Feminists of Faith, It Is Time to Light Our Lamps by Laura Shannon


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Banner at JFK Protests Photo by Andrew Kelly/Reuters

Last Saturday morning I boarded a plane at London’s Heathrow Airport. During the ten-hour flight to Miami, I got up several times to ease my back and stretch my legs, observing my fellow passengers with interest and curiosity. I chatted with a Brazilian woman who has lived for 20 years in Switzerland, on her way back to Manaus for a few weeks to help her mother through an operation. I observed the tender care with which a well-dressed woman my age assisted an elegant older lady I took to be her mother, both in neatly pinned headscarves. I enjoyed the mixture of different accents and language I overheard as I strolled around the cabin, flowing like the gentle murmuring of a brook. Here were passengers from India, from Asia, from Africa, from numerous European countries, of all ethnicities, nationalities, religions and colours. This is the melting-pot planet I love to live on.

That flight left at 9 am. If it had departed a few hours later, very likely some of those travellers would have been prevented from boarding or removed from the plane, as happened all over the world after Trump signed his executive order banning travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Syria – from entering the United States. The ban applies even to valid visa holders, workers with green cards, dual nationals and legal residents as well as refugees who had gone through the arduous 2-year vetting process and had already been approved.

When I arrived and saw the news about Trump’s ban, I was deeply shocked. I could not stop thinking of the woman a few rows ahead of me, caring for her frail and delicate mother. From the way they tied their headscarves, I guessed they were from Syria. I had already wondered about their story, whether their apparent fragility had something to do with war: homes or husbands lost in the war, relatives lost, the lives they had before the war definitely gone forever. That war has affected everyone, I know from meeting many Syrians passing through Lesvos and Athens. I try to imagine the scenes if those women had been barred from the flight. What would we, the other passengers, have thought and felt, said and done? Would we have spoken up for them, would we have protested and wept? Or would we have been too afraid of drawing attention to ourselves?

Two months ago, in Salzburg, Austria, I took a taxi to the airport. My driver was a polite, handsome, very young man, with shining chestnut skin and close-cropped hair. He spoke excellent Austrian German, with a faint accent which made me ask if he had always lived here. He told me no, he had come here as a refugee. From South Sudan, that desolate wasteland racked by civil war since long before this boy was born, with the second highest score, after Somalia, on the global Index of Failed States.

‘When did you come?’ I asked him. ‘Four years ago,’ he told me. ‘Four years!’ I said to this young person, ‘you must have been a child then.’ ‘Yes, I was a child.’

‘How did you come?’ I asked. ‘Via Libya and Italy, or Turkey and Greece?’ ‘Turkey and Greece’, he told me, ‘Lesvos island’. ‘Lesvos!’ I said. ‘I am on Lesvos every summer and I always help the refugees. Maybe when you were passing through, I gave you a bottle of water, or a sandwich or a cookie or a hat.’ We both laughed at the thought that we might have crossed paths before. ‘You, or someone like you!’ he said, smiling. ‘Yes, and you, or someone like you too.’

We continued to talk as we drove through the picturesque streets of Salzburg. With his permission, I asked about the details of the journey. How long it took (four months), if he had family with him (no), if he had family waiting for him in Europe (no), if his parents were still alive (yes). And are they still in South Sudan? No, he explained, they had been in a refugee camp for years but in September they managed to get out and go to Yemen. ‘To Yemen? But things are so bad there right now. It’s just as bad as Sudan!’ ‘Yes, that’s right, so after two months they had to go back’. Back to the drought-ridden, famine-struck camps in South Sudan, with one and half million other displaced people staring genocide in the face.

Saïd, as he was called, told me more about his life in Austria, and about his journey as a refugee – a terrible and terrifying ordeal. ‘But we were the lucky ones’, he insisted, ‘it is much more difficult for people coming now.’ When we reached the airport I paid the fare, then gave him fifty euros. ‘For you,’ I said, ‘to help your family.’ Tears sprang to Saïd’s eyes; with the heart-breakingly gentle manner, exquisite courtesy and innate dignity characteristic of all the refugees I have encountered, he placed his hand on his heart and bowed. My suitcase has wheels, and weighed 23 kilos, but he lifted it up in his arms and carried it into the terminal. We shook hands and I told him, “Saïd, I’m glad you made it. I’m glad you’re here. You are welcome in Europe. As a European, I welcome you.”

A banner at JKF airport in New York in the protests that erupted immediately in response to the ban, reads: ‘We WILL love and protect each other.’

To love and protect each other is the quintessential value of feminist religion – whether we are Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Baha’i, or Jew. The commitment to kindness, fairness and mutual support is the heart of the ancient, pre-patriarchal culture of Old Europe that inspires Goddess feminists and can lead the way back to a society and a planet that is safe for everyone– including future generations.

Its core values include sustainability, inclusiveness, empathy, creativity, and reverence for the earth. They provide the foundation for a culture based on partnership, belonging and cooperation, instead of hierarchy, domination and competition (Gimbutas 1991, Christ 1987, Eisler 1987, Flinders 2002, Göttner-Abendroth 2009, Shannon 2016).

Women's March in LA Photo by Marie Cartier

Women’s March in LA
Photo by Marie Cartier

It has always been a guiding principle of the United States to welcome refugees of war and persecution. And what about the moral obligation of those who profit from wars in oil-producing Middle Eastern nations, to help repair the damage and destruction wrought by those wars? What about those born here – like myself, like Trump – whose ancestors came as immigrants?

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to be free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

-Inscription on the Statue of Liberty, by Emma Lazarus, 1883.

As feminists, the lamp we lift is our belief in community, justice, and a culture of peace.

As feminists of faith, we hold it high so that those of any religion – and any age, race, or gender – may follow its light to sanctuary and safety.

Let us help each other now to light and lift our lamps. In these dark days, we’re going to need to be able to see the road ahead.

References
Christ, Carol. ‘Why Women Need The Goddess’. In Womanspirit Rising. Carol Christ and Judith Plaskow, eds. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1979. 273-287.
Christ, C. P. (1987), Laughter of Aphrodite. New York: Harper & Row.
Eisler, R. (1987), The Chalice and the Blade. Cambridge, Mass.: Harper & Row.
Eisler, Riane (1990). The Partnership Way. San Francisco: Harper.
Flinders, Carol Lee (2002). The Values of Belonging. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.
Gimbutas, Marija (1991). The Civilization of the Goddess. San Francisco: HarperCollins.
Göttner-Abendroth, H. (ed.), (2009), Societies of Peace: Matriarchies Past, Present and Future.  Toronto: Inanna Publications & Education.
Laura ShannonLaura Shannon - Copy has been researching and teaching traditional women’s ritual dances since 1987. She is considered one of the ‘grandmothers’ of the worldwide Sacred / Circle Dance movement and gives workshops regularly in over twenty countries worldwide. Laura holds an honours degree in Intercultural Studies (1986) and a diploma in Dance Movement Therapy (1990).  She has also dedicated much time to primary research in Balkan and Greek villages, learning songs, dances, rituals and textile patterns which have been passed down for many generations, and which embody an age-old worldview of sustainability, community, and reverence for the earth. Laura’s essay ‘Women’s Ritual Dances: An Ancient Source of Healing in Our Times’,  was published in Dancing on the Earth. Laura lives partly in Greece and partly in the Findhorn ecological community in Scotland
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Categories: Activism, Feminism, Feminism and Religion

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17 replies

  1. Wonderful post Laura, mine for tomorrow was inspired in part by it. In it, I ask whether it has “always been a guiding principle of the United States to welcome refugees of war and persecution”? I would argue that this is one strand in our national story but not the whole story.

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    • You’re quite right, Carol, the welcoming stance represented by the Statue of Liberty is only one of many complex historical threads. The US has not always welcomed refugees (think of turning away the ship ‘St Louis’ in 1939) and indeed has done more than its share of creating refugees and displaced persons all over the world, not to mention its treatment of native peoples here. But after the Holocaust, when the world agreed ‘Never again,’ and the US along with most other nations ratified the Geneva Convention in 1949, we Americans promised to live by this principle.

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  2. “Let us help each other now to light and lift our lamps. In these dark days, we’re going to need to be able to see the road ahead.”

    Thanks for this important comment, Laura Shannon, a magnificent prayer too…May it be so.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear Laura,
    thank you for your articles. You speak out of my heart. We all are refugees in some way. My father was refugee from Romania 17 years old, my grandmother refugee of the second world war, she had to leave her country Hungaria. Even most of the families in Europe have refugees in their family.
    And I agree totally with you and I feel it that the ritual women dances can give home and safety while we stay in the circle with others. They speak a very common language.
    Best warm wishes to you. And let´s lighten our lamps.
    Hannah Folberth, Austria

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What beautiful stories you tell here! But now I’m starting to worry that some of the Trumpish nativists might blow up the Statue of Liberty. Banish that thought! Yes, let’s work to make America kind and accepting again.

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  5. Yes, our lamps are being lit, and carried high by many. Laura, your post is a powerful reminder to not let them go out. It’s perseverance I find hard, so I am bookmarking this to return to when the light starts to dim.

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  6. Keep being a world citizen who welcomes everyone to our world

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  7. Today’s cartoon by Jen Sorensen, ‘America banned from entering the US’, also seems to sum it up:
    http://www.dailykos.com/stories/2017/1/31/1627796/-Cartoon-America-banned-from-entering-U-S?

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  8. World War Two lasted six years. Can you imagine an end to what’s happening in places where today’s refugees come from? If not, isn’t it equally as responsible to campaign for peace there? Should we consider limited resources? Should we pressure governments who are turning a blind eye to war? I would have thought that a feminist’s first responsibility would be to protest the way women are treated in countries that are at war with each other and us.

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    • Of course. Especially because western governments are not simply turning a blind eye to wars in the Middle East and Africa, but are actively promoting and profiting from the conflicts. If the arms manufacturers raking it in from the destruction took an active responsibility for clearing up the mess left behind, there would be not struggle to find adequate resources for the care and resettlement of refugees. But I agree, the best solution would be to stop the wars. Beautiful inspiration can be found in the movement ‘Women Wage Peace’, a deeply moving example of women marching, singing, praying and dancing together for peace, forgiveness and the healing of past trauma on the path to a better future. The song ‘Prayer of the Mothers’ was born as a result of an alliance made between singer-songwriter Yael Deckelbaum and a group of courageous women leading the movement of ‘Women Wage Peace’. In October 2016, Jewish and Arab women began with the joint ‘March of Hope’ project, and thousands of women marched from the north of Israel to Jerusalem in a call for peace. The song features Yael Deckelbaum with Lubna Salame, Daniel Rubin, Miriam Tukan, Rana choir, the Hebrews of Dimona and singers from all sectors and religions of Israeli society, with words spoken by Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee. Watch the inspiring video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyFM-pWdqrY

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  9. Dear Laura!

    Thank you for your article and remembering us not forget to light our lamps instead of fall in shock, fear, anger and judgement. I have the picture that this lamps are oil lamps and the oil is a mixture of love, compassion and confidence and to be a part of the network of dancing sister all over the world helps me to protect and carry on this light.

    Monika Klinger, Austria

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I love this post, Laura. And I thought how fortunate you are that in traveling as you do you have so much experience with so many different people. I wish more people in the U.S. could have those sorts of experiences to accept people from around the world as fellow travelers on this planet.

    I was reminded that I am the descendant of refugees. On my mother’s side, my family arrived on a boat from England soon after the Mayflower. On my father’s side, his father spent 2 years as a preteen making his way through Europe to escape the progroms against the Jews in Ukraine.

    I am alive because my ancestors found refuge on these shores.

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  11. I am enraged at Trumps destructiveness , and deeply moved by your inspirational writing Laura . May the call in lighting our lamps in collective unity to the values we all so hold dear in our hearts, empower those core values to be upheld.

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