By Marianne Marstrand
Women can play a significant part in the global peace building process. In fact, women, when enabled and empowered, can be true peacemakers and there are many examples from around the world that demonstrate the importance of applying the feminine principle to peacemaking, which itself is nourished by all faith traditions.
Peacefulness has always been rooted in spiritual traditions – indeed, there are spiritual communities that emphasise the importance of attaining ‘inner peace’ through the regular practice of reflection, prayer and meditation. Being able to focus the mind and thought is important if we are to effect any outer change in the world. Our actions need to come from a place of deeper wisdom, and learning to sit in silence is essential to access this quiet knowing. If we are able to tap these deeper parts of ourselves, our actions will be clear and purposeful. We will better understand the underlying causes of a dilemma, tension or conflict, as well as knowing how to properly respond.
Most spiritual traditions teach us to meditate and go inwards and emphasise the importance of generating love and compassion. This is where the possibility for meaningful impact grows. With awareness, we see that small actions done with a pure and open heart can unfold with almost miraculous results – whether those results are immediate or take years to come to pass matters not. Having a personal practise that disciplines our erratic thoughts and negative habits helps us see that each act has meaning and makes deep impressions, not only on our own being, but on that of others and the world around us. This suggests that being peace is making peace, the heart of which encompasses the feminine principle.
In this chapter, I draw on my experience working at the Global Peace Initiative of Women (GPIW) and the many stories of women peacemakers I have encountered to illustrate the connection between peacemaking and the feminine principle.
The Global Peace Initiative of Women (GPIW) was founded in 2002, and is unique in that the vision of this organisation is held and led by women. Initiated by Dena Merriam and a group of senior women faith leaders representing the major world religions, it was created as a response to the lack of real opportunity for women from religious communities to find an international platform to speak about peace. Over the years, we have been honoured to work with many remarkable women, yet whilst the GPIW is guided by women, it is not exclusive. Practical support, monies, spiritual wisdom and direction have been offered by equally remarkable men who we have had the privilege to encounter.
As the war in Iraq escalated and we heard with heavy hearts about the plight of thousands of widows and orphans, it became clear that voices capable of speaking truth to power were needed everywhere, and the voices of women were needed, in particular. One such outspoken voice, who also serves as a Co-Chair of GPIW, is the compassionate and fiery Catholic leader and Benedictine nun, Sister Joan Chittister, who reminds us that if we are to have peace, we need to include women in the decisions that greatly affect our world. Without women, who make up half of humanity, it would be like confronting our daily challenges with only half a body or half a brain. While political leaders address the outer causes of conflicts, women suffer the greatest consequences of war, and so women readily bring back the discussion to concern for the safety of families and children. At our first gathering at the Palais des Nations in Geneva in 2002, Sister Joan Chittister ended her statement in the General Assembly with the words, “It is not about life after death, but about life before death.” These words have stayed with me all these years.
Our work primarily began with engaging faith leaders from the world’s many traditions, and I became interested in seeing how their practices could flow into our daily lives. As we began to work with women from places of great suffering, this became even more important for me to understand. How do our wisdom traditions help us reawaken our reverence for all of life? How do women, in particular, differ in their ways of bringing peacefulness to their families and communities? Can women help bring about a more embracing worldview, one that is inclusive of the Earth and supportive of all her living systems, our animal relatives, the plants, the trees and waters?
The Feminine Principle
And sadly, because our culture has devalued the feminine, we have repressed so much of her nature, so many of her qualities. Instead we live primarily masculine values; we are goal oriented, competitive, driven. Masculine values even dominate our spiritual quest; we seek to be better, to improve our self, to get somewhere. We have forgotten the feminine qualities of waiting, listening, being empty. We have dismissed the deep need of the soul, our longing, the feminine side of love.
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Love is a Fire: A Sufi’s Mystical Path Home
What is the feminine and what are the qualities of the feminine? Often, the expression ‘the feminine’ is confused with ‘feminism’ or ‘gender equality’, but these are only superficial descriptions of the term. Men and women both hold qualities of the feminine. The feminine knows the value of quiet listening, and that sometimes we must wait patiently. The feminine is inclusive and dislikes hierarchy. Too much grandstanding, egocentric behaviour, or self-serving agendas are not well tolerated. She will respond with absolute justice, humorously at times, if fitting to the situation. She reminds us that it is about the whole and not just the few.
The sacred feminine is about creating connections between people, groups and causes. Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee reminds us that: The feminine is more instinctively and naturally attuned to life, its patterns and powers. And feminine consciousness is less dominated by reason, more open to the mystery of the symbolic inner world. The feminine is vital in this work of awakening.121
Angela Fischer, a mystic who writes on the sacred feminine and meditation, tells us that it is the feminine that can reconnect us to the soul, our own soul and the soul of the world. This deeper connection is needed if our outer work is to have the real force needed to change society.
Men and women both embody the sacred feminine and it is through these qualities that men and women together can help to create new policy frameworks that contribute to the wellbeing of people, implement new economic systems driven less by personal gain and more by social good, and reorient businesses to do more than make a profit. The feminine is needed to help us redefine development and find the models that sustain and nurture life. The feminine also understands interconnections and relationships and can help us navigate globalisation in beneficial ways by building partnerships and working more collaboratively.
Here are two brief stories to illustrate the working of the feminine in developing kind-heartedness and shaping our peaceful characters.
Amel, a young woman from southern Sudan, described a scene she recalled of donors distributing food aid to villages: “Big trucks drove through, often never stopping, but simply dumping bags of grain on the street for people to come and take as fast as they could.” She remembered feeling how little care or respect there was in this exchange. It not only belittled those desperate for the aid, but it deprived the donors of the opportunity to embody their own dignity and experience their charity in a different way. The feminine really embodies care and caring and by embracing feminine principles, our well-meaning activities can be further enriched and will touch the hearts of those whom we serve.
A young couple moved to Bologna and did not know anyone on their new street. They created a Facebook page for the street and put up posters to let the residents know their interest in connecting. It was not long before people were connecting, faces became familiar and the new residents enjoyed friendly greetings and new encounters with their neighbours. Much more followed. They began helping one another with simple tasks, shopping for an older person alone at home, delivering a meal or taking someone to the doctor. It was a simple idea and it had remarkable consequences. Human interaction, companionship and friendship are treasures and the feminine can help show us the inherent value of the universal truth of interconnection.