By Sande Hart
WHEN WOMEN ANSWER THE CALL
Eleven years ago I awoke to the unbelievable imagery of a catalytic shock to our world, a wake up call inspiring millions of people to co-create a new world. In particular, it would be the activating yeast mobilizing women to embrace leadership in a familiar but long forgotten way.
I came to realize that no great change comes without great tension; 9/11 was a great upset for the women I’m talking about. However, we are different than the last two feminist movements – the suffragists and, decades later, the bra-burning, equality and reproductive rights women of the seventies and eighties. We are not pounding the pavement or pumping our fists. We are not chanting or seeking to offend. We are not angry, but fierce in a way that is sustainable, non-confrontational, and approachable. We seek a lasting, equitable approach to justice and harmony.
The difference now? We are conforming to the highest and deepest values of our respective faith traditions. Our ‘stump’ is the common ground of the Golden Rule, a platform from which we launch our activities.
Intuitively, we’ve chosen to have no ‘creed’ for our community. No commitment or pledge to comply with this way of gathering. We just know. It’s inherent in our biological imperative as women. It’s the oxytocin rising, the ‘tend and befriend’ chemical that elevates in our system in times of great tension. It can appear in an immediate sense of knowing just what has to happen to help us through childbirth, in healing wounds, tending to one another, and even in what I like to call “Mother Bear,” responding when another threatens my child.
On 9/11 I was shaken to the core and knew the dust would settle in new, creative ways. It had to, and it did. In September 2002, 12 women gathered in my living room. I invited them because I needed women around me. I was frustrated with the conversations in which I was engaged up to that point. Predominantly led by men, they were spinning circles around the history of wars, occupations, and lines in the sand. When these women spoke, however, they focused on what the future holds and finding new solutions to old problems. At that meeting, S.A.R.A.H. (Spiritual and Religious Alliance for Hope) was conceived, and we got out of Her way.
The First Decade
For 10 years we have held regular monthly meetings, providing women a safe space to share, learn, teach, explore, dream, dance, heal, sit in silence, sing very loudly, play, create, and honor Earth and Grandmother Ocean and Grandfather Moon. We hold panel discussions on university campuses and at churches, synagogues, and mosques. We hold community Passover Seders and Ramadan Iftar breakfasts. We watch documentaries and welcome filmmakers, authors, professors, U.N. representatives, and community leaders. We publish press releases and speak out publically when we experience what we call “Sacred Enoughness.”
Early on we realized that while dialogue is important, action is essential. In 2013 we will be facilitating our Fifth Annual Orange County’s Interfaith Weekend of Community Service. On that weekend about 1,000 people will participate in 100 service projects. We cross-pollinate our diverse neighbors so they can work, shoulder to shoulder, on something everyone values. Providing opportunities for personal experience is the main line to the heart of interfaith reconciliation. Miracles have happened on our Weekends that we cannot begin to measure, as is true in all our activities.
We also show up at festivals and events with our Peace Tapestry materials. We invite people to stop for a moment and reflect on their event’s theme … interfaith reconciliation, for instance, or equality and justice, a healthy and thriving Earth, safety of our children, or the like. Then we invite them to let that feeling move from their hearts to their hands and use fabric markers to color12” squares. We sew these colored pieces into a tapestry or two and present them back to the host of the event, to community leaders, and to anyone else to whom we want to express appreciation and with whom we want to build bridges. We also invite them to pass their Peace Tapestry on in the same spirit. The experience is rich for the artist, the recipient, and the giver of the gift. We have about 40 Tapestries revolving around the world.
In 2005 I was invited by Diana Eck to join a conversation at Harvard University organized by the Pluralism Project. The meeting was named “The women’s interfaith initiative and grassroots movement.” Twenty women sat around a 20-foot conference table in the historical Radcliff Institute for Advance Study, exploring the nature of this emerging trend of women of faith gathering together in dialogue, service, research, and creative new designs for community. What I surmise is that what we were really discussing is a third wave of modern feminism.
A Different Kind of Community
To be a SARAH Sister simply means that you remember that you are a woman of your community dedicated to creating a safer and harmonious community by conforming to the highest and deepest values of your faith tradition. There are no dues or expected level of participation.
At SARAH, we have no budget. For ten years, we have operated with zero dollars. We simply do not need money to open our front door or reach out our hands. This is slowly changing because our initiatives are becoming more involved and we’ve come to be seen in Orange County as a primary community builder and collaborator in several arenas.
- SARAH’s State of Compassion effort, partnering with Karen Armstrong’s Compassion Action Network, is committed to making California the first State of Compassion.
- SARAH’s R.I.S.E. (Raising Inspiration, Seeding Education) initiative is focused on addressing education for children locally and around the world. We do not duplicate efforts or recreate initiatives to be “ours.” We lock arms with existing efforts and make them stronger. Everyone benefits in terms of resources and connections, skills and experience, marketing and technology. Most importantly, we are supporting other organizations. RISE is partnering with UNICEF and other U.N. efforts to address a particular Millennium Development goal - promoting global primary education.
- For our annual Weekend of Service, we partner with Big Sunday, a nationally recognized community service organization. We expanded their database and name recognition in a county that had never heard of them. We also showed them (and their base of 50,000 volunteers) the face of interfaith collaboration.
As women, we have the pulse of the community running through our veins. I, like other women in that meeting at Harvard and around the world, stood up and faced the same direction. We looked around, called ourselves Sisters, and knew what had to be done.
We had to gather the women, breathe interfaith understanding into our world and everything we do, and co-create a culture of peace that is emerging under our feet.
This third wave of feminism is not about gender. Rather, it is about ‘feminine’ values. Men must be engaged in our work in order to bring back the natural balance of an egalitarian society. I recently heard a speaker at an interfaith conference in Mexico which sets us right. His statement sums up my personal philosophy about the nature of our society and the role we play as interfaith pioneers, community builders, architects for change. He said, “Darwin never said evolution was for the fittest. He did say evolution is for the kindest and more collaborative.” Feminine values, indeed.