Spiritual Feminism and Family

 

Shira Mom Paul
Three Fabulous Feminists in my Family: Helen Redman, Shira Barchilon Frank and Paul Barchilon

Recently my mother Helen Redman and daughter were interviewed in the Washington Post. My comment to that article was too long for their comment section, so I’m posting what I want to say here and I encourage you to read the article: Unfinished Business; A feminist calls out her feminist grandmother. It’s part of their New Wave Feminism section. The piece was written by Dave Sheinin. You can read my comments first, but really they refer to the article a fair amount. Or if you read my thoughts first it will give you a unique perspective on the piece that was in the Post. It has great pictures of Shira and my mom as well! You have to click on Dave Sheinin’s name to get to the article he wrote. Or you can read all of them.
http://wapo.st/newwavefeminism

My Full Response:

Weighing in from my nine-month Sabbatical retreat in Ireland. I am the daughter of Helen and the mother of Shira, I’m the generation between, in the middle, a FEMINIST always, and proud to call myself one. My mother’s dedication to feminism, to her own artistic calling and to goodness made it possible for me to be who I am. I honor and am grateful to her, and all her sisters, in the work of making the world a better place for all. She and all the women and men who came before her are forever in my prayers of gratitude.

My perspective is different than both my mother’s and my daughter’s as stated in the Washington Post article. Since my personal take wasn’t mentioned in the piece and I rarely hear it talked about in the mainstream, I’m entering this discussion. I do so from my place of solitude and stillness which, I have taken as a Sabbath from my life of caring for my family and community. This is my Jubillee (50th year) and it is an extra special year of rest. I have been planning it for over twenty years. I am alone, completely, for the first time in my life in a small cabin in a remote area of Ireland. I am here as a woman in need of a “room of her own.” You can read all about that under the Jubilee category here.

My relationship to all things is based on and in my spiritual practice. I would even go so far as to call myself a Spiritual Feminist. I’m a writer and a Jewish Lay Leader, not yet a rabbi. My choice to parent, instead of having abortions when I was young (19 and 21) and single, resulted in my two oldest children, Shira (31) and my son Issac (29). Neither of the men in this picture were present for me or my children. I chose being present for my children, welfare as a single mother, and living in the woods with some crazy people (for work-exchange) so that I could be with my kids. The other choice would have been me working some menial job and putting my babies in day-care and still not being able to get by. A large percentage of the women I know have had abortions at one time in their lives and my choice not to have them was within the context of a world where I had that choice.

I made my Feminist decision to be with my kids, even though it meant not finishing college in a timely manner, not having a career and living in very challenging circumstances. My choice to not have abortions, when that was suggested and seemed feminist, was a radical departure from what most other young women in 1983 would have chosen. I have supported and will always support a woman’s right to choose about this issue.

Nicole & Ethan, 1997 At Boulder Creek
Mama Nicole and baby Ethan 1997

I was in relationship with my body, the earth, the Holy One, and my children from the moment their souls entered my body. I have three children by birth and many others by love, who I have either raised or helped raise, and who consider me one of their mothers. I chose mothering, and being physically present for my children and children in need. I made sacrifices or choices or willing offerings that meant my “career” never happened. If I now go to school to become a rabbi, I will be 60 by the time I’m done. No one will most likely be interested in hiring me. I have been happily married for 26 years to a phenomenal man, who adopted my first two children (Shira and Issac) and with whom I have a third child, Ethan. All of my children have a father who loves, supports and honors them in all their diversity of choices. He also does this for me. He is the more significant wage earner in our family, because his skills are valued by our culture and society financially over mine by several degrees of magnitude. He is a database designer.

Nicole Kevin framed
My Man and I, May 2015

My skills are extensive, but because I finished college at the age of 32 (attending here and there when my children were in school and I was able to), I was way behind in the career zone. Then, I was pregnant with my third child, Ethan (19). Consequently, I still do not have more than a BA. I have worked since I was fourteen years old as either a child-care provider, waitress, bus-person, cook, legal assistant, office administrator, therapeutic behavioral aide and many other small jobs, that have never paid more than a little over minimum wage.

My jobs have always been part-time so I could be available for my children, so I could cook dinner and we could sit around the table together as a family and talk and pray and share. I have poured myself into the lives of my children as they grew and created an environment for them that has allowed each of them to become the beautiful beings they are. I’ve made huge mistakes and choices that were not good for my children, but I’ve also always loved them and been present for them, I’m human.

Ethan Issac Shoulders 4
Issac and Ethan at Ethan’s graduation from Northcoast Preparatory Academy in May of 2015

I have a large circle of friends and many folks who consider my opinion to be of tremendous value, but no one is paying me for my wisdom yet in this world, other than my husband, who considers my input and efforts for our family to be of tremendous value. I also am in relationship with the Divine, who I trust for my sustenance in all things and down to the core. If I don’t earn much money this lifetime, I hope that my Chesed/Loving Kindness and my Avodah/Service will do me just fine in Olam Ha-Ba (the World to Come)

Feminism, for me, is about relationships, it is personal, political, and spiritual.

When I pray I use Hebrew, which is a gendered language. In Hebrew the Divine is referenced in the feminine when She is the Shechinah (In Dwelling Presence of Holiness), in the masculine when He is the Melech (King). But you won’t find that nuance, which isn’t even a nuance in the Hebrew, when you read the bible in English. So, in my prayers I call out to the vast energy of Holiness and there are an infinite variety of forms and qualities to Holiness.

The Divine is Ineffable. Gender is just a context we use that is familiar when trying to relate to our universe. We are all souls in bodies, on a very fluid spectrum in terms of our relationships to our genders and to our planet. Some folks feeling they are ONLY Male or Masculine, others ONLY Female or Feminine.

I truly believe most folks are in a much more flexible place on that particular scale, we are all Transitional Beings as far as I’m concerned. We are all moving through this world in one form now, but that is only one of our forms. We are not singularities or individuals as much as we think we are. We are all ONE. All of this is part of my Feminism and my Judaism. Without the Feminist movement the discussions about gender, and Holiness and choices being fuller than either or, or one size fits all, wouldn’t exist. The problem is that we are still NOT in relationships of value and meaning with the Earth, with our souls, with our beautiful and different bodies, and with each other in loving and kind ways.

My Feminism is about embracing a world where things are radically different than they are now. It’s a world where we are engaged with loving our bodies, our choices, our differences, our minds, our hearts and this amazing gift of a planet we are spinning on. It’s about having conversations with trees, birds, flowers and with those walking around in human form. It’s about not making more reasons to separate ourselves one from the other, but looking for where we are RELATED and similar and how we can build those connections so that we NEVER maim, harm, rape, kill or violate each other. That world isn’t here yet, but I am praying every day for it. I call out to the Shechinah and to HaMelech all the time in hopes that this dreamed and hoped-for world, Olam Ha-Ba will arrive in my lifetime, or if not mine, perhaps my children’s.

2016-01-22 16.20.11
The window-seat in my hermitage, where I pray for the world where we are all honored and treasured and loved.

 

3 thoughts on “Spiritual Feminism and Family

  1. Thanks, dear Nicole. I love that the WP interviewed your mom and daughter! So great! I appreciate your comments and honor the totally feminist value you embody of the right to direct the course of your life. Brava!

  2. Nicole, thank you for sharing so openly of your experiences and your thoughts. In high school, I believe I was a bit in awe and a bit jealous of you for your good looks, your talent, and your free spirit. Today, I am simply in awe of you for your wisdom, your peace, and your generosity in sharing so much. Peace be with you and blessings. Heidi

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