I listened to Brene Brown’s latest podcast – a conversation with Elizabeth Lesser, co-founder of the Omega Institute and author of Cassandra Speaks: When Women are the Storytellers, the Human Story Changes.
I’ll admit, it was hard for me to hear their lovely conversation, given that the one in my head was constantly drowning them out: “Yes! That’s what I’ve been saying! Exactly! Thank you! You’re right!” If I’m being completely honest, I also need to admit that I was irritated. In some ways, Lesser has written the book that I’ve been talking about forever!
I got over it pretty quickly because more than all else, I was flooded with gratitude. Wise and amazing women talking about the ways in which the ancient stories of women have been maligned throughout time because of the way that men have told them – and the ways in which those tellings still impact us today. That’s the most blissful conversation ever for me!
Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not mad at men. I can hold the big picture, the larger cultural history, all of that. As Lesser names, the time has long passed in which that lens, exclusively, should be the one through which we view ourselves.
- Blamed for the downfall of all humanity, too full of desire, too curious, too dangerous.
- Filled with centuries of shame.
- Convinced that we are not enough and worrying that we’re far too much.
Lesser says this:
Whether we know it or not, whether we have read them or not, whether we believe them or don’t, our daily lives take direction from stories that are hundreds, even thousands of years old…Once metabolized, the old stories are hard to shake from the mind of an individual or the hierarchy of a family or the guiding principles of a country.
Mmm hmm. (Maybe she’s watched my TEDx talk?)
I downloaded Cassandra Speaks to my Kindle as soon as the podcast finished. I’ve finished Part One – she looks at Eve, Pandora, and Cassandra as the formative stories/myths that have created the mess we find ourselves in today. Parts Two and Three follow, so I don’t want to presume I know the direction she will yet take.
I’m clear on the direction I’ve taken – over and over again in my own life and on behalf of others.
For me, it’s not enough to name the ways in which patriarchal tellings of these archetypal stories have impacted us. Nor am I willing to do away with them completely. What I want, what I’m committed to, and what I do – over and over again – is go back to them, dust them off, breathe life into them, and let them speak. I reimagine how they’d be told when she is the protagonist, when it’s her voice we hear, when it’s her wisdom from which we learn…and are transformed.
Did I mention? Bliss!
When I was contemplating whether or not I had the courage to end my marriage, I was overwhelmed with all the internal and external messages that told me why that was a mistake and why I needed to work harder, try again, keep at it, stay committed. I was working with a Spiritual Director then who asked me to think about the story of Hagar. (If you aren’t familiar with it, here’s the Cliff Notes version: her suffering made mine look like a minor irritation.) She said, “What do you think Hagar has to say to you, Ronna? How might she see what you’re going through? What perspective does she long to offer you?” I opened up a blank document on my computer and answered every one of these questions. I wrote and wrote and wrote – as I wept. I could hear Hagar’s voice, crying out from the desert. I imagined exactly what she wanted me to know, what she hoped I’d hold on to, how she hoped I’d rise up, stay strong, and step forward…because that’s what she did.
That process became a rhythm and ritual for me that I combined with ongoing academic work and research connected to my M.Div. and study of Feminist Theology. Before long, I’d written missives to myself from countless women – buried away in this ancient text. A bit later, I started writing them for others. And now, almost 15 years later, I still hear their voices whisper (and sometimes shout).
They tell us what we’ve forgotten, but need to recall – and believe. They remind us that our story is NOT to be theirs – silenced, forgotten, or harmed. And they somehow, mysteriously, in the most sacred and secreted of ways, stay with us…when we look for them, when we seek them, when we ask for their presence, their wisdom, their generous kindness.
More bliss, to be sure!
I could go on and on. But that’s not actually what this post is about. (Hard to tell, I know.)
The reason I’m writing any of this today is because of Elizabeth Lesser and Brene Brown, because of a smart conversation between two women about realities that effect and impact us all – based on ancient stories of women that influence us still, whether we know it or not.
The reason I write any of what I do, retell and reimagine any of these women’s stories is because I want them to influence us. Their voices deserve to be imagined and heard; their wisdom deserves to be honored. Yes, for them. But also for us, because along the way, our stories get retold and redeemed, our voices get heard, and our wisdom is honored.
And when that happens? Everything changes…
I don’t know about you, but I’m up for everything changing.
May it be so!