“A Rock, a river, a tree.” These are the words that open Maya Angelou’s Inaugural Poem from January 20th, 1993. A rock, a river, a tree. I’ll come back to you shortly.
Today is March 8th, International Women’s Day, and I find myself wanting to give thanks. All my life, I have been surrounded by women. My mother, of course, the most important woman in my life: my first and best cheerleader who taught me the value of intellectual curiosity, unconditional love, generous compassion and a happy heart. My stepmother, too, the “other mother” who came into my life later, and who has cared for my father with grace and devotion, and befriended me with thoughtfulness and warmth.
I played soccer up through college, which meant that I was constantly surrounded by a group of women who had my back both on the field and off. I grew up with them: traveled, partied, ran laps, ran sprints, ran stairs, and shared celebrations and heartbreak. They taught me the necessity of being there when needed, and the importance of building each other up. From them I learned that it is always best to be part of a team, and no one should have to go it alone.
I had great friends in my academic programs, too: I think of my best friend and roommate from college, Amanda–still a good friend; my German “sister” Kathrin, born as I was in 1968; and the women who walked together as we finished our Ph.Ds–Adrienne, Colleen, Michelle and Laura. (From the GTU I am grateful for Kathleen, Maureen and Margaret, too–wonderful mentors and friends.) We encouraged each other, studied together, wrote together and kept each other sane. Rooming with Laura every year at the AAR is still one of my most favorite parts of that meeting. I met another amazing women in Berkeley, too, Elizabeth, a doctor from India who died too young; and her two daughters, Hannah and Evangel, who persevered through tragedy and have gone on to develop their own rich and dynamic lives. They are so dear to me, as are my goddaughters, Milena and Julia. I am not a mother myself, but I have embraced the vocation of “other mothering,” and I love it. (Here I think especially of my dear Swedish daughter Ellinor, too!)
In my time in the parish in Colorado, I met lots of wonderful women whom I got to work with in different ways–of them, I think of my friends Kim and Michelle, who juggled work, family and church commitments with nimbleness and grace–I miss them every day. And, I also think of the young women in that congregation I saw graduate high school, go to college, and grow into amazing, talented, beautiful people with families of their own: Katy, Hilary, Hanna and Katie.
And today, I am still surrounded by women: my faculty colleagues, Maria, Marty and Angela (and retired colleague and treasured friend Norma); our beautiful, talented admissions director, Lauren; and all the other amazing women whom I work with every day, especially Julie, who keeps my head on straight. My best friend Kris who “other-mothers” my little Henry and keeps all my secrets; the brilliant, funny, interesting women in my two book groups; and my friend Chris, the best managing editor Dialog has ever had. And, of course, my students–dozens of amazing women whom I have taught and learned from, who now are out in their own parishes and other settings doing wondering work for the sake of the church and the world–Robin, Caitlin, Christine, Mindy, Kerri, Victoria; and those who are still here, whom I worship with, eat with, and sometimes even work out with, like Kelsey and Melissa.
There are many others, of course, far too many to name: women who have mentored, nurtured and supported me in a variety of ways. (Men, too, of course–many of my male friends are feminists, and I am so grateful for them as well.) Other feminist theologians and comparative theologians whose work has inspired mine; colleagues from around the world whose writing has expanded my own world view, and helped me be a better scholar and teacher.
So, today, while we might think of all the famous women, writers, activists, artists, athletes, and politicians who have inspired us (Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, Maya Angelou, Michelle Obama and Serena Williams immediately come to mind), I think it also is a wonderful opportunity to recognize and thank those women who have been meaningful and powerful in shaping our own lives:
The rocks, who have said, “Come, you may stand up on my back and face your distant destiny.”
The rivers, who have sung a beautiful song, beckoning, “Come rest here by my side.”
The trees, who have said, “Come plant yourself beside me…I am the tree which will not be moved.”
Standing, resting, rooted. I am a woman, and today, I am grateful for the cloud of women that surrounds me; has surrounded me; and will surround me.