mind: Why are all the scriptures written by men? Why are the naves of churches filled with women while the sanctuaries are peopled with men? Why are women excluded from the lawmaking bodies of religions? What can we learn from the ancient worship of the Goddess? Do women image God in a different way than men have taught us? Do the great male and female saints tread the same spiritual paths? Is there a difference between men’s spirituality and women’s?
Two years later, after much study, exploration, and teaching, I was leaving London to return to the States. It seemed appropriate to donate my large collection of writings on women’s spirituality and psychology to the Kensington Library. Three huge stacks of books were carried into the chief librarian’s office. When he learned of their subject matter, he angrily shoved himself back from his desk, slamming his wheeled chair into the wall as he sputtered, “No, no. Take them away! There is no such thing as women’s spirituality!”
Today all has changed. Much has been accomplished by women in the last twenty years. Now women have taken their place in many religions, (or at least can now vocalize their demands); women have climbed the corporate ladder as they wished, women have achieved professional status in fields where their hearts lead them; women have explored images of the divine that make sense to them; women have claimed their own selves.
It is a joy to watch the many paths taken by women in today’s world; a delight to read their writings, watch their films, vote for them as civic leaders, enjoy their dance and their song and their sports. So much has been achieved that it sometimes appears that there is nothing to strive for any longer.
But two questions quickly arise. Are all women enjoying freedom, security, and progress?
Just back from a trip to the Indian Himalayas, it was obvious to the American travelers to see that the fields were filled with women planting, digging, reaping while the men sat smoking in the villages. We watched as women carried rocks up the hills for building the roads while the men supervised their placement. When visiting Poland, I found the women thin and tired, trying so hard to keep their children fed and happy. One of them told me that they “don’t have courage to join a women’s group because our husbands forbid it.” As I sat with a Luther pastor in his living room while his wife prepared our dinner, I asked if the church would ordain women for ministry in Poland. “Ah!” answered the pastor, “My friends and I thoroughly support women’s ordination, but it would bring many problems for the family. Who would take care of the needs of the husband and the children when the wife was in the church?”
Of course, we need not travel too far to find some of the same problems here at home. What about single mothers? What about those without money, childcare, schooling, security? What can we do about it?
The second question that springs to mind admiring women’s accomplishments is, Are we happy? After all the work and struggle, the positive changes in education, the stepping forward to lead in politics, we still have needs. Do all women feel fulfilled? Are our fears gone? Are our talents well used? Are we growing spiritually? Can we love easily and freely? Is life a joy for us?
So today, in the midst of our satisfaction, joy of accomplishment, and use of power, we must acknowledge that there is still much work to be done.