I am beginning this post (again!) on Thursday, January 7, 2021, the day after Epiphany. I have been working on it since Monday. It not unusual for me to take a whole week to write a post for Feminism and Religion, which is why I only post quarterly. It is unusual for me get to Thursday and scrap all attempts, to acknowledge that I still don’t know what to say.
In western Christianity the feast of Epiphany commemorates the arrival of the Magi at the birthplace of the Christ Child. The eastern Church celebrates his baptism. The divine made flesh is (an) E/epiphany.
There are several definitions of lower case epiphany, among them: “a revealing scene or moment.” Like the one the world witnessed in Washington DC on January 6th, 2021. Epiphanies don’t have to be beautiful. Many people predicted violence would erupt during the count of the electoral college vote; some people planned it, and one person above all others incited it. Still, the storming of the Capitol was an epiphany, the revelation of an ugly truth some people, at least, had refused to face.
The results of democratic victories in the Georgia senatorial races, announced that same day, could also be hailed as an epiphany, the divine principle of justice made (wo)manifest. Many people worked hard for these victories, but no one more than Stacey Abrams. Defeated in the Georgia gubernatorial race almost certainly because of voter suppression, Abrams founded Fair Fight, an organization dedicated to ensuring just elections in Georgia and nationwide. Thanks in great part to her visionary and determined spirit, democracy in the United States of America now has a fighting chance.
I am not sure how to make feminism explicit in this post, a stated purpose of this blogsite. To be sure, I came out of the womb raging at the patriarchy. My mother’s labor was induced not for any medical reason but to accommodate my father’s schedule. As a young woman, I vociferously believed in the inherent superiority of women, my defiant response the overt or insidious patriarchal insistence on women’s inferiority. In the hands of patriarchy even equal opportunity can be a weapon. Witness Trump’s lauding of his appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court ( “a very smart woman”) to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat before January 20th against her express last wish.
I originally planned to write about the chance we now have to stop the pipelines Trump rammed through (language deliberate) by executive order. Feminism is not only about gender equality, but about a quality of attention, listening intently not only to people but to all life, including rivers, seas, forests, mountains. I wanted to tell you about a letter (in PDF, no link) written by forty-one indigenous women to banks and other entities that finance pipelines, pipelines that violate treaty rights, wreak environmental depredation, and escalate climate crisis. Crowded man camps full of temporary workers also pose a threat to the safety of indigenous women as well as spreading coronavirus. On December 11th, in an action coordinated by Stop the Money Pipeline, people across the US and Canada delivered this letter to local branches of banks like JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and many others. For information on fossil fuel divestment, click here.
On January 2, I had an epiphany. I recorded it in the form of a haibun (short prose poem, followed by a haiku.) It has led me to extend a practice that began playfully. I ask for help finding lost things from beings I address as angels, fairies, and devas. Are they real in a literal sense? Located internally, externally? I only know that when I ask for help I shift from frustration, to another state of mind. Unhurried, unworried. When the lost object appears by magic and/or logic, my delight is childlike. I offer thanks aloud.
Not long after my epiphany, I began to wonder if it might have a collective as well as individual application, especially at this time. The haibun’s title is “a way out of no way,” a line that recurs in many Gospel songs and has resonance in the Civil Rights Movement. A way out of no way strikes me as what we need to be seeking. Can we as a people learn to ask for help from what is within us, between us, all around us? Epiphanies might be everywhere, just waiting for our attention.
haibun: a way out of no way
I hike to a waterfall at the other end of the wood. In summer the undergrowth is too thick and full of ticks. Even now as I walk atop the high, steep banks of the stream, the barberry is thicker than I remember. The waterfall is worth it, bright and roaring. Heading back, I keep to the stream, though I know the briars may be impenetrable in the swamp. I walk easily on flood-flattened grasses till I come to the thickets. I could climb the bank here; the top is relatively clear. Then I wonder: if the angels, fairies, and devas help me find lost socks and earrings, maybe they will help me find a way through the swamp. I ask out loud for briar-free passage. I look, and then I see it: just a few clear steps. I stop again and wait. I see an opening winding around fallen logs and stumps. Way keeps opening through the tangle, a few steps at a time, till I come to water flowing over a beaver dam, a part of the stream I’ve never seen this close. At last I turn and look; a gentle slope beckons me back to the edge of the wood.
finders and keepers
of a way out of no way
thank you, patient guides
Elizabeth Cunningham is best known as the author of The Maeve Chronicles, a series of award winning novels featuring a feisty Celtic Magdalen. Her novels The Wild Mother and The Return of the Goddess have both been released in 25th anniversary editions. She is also the author of Murder at the Rummage Sale. The sequel, All the Perils of this Night, was published in August, 2020. An interfaith minister, Cunningham is in private practice as a counselor. She is also a fellow emeritus of Black Earth Institute.