A wonderful, magical weekend. Spent with sister-scholars, friends, mentors and elders from the Women’s Spirituality Masters of Arts program in the San Francisco Bay area, a trip I have made many times, down the great fault-line running through the mountainous, volcano-strewn landscape of the West Coast, from British Columbia to California. My very own pilgrimage route to be inspired/inspirited in the close conversations and practices I experience there, a weekend spent with colleagues I love and admire, who have supported the many years of my developing voice, scholarship, and art. A community where there can be these specific conversations on women and spirituality, where critical gender /race /class /sexuality voices are lived in concert with inspirited pathways and the divine female/feminine, where the Earth is honoured as sacred in relation to all-living-beings (even the rocks), where healing, transformation, and restoration are at work, where re-mothering and re-storying our-selves and others, and living well, thrive. This is in a university context no less, something magical about this? Yes, it sure is.
Of course, there is the struggle of it all. This education is lived through the crucible of women’s unique transformations and processes, finding their ‘true’ work with self and in community. It is not easy to accomplish such transformative education. The faculty were committed over many years to working with small groups of students, in a close cohort model of education. Step-by-step, each student finds her-self, her voice and (needed) work, in community with others, through the many mirrors held around her in scholarship, art, professors, peers, and rituals, in which she re-views her-self and others, in new ways. Perhaps this close model is ultimately unsustainable, and works on the edge of the therapeutic. Yet, it was a vital place where scholarship, art, story, and activism moved us forward in our lives, in ways previously unimagined.
It is so worth it to keep going on this path. It’s the juice of life, the stuff I yearn for. We be-come, over and over. I felt so clearly over this weekend how these are the kinds of conversations that move me forward in life. What gives me the mojo, to keep-on keeping-on.
I say “was.” This re-union marked the ending of the WSMA program. We gathered to close these program doors. We gathered to ritually honour the wonder-full (as in full of wonder) scholarship and stories of all the many women who have passed through those gates, giving testimony to its place in our lives as faculty and students. Through various institutional issues and foibles, this MA program is closing. Women’s Spirituality had survived and thrived through two previous institutional transitions in the past 20 years. But now, with core faculty at retirement age, and the impossibility of keeping this program going in its current university context, things have come to an end.
I feel like the fates of progressive American institutions of higher learning seem more and more tenuous in these times. Places where the most experimental and vital programming could go on are losing their ability to function and sustain themselves in new economic and social-political amalgams. It’s like another “take-down” of another progressive college. We need a new wariness of soul, of heart, a “revolutionary patience” (a la Jacqui Alexander). The work goes on, of course. We carry it with us, in all the struggle and joy it takes to do what we love, and still pay the rent.
I have tried for years to communicate the depth, beauty, and inner and outer workings of this transformative education to others, by telling my own stories and those of the women who have come through its doors. This work has been an integral part of my path as a scholar-healer-artist-mother. Like proselytizing, I was on a mission to spread “the good news” for all to hear, about what could be called “education.” More and more I see that in my striving, this is very hard to do without people having lived experience of such. Much like the midwifery and home birth movement I have been involved in for 30 years, you must live these kinds of sacred birthings to know them. But it’s all good to keep trying to communicate, to stand up for what is possible, for what we know can work for ourselves and others in order to live well.
Watching the levels of discontent and burnout of many professors in academe, I feel that maybe people don’t know what is possible? Some become stuck in ruts of complaint, through reams of academic dramas and traumas that lock good folks into loops of despair, separating selves from the original passion of scholarly work.
In women’s studies and in the field of education and curriculum, we can be so very good at the critical voice. Criticality is important. But how to move beyond, inclusive of insightful criticality, to the work of healing the self/others, of creating a just, sacred and sustainable society, of seeing and be-coming new integrations and visions for human life?
It is the death of love to stay in the critical. Make the leap to the transformative, to the restorative, to the gifts of community and co-creation, to the beauty of inner/outer re-generative visions and voices and stories. Talk to the trees. Many scholars are flailing in their silos of knowledge, burning-out and burning-in. I see pain in the academy, in what could be a hotbed for wise leadership. Resist voices of competition and individualism that threaten the vitality of our work. We have our own unique voices and paths, AND we can work with each other in collective ways for thriving and going on. Getting re-acquainted with the juice.