Tag Archives: Gendered Language

Night of the Dead by Steve Smith

Dia de los Muertos
El Dia de Los Muertos: photo by Steve Smith
 “In the casa where I am currently staying in Jalpan, Mexico, an altar is set up prominently to honor the ones that are loved but seen no longer. Their photos, together with food offerings for their journeys, a shrine to the Virgin Mary, and other mementos are displayed as a living tribute to the dead. It is this way in every casa in this puebla, and throughout Mexico. This tradition fuses the Christian doctrine of the communion of saints with the more ancient beliefs of the distant past. The dead live among us, and together, we and they pass through this temporal life joined together. Across the great divide that separates mortality and the life beyond, an unbroken chain of love binds one and all.” ~Steve Smith
Let me introduce to you my friend Steve Smith. Steve and I met at Holy Hill Hermitage in Skreen, County Sligo, Ireland when we were both on retreat there. Steve and his wife were there for two months. I was there for nine. You can read all about my adventures in Ireland, if you haven’t already, right here, under the Jubilee tab. Steve was working on his novel called, The Twin, which is historical fiction about Jesus and his brother Thomas, who Steve has conjured and who is very much real. Steve’s story is an accurate historical portrayal of life in Israel/Palestine around the years when Jesus walked the earth.

His story is about the entire family and their hard lives as Jews under the oppressors of the Roman Empire. All the characters that folks know from their bibles are here, but they are having lives, just like we do, and those lives are colored by terrible horror, acts of barbarity, beauty and complexity. Steve consulted with me, which was a happy circumstance for us both, about all things Jewish. Steve is a retired priest, he knows his stuff Christian and Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu. Nevertheless, he isn’t Jewish. Part of his story is about the Divine Feminine and both of his Marys, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene are women of power and are channels for the Shechinah.

Steve is already in touch with the Shechinah. Shechinah gets mistranslated and mispronounced all the time. Trying to name the Divine, is just not really possible. All we can do is list the attributes, describe the qualities. Shechinah is not the name of the female part of the Divine. Shechinah is much, much more than that and not containable within any boundaries. She is called the “In-Dwelling Presence” most often. In the Hebrew, when there is a reference to the cloud that protected the Jewish people as they journeyed in the desert for forty years, that cloud is referenced as the Shechinah’s Presence. She is the protector and the lover and the gentle, tender, green-earth growing mothering aspects of the Divine. Whenever the Divine is being referenced as merciful, the word used comes from the root for the word womb/rechem. This word becomes the word Rachamim.

A more accurate translation for this Hebrew to English would be Womb-Like One. Imagine if when you read the bible, instead of  “Merciful God” which is how it gets translated, it actually said “Womb-Like One.” I always try to get folks to understand this basic concept. There is no word for god in the Torah (see Why Ha-Shem Not Naming the Divine). There are only attributes of Holiness that are used interchangeably based on what is going on and what is needed. When those qualities are feminine, which many of them are, female gendered language is used, verb tenses etc… When those attributes are masculine, male gendered language is used. Obviously, the Divine does not have a gender, nor are the words masculine and feminine very useful to try and understand the fluidity of gender that exists in the actual Torah when read in the original Hebrew.

Shechinah Mama
The offerings of the Shechinah Mama as she is clearly visible in this photo taken by Steve Smith

Access and understanding of the sacred texts in their original language is crucial, but it  is something few of us can do. Since having feminine references to GOD THE FATHER was not okay, back in the day, when all of this was translated to Latin, Greek, German and eventually English, we have the mess we have now.The Divine is all and more. The Shechinah is part of that all and more. My connection with Steve happened in Ireland, where we studied her works and who she might have been in the lives of the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene. I invite you to read his book, if you are interested in a great story that many folks think they know, but the way Steve tells it, is something all together more. The link for his book will be at the end of this post. With no further ado, I am greatly honored to include this Dia de Los Muertos travel-narrative story by my friend Steve. Unlike his book, this post is not about Jesus as a child, but about being saved when you are lost and alone and finding that you are indeed held in a womb-like way, even when you think you are alone.

In gratitude for all the ways Holiness unfolds in folks and in the world, nicole_logo3-400

Sierra Gorda
Steve Smith at Sierra Gorda

Dear Family and Friends,

After settling in to our new life in Mid-Coast Maine, Jeannette and I have just embarked on another ex-pat adventure.  Jeannette is in Barcelona, Spain, where she has been invited to team teach an extended workshop in Internal Family Systems to a mostly Spanish-speaking audience.  She will be participating in this workshop in November, January, and March.

This week, I left for Mexico, and am staying first in a small mountain town, Jalpan de Serra in the Sierra Gorda, in an exquisite ecological zone five hours north of Mexico City.  Jeannette will be joining me for a seven week stay in San Miguel de Allende, followed by a week in the Yucatan, before she heads back to Spain.  I will be travelling to Peru in January, where good friend, Michael Corrigan will join me to experience Cuzco, Macchu Pichu, and Lima.  Then I will meet up with Martin in Chile, and travel to Patagonia for some trekking, before visiting Argentina.  While we are away, Colleen and Luke are taking up residence at our house-sit Seacroft, our wonderful home, by the Penobscot Bay.

It was a crash landing arriving in Mexico a couple of nights ago.  I picked up my rental car in Mexico City, and, foolhardily perhaps, tried to rely on my long since atrophied cab driver skills to negotiate my way out of one of the largest cities on the planet.  That painfully accomplished, I started out my journey to Jalpan, which Google Maps had identified and directed me to north and east of Mexico City.  Even then, I managed to fritter away my time getting lost, and as darkness set in, I found myself on deeply pothole pocked roads, doing untold damage to my front tires and rims.  Finally, my left right front tire blew, and I coaxed the car into a Pemex station, and got out the spare, which, predictably, was bald.  Into the night, I pressed on, now sleep deprived and disoriented heading up into the switchbacks of the montañas.  Suddenly, my right tire blew, and I had no breakdown lane or place to park the car.  For at least a few miles, I drove the car on its rim, hoping against hope for somewhere to pull out.  Finally, a small opening appeared in the darkness, but still, I was not out of harm’s way.  Ongoing trucks bore down on me, blaring horns and high beams alight.

For a moment, I had a strong premonition, with no dramatic exaggeration intended, of my death, brought on, no doubt, by an overwhelming sense that I was completely lost and vulnerable, that brought on, no doubt, by my complete stupidity and arrogance in assuming I could bivouac my way through this uncharted territory.

Despair is a funny thing. It eviscerates, but it also provides for some detachment. I raised the hood, put on the hazard blinkers, opened the trunk, and stood in the darkness, facing the oncoming lights and blare of horns.  In that timeless place, I thought it would be hours, if at all, before rescue would come.  And at that very moment, a truck approached and turned on its blinking lights. My loved ones must have been praying at that moment.  I sure was.  It was a wrecker.

Out appeared a young man, Mitch he introduced himself, and we began the task of communicating what had happened to my rental.  My Spanish is rusty in my good moments, but without sleep and stressed, it’s a jumbled mess.  After several fits and starts, and appeals to my Google map, and showing him by the light of his cellphone the damage I had done to both rims, he cheerily urged me into the cab, while he waved off traffic, and hoisted the car on to truck’s bed.  Ten miles further, he brought me to his hometown, Huauchinago, and pulled into his workplace, where his compañeros, taking good-hearted delight in this gringo’s predicament, set to pounding out the sorry tire rims with mallets.  Everyone has damaged rims in Mexico, they said.  One pantomimed a giant boom to show how the cars fell into the ubiquitous potholes.

Then, my host in Jalpan, who I had texted earlier on Mitch’s cellphone in the car, rang.  I explained how close I was, and I was on my way, after I weathered this interruption.  “Huauchinago”?, he asked, “I don’t know this town.”  It seems, with help from Google, I had found another Jalpan in the opposite direction, and was now eight hours off course.  Now, hearing Mitch explain things, the compañeros were doubled over.  Then, Mitch set to getting this pilgrim to a hotel in town, while they set out to repairing my car.  The night was ablaze with the fireworks of the great feria, La Dia de Los Muertos.  When we arrived in town, skeletal apparitions appeared, all reveling in this festival, where the dead come out to party with the living.  Reflexively, I joined in the dance.

Next morning, Mitch brought me back to the car, and demonstratively showed me how bad all the tires of the car the rental agency had given me, so we set out to a roadside tire shop.  There, two cousins, named in Spanish “The Mosquito Bros”, changed out all my tires on my repaired to normal rims, and found new tires with enough tread to get me safely on my way.  Mitch wanted to take pics, and get ourselves set on Facebook as friends.  He told me about his four-month old daughter and four-year old son.  He said, as best I could understand him, my detour had led me to Huauchinago, so we could become friends.

Amigo Mitch, fixing Steve’s tires.

There are no accidents in this life, and in anything that appears like an accident, like my fateful entry into Mexico to experience a humanity and hospitality that is sorely absent these days in my own homeland,  always grace is close at hand. I had wandered into one of those thin places and in that liminal space where the living meet the dead, I had encountered angels unaware.Blessings,


The Twin

Spiritual Feminism and Family

Three generations of women taking care of each other and their families. I’m the baby in this photo on my grandmother Isabelle Redman’s lap, next to my mother Helen Redman.

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 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.

My Full Response:

Weighing in from my nine-month Sabbatical retreat in Ireland. I am the daughter of a feminist and the mother of a feminist. 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, my daughter (31) and my son (29). Neither of the men in this story 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 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.