Shout out Friday – Jane Fonda

jane-fonda-aHi there, here’s the replay of my Live Shout Out Friday where I give a shout out to the magnificent Jane Fonda whose autobiography My Life so far I found really inspiring. Her take on the spirituality and the patriarchy gave voice to a lot of my own feelings around there Christianity has lost its way.

[wpvideo x8Z9hR27]

I also gave a shout out to local North Down artist Rachel Calder whose lamps are so exquisite. I mean just look at this. She’s at craft fairs locally in the Co. Down area but I reckon it won’t be long before these beauties find home. Follow her on instagram @rachelcalderdesigns and you might even see some shots of her gorgeous golden retriever Ellie too.

rachelcalderlamp1.jpg

 

Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast and sign up here for the newsletter to be the first to hear me bellow about some extraordinary women. 

 

 

 

 

Risen

With St. Valentine’s Day around the corner, you could be holding one of two postures; excited to share the love, whatever that might look like, or cynically smirking in a corner and despising the Hallmark romanticism of the day. You may be delightedly planning cards or gifts to a lover or a friend or bemoaning the fact that no sooner had the tinsel been taken down, the Easter eggs where on the supermarket shelves and the card displays turned a nauseating tone of pink. Somebody somewhere’s making money and so the world turns. Eve Ensler2.jpg

February, in recent years, has a different focus for me. Some years ago, I came across a video online with women dancing in a campaign to end violence against women. It was, I came to learn, part of the V-Day, the playwright Eve Ensler’s campaign to raise awareness, and so end, violence against women and girls. The movement had started 20 years ago with the production of her play The Vagina Monologues, a daring attempt to put women’s voices about the most intimate parts of their lives and bodies centre stage. It was shameless, joyous and empowering and since then, every February she has made the rights available for free for women’s groups all around the world so that they can participate in the global campaign.

The movement has grown to become One Billion Rising, where flashmobs of dancers take over streets and public areas letting their bodies and voices bear witness to the injustice, inequality and violence they face.

I’ve always been a good girl. I did well at school, behaved at home and generally never put a foot wrong. I consciously chose my Christian faith when I was a child of 8 and found it empowered me to be a force for good in the world. When I became a minor celebrity in the late 90s, I was never one to grace the covers of tabloids with lurid tales of my exploits. Rather, I was the one using my profile to focus attention on issues of justice and inequality. Around the same time, Ensler’s play was getting plenty of notice with famous actresses lining up to take part. While women’s issues were front and centre in my heart and mind I would have balked at the thought of getting up on a stage and talking about the intimate issues at the heart of The Vagina Monologues. There was still a part of me that felt that this was not the sort of thing a good Christian girl could be part of.

While some might say that feminism and Christianity are anything but compatible, I had always held both as strong parts of my identity. I advocated for women’s full inclusion in the church. I organised women’s groups in whatever congregation I happened to belong to. In recent years, I have preached regularly and led Sunday services. Believing strongly that the original message of Jesus was hope and liberation for all people and that women were not intrinsically less than men, I pushed forward in my attempts to make change from the inside.

But I was keeping my firmly held identity as a good daughter. I was still within a structure and culture that was patriarchal at its core and I still aimed to please. And this led to an increasing discomfort at the deepest levels of my being.

My involvement with the Mothers Artists Makers movement in Dublin, advocating for more visibility for female artists who also have children and better work place conditions for all parents in the arts, increased my discomfort. So many women I spoke to had been hurt, dismissed, ignored by the church – perhaps not my particular ecclesiastical corner but by calling myself Christian I found myself, however subconsciously, put in the same box.

There are some amazing women working within the church who are speaking up for women and there are changes happening certainly. Women like Rachel Held Evans, Sarah Bessey, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Jen Hatmaker, Sr. Joan Chittister, Rita Nakashima Brock. But as the tide of female empowerment rises, as the voices of the #MeToo movement are finally, finally, heard it’s become increasingly clear to me that right now, I can’t be in the box with them.

The last sermon I preached was in the summer of 2016. The reading of the day was from Luke’s Gospel where Jesus tells the people the story of the lost sheep. (You can look it up at Luke 15: 1 – 10). Jesus’ parables have been recorded by Luke for a revolutionary community of men, women, Jews, Gentiles, slave and free who are trying to live a completely new way of being in the world, where old divisions have melted away and the teachings of their master Jesus are put into practise. The story of the lost sheep is of a shepherd who has 100 sheep and one has wandered off and the shepherd leaves the 99 and goes off looking for that one naughty little bleater, finds it, brings it home and celebrates with a party. It’s traditionally been interpreted in terms of us being the naughty little bleaters that go wandering off and God being the poor suffering shepherd who has to risk the 99’s safety by coming to get us and bring us home – whether we want to come of not, I might add!

In preparing the sermon however, the same phrase kept leaping out at me.

‘Which of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety nine in the wilderness and go after the one until he finds it?’

The gospel or good news of the Jesus story is abundant life for all, here and now, not in some disembodied place in the future, and the message time and time again in the life of Jesus and that of the early church was that this abundant life was specifically for those who needed it most. I had to question whether the church as I knew it was part of the good news to the poor, dispossessed, disenfranchised, oppressed, downtrodden, ignored, voiceless in my culture and society or whether in fact it was complicit in the systems that keep people down and specifically the system that keep women down.

So I took a step back. The cognitive dissonance of feeling out of step with my spirit meant I stepped down from no less than 4 preaching engagements in the months following that last sermon. I scaled back my Sunday morning attendance and since we’ve moved north, I’ve not been to church. I’m currently on an indefinite sabbatical from church membership. I want to find out if there is a way for me to live my faith out from under a patriarchal system. I keep asking myself, what would Mary of Magdala’s spiritual community have looked like? Might it have looked more like the Jesus I read about in the Gospels than our present day church does?

There’s no such thing as the perfect church. That’s not what I’m looking for. I am looking for a radical new paradigm and perhaps it’s out there, and I just haven’t come across it yet. I’ve always been the good girl, the good daughter, so to step outside the lines like this is a big thing for me but I really believe that I’m being called out of the fold, to leave behind the Ninety Nine in the wilderness of the patriarchal system to dance and sing and act alongside and on behalf of the women rising in movements like the V Day initiative.

This February, my focus is to step into this space with my body, heart and soul. Valentine, the saint who’s day we celebrate on the 14th, was martyred for his faith in this abundant life and new way of being in the world, for marrying couples who otherwise would have been separated when the young single men were to be sent to war as canon fodder for a Roman Emperor. He defiantly resisted a system of oppression.

Valentine inspires me. Jesus inspires me. Mary of Magdala inspires me. Eve Ensler inspires me.

I am woke. I am out of the box. I am beyond the fold. I am risen.

Sign up for my newsletter for news about an upcoming version of The Vagina Monologues that I’m involved with. Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram and Facebook and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. If you’re looking for an inspiring conversation with a leading Irish feminist activist, check out the episode where I chat to Lian Bell, founder of the Waking the Feminist movement. 

Shout Out Friday

[wpvideo HgumtUUa]

So I did my first live feed on Facebook and Instagram and today I gave a shout out to St. Brigid as her feast day was a couple of days ago on the 1st of February.

In the video I share the story of her encounter with the King of Leinster and how her faith and determination can inspire us all as creative women to #takethespace we need to expand our vision.

Shout out also to Gemma @mutha.hood for the awesome Strong Girls Club sweater which you can buy at her wonderful site Muthahood Goods.

Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter to be the first to hear what I’m up to and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

Have a great weekend. Spread that cloak wide.

Melanie

Imbolc

I hereby declare January a write off.

I also hereby declare that from now on I’m not even going to consider January a suitable time to start anything, launch anything, set myself up for anything because I am finally getting it into my thick 21st century mind/body that Spring doesn’t start till February.

And Spring is when the energy kicks back in after the long dark months of winter. Those six darkest weeks of year from the winter solstice to Imbolc – the ancient Celtic announcement of Spring – are the toughest part of the year and not the time to try and burst out of the ground and flourish. When the inevitable blast of new year cold weather hits, any wee flower attempting to grow is going to get pummelled.

IMG_0203It’s been an incremental thing but my exploration of the Celtic calendar, with its clearly delineated and defined feminine and masculine energies throughout the year, is finally beginning to make sense. My body naturally wants to follow the rhythm of the seasons and though there’s a natural impatience and desire to get the new year off to a bang after Christmas, it inevitably ends up being more of a whimper.

In the Celtic tradition, the year begins in the dark, in November with the festival of Samhain, a wild letting go of all that the previous year was and a welcoming of the dark. Dolores Whelan in her beautiful book Ever Ancient Ever Knew – Celtic Spirituality for the 21st century talks about the year being divided into two; giamos relating to darkness and winter and the feminine and samos relating to light and summer and the masculine.

During the giamos time, the non-doing mode of being and the qualities of receptivity and non-linear time are valued. Here, the slow, non-rational intuitive ways are dominant.

Now why on earth didn’t I read this six weeks ago, enjoy Christmas and let the dark days roll till now? Why didn’t I just relish the little hope of extra light in the evenings, pushing the dark back ever so slightly and hinting at change? Well, the body has a deeper knowing and mine allowed itself to get knocked sideways with a bug that flattened my energy and nobbled my productivity for the guts of January. Our whole family have been battling germs and viruses and we are all ready now for the sun to come once again and blast the bugs to kingdom come.

The first of February is St. Brigid’s day. In archetypal language, Brigid is the Maiden, the symbol of youth, rebirth and healing. She emerges from the Cailleach or Crone as a sign of fertility and raw life force. Her pre-Christian origins have her as a Goddess and some say that she has only been appropriated into the Christian tradition in an attempt to win converts.

Whatever her origins, she is a useful herald for the beginning of spring, a potent sign that a new time of creativity and energy has arrived. Now is the time to ask what creativity bud is wanting to flower, what spark of an idea is wanting to burst forth? Now is the time to build, trusting that light and warmth will return in abundance and the sun will shine again.

February’s theme is all about women rising to co-incide with the One Billion Rising Campaign and in the coming weeks I’ll be exploring some themes around the current rise in feminine energy we’re seeing lately. I’ll also have some announcements to make so to be the first to hear, sign up for my newsletter. And don’t forget to subscribe to the Strut and Bellow podcast on iTunes where you can find conversations with inspiring women who make. 

 

 

 

 

Solstice musings

MothersNightphoto credit: Unknown

I discovered today that the 20th of December, as well as heralding the festival of Yule and the Winter Solstice is also called Modraniht or Mother’s Night. In old pagan cultures, it was a night to honour mothers and female ancestors and I suppose recognise the turning of the year from the feminine dark towards the masculine light. In the Celtic calendar, the winter solstice is the midpoint of the season of Samhain and the archetype of the Crone is often identified to recognise the coldness of winter, the death of the old.

These days, the consumer fest of Christmas with its cozy Holy Family of the Nativity story, its sterilised tale of angels and wise kings seems a world away from the cut and thrust of what would have been a scandalous birth to a poverty stricken young couple who subsequently found themselves to be refugees.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

I was listening to Alexander Shaia speak with Rob Bell on a podcast and he was discussing how the early church developed the feast of Christ, which only became popular from the 4th century on when Christianity moved further in to the cultures of northern Europe. While many might scoff at the appropriation of pagan festivals for Christian worship, and while it might be disingenuous of me, I rather like to think of the early followers of Jesus sharing their understandings of the world, of the spiritual realms with the people of these other cultures and beliefs and seeing how their different practises resonated with one another. I like to think that in some cases there was a mutual understanding and appreciation of what significance this time of the year held for people who were largely dependent on the sun and who longed for it to return.

My children’s school held a nativity service this week in a local Presbyterian church and I was really touched by the effort that went into it. It’s no mean feat to get 180 children to pull off a play with singing and costumes and nervous narrators, but they did a terrific job. The theme through out was that Christmas was all about love, the incarnation of Love in human form, Light piercing the darkness. The story of the birth of Christ into the world is the story of hope and light and love at a time of the year when we could all do with the return of the sun.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

The whole unveiling of years of misogynistic abuse of women by men in power has had me on the cusp of a simmering rage lately. The TIME magazine picture of the silence breakers, with the evocative elbow of a woman who still needed to protect her anonymity, was a powerful hint that something fundamental is shifting.

I’ve been speaking lately with friends going through the horror of messy and protracted separations with men who seem to have lost all sense of responsibility and decency. I’ve had conversations with other women about the issue of the ‘mental load’ at this time of year, the pressure to have everything sorted and organised for Christmas, running ourselves ragged so that everyone else has a wonderful holiday.

I’ve listened to debates about working women and the continuing struggle for affordable childcare. For all the talk of equality and opportunity, many more women of my generation are realising that when we were told that we could have it all, when we were encouraged into education and careers, it was still assumed that, when it came to having children, we’d be the ones expected to compromise.

Violence against women, exploitation and inequality in the workplace, the sexualisation of young girls, the demand for perfection so that we can still be consumed, the continued legislation of our bodies…. I’m looking toward 2018 and thinking, this cannot go on. Everything must change.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

The Winter Solstice begins the festival of yule, the 12 days of Christmas and the honouring of the Goddess in ancient cultures. How fitting then that at the centre of the Christian story is a young woman whose song of liberation is rung out year after year. A young woman of questionable status, giving birth to a child without her womenfolk nearby, witnessed only by those lived on the margins of society. A woman who consciously allows love to become incarnate through her so that the hope of liberation from oppression can become the light we cling to.

This is the song she sang and this is the hope she instilled in her boy, that the God she believed in would not look away from those who are ignored, oppressed, downtrodden. That this new way of being human that he would grow to model, when the Spirit and the Body are beautifully united as they always should have been, could become a powerful, transformative movement that would speak up for the voiceless and show what real love truly looks like.

I know the church doesn’t look like this a lot of the time. I’m in the heart of my own struggle to give expression to a faith that has been hijacked by power hungry, woman hating men. But Christmas is the time to focus on the hope that one day, it could be beautiful.

So in honour of Modraniht, Mother’s Night, and thinking of all the women, with or without children, who are longing for liberation, I give you Mary’s Song.

I’m bursting with God-news;
    I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
    I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
    the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
    on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
    scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
    pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
    the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
    he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
    beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

Gospel according to Luke 1:46 – 55  The Message

 

Shout Out – Kristen (and Rob) Bell

Rob-Kristen-Bell-podcast

Not many people will have heard of Kristen Bell and she probably prefers it that way. Her husband, on the other hand, is a renowned and sometimes controversial figure in the American Christian subculture. He was once a mega church pastor but he left that role, moved to California and is now an inspirational speaker who’s contemporaries and colleagues include Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra. He’s a writer and a podcaster and I’m not ashamed to say that I respect and admire him very much. I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a fangirl.

But I’m not just a fan of him. I’m a total fangirl of his wife. Kristen has been on the journey with him the whole way and their joint publication on marriage The Zim Zum of Love is as much her work as his. (I actually recommend the audio version of the book because it’s the two of them talking and they are so amazing to listen to.) While he is clearly the ‘front man’ of their band, she’s as much an equal part in all the work that he puts out and the man is nothing if not prolific.

I listen to Rob’s weekly podcast and look forward to it but I get very excited when Kristen joins him because I know I’m going to get some very powerful inspiration because when they talk together, and I think often they forget the mic is recording, their ZimZum is on fire!

I took them with me on my walk this morning, because Rob has just released his first novel as a hardback edition and Kristen was to interview him. Their beautifully intimate conversation, while it did have the new book as a starting point, meandered into the reality of burn out, the necessity of rhythm in life, the beauty of Sabbath and the discovery of enough in the every day.

I’ve been wrestling recently with how to manage all the things I want to do at the moment with the reality that my physical energy is pretty low. One of my driving motivations is the need to be productive and, although I’ve written in recent weeks about  dropping the ball and letting winter be a breathing space, I’ve fought the urge to go into the quiet. It’s a major case of FOMO! What if I switch of social media and miss out on something? What if I decrease my output on the blog? What if I lose traction, momentum or followers?

But listening to Rob and Kristen muse on the difference having a rhythm and incorporating proper rest into their lives, really felt like the affirmation that my body is speaking wisdom and I need to slow. the hell. down.

It’s the first of December. Advent begins on Sunday, when we Christians focus on the hope that one day all things will be made new even as we live in the muck and mire of life. Christmas is the reminder that there is light to be found in the ordinary, sacredness in the mundane. Advent is the reminder that the end of the story is that love wins. We live in the tension of the now and the not yet. In that space, we can choose to do small things that show a different way of being human – a life of joy, peace, hope and love.

So thank you Kristen (and Rob) Bell for your transparency and your positive leadership at this frantic time of year and for showing the way to a more wholesome way of being human in the world.

 

SaveSave

Treasure hunt

IMG_0467I went out for my walk by the sea this morning knowing I have limited time to get shit done before picking up my son from nursery and I was scrambling in my head for a blog post. My walk is meant to be part of my self care routine as is my practise of centring prayer, which didn’t get done this morning because I slept in. So the morning had kicked off with a ton of whingeing and hustling and patience practised through gritted teeth.

I dropped the children to school, bundled myself off, called a friend to catch up on her life and walked the beach. Once my chat was done, I thought, I should go home, I should get writing, if I stay out I’ll be short on time….

But I kept walking and turned it into a meditation. Centring prayer is the practise of letting go of thoughts that come and returning to an intentional open hearted place using a sacred word, allowing the Divine to be present and do what He/She does without attaching to an outcome. It’s just as difficult as that sounds.

Fr. James Finley tells of a workshop he gave on centring prayer to a group of religious sisters and after the session, one of the sisters came up to him quite distressed and said ‘Oh Father Finley, I had to use my sacred word a thousand times!’ To which he replied, ‘How wonderful! You turned to God a thousand times.’ This story makes me feel a lot better.

So there I was saying my sacred word quite frequently, and trying to let go every time my head said ‘what about this for that blog post?’ Gradually, my monkey mind quietened and I started to notice the beach and the tide coming in and the sea birds playing in the breeze and the sea glass dotted along the shore, all the time coming back to my sacred word as an invitation for Divine presence.

I found one piece and it looked so pretty that I took a photo and then I continued my walk. Then I thought I should go back and pick it up and take it home. Perhaps I could start a collection of little green treasures from the beach. So I retraced my steps and could I find that little piece of green? Could I heck.

IMG_0472And then it hit me; you can’t find joy in the past. There is no point wishing for the life you could have had, or the treasure you wish you’d kept. It’s gone. That was then, this is now. But the beauty is that there is always more joy where that came from and all we need to do is take the time to notice, and accept it.

Abundance is everywhere. All is grace. From the sea birds dancing on the wind, to the racing inward tide to the little shards of broken glass made smooth by the work of the water.

Life can be hard. There are days when darkness descends and it can be hard to find the energy to look. But the treasure is there, even in small quantities, all we need to do is notice and accept it.

 

 

Shout Out – WildCard by Jenny Large

It’s always so exciting when someone you know reveals a talent that you had no idea they had. There’s nothing I like more than to celebrate women’s creativity so I’m delighted to shout out Jenny Large’s new venture WildCard.

Jenny and I had children in the same class when I lived in Wicklow. I knew she had a background in advertising and production design but what I didn’t know was that she was also a beautifully perceptive and talented photographer. She has just launched a range of stunning Christmas cards with images of Wicklow in winter.

Dan tree darker

She’s taken her passion for the outdoors and her love of the mountains and valleys of Wicklow and created a range of Christmas cards that are so pretty, you’ll want to frame them. I’ve scrolled through them and can’t decide which I want for me and which I want to send to family far afield!

Jenny signs and hand titles each card, the photos themselves are printed on gorgeous top quality paper and individually mounted on card stock.

first frost no envShe’s just getting started so I imagine there’ll be many more stunning images to collect as Jenny spreads her wings.  Be sure to like and share her Facebook page and check out her brand spanking new shiny website, beautifully designed by her husband, Paudge.

All the best Jenny, I look forward to seeing your lovely work travel far and wide this Christmas.

Dropping the ball

trapezeIt’s taken me a couple of weeks but I’ve finally figured out the source of a gnawing sense of restlessness and unease. I’ve had this low level panic running underneath my days and have been avoiding looking at it head on by scrolling through Facebook and Instagram and eating chocolate biscuits.

I’ve been overtired, snappish with my children, impatient with my Love, and feeling as if there’s something I’m forgetting to do all the time. Part of it is certainly adjusting to a new life in a new town and a new, albeit very familiar, country. Part of it is the descent in to winter that impacts me more these days than it used to.

But it was on a walk by the sea, a walking meditation at the end of the week last week, when it came to me as clear as anything what I’m missing: nothing.

There is nothing wrong. There’s nothing lacking. I’ve been on a hamster wheel trying to build something, hustle for something – some indeterminable, intangible thing – to make me feel worthy of all the goodness there is at my finger tips.

I’ve been trying to earn something that was only ever going to be a gift. Instead of joyfully tending to the things I love and derive energy from, I’ve insisted on striving for something that was never mine to own, or at least not yet. I’ve been juggling balls, demanding approval and affirmation for my juggling skills, while I’ve been longing for the trapeze and it sits lonely and still above me. I was never meant to be a clown, I’m the trapeze artist.

So I’m going to drop the ball.

There’s a gorgeous translation of the 23rd Psalm that I love. Usually we intone the familiar words

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want….

But there’s another way of saying the same thing that immediately infuses my soul with a sense of peace

The Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need…

We live in such a culture of hustle and grab, productivity is King and money the sign of worth. But my soul knows it’s not the way for me. It’s taken me so many years to understand that nothing beautiful that has come in to my life has come through striving. And especially as we begin to go into the dark of winter, reassess what the year has been for us, we need times of quiet and stillness to restore our souls.

So I’m dropping the balls. I’m excising ‘should’ and ‘ought’ from my vocabulary, I’m turning down the volume on the World’s demands. I’m gratefully receiving the gift of abundance that is everywhere and always to hand. I’m ceasing the striving to be someone I’m not.

I’m having a swing on the old trapeze, touching the freedom of birds that fly.

What things are you holding that don’t belong to you or are in fact holding you back from your true purpose and peace? Here’s the permission to drop the ball. Let go and know there is always enough, your empty hands will be filled with abundance. 

 

 

 

 

 

All I want for Christmas Part 2

I’m practically drooling at all of the lovely things on this list. Treat yourself to some luxurious browsing with a nice cup of tea.

Maple Tree Pottery

mapletree

The wonderful potter started out making things in her kitchen and only this year has got her own studio in the back garden. I’ve gifted her lovely things to many a friend and have always had a warm response.

On the Verge

ontheverge

A French woman living in Cork making stunning ethical clothes and accessories. You couldn’t make it up.

Vanessa Marsh

VanessaMarshMoonI know I should be making a list of these gorgeous paintings and gift them to other people but I kind of want them all. Beautiful paintings on vintage book pages. What’s not to like?

Sarah Bessey

Jesus-Feminist-Cover-copy

I have followed Sarah Bessey’s journey on her blog for nearly a decade and her books have been an affirmation and encouragement on my own journey to an authentic expression of my faith. She’s a strong and prophetic voice for Christian women navigating the 21st century.

Paula Batt

paulabattocean

This is a local artist in my new hometown. She does all of her work by hand and has a delightful little studio on the seafront. I’ve sent her paper cut pieces of Belfast and the Giant’s Causeway to far flung shores.

There are so many wonderful independent artists and buying from them around this time of year makes a huge difference. You’re not paying into a monolithic empire where the profits go to a very few. You’re investing in a small business and helping them grow. Keep your local artists in mind this Christmas and share the love.