Art-Party and Fundraiser for Bryant Holsenbeck’s Book, “The Last Straw”

By Andrea Davis

When people are gathered for an art party, one may imagine paint, canvases, and brushes, or at least some paper and scissors. Since Bryant Holsenbeck was involved, something would be repurposed. But, despite official assurances that the artist herself would be there to guide and assist, I never thought all present would have the opportunity to create her or his own Bryant-style creature!

Sunday, April 22, 2018, was a delightful Spring afternoon and the sunlight and gentle breezes beckoned folks out of their homes and into RCWMS to create whimsical critters and to raise funds to send Bryant’s book to press. Those first on the scene may have been daunted by the pile of textile scraps and the neighboring stash of yarn and string in a rainbow of colors, but Bryant was quick to show people how to begin to shape a creature. She demonstrated how to tuck and wrap the pieces and to look to see whether you might have the start of bunny ears, a mermaid tail, or part of an elephant. If your now-forming fairy needed the turquoise scrap to sparkle, simply stuff less showy fabric inside. Regardless, everyone was taught that the key was to wrap the yarn tightly as one worked. A gaggle of critters took form as friends and new acquaintances chatted, some discussing the tip sheet Bryant provided with ideas to reduce waste.

Bryant became skilled at reducing waste when she began a journey in 2009 to avoid single-use plastics. This dovetails with her work as an environmental artist and The Last Straw transforms her blog into a book. Several thousand of the $5000 needed to bring this to realization was raised at this event, and you too can help bring this challenging and inspiring piece to print.

Labyrinths

by Meghan Florian

labyrinth photo by BJ Fusaro

Photo: BJ Fusaro

I wasn’t familiar with labyrinths until I started an internship at the Resource Center back in 2009. One of my duties during that year was helping Jeanette Stokes haul our large canvas labyrinth around to different spaces in North Carolina and set it up for people to walk. A few weeks ago, for the first time, I was on my own, in charge of directing a team of volunteers in how to unfold and prepare the labyrinth for walkers in Duke Chapel. I’d helped with this task numerous times but found myself wondering if I’d forget some vital detail. As we started to unroll the large strips of canvas and sort out which went where, it all came back to me. Unroll, velcro, brush off, lay out signs, say a prayer…each step followed the others, a prayerful practice, preparing a space to hold whatever people might bring to the labyrinth the next day.

I have a busy mind, and practices that center me, that help me settle into my body, have been vital for me in recent years. Walking the labyrinth has been one such practice. The splits and turns of the paths in my head are numerous, but the labyrinth has one path to its center. If I put one foot in front of the other, eventually I will reach it.

Once I reach the center, I am often hesitant to leave. I like to have a good long sit. Sometimes it becomes a space for joy, other times it offers the freedom to crack all the way open, to grieve. Sometimes it’s simply quiet. Once I begin the second half of the journey, the path outward, I know I have to reenter the world where paths are not so consistent.

That’s the beauty in continuing to set up the labyrinth year after year, place after place. I can’t stay in that nurturing center forever, but I can return when I need to. The sacred space the labyrinth opens up remains, even as the labyrinth is transported from place to place, people to people, a shared source of peace.

This year we rented out our two smaller labyrinths to a record number of churches during Lent and Holy Week. Contact meghanrcwms@gmail.com to inquire about renting a labyrinth for any season or occasion. I’m glad to be part of sharing and spreading this prayerful practice around the state of North Carolina. I hope the ripple effects continue throughout the year.

Meghan Florian is the Communications Director at RCWMS.

The Language and Practice of Self-Care

by Solita A. Denard

On a rainy Sunday afternoon in March, Mothers, Sisters and Daughters gathered in a circle for an event sponsored by RCWMS: “The Ministry of Black Women’s Self-Care.” Despite the chilly weather conditions and with myriad personal arrangements made to ensure our attendance, we responded to the invitation. Like a call to prayer, the call to pay deep attention to our individual health and well-being was heard and responded to. As we assembled, the collective awareness of our need to intentionally create space for this conversation was clear. It may have been the beginning of an answer to silent prayers, inward whispers and muted screams. On this day and for this moment we had chosen ourselves first. As each woman gracefully entered the building, I was warmed by her smile, grace, and courage.

Kimberly Gaubault (McCrae), the lead facilitator for our session, began by asking each woman to take a moment to define herself for herself. Who am I? How do I define the I who is me apart from the labels, roles and characteristics that others have applied to my personhood? Including our parents. We discussed the negative cultural stereotypes that prevail within our communities and society-at-large. As we offered words and examples, I was struck by how easy it was for us to build the long list of myths. Of course it was easy. We are all conscious of the way our world routinely applies general labels to our lives. There were several words on the list that are often used as “positive” attributes to describe women of color, but often result in the misinterpretation of our efforts and can distort our perception of ourselves. One effect that these “myths” can have on personhood is reducing our being just enough so that we fit neatly into any number of small boxes, despite our intelligence, creativity, individuality, and marvelously complex layers. A quote by the prolific poet, Lucille Clifton, was positioned like a crown above the list. It read: “Come celebrate with me that everyday something has tried to kill me and has failed.”

Next, we investigated the distinction between the terms “selfish” and “self-full” and noted that the practice of self-full looks different for everyone. Understandably, we have repeatedly confused establishing healthy boundaries in our relationships as being selfish. How many times have we second guessed our “No” and allowed guilt to change our instinctual no into a yes? As women, we often receive no teaching, demonstrations or support employing the life-sustaining gift of being self-full and the practice of using “no” as a complete sentence. Further, it can be confusing when others react negatively when we choose ourselves first.

Finally, we explored our understanding of care-giving vs. care-taking. By now you may have guessed it, they are not the same! When we care-give we offer supplemental support to others and we assist them in healthy ways. On the other hand, care-taking undermines our goals for health when we take on responsibilities that others can and should do for themselves. As Kim simplified for clarity, it is a matter of “giving and taking.” Heads nodded, and we agreed that as women we know how to give. While care-giving can be a demonstration of affection, grace and service, Kim asked us to consider two questions:

  1. What have we taken on that we should not have?
  2. Are we living unsustainably as a result?

Again, she encouraged us to remember that “Light attracts a lot of things (like a porch light at night). You must be discerning about what occupies your space.”

The immediate gifts of our session are: an expanded language, increased self-awareness, and confirmation that more women are seeking to join this path of healing at every intersection of life.

To all of my Mothers, Sisters and Daughters: may we continue to choose life, be whole and live free.

In service and in health,
Solita A. Denard

The Story of Now

by Cathy Hasty

We gathered in the sanctuary of Trinity Avenue Presbyterian Church in the middle of Durham. We were a small group of mostly strangers and mostly women drawn by the topic of “The Story of Now,” a connection to RCWMS, and singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer. I met my 22-year-old daughter in Durham as a respite from her work as a nursing student in Greenville, NC. There were a few people younger and many who were older.

In this two-hour workshop, we wove together our individual stories with a common theme, developed language and music that compelled us, and created a group song that speaks to the story of now. I did not learn many details about my fellow sojourners yet we found a rare intimacy in the writing of music together.

We moved quickly from introductions into sharing single-word then one-sentence reflections on what we noticed in the last 24 hours. I relaxed and let my mind wander to the unusual duck we saw at Duke Gardens with its black top hat that reared back before plunging herself under the surface of the dark water where she disappeared, reappearing much farther away than I thought possible. I enjoyed overhearing the others’ reflections, each a vibrant reminder of now.

Carrie introduced songwriting by saying, “A song is a short form and has one main idea, with the lyrics as the story behind, between, underneath the main idea.” As we shared ideas, Carrie invited us to respond with a BING sound to ideas that rang true to our experience. Our main idea became “and that was holy.” From there we landed on, “it caught my eye” and “it caught my breath” and “it caught my heart.” We fleshed out details, which eventually formed the basin out of which the lyrics of the song were chosen. I do not remember whose ideas any of the phrases were; they emerged from the group as if by magic.

To build the musical structure, Carrie played short idea selections and let us choose one of the two instruments she brought. On one guitar, which was bolder and more bass, she presented a few ideas of a cadence, melody and intonations that went with this building storyline. The picking and choosing between ideas was so patient and kind. Carrie had a way of affirming everyone and every idea, while guiding us to choose rhymes and a cadence that built an endearing and beautiful song. She was present to us in a unique and powerful way that brought out the best of us.

We sang the song together two times and later she shared a scratch track with her solo voice. I have played and shared this track many times. As Carrie reminded us during the workshop, “In depression, we live only in the past; in anxiety; we live only in the future. The challenge is to live in the present. The present is living in the impossible.” The entire workshop was a magical experience.

Roots & Branches: RCWMS 40th Anniversary Celebration

flowers and "spread love" sign

by Marcy Litle

This year we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of RCWMS. Forty years! Amazing. Born of a spark of imagination, inspired by a conversation between RCWMS founder and leader, Jeanette Stokes, and her mentor, Helen Crotwell, the Resource Center has endured for forty years. Founded to support the small and growing community of women clergy in the South, RCWMS has continued that mission, while also supporting the creative, spiritual, and activist lives of a dynamic and growing community of women and their families.

On October 7th sixty of us gathered at the Scrap Exchange in Durham to mark the occasion with good food, good company, and art-making. The afternoon started with a delicious pot-luck lunch, served on real plates with real napkins and borrowed flatware, to honor our commitment to the environment. After lunch came workshops offered by women who have led various RCWMS programs over the years: participants made shrines with Charron Andrews, protest signs with lizzie mcmanus-dail, and personal icons with Bryant Holsenbeck. We wrote about “what has rooted and unrooted us” under the guidance of Carol Henderson.

We heard brief reflections from long-time friend of RCWMS, Rachael Wooten, RCWMS board members Solita Denard and Barbara Anderson, and Jeanette. And we had a surprise visit from another long-time supporter and current mayoral candidate, Steve Schewel. We participated in a raffle for a beautiful quilt made by RCWMS board member Márcia Rego. Throughout the event, attendees wrote their wishes and appreciations for RCWMS on handmade leaves, which they tied to a tree created by RCWMS artist-in-residence Bryant Holsenbeck. The tree now lives in a corner of the RCWMS office. If you weren’t able to make it to the celebration, you can still stop by and write on a leaf to add to the tree.

The day was a family affair, with feminists ranging in age from 19-months to their eighties. We rounded out the celebration by singing “Happy Birthday” to RCWMS and enjoying cake. Many of us left that evening inspired to keep weaving together feminism and spirituality, and to help RCWMS continue its work for the next 40 years.

Financial Fitness for Young Women

by Andrea Davis

Money, death, taxes–all topics most people prefer to avoid. However, Lisa Gabriel and LisaMarie Smith, along with a group of under-40 women, confronted these realities head-on in a workshop on Tuesday, September 12, 2017, at the RCWMS office. Ms. Gabriel and Ms. Smith, of Pinafore Wealth Counsel of Durham, provided a hybrid format which gave basic guidance while encouraging questions specific to the concerns and goals of participants.  

While money can be difficult to discuss, the group was set at ease by the co-leaders. Lisa and LisaMarie began the evening with an exercise inviting each person to write down the first word that came to mind related to money, and one or more burning financial questions. Healthy snacks and hot tea also soothed. Starting from the need to build an emergency account, discussion also covered college loans, tax implications of various decisions, and considerations around life insurance. Relational aspects included implications for households with significant college debt and the possibility of “financial infidelity.” The then-fresh news of the Equifax breach also prompted discussion of the importance of monitoring and protecting one’s credit. Investing and other retirement savings rounded out the discussion.  

Many participants expressed relief at learning more information, while also regretting that some of these lessons hadn’t been learned sooner! We found that we had many similar goals and that our financial knowledge was enriched by the time with our gracious leaders.

The Art of the Condolence Note

by Amy Dosser

One Thursday evening in July, eighteen women gathered at the RCWMS office to consider the condolence note. When I first signed up for this workshop by Carol Henderson, I think I was hoping for a lecture on the science of writing to the bereaved. But, alas, as Carol demonstrated, writing is an art, and one needs a compassionate pen when communicating with the bereaved.

As usual in the workshops she leads, Carol brought in her own life experience. To discuss which kinds of condolence notes are more helpful than others, Carol drew from losses she has suffered, including the death of her first child (which she wrote about in her first book, Losing Malcolm: A Mother’s Journey Through Grief).

Carol shared several notes that she had received over the years to help illustrate specific wording that is helpful – and some that is less so. The problem letters were too general or contained too many clichés and platitudes. Also problematic were those that purported to know just how the bereaved felt or what she should expect. (Although sometimes it can be comforting to hear these things from someone who has been through a similar situation and is offering possibilities rather than certainties.)

More comforting are acknowledgements of the death and using specific language: specifics about what the deceased meant to us, about things we remember about the deceased, and about ways that we might be helpful. Rather than writing, “Call if there is anything that I can do,” one might say, “I can take you to lunch one day next week,” or, “I go to the grocery store every Wednesday; let me know if I can pick anything up for you.”

Before the workshop, I went through a group of letters that I had received after my daddy’s death. It was interesting to look at them and find the ones that really meant something to me – and still do. They were the ones that mentioned specific things about Daddy and his life: memories they had of my talking about him or things that had stood out to them in his obituary. It made me happy that a friend would take the time to read about my daddy’s life and comment on it to me.

Carol emphasized that the most important thing is that we find a card (or a sheet of notebook paper, for that matter!), sit down, and write a few sentences from our hearts. And so at the end of the workshop, we took what we learned and each wrote a condolence note. We found that taking the time and energy to write a note is a concrete way to let the bereaved know they are surrounded by love. Just this small act conveys volumes.

Carol Henderson and Participants in The Art of the Condolence Note

Dolphins

Every January, May, and September we host a week of quiet and writing for women at the beach. This essay, written by one of the participants at a recent writing week, gives a glimpse into the careful observation and deep reflection that can occur during these workshops.

Dolphins
by Linda Denton

Pelicans, in a long, low-flying line, skim over the splashes and spouts of the pod. Dolphins, at least thirty of them, separate into three groups to feed. They look like diners choosing food at a long buffet, then going back to their familiar tables.

Other seabirds are feasting as well, on a huge school of fish running in the shallows. The air is full of cormorants and gannets, mature and immature differently colored. One brave gray-feathered chap drops into a swirling circle of sleek black skin and white froth. There’s a pause in all activity as birds and mammals reassess. Then all begin to eat again, in silent agreement, or perhaps just concession; there’s enough for all, and time should not be wasted in fighting.

I watch the dolphins jumping and blowing for nearly an hour as I write by a crow’s nest window at Pelican House in Pine Knoll Shores, North Carolina. After saying goodbye to two of the good women I’ve met at this weeklong retreat, I return to my perch to find the dolphins gone, but the birds swirling above. I type for a few minutes, and when I look up again, the black dorsals are again visible, rising up, sinking down, as the amazing animals swim gracefully through the cold waves. As the free dolphin show continues, I see within one curling green translucent wave two dolphins riding the surf. They are completely still, perfectly balanced, supported and carried as if on an invisible waxed board. I lose sight of them behind the foliage of the dune.

I am amazed at their nearness to shore; if the water were warmer, I could easily walk out to where the closest ones feed, barely beyond the first breaking whitecaps. How would a human’s legs change the age-old circle of life, were I able to enter their world? No doubt the fish would depart in fright as my twin towers of flesh wandered out. And as the fish changed course, I assume the birds and dolphins would as well, even if they weren’t frightened of me themselves.

I’ve heard of wild dolphins coming close to people who need help. I don’t know if these are sea stories or truth. But I can think of nothing more wonderful, nothing that would inspire more awe, than to be approached in the ocean by such a creature. How amazing, to touch and feel connected to a sentient being whom I hold in such reverence. To feel intimacy and bonding with the beautiful beings that represent our oneness with the sea. Oh, to swim with these creatures without constraint. It might feel like…communion.

Linda Denton is a neonatal nurse living and writing in Chapel Hill.

Image: Jeanette Stokes

Coming Out of the Shadows

By Rebecca Welper

On an unseasonably hot Saturday at the end of April, sixty people, many of them new faces to RCWMS, gathered with our full queer, spiritual selves, to sing, share, and re-imagine our stories and faith journeys. “Coming Out of the Shadows: Connection and Spirituality Among LGBTQ Communities,” our first ever LGBTQ festival, took place at the Recreation Center at Lyon Park in Durham, just a few streets over from our hometown saint Pauli Murray’s childhood home.

Longtime fixture of the Durham dance community, Tony Johnson, opened the day with a moving solo dance to Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up.” Music was interspersed throughout the day, with Randa McNamara’s soulful rendition of “Old Devil Time” and Kathleen Hannan leading everyone in singing her original creation, “Fathomless Pull.” In her invocation, Marilyn Bowens, pastor of Imani MCC, invited everyone to honor our LGBTQ ancestors and bring them into the sacred space with us.

Workshops celebrated Pauli Murray; offered prayer as movement with dance and yoga; and provided queer perspectives on the Hebrew Bible, our activist forebears, and how to heal from spiritual trauma. Other offerings included free Tarot and Reiki sessions and a panel discussion on disparate faith journeys.

Workshop leaders and panelists represented a variety of faiths and backgrounds, ranging from Dr. Anathea Portier-Young, professor at Duke Divinity; to Saba Taj, founding member of Durham Artists Movement; John Paredes, who serves on the board of the Chapel Hill Zen Center; Karen Ziegler, former MCC minister; and Noah Rubin-Blose, who organizes with Jewish Voice for Peace.

The day was rounded out by a delicious lunch provided by Cris Rivera and Beth Stringfield at CMR catering, talking circles for processing the day’s events, and a closing circle dance and thread ceremony to remind us of our ongoing connection to each other.

Turning Points

Last fall, a group of women whose ages spanned six decades gathered every Monday evening for four weeks to write, explore, and share in a safe and supportive community. Out of these gatherings came a booklet of deeply personal and moving poems and essays. Below is one of the short essays featured in this collection. To read more, email rcwmsnc@aol.com to order your copy of the Turning Points booklet for $5.00.

If this type of experience sounds appealing to you, consider signing up for Seasons of Our Lives, another intergenerational writing workshop RCWMS is offering this October. Contact rcwmsnc@aol.com for more information. Let us know what you think in the comments!

-Rebecca Welper

Pregnant
by S. age 40

I have had three pregnancies. Each was so distinct, from the symptoms and complications to my emotional response.

The first time, it all seemed to come fairly easily. We were ready, we’d planned and hoped, and taken the right classes. Our baby was small but mighty and made her way into the world through a C-section, because, despite my best efforts, from the traditional to acupuncture needles in my toes, she wouldn’t turn around. So, three weeks early, angry, skinny, and precious, she came into our lives.

Three and a half years later, after much anticipation, my second pregnancy was utterly uneventful. The boy was head down, developing nicely. He was fine, but I was exhausted.  This time, being pregnant while keeping up with work and a three year old left me ready for him to come on out and join us. My labor was stunning and fast, and although he was “on time,” we couldn’t keep up. I was relieved that I didn’t deliver on the highway. Twenty minutes after arriving at the hospital, he joined us, tumbling toward the center of the universe amidst blood and screams and complete disbelief on our part. He was a little small, (but) perfect, and very real, despite our incredulity.

My third pregnancy came as a deep blow to my gut, panic and tears and a complete fraying of all my edges. I spent a week talking and weeping with my husband, trusted midwives, and closest girlfriends. I imagined and researched the size of an embryo at five weeks. I drew a little dot in my journal. I felt connected to a relatively silent sisterhood across time and space that faced this same reality. I called to make the appointment for a medical abortion.

Between the time of the phone call and my scheduled appointment, still wracked with raw nerves and bewilderment, I miscarried. I relied on the same allies and loved ones as before.  I felt the loss, but I also felt powerful relief that my body had ended this early pregnancy… gratitude that my body was aligning with my spirit.