GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

December 3, 2009

Insights and Outbursts: Spirituality woven by women

Insights and Outbursts

Did you ever spend an entire day filled with gratitude, simply because you were in a place where you felt not only welcome but happy to be a part of something so incredibly meaningful that you didn't want it to end?

That's exactly how I felt on Saturday, Oct. 31, as I joined 150 women in a program called "Weaving Spirituality where Women Gather" held in the colorful sunlit chapel of the Sisters of St. Joseph Convent in Brighton.

It was presented by www.SacredThreadsCenter.com, an organization founded by Marie LaBollita, SCl, and Rosemary Mulvihill, RSM. I'd known both of them since 2003.

Rosemary, director of campus ministry, I first met at a Regis College workshop, where she was addressing the crisis in the Catholic church. Marie, an outspoken advocate of clergy abuse victims, I met when she spoke at a Voice of the Faithful meeting in Gloucester.

With a vision to "create together what we need based on new models of inclusion, collaboration and empowerment," Sacred Threads offers a variety of programs "for women to voice their experiences, to imagine possibilities, and to create pathways that connect more deeply with self, others, creation and the holy."

And that is exactly what happened, beginning with the opening prayer that concluded with a blessing for the keynote speaker, the Rev. Liz Walker, whose dynamic talk on "The Risk of Love" touched us all with an energy from her "tradition" as an elder in the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Jamaica Plain. I know I wasn't the only one who shouted "Amen" several times during her talk.

For 21 years, Liz Walker worked as an anchorwoman on WBZ television. In the early 1980s, I lived in Boston and drove a cab for Town Taxi. Located on Yawkey Way in the Fenway at the time, the company had a contract with WBZ and, though I enjoyed driving sportscaster Bob Lobel and arts and entertainment anchor Joyce Kulhawik, never met Liz Walker until she spoke at the Sacred Threads Conference.

To call her talk dynamic doesn't do it, or Rev. Walker, justice. She moved around the chapel as she spoke, delighting us with her humor and passion. Saying that she was "profoundly moved and deeply touched" by the blessing, she told us that she and her pastor, the Rev. Dr. Gloria White Hammond, would soon be leaving for the Sudan to visit a school for 500 girls built and supported by their foundation, "My Sister's Keeper."

Liz spoke of how Jesus asked us to love our enemies as well as our neighbors because that is the way God loves, to excess. And "excess" is an appropriate description of our consumer society; where just about anything can be bought or sold as we throw away "stuff" that many on the planet are "dying" to receive.

She spoke of how Martin Luther King inspired ordinary people to do extraordinary things, changing the world with love, motivated by heart and spirit. Love, according to Liz, is not about "what we do, it's about who we are" and "is not a means to an end. It is the end."

She urged us to "seize the moment" and risk moving out of our "comfort zones." "You don't have to go to Sudan," she said, "begin right where you stand."

Liz answered questions with the help of Maya Balle who works closely with her as co-founder of "Liz Walker Journey Productions" and after a short break, we broke into small groups to listen to each other's voices.

Later, Ann Fitzgerald, founder of "Spirit at Work Global" in Waltham, spoke of her experiences with women gathering in circles in India, Africa and the United States. She described circles as non-hierarchical and unaffected by top-down coercion, characterized instead by shared responsibility.

After lunch, Maya led participants in forming support group circles for a variety of reasons before Marie and Rosemary described the origins of Sacred Threads. They had listened to women who were searching for "something more," expressing "a hunger to be nourished."

What they had in common were "threads of connection," participating in groups like Voice of the Faithful or Call to Action. Trying to change institutions and tired of "pushing stones uphill," they longed for acceptance and a place to tell their stories.

Sacred Threads encourages women to find their own voices and risk loving themselves and others. It is a valuable ministry, attracting women from all faith traditions, and I look forward to being with them again in future programs.

Eileen Ford is a regular Times columnist who lives in Rockport.