By Margaret-Anne Enders —
As this goes to print, the country is in distress over six young people from Quebec who have set out for the Middle East to fight with ISIS. There is much talk of the proposed legislation to prevent travel for such purposes and jail time for those returning home. People across the country fear for the safety of these young fighters, but also have come to fear for their own safety. The government’s proposed legislation and the language it uses when talking about safety, security, freedoms, and war are leading us even further down the path of fear. Once fear takes hold, it starts to spread: fear of the future, fear of change, fear of “the other.”
Fear leads us to draw inward, to put up walls, and to dampen curiosity. In the mythic land of emotions, fear is a trickster. It whispers in our ears, “What if… what if…” and tells tales that make us question reality and rational thought, leading to more fear and suspicion. It’s cyclical. Fear begets fear. And it also begets the kind of disconnection and isolation that can lead to radicalization.
It is this climate of fear that is challenged and changed by the women involved with the Women’s Spirituality Circle (WSC). The Women’s Spirituality Circle, a program of the Canadian Mental Health Association Cariboo-Chilcotin Branch, is comprised of women throughout the Cariboo who hail from many different religious and spiritual traditions: Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, First Nations, Messianic Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and Yogic, as well as many women whose spiritual lives and beliefs are less-defined. For the past year and a half, the WSC has been meeting to plan inter-faith bridging events and to increase opportunities for women of diverse spiritual traditions to meet and grow in relationship.
Each month, we attend at least one ceremony or spiritual event celebrated by one of the faith groups or spiritual leaders in the area. We’ve gone to Sikh celebrations, experienced connection with horses and in nature, walked the labyrinth at the United Church, paraded with lanterns on Winter Solstice, and joined with the Buddhist community for the Dalai Lama’s birthday. Last March, we had a gathering attended by 130 women in our community. There were informative workshops on the basic tenets of various religions and experiential workshops sharing how women express their faith through yoga, meditation, dance, felting, and ceremony. The word repeated most often on the feedback forms for the weekend was “connection.” Women said over and over that they felt connected to the women in their community in a way they hadn’t before.
It is this connection that is the key to combating fear. It is connection that allows people to open up and take in new information, to challenge assumptions, and to nurture a sense of hope for our world. We are combating fear, not with more fear, but with relationships. One woman in our circle blessed us all by relaying that she used to be lonely in Williams Lake, but is not lonely any more. Other women have shared that they now have more confidence talking about their faith because they were treated with respect when they did. There is a sense that, by reaching out, we can touch the sacred that is within.
In the Christian tradition, the cross is a symbol which carries great meaning. It is the symbol of Jesus’ resurrection and thereby signifies hope and new life. There are many ways to articulate what that means for people. The image that I like best comes from Joerg Rieger’s book, God and the Excluded. Rieger explores the cross as two pieces of wood—one horizontal, one vertical. While some view their relationship with God or Jesus as the most important part of their faith, Rieger suggests that the horizontal relationships that we have with fellow humans are just as important as the vertical relationship that we have with God. The gist is that I, as a Christian, can’t have a strong relationship with God unless I have a strong relationship with my neighbours. Care for one’s neighbours and reaching out to strangers are central themes in many religions.
On April 17 and 18, the WSC is hosting our second annual gathering in Williams Lake. The theme of this year’s gathering is “Making Peace.” Women have a long and strong tradition as peace-makers. In historical conflicts, in nurturing and raising families, in the women’s and environmental movements, women have stood up to injustice, calmed ruffled feathers, kissed tears from skinned knees, and invoked their strong spirits in an effort to bring peace to our world and to their own lives.
We extend an invitation to all women to join us on April 17 and 18. Together we will learn about Making Peace—in our hearts, in our homes, with our environment, in our communities. We will share stories and experiences regarding spiritual practices that promote peace, women’s roles in peace-making efforts, forgiveness, compassion, peace during dark times, and peace and environmental sustainability. The gathering is open to all women—those with a strong faith in an organized religion, those who would call themselves “spiritual, but not religious,” those who are seeking, and those who have no spiritual path at all.
In the current climate of fear and uncertainty, we aim to support and inspire women with rich conversations, nourishing food, a good dose of laughter, and strong connections. Together we can nurture a community where the only kind of radicalization is radical connection.
For more information on the WSC Gathering, contact Margaret-Anne at (250) 305-4426 or find us on FB at Women’s Spirituality Circle in Williams Lake. Tickets can be purchased at CMHA, Smashin’ Smoothies, and Dollar Dollar and are only available until April 10.
In her work with the Multicultural Program at Cariboo Mental Health Association, as well as in her life as a parent, partner, faithful seeker, left-leaning Christian, paddler, and gardener, Margaret-Anne Enders is thrilled to catch glimpses of the Divine in both the ordinary and the extraordinary. To find out more about the Women’s Spirituality Circle, call her at (250) 305-4426 or visit:
or on Facebook at Women’s Spirituality Circle in Williams Lake.