Tag Archives: kindness

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.

We are One….Shema

Chanting the Shema at my Bat Mitzvah, eyes covered, in September of 2001
Chanting the Shema at my Bat Mitzvah, eyes covered, in September of 2001, photo by Amanda Devons

I don’t want to preach to the choir, especially since I’m Jewish. I want desperately to make contact with folks who don’t think the same way I do. I’m not expecting more than some initial points of connection. A spot where something might adhere, attach itself and grow. No, I’m not a virus hoping to infect unsuspecting and vulnerable adult minds. Piercing the skin or the boundaries we construct around our beliefs is an important exercise though.


There’s a slogan that we “left of center” folks live by: “Think Globally, Act Locally.” This idea emerged when the first pictures of the planet earth from outer space started to appear in the media and in our consciousness. Previously, the idea of the world as a globe was conceptual and rendered by artists. Now, we (all of us), are used to looking at the photographic image of our floating blue/green marble in an ocean of black space. This vision of our planet was revolutionary because it was an image void of country, state, county, city or neighborhood property lines or boundaries. From outer space it’s just green and brown for earth, blue for ocean and white for clouds.


In fact, to the rest of the universe and from the Holy One’s perspective, that is what we are, plain old inhabitants of the planet earth. We share the planet with billions of other life forms from bacteria and floras and faunas to animals and lava flows. I don’t spend a lot of time relating to my volcanic neighbors, since it can be quite dangerous and I live in the rain zone, but volcanic flows and eruptions impact my life even here. The temperature of our planet is affected by myriad interactions, few of which I can see. I can see the exhaust spewing from the tail pipe of an old beat up pick-up, or the steam coming from the pulp mill towers. I can’t see the continent-size hole in our ozone layer. I don’t have those kinds of eyes. Just because I can’t see this huge behemoth of a wound in our atmosphere doesn’t mean it isn’t there.


What I see with my heart and with my eyes closed is very different than what I see with my eyes open.


In my tradition there’s a prayer we are advised to say three times a day, there’s lots of those, but I’m going to focus on one of them for the sake of brevity. This prayer is called the Shema, which is a transliteration of the first Hebrew word in the prayer: Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheynu Adonai Eh-had. All translations mangle the original, but this prayer means something like: Listen all you, who question, struggle, wrestle, or wonder, Holiness is everywhere, is ONE, the Divine is One.


This radical monotheistic mantra means the Divine is everywhere and ALL CONNECTED! On top of saying this three times a day, we’re supposed to cover our eyes when we say it. I first learned about covering my eyes when saying this prayer from Rabbi Arieh Hirschfield, of blessed memory. He talked about how with our eyes open, we see distinctions: green grass, brown chair, person wearing blue shirt and green skirt, other person who is older with glasses in black suit, carpet, window, etc…. When we close our eyes, distinctions evaporate and all is black/blank. If we additionally cover our eyes with our hands, there is no sensation of different levels of light, it’s truly dark and all is blurred into one color (black isn’t even a color, it’s the absence of color). This is the place the sages wanted us to be in, the physical sense of being without distinction or boundaries. Our physical act of actively covering our eyes is designed to help us enter the prayer and “get it” that All is One.


Every time I used to fill up my 15-year-old Volvo’s gas tank, whether I did it at the Union 76 near the plaza, the Shell Station in Northtown or Cash Oil on Samoa Boulevard, I was contributing to the damaging of my environment. There is blood on my hands, no matter where I purchase my gasoline from. I do not have to pick up a gun or a knife for this to be true. I have to live with this and work for justice and change, but I cannot pretend I am innocent.


I’m trying to buy from my local Arcata vendors more often than not. I’m able to do my errands, run our small business, and live my life with greater ease. I don’t ride my bike everyday to and from Bayside, I should, I should, but I don’t. I drive my car (at this point I drive a 2008 Toyota Prius) for lots of reasons, mainly so I can get all the things done I need to do in a day. I try to drive less or to combine all my errands into one outing, so I contribute less to the problems I believe are connected to our fossil fuel addiction.


That relationship with fossil fuels is part of the picture in Iraq, and Iran, and all over the globe where there is violence. I’m not willing to say it is all that is going on, but it’s one of the reasons we are often in Iraq but not in Dar-fur. If we don’t have a financial connection or reason to engage with a country whose policies we dislike, we won’t often bother. When Peace becomes profitable, it will be the norm, not the exception. I hope we move towards it regardless, but I cannot control others, only myself.


I shop where I live because this is where I’ve chosen to live and my need for relationship and connection to other small business owners supersedes my need to be comfortable or always at peace with their beliefs or the beliefs of those I disagree with who live here as well. I might be buying something from someone who I argued vehemently with at a city council meeting, but I will still greet that person with kindness when I see them the following day. We are living here together. This is actually something that can be multiplied out and apply to all of us on the planet. We are all living on this planet and we have to find ways to see ourselves as connected.


I recognize that if it costs me a tiny bit more to buy a book at my local bookstore, Northtown Books than it does from Amazon.com. I’m contributing to my community directly when I purchase things locally and that has more value for me. Local vendors give away thousands of dollars every year for every raffle, benefit or event that school children or non-profits come up with. You will find their names on the list of benefactors always. Even when I can’t see the connections, I recognize that they are there. When I think globally and act locally I believe I am making a small difference in the cycle of destruction so many are engaged in.


I treasure those who join me in this. I want to understand and reach towards those who cannot find these connection points. I don’t know that I’ve been successful in my efforts to not preach to the choir. I am verbose, overly intense at times and irrepressible (even my beloved husband says so). I hope some of this makes sense and I’m a work in progress, as is my writing. I ask for your understanding as I learn to express what is true and meaningful for me in service to the idea of being in deeper relationship with all of you.


Sometimes, it’s a good idea to close our eyes and listen. We’re all sharing this space together and the more compassionate, caring and tender we are with one another, the more likely we are to live harmoniously. I’m hopeful because I choose to stop, several times a day, and remember that we are all connected and sharing this space together. This gives me hope because I know how magnificent, intelligent and lovely most of the people I come in contact with are and because even without my prayers, thanks or noticing, the sun rises and the planet spins on its axis and there is rain for my garden.


May you find what binds you to your community and continue to struggle, dance and wrestle with those you may not always see eye to eye with. I promise you, it’s worth the effort and if we think before we speak and take a moment to close our eyes and listen, our engagements will be less fraught and more likely to bring about resolution and a sense of how we are all ONE.


Nicole lives in Bayside, shops in Arcata, and prays all the time, everywhere.


©Nicole Barchilon Frank

This piece is adapted from a Just Being Frank Article in the Arcata Eye, May of 2005

Once Upon a Time in a Faerie Palace….

There's a Flower Fairy hiding inside...
There’s a Flower Fairy hiding inside…

Recently, I spent several hours on the banks of the Salmon River building faerie palaces with small children. This was not a planned event; usually wonderment unfolding is an unplanned event. It’s a “be present in the moment” kind of experience. I’ve lived in this area for over 20 years but this was my first visit to the river near Somes Bar, which is a sad-admission moment.

I was there to celebrate a good friend turning 40. He and his family reserved a group campsite for several days and folks came and camped with them or just came for the day. My wonderment unfolding companions were four little girls, ages 3-7 and one little boy, perhaps six, and the faeries themselves, of course. It was a magical day for me. It was also quite a lot of work.

I generally am drawn to little folks and invisible beings, it’s just the way I am, so instead of hanging out with my husband or the wonderful adults there I spent the majority of my time in the river with lovely demanding children. One little girl, an old buddy, was happy to see me. She wanted me to sleep in her tent with her parents, brother and dog and she was sure they wouldn’t mind. We have a long faerie history together. She is a lover of all things faerie or fey and I regularly send her little offerings, from that realm. A few years ago I sent her one of my favorite books, A Fairy Went a-Marketing by Rose Fyleman and illustrated by Jamichael Henterly. If you don’t own this book, go get it right now, I’m serious. Northtown Books always carries it. It is an extraordinarily important book.

Fairy went marketing

Back to the land of Once Upon A Time…. Two faerie lovers decided to begin working with wet river sand, stones, sticks, leaves and water in order to construct a special magical place. Pretty soon, other little ones wanted to help. The little girl I was initially helping didn’t want younger helpers, only me. So, I began to split my time between several small children creating an avenue or village of faerie structures. Each young person was wishing for assistance with their constructions and didn’t want to share palaces or constructions. Each of them had their own ideas. At one point, the conversation came around to a discussion about skills. One of the older children had more ability to make things and this led to a slight shunning or dissing of the younger ones’ skill set. This kind of attitude is not conducive to faerie enterprises.

I pointed out that every person has special skills and talents that they can offer to this project and to life. I asked them to think about and share one of their own special skill or talents. I asked them to guess what my special talent was. They were only puzzled for a moment and since we were about an hour and half into things at this point, their responses were: “helping people” or “faerie” stuff. I felt seen by my companions; a magical moment of the best sort. I responded to their answers with: “My special talent is kindness, it is something I have to work hard at all the time” And then we resumed construction.

One of the younger girls said that she had never built anything before and didn’t know how to build a sand-castle or a faerie palace or anything. Whether this was true or not, wasn’t relevant, it’s how she felt. She was so eager and so sad at the same time. A part of her afraid that there was something wrong or missing about her. She was a tiny fey kind of thing. She really looked like she belonged in the land of faerie, so palace building seemed like a perfect pairing. She could have been a faerie for all I know, faeries are tricky and love to fool folks. We dug into the wet sand together. I brought her rocks and sticks. She found leaves and began to build her first faerie home. Her fear vanished, almost immediately, in the act of doing. She found her niche. That was a spectacular moment!

The one boy felt very left out throughout much of the process. He told me so and repeated his feelings several times. The girl energy was pretty fierce and the ratio was off. This boy was not squirting water guns or splashing in the water, he was wanting to help build faerie palaces. He was particularly drawn to the beautiful young girl who was closest to his age. The girl he wanted to work with is very delicate and is someone growing into her generous self, but she wasn’t quite there yet. She was insistent that her structure was the best and that it was secret and not part of the greater avenue of villages. She had zero interest in sharing me or her construction with the young boy or any of the other younger girls.

Young and unjaded, these children expressed themselves fully and shamelessly. Luckily, I am fairly or faerily adept at handling complex emotions and interactions and definitely familiar with dynamics like this. Besides faerie construction, my time on the river bank involved many teaching moments. Making sure that each child got some of my focused singular attention and some of waiting for me to be available was just one. They were given encouragement to work together, to trust their own sense of what should be done or just to be patient. The faerie fort that the young man built was ameliorated by the young builder who “didn’t know” how to build anything. She arranged the rocks I brought her in a large circle of stones around his fort. This was something he wanted help with. He was very into having help and sharing his construction and finally felt happy.

And, of course, the dogs and the humans all invariably knocked parts of everyone’s structures down. The movement of the water and flow of traffic all contributed to the inevitable collapses and structural shifting. So, I told them: “You know whenever something breaks or shifts in your faerie dwellings it is because the faeries themselves liked that particular part so much they took it to the Land of Faerie.” This was a new concept to them. Parallel universes are always a good idea to share with children and they are core to who I am.

In the Land of Judaism, where I mostly reside, we have this structure of parallel realms. The Holy Temple on earth is a mirror image of the Holy Temple in the Heavenly Realms. Its construction, desecration, destruction and re-dedication all happen in two places. This idea is central to my life. Everything I do in this realm has ramifications in another realm. My prayers, which bridge the two worlds, have unseen and unknowable effects, but for me they are the Holy Temple walls I am rebuilding. I need the world to be a reflection of Holiness and I have to construct that. It’s not up to anyone else to do my part of the job. I have a unique set of building skills that I bring to the project. Everyone does, when we engage with clarity and intention, wholeness unfolds.

Whether I am involved with children, my husband, my friends, a clerk at the store, or my cats, all of my interactions are opportunities to craft something precious, fine and Holy. I had such great teachers and builders with me on the Salmon River Bank Faerie Row Construction Project.

When I’m awake, I see that I am surrounded by extraordinary companions. I am deeply conscious of how truly blessed I am as I endeavor to mend and build a structure for healing here and now wherever I encounter brokenness.

Nicole sends her faerie blessings to you from her cozy home, where she regularly endeavors to share and create the beauty, kindness and goodness she sees everywhere, and which are gifts from the Realm of the Holy and the Fey.

~ Just Being Frank column published in the Arcata Eye on Wednesday, August 22, 2012 © Nicole Barchilon Frank