Learning from Women

September 14, 2017

Tags: learning from women, new retiree, Holy Spirit, writing, World War II

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. –2 Timothy 1:5-7 NRSV

I’m sitting at the feet of women who are long dead. “Sitting at the feet of” is the posture of a disciple with a rabbi. “What can you teach me, Mother?” I ask these women. I need wisdom as I enter a new phase of my life in an uneasy season in an uneasy world.

The first woman is my grandmother, a farm wife in Huron County, Michigan, at whose kitchen table I sat as a child, eating apples from the cellar and listening to stories of her life. Only later would I realize what terrible things went untold, held behind her pursed lips and pale blue eyes. I have some of her diaries, the earliest from the years of World War II. Her entries are maddeningly brief. She reports the barest of facts – rarely how she feels about them. If I read between the lines, try to understand her heart, perhaps I can understand, and learn how to live my days.

“What can you teach me, grandmother?” I ask. I live in a time of polarized leadership, violent prejudices, calamitous disasters, even the threat of nuclear attack. Yet in my small sphere, I’m incredibly fortunate: newly-retired after a difficult, but rewarding career as a pastor, I’m able to spend luxurious amounts of time outdoors and at my writing desk. I’m free to wander fields, name wildflowers, and slip my canoe in the water on a Monday afternoon. I’m free to be with family and friends, eating and drinking and talking and playing, preparing to welcome our first grandchild. I’m free to write where the words take me, free to make mistakes, following the words until the trail ends or grows over, and I must turn around and find a new way.

The other women are in a devotional book, Meditations for Women, published in 1947, given me by my mother-in-law in 1979. It’s been on my shelf all these years, unread. When she gave it to me, I thought it quaint and dated. Now it interests me because it coincides with the time of my grandmother’s diary. When I open it, the binding cracks and a piece of the cover breaks off. The prose is more flowery than ours, but the insights ring true. And perhaps these women who raised children and rebuilt communities and reflected on the life of the spirit in those strange post-war years can help me as I care for my daughter and grandchild and try to resume the odd life of writing.

I claim the promises of these who have gone before me, who laid hands on me literally or figuratively, and ask for their blessing. Through the re-kindling of the Holy Spirit, may I live a disciplined life, speaking the truth in love, with freedom, boldness, and power.

Selected Works

Sermon Preparation
"I cannot imagine a more practical, attentive, useful, reliable, provocative, and thoughtful guide to the delightful play of detail and form in sermons than this volume." -- Thomas Long
Adult Study
This is a Lectionary-based Adult Bible study for Year B. Contributors: Terri S. Cofiell, David A. deSilva, Mary Jo Osterman, Vincent Harris, Denise Nutt-Beers, Sondra B. Willobee
This is a Lectionary-based Adult Bible study for Year B. Contributors include: David A. deSilva, John O. Gooch, M. Bass Mitchell, Denise Nutt-Beers, Mary Jo Osterman, Sondra B. Willobee
Devotionals
"Unique metaphors of faith permeate this collection of worship resources and personal reflections. Clergywomen share insights into their spiritual journey, declaring both the exquisite joy and palpable pain of ministry."--Nan Self
These prayers and meditations can be used for personal reflection or for devotions at a women's meeting.

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