Just when I’m wondering if Sophia Wisdom is still alive and working to bring equality, justice, and peace in church and society, She amazes and surprises me at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Sophia guided me to this huge conference through my friend Ann Landaas Smith. About a year ago Ann invited me to join her Millionth Circle and Women of Spirit and Faith groups at the Parliament, and she encouraged me to submit a proposal for a presentation on the Divine Feminine. I didn’t hear anything for many months after I sent in the proposal for a panel/ritual presentation titled “Reclaiming the Divine Feminine for Our Work of Compassion, Peace, Justice, and Sustainability.” Then in May I heard that there were four times more proposals than expected, and that presentations were being combined to make room for as many as possible in the time and space available. A few weeks later I heard that my proposal might be combined with another, and then about a month later that it wasn’t accepted.
But Sophia had a better plan. She opened the door to another place for our presentation: the Episcopal Church Center of Utah, close to the convention center. Ann Landaas Smith, who served for many years as Director of Women in Mission and Ministry of the Episcopal Church USA, made connections at this Episcopal Center so that we could have a lovely, spacious room for the Divine Feminine panel/ritual presentation. I could see Sophia’s wise hand in this; now we would have the full two hours we had planned for our presentation instead of 45 minutes in a combined session at the convention center.
But Sophia wasn’t through opening doors! Ann, others on the panel, and I had been sending out a beautiful flyer, created by my husband David, with a description of the presentation and pictures of the panelists. Two weeks before the Parliament, one of the organizers saw the flyer and gave us an additional opportunity to do our presentation at the convention center in a room that seated about 75 people. In the afternoon of Thursday, October 15, we entered a rapidly-filling room. Kendra Weddle Irons began the panel presentation, and people kept coming, filling the additional chairs brought in. People continued to come in, sitting on the floor and standing around the room. I had printed 75 handouts for our ritual, thinking that would be more than enough. But there were more than twice that many people, so we shared handouts as my friend Orion Pitts, featured in She Lives! along with the panelists and Music Director of First United Lutheran Church in San Francisco, led joyful singing of “Celebrate the Works of Wisdom” and other inclusive songs to familiar tunes. Kendra writes a wonderful description of our presentation, what followed at the Parliament, and her reflections on the importance of our work toward “a fundamental shift in how we conceive of God.”
Sophia continued to open doors! One of the Parliament organizers invited me to represent the Christian tradition on an interfaith Sacred Feminine panel that took place the following day. I joined Hindu, Mormon, Jewish, and Buddhist feminists to share stories and reflections on the need for religious traditions to change to include female names and images of the Divine in order for there to be gender equality, justice, peace, and sustainability. After the panel, women and men came to me, eager for more information on movements for gender equality in Christianity. I pointed them to Equity for Women in the Church and Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus-Christian Feminism Today (EEWC-CFT). Kendra Weddle Irons, Karen Kidd, and Judith Liro helped pass out EEWC-CFT cards.
Judith Liro, who couldn’t arrive in time for the Thursday presentation, joined others featured in She Lives! Sophia Wisdom Works in the World: Kendra Weddle Irons, Susan Newman Moore, Stacy Boorn, Isabel Docampo, Hyun Kyung Chung, Bridget Mary Meehan, and Ann Landaas Smith. Genny Rowley, who’s also featured in She Lives! but was not able to join the panel because of her unpredictable chaplain schedule at a Salt Lake City hospital, provided pastries and fruit for the gathering. We formed a large circle for the panelists and everyone there to participate. Devi Vaani, a trio of women (Kathleen Neville Fritz, Dionne Kohler & Alison Newvine) who write and perform music in praise of the Divine Feminine, sang their beautiful original song “She Is Here” and led us all in singing, closing with “Sound Forth the News That Wisdom Comes” to the tune of “Joy to the World.” Everyone expressed feelings of renewed energy and inspiration to join Sophia’s works of justice and peace in the world. Afterwards, two young Mormon women, with tears in their eyes, told me that they have been longing for this kind of affirmation that they are truly in the divine image and have sacred worth equal to men.
Then came another of Sophia’s surprises! On Saturday afternoon Alison Newvine, Dionne Kohler, and Kathleen Neville Fritz (Devi Vaani) took their lovely music to one of the main entrances to the convention center, while Kendra and I gave out their cards to passersby. Kathleen told me that this passage in Proverbs came to her mind as she stood there singing: “Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks” (Proverbs 1:20-21). Soon it began to rain, and Dionne, Alison, and Kathleen had to pack up their guitars. I wanted more people to hear their empowering music, so Kendra and I led them into the convention center, not knowing if they could get in without having registration name tags. Sophia quickly gave me an idea—I was scheduled to sign books at the Skylight Paths Publishing exhibit booth at 4:30 that afternoon, so why not have them play there. My editor, Emily Wichland, and design artist, Jenny Buono, were delighted to have them set up adjacent to the exhibit. Devi Vaani began playing at 3:30 and played for about two hours, with Kendra passing out their cards. Their music drew many people to the exhibit. People stood around to listen and applaud and then explore books in the Skylight Paths display. Emily and Jenny told me that Devi Vaani nurtured their spirits as well as helping business!
Rabbi Rami Shapiro, who had been interviewing Skylight Paths authors for his radio show, came to the exhibit to interview me. When I introduced him to Kendra and told him that she was one of the people featured in She Lives!, he asked to interview us together. Kendra did a great job of answering his theological questions about her book If Eve Only Knew, and I talked about She Lives! That was not all! Because Rabbi Rami had heard Devi Vaani singing at the Skylight Paths exhibit and loved their music, he asked to interview them as well. They talked about their calling to compose and perform music in praise of the Divine Feminine for empowerment, ritual, and justice, and about their participation in Ebenezer/herchurch Lutheran in San Francisco. They closed the interview with singing one of their original compositions and “Sound Forth the News That Wisdom Comes.”
After all these amazing experiences at the Parliament, I’m more convinced than ever that She Lives!
Sophia Wisdom labors throughout the world today;
Her works of loving kindness reveal the truth and way.
Her justice flows like waters upon the weary land;
She calls us all to follow Her healing plan.
We join Sophia Wisdom to take down every wall,
to open doors of welcome, including one and all.
We spread Her fullest blessings to people everywhere,
Her gifts of peace and justice for all to share.
Sophia Wisdom blossoms within us and above,
a Tree of Life and Beauty, of everlasting Love.
We claim Her glorious visions of new reality,
a world where all can flourish, where all are free.
She lives, She lives! Sophia lives today;
She lives and works throughout the world to show the peaceful way.
She lives, She lives! We hear Her urgent call;
we work with Her to change the world; She lives within us all.
Words © 2014 Jann Aldredge-Clanton
From Earth Transformed with Music: Inclusive Songs for Worship (EakinPress, 2015).