As hope wrestles fear for a grip on our imaginations, conversations with family and friends, co workers and neighbors, circle the violent juggernaut that we feel increasingly unable to influence.
What, in God's name, we ask each other with each day's headlines, can ordinary people do as our leaders plan to unleash unimaginable destruction?
As the spiritual leader of a small congregation near Santa Fe, New Mexico who found her calling late in life, I am keenly aware both of my influence and limits. But even as I feel far from the decisions that may transform my world, I see a ray of hope, a place to begin.
On October 7, 2002, I will join several hundred women religious and spiritual leaders at the Palais des Nations (United Nations) in Geneva, Switzerland, for the first Global Peace Initiative of Women Religious and Spiritual Leaders.
This will be the first time women spiritual leaders will gather as an international sisterhood to address global problems in a world contemplating a war without end.
As an American rabbi, I will go to Geneva with a freshly cleansed and hopeful heart. In the Jewish tradition of Yom Kippur, I have just asked forgiveness and I have given it. I have looked deeply at myself and found ways that I can do better. I am ready, indeed eager to act differently. Despite the grim news, I pack my bags with hope. My program notes declare that as nurturers, healers and educators, women spiritual leaders of all faiths have a special role to play in bringing the universal values of religion--not the beliefs that divide us-- to the fore.
While women of faith have for centuries worked for transformation at the grassroots level, we have been denied or shied away from leadership roles.
Now, our skills and attributes are desperately needed on a global scale to build a more just, caring and peaceful society. What I hope we can create in Geneva is a tent where we have gathered, first of all, to be honest, and second, to seek likeness in one another.
While there have always been representatives of the divine in feminine form, never have so many women entered the realm of religious and spiritual leadership. Our presence comes at a time, even before the watershed of September 11, of heightened yearning for what we offer. That our time has come is evident by the UN's imprimatur on our gathering.
Some may dismiss us, insisting terrorism only heeds military force. From two distinct but linked miracles that I have been privileged to witness in my lifetime, I am convinced we will prove them wrong.
First, I look back at those brave souls who resisted Nazism in Europe. In 1992, I wrote a book about a group of people who, like today's women spiritual leaders, acted independently when called to a higher service. For Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust, I interviewed scores of ordinary people, non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews. Women rescuers equaled men in number and in courage. Irene Opdyke slept with a Nazi officer to keep him from turning in the 18 Jews she had hidden. Marion Pritchard shot a man to save three children.
Religious and racial intolerance ended as genocide in World War II. Since September 11 such evils feel quite present . Today, in the U.S., far from the usual battlegrounds of religious wars, we have learned we cannot escape the global reach of raging hatred. Increasingly, we hear the language of religion used to divide us, to turn us into people hell bent on mass killing in God's name.
For centuries, the divine has been invoked by men of the cloth to rally their flocks for war. A handful of women religious leaders, like Joan of Arc, have also led troops to battle. But they have been the exception which, I have faith, will continue to prove the rule.
This leads me to a second community of courage, women spiritual leaders.
Among my peers, I find a similarity of experience. Regardless of whether I sit with a native American elder, a Wiccan, or an Episcopal priest, I feel in the presence of a common message and style.
While the feminine dwells in everyone, the language and style of women is
distinct. Followers of women spiritual leaders say that women listen well, are empathic, less hierarchical, more approachable. These two backdrops to history-the quiet courage of rescuers who stood up to evil with small acts of large consequences and the determination of women spiritual leaders to redefine faith as a bridge to peace, not fuel for war-inspire me.
The ancient sages called the Bible black fire written upon white fire. If women divided by our different faith paths can unite through the white fire of the divine feminine, 21st century women spiritual leaders could prove to be our saving grace.