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Hearing Voices

I am neck-deep in manuscript-writing these days. This book, my book, this thing I’ve been nurturing and holding and holding back for years (and years and years) is now making its way into the world. Much like labor, I can’t stop it now – nor do I want to.  

The section I’m working on currently tells the story of a young woman whose life was violently, brutally ended.

I don’t like the story at all.

I wish it didn’t exist.

There’s no justification of it, no making sense of it.

And though I might wish to just ignore it – to dismiss it as one more piece of evidence against the text within which it’s found – that only perpetuates her harm. Which isn’t acceptable to me.

It is in telling women’s stories – even and maybe especially the most painful ones – that we invite the healing we desire and deserve.

When I calm myself down, at least for a bit, about the injustice and senselessness and violence, I can hear a different voice; I can hear hers. The one that was snuffed out. The one that was permanently silenced. The one we’ve rarely-if-ever bothered to listen to. The one that I imagine she’d speak on our behalf if only we could and would hear.

This is what I believe she’d say:

  • Fear is not your birthright.
  • Do not hold back – no matter the danger or risk.
  • Pursue what brings you life.

I am clear that these three statements are, indeed, the wisdom she longs for all of us to embody – in honor of her sacrifice, in honor of her story, in honor of her, and most of all, in honor of the life and story that is ours.

I am clear that were we to follow these three statements as gospel, it would be our own healing and that of our world that we would enable, invite, witness, and proclaim.

And I am clear that if I were I to imagine her saying even a bit more, it would sound a little something like this:

I’m right about this! Fear is not your birthright. But courage is. Write. Speak. Say. Do. Be. Say “yes.” Say “no.” Quit. Continue. Decide. Whisper. Roar. Love. 

Risk is a given. To try and mitigate it, lessen it, create a balance sheet to show you exactly what might happen if you move this way or that is not the the least bit practical nor remotely close to your destiny. Do not hold back. Let risk and danger be the signs that you are moving in the right direction. And then read the paragraph above over again so that you can remember that fear is not your birthright.

Learn from me. Let my life (and death) offer you invaluable perspective. Cherish every moment. Pursue all that is yours, all that awaits you, all that exists within and around you, all that you desire and deserve. And then read the two paragraphs above over again so that you can remember that fear is not your birthright and you must NOT hold back, no matter the danger or risk!

Of course we wish that stories like hers did not exist, then or now. We must rage (rightly and justifiably) against violence. And in the midst of both, we must honor the voices that can no longer speak, the stories that are rarely if ever told.

We must use our own voices and live our own stories in ways that are courageous and risky and full of life.

 

And when we do? Well, Jepthah’s Daughter smiles and says “Thank you.” Oh, and this:

Read the three paragraphs above over again? And then maybe a few more times? 

With her wisdom as rubric, encouragement, and hope, I labor on – knowing and trusting that the imagined words of even one ancient, sacred young woman might strengthen you in the labor that is yours, in the story that is yours, in all that is yours to birth and live and heal.

May it be so.

A DSM-V Code

Did you know that there is a DSM-V code for religious or spiritual problems? 

Yep: V-Code 62.89. 

Apparently it is often helpful to put a code in a patient’s clinical documentation when there is no evidence of a mental disorder, but they are presenting with significant clinical distress.*

So basically this means that there have been enough people who have exhibited, talked about, named, and acknowledged religious/spiritual struggle, even harm, that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders sees it as worth mentioning.

It is worth mentioning. And then some. 

I have heard more stories than I can count about the ways in which a person’s religious upbringing has profoundly impacted who they’ve become (and not for the better). Better stated, the ways in which it has, too many times, kept them from becoming all of who they desire; instead, small, silent, and shamed.

It’s heartbreaking. Shouldn’t religion and spirituality be the very things that invite us to healing and wholeness, to freedom and empowerment, to hope and joy? Uh, yes.

What may have once been an ideology or system of beliefs that did, indeed, long to offer us the best of all things, they too-often fall prey to our strong predilection (and history) of f***ing things up. We have this nasty habit of turning something sacred and beautiful into a system, complete with rules and rigidity, exclusivity and shame. Well, maybe not “we.” The patriarchy. 

Right. No wonder the DSM code.

I’m currently watching Medici on Netflix. There are three seasons, spanning the 14th through 16th centuries, chronicling this family of tremendous power. What intrigues me to no end is the intertwining of religion into everything – warm, wealth, corruption. It is so clear, so obvious, and seen/justified over and over again as “God’s will.”

The concept is not new to me. When I was in Seminary I studied the history of Christianity. Even now I am somewhat chagrined to acknowledge just how much I didn’t know and how shocking that history is! Politics, most of it, sadly.

The impact and influence of religion and spirituality – in painful and damaging ways – goes back to the beginning. It’s never not been there.** Which makes it understandable why still today, in our own stories, we bear the brunt of that pain; why we see its now-coding in our clinical files and its encoding in our very psyche. 

I have my own stories, to be sure. None that have been categorized (at least that I know of) with V-Code 62.89. Still, I know how hard it was for me to separate from and deconstruct the religion I grew up with; to have the courage to ask the kinds of questions that dismantled my beliefs; to examine and jettison deeply held doctrines. It has only been within the past few years that I’ve been able to circle back, look again, wonder anew, and maybe, just maybe reclaim the best aspects of what got thrown out with the bathwater.

These days I feel healed and whole, free and empowered, full of both hope and joy. My understanding of the divine, my own devotional practices, my own language, beliefs, and experiences of the sacred are exactly that: my own.

It’s been a long journey. One that continues, to be sure.

In the midst of my own, I wonder (and care) about you: your religious or spiritual struggles, the places and ways in which you’ve known harm, the impact that still has on how you see yourself, how you experience your world, how (or if) you engage with the sacred that is part-and-parcel in our everyday lives. If the DSM code applies to any of this, I am so deeply sorry. These are stories you’ll carry with you for a lifetime, to be sure; every one of them deserves infinite compassion and care. You do.

John O’Donohue said:

“Die Wunden des Geistes heilen, ohne dass Narben bleiben”…”The wounds of the spirit heal and leave no scars.”

Oh, how I hope he is right about this. For you. For me. For so many – past, present, and future. 

He also said this:

As your tears fall over that wounded place,
May they wash away your hurt and free your heart.
May your forgiveness still the hunger of the wound

So that for the first time you can walk away from that place,
Reunited with your banished heart, now healed and freed,
And feel the clear, free air bless your new face.”

May it be so. 

 

*https://www.psychdb.com/teaching/dsm-v-icd-z-codes

** This is not to say that the only impact and influence of religion and spirituality has been pain, damage, and corruption. I understand, know, and have experienced far more. I am aware of and grateful that beauty and truth survive in spite of it all. But to only name the good is to cause more harm. 

 

A late-night text

I’ve been thinking about the wisdom that has shaped much of my life. I’m grateful for some of it, to be sure. There’s been a lot more that I’ve had to intentionally dismantle and deconstruct.

I was raised in the church. Both consciously and subconsciously it inferred, offered, and proclaimed Wisdom – as an institution, within its sacred text, because of its God. And not just a  wisdom, the wisdom. It was the only wisdom that I was to rely on, turn to, and build my life upon. I was dutiful. I was obedient. I was disciplined. And to be fair, it was this wisdom to which I turned, on which I relied, in which I took solace. The darker side was also true: when I didn’t turn to it, rely on it, or took solace anywhere else, I felt vast shame and guilt.

But it wasn’t just the church, religion, or God as wisdom source – it was men. (White) men were seen as the experts, the holders of authority, the ones I could and should trust. In completely transparency, for a very long time, I rarely-if-ever thought to consider anything else! They had the answers. And because that was so obvious, it was just as obvious that I did not have answers – or wisdom; that my thoughts could not be trusted, that I could not, should not trust myself.

Then there was academia. It would have never crossed my mind to question why all of the things I was learning were from (more) white men. Yes, I had a few women teachers along the way, but they were instructing me from textbooks written by white men. Even in college, as a Business and Communications major, everything I learned was from a man’s perspective, man-as-wisdom. I didn’t question a bit of it. I appreciated what I was learning. I took it in as gospel.

By the time I got to my Masters Degree (with a nearly-20-year break in the middle) very little had changed. The professors and authors were still almost exclusively white men – in my studies of both theology and therapy (especially theology). But it was also during this time that things began to shift. I took a class called Feminist Critique (taught by a visiting professor who was a woman and only assigned texts written by women) that opened me up to a wisdom that made me really, really angry.  She systematically revealed the white/male lens everywhere, influencing everything. And that lens was not mine.

At about the same time, probably not at all coincidentally, I began to experiment with the interpretation of women’s ancient, sacred stories through a non-male lens, through a woman’s lens, through a feminist lens, through my lens in order to pull forth something different, anything different. And it was this effort that became a practice that became my everything that enabled me to find, hear, and actually trust my own wisdom. For the first time.

A few weeks back, I woke up in the middle of the night and typed a text to myself – just so I wouldn’t forget the thought that was keeping me from sleep:

We need sources of wisdom that are distinctly feminine. Only they can mirror our experience in ways that allow the wisdom to actually land, to be relevant, to support and strengthen us.

I was pretty happy to see that text waiting for me the next morning.

I’m not opposed to the wisdom of men (well, maybe a little). What I want, though, is the wisdom of women – not in opposition, but as obvious choice.

Without such, it’s no wonder we walk through our lives doubting ourselves, not trusting our intuition, flailing in relationships, putting others ahead of ourselves, tamping down our desires, and wallowing in (often) self-inflicted shame. Everything we learn is not who WE are. Everything we compare ourselves to is not who WE are. This is the patriarchy, of course; the water we swim in, the air we breath, its insipid presence in everything we do, think, and feel.

But…

If we had feminine sources of wisdom – and saw them as reliable, trustworthy, honorable, valuable – we would have a template through which to understand ourselves that syncs with who we most closely are, who we most closely resemble, how we most often act, think, and feel.

Imagine it for a moment.

If I had grown up in a goddess-worshipping coven, it would have been normal for me to trust my body, to eschew anything that smacked of self-contempt, to always look within for answers, comfort, and strength. Even if I don’t take it to that lovely extreme, let’s say I grew up in a Christian home, attending church, going to Bible studies, but everything was focused on women. At church I would have heard stories that were not about a woman’s sin or shame; rather, their magnificence and strength and power. I would have never heard a single message – spoken, assumed, written, or preached – that told me I should be more submissive or more humble or more obedient; rather, I would have been extolled and encouraged to trust my voice, my heart, and yes, my wisdom. I would have grown up reading books written by women, novels about women (written by women), and even if my teachers and professors had remained mostly white men, that input would have been consistently “countered” by the reminder that at the end of the day, what I thought mattered. When I watched TV or read Seventeen magazine, I would not have been inundated by women’s objectification; instead, I would have known and understood that women’s bodies are our own, that they matter, that they are beautiful and perfect  – in every way, shape, and form. And I would have been very clear that attracting me was the end-all, be-all – not attracting a boy, a man, or a prince. Can you even imagine?

We need sources of wisdom that are distinctly feminine. Only they can mirror our experience in ways that allow the wisdom to actually land, to be relevant, to support and strengthen us.

This wisdom allows us to see ourselves in the mirror, to listen to the voice within that not only makes sense, but is 100% true and right. This wisdom teaches us to trust ourselves – which leads to agency and power – which leads to doing the unexpected thing, to rising up, to speaking out, to resisting anyone who tells us anything different – which leads to a disallowing of violence because of race or sexuality or difference of any kind, sickening entitlement because of gender or power, and ignorance based not in wisdom, but foolishness! 

 

So find that wisdom. Be that wisdom. Be that wise. It’s all within you. It always has been – for generations and generations, from the beginning of time. And it’s all yours to offer us. Imagine the world you’ll change, create, and birth along the way.

Go Deeper Still

Go deeper still…

You already know this: there is profound wisdom, strength, beauty, and grace that lies in wait – deep within you. When you listen, when you trust, when you are honest, it’s what only you can hear. It’s your voice. And it tells you to stand, to rise, to sing, to create, to dance, to write, to speak, to weep, to preach, to scream, to dream, to desire, to hope, to love, to be…you.

 

Go deeper still.
Beneath the layers of cultural messaging and familial patterns.

Go deeper still.
Beneath the relational rules and patterns that twist and contort.

Go deeper still.
Beneath the voices – within and without – that shout you into silence.

Go deeper still.
Beneath the shame that suffocates.

Go deeper still.
Beneath economic restraint that (seemingly) hinders.

Go deeper still.
Beneath the religious constructs that bind.

Go deeper still.
Beneath the ego’s incessant drone that causes you to recede.

Go deeper still.

There, beneath all of this (and deeper still) beats your heart. And there, in that deep and solid and gorgeous you, is all you’ve ever needed, all you will ever need. The confirmation. The affirmation. The certainty. The will. The sovereignty. The profound wisdom, strength, beauty, and grace that is (already) yours. That IS you.

 

Ahhhhhhh.

 

I know…

Just as quickly as you descend, you are pulled – coughing and spluttering –  to the surface. Your practiced, poised, and “appropriate” self already anticipates the problems, the risks, the consequences of letting that voice, that you, out. You will most certainly be misunderstood.

Exactly!

You are not here to be understood. You are here to be you.

Which is why you must go deeper still. Into the very womb of your truest self where you are fluent in your heart’s language, where you are certain of your knowing, where you are whole, complete, not lacking for anything, and at rest. Where you are sovereign. Where your profound wisdom, strength, beauty, and grace lies in wait.

And just so you know: none of this, this you, is going anywhere. And we can (and will) wait.

I’m wondering though…Can you?

It’s time to go deeper still.

May it be so.

 

*****

 

This “deeper still” place is what I’m committed to on your behalf (and my own). It’s what I invite you to and support through my Monday Letters,  through Sacred Readings, and through SOVEREIGNTY – my live, 9-week program that speaks to all of this and then some. In the meantime (and ongoing), please join me in my SOVEREIGNTY Facebook Group. It’s time to go deeper still – and I want to make this journey with you.

If we could have coffee together…

If you and I were sitting across from each other, sipping coffee, it would be inevitable that eventually I would tell you stories.

Stories of ancient, sacred women who have miraculously stepped into my life, who have spoken into it, who have gifted me with the honor of speaking on their behalf.

I would tell you the story of Hagar, the Woman at the Well, and the nothing-short-of-glorious Woman of Revelation 12. I would tell you of Eve – of course! And Mary Magdalene and Hagar and the Persistent Widow and Jairus’ Daughter and Lot’s Wife and Noah’s Wife and Job’s Wife. (Yes, I wish they had names, too.)

I would recite an infinite list, filled with the ways in which each of them have been a transformational part of my story; about all that happened when I allowed myself to imagine their voices, their experiences, and their wisdom. 

I would tell you about how all of these stories and so many more, have been buried under centuries of patriarchy and religion’s doctrine and dogma (in which I don’t conspire).

I would tell you about how all of this has silenced their voices, often shamed them, left them misunderstood and frequently maligned, and worst of all, forgotten. And this is hardly unique to them – but the VERY thing that has happened to us. It’s a direct correlation: our stories, our voices have been buried, silenced, and filled with shame. We’ve been misunderstood and often maligned. 

Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we are here. ~ Sue Monk Kidd

I’d tell you what they’d tell you: “Your story is NOT to be mine! No more silence, shame, or misunderstanding. Live the story that we long for on your behalf – one filled with voice, courage, beauty, brilliance, and grace!”

And I’d tell you how I’ve been about this work for nearly 20 years now – curating these women’s stories, remembering them, reimagining and redeeming them, letting them speak. First, for them. It’s what they deserve. Second, for me – for my own story and my insatiable hunger for women’s wisdom – spoken on my behalf. And third, for you – because your story, your reality, your life deserves to be companioned, accompanied, supported, and strengthened by these stories; by women who know exactly what you feel, who know exactly who you have the capacity to be, when you remember, reimagine, and redeem your story.  

I write because there are stories that people have forgotten to tell, because I am a woman trying to stand up in my life. ~ Natalie Goldberg

This would be the stuff of more than just one cup of coffee, to be sure…

So, I do all of this through Readings: one woman’s story that will come alongside you in the New Year and offer you all of what you deserve to hear and know – the story you deserve to live!

The process of storytelling is itself a healing process, partly because you have someone there who is taking the time to tell you a story that has great meaning to them. They’re taking the time to do this because your life could use some help, but they don’t want to come over and just give advice. They want to give it to you in a form that becomes inseparable from your whole self. That’s what stories do. Stories differ from advice in that, once you get them, they become a fabric of your whole soul. That is why they heal you. ~ Alice Walker

These stories, the women within them, and every bit of their wisdom – honored in 2021 Readings are 50% off for a limited time – because I want you to have the healing they’ve given me.

*****

[In lieu of the gift of time and generous conversation over coffee, please reach out to me with any questions that come up for you about Readings – for yourself or as gift for someone else. I so want you to know why, with everything that’s in me, I believe in their power. ronna@ronnadetrick.com]

Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

The power of women’s stories…of YOUR story

There’s an old, old story told that begins with a narcissistic, paranoid, and power-hungry man (which sounds vaguely familiar); an Egyptian Pharaoh who was worried about the slave population growing too fast. So he issued a decree that all newborn sons were to be put to death (as though it were up to him: the choices women made). And who was to carry out this ridiculous and violent rule? Yes, women. He mandated that the midwives in his employ would make sure the deaths happened – the very women whose sole purpose was to make sure life happened.   

Two of those midwives decided that their principles, their ethics, their choices mattered more than his, so they ignored his mandate – not willing to participate in genocide. They continued their work. They stood alongside women, reminded them to breathe, wiped the sweat from their brows, talked them through their pain, and placed their children – no matter the gender – into their waiting arms. 

At one point, the two of them were brought before the Pharaoh – now even more red-faced and angry than before (which also sounds vaguely familiar). “How is it that the slave population continues to grow? Did I not say that all the boys were to be killed?” Without missing a beat, the two of them explained that the Hebrew women were not like Egyptian women. “They are too quick! They give birth before we even get to their home!” 

The story ends by saying that “…the people multiplied and increased greatly.”

If I were preaching a sermon (which, admittedly, I sort of am), here’s my first point:

Women’s advocacy, friendship, and support for one another changes everything. Everything!

I suppose it’s possible, even probable, that one midwife could have stepped out of line on her own and saved a generation of humans. But the fact that she didn’t have to, that she wasn’t alone, is what makes this story so powerful. Together, the two of them let the baby boys live…which caused the Israelite nation to keep growing…which created the conditions for an entire nation’s escape from slavery to liberation. These two women did this! Their advocacy for one another. Their friendship. Their support. In the face their courage and integrity, the Pharaoh didn’t stand a chance. Not really. Not ultimately. These two women (who are rarely, if ever heard of) changed everything. 

We have the same capacity, you know. We are advocated for, befriended, and supported by the women we know and love. Even more, we are accompanied by the generations of women upon whose shoulders we stand – including the two midwives.

We are not alone! Ever.

And with this much beauty, power, and wisdom in our corner, what can’t we change? 

One more point (I’m making myself stop at only two): 

The stories of women (even when unknown, unheard, uncelebrated) are what enable the possibility of so many more yet to come. 

At about the same time of this story, another one was taking place. A baby boy was born. His mother, understandably afraid that he would be killed, put him in a basket made of reeds and let him float down the river – hoping that he would be rescued and given safety. Her hope was fulfilled when the Pharaoh’s daughter, bathing in the river, happened to see the basket and rescued the baby. Though that boy grew up in affluence and privilege, he could not ignore the ongoing mistreatment and oppression of the Hebrew people. He left his position and power behind – leading their rebellion and escape. His name was Moses. Maybe you’ve heard of him? The parting of the Red Sea. The 10 Commandments. And a few other juicy tales…

Could the midwives have possibly known how their courage would instill hope in others? Could they have possibly imagined that their actions would lead to one mother’s willingness to do whatever was required on behalf of her son’s life? Could they have known that this mother’s choice compelled compassion in yet another woman – the Pharaoh’s daughter – who took in that baby in as her own? Could they have known that their story would birth, nurture, and enable not only the story of Moses, but that of the Hebrew people’s deliverance? 

Of course not, but that’s the point. The stories of women, the ones we know and perhaps even more, the ones we don’t, are what enable the stories that are yet to be told. 

Guess what?! This includes your story. You are this powerful, this influential, this amazing. Just like the midwives. Just like Moses’ mother. Just like the Pharaoh’s daughter. Just like story after story after story of women since… Just like you. 

When we know these stories – the strength, courage, and beauty from which we descend – we begin to recognize just how powerful we are, the ways in which we shape the future of all that is yet to come, the way in which we have the capacity to change everything

Imagine all that you are yet to do – companioned by such a legacy of women; living your own story in ways that will champion so many more yet to come. How amazing are you? (I already know the answer.)

May it be so.