Saturday, November 10, 2007


I said I’d post on spiritual women’s voices to help people who want to undo their bias for citing men’s voices. I put out one post and had two others almost ready to go. Then my blog went silent for over three weeks.

What happened?

I had a long-running virus left me too exhausted to do anything but what was absolutely necessary. Only something in that explanation doesn’t ring true. I also entered a slump over my book not selling. I have a good agent who I like a lot, but I thought this was a much more marketable book than it now looks like, and I got VERY discouraged… Yet that isn’t the whole of it either.

Not being heard is my #1 childhood and personality issue. That it is still a big issue for me was made painfully apparent when I literally lost my voice.

A week ago last Thursday I woke up and… NO SOUND! At first it seemed kind of comical - although very bad timing as I teach preschool music classes on Thursday. I figured I could get by with act-out CD songs, using printed signs and getting a parent to read the storybook. The parents were very tolerant and we got through it.

However by Day Three nothing was comical. In fact, I was swamped by rage – a five-year-old’s, kick-em, hit-em, scream and cry, unbearable frustration rage. When I let myself be present to it (during a long insomniac episode at 3:00 a.m.), grief welled up.

In my family everyone talks over everyone else. Everyone minds each other’s business – loudly – whether those others are present or not. Everyone insists that they ALREADY KNOW and so take opposing opinions very badly. An example: driving to my sister’s wedding rehearsal dinner, we argued for 30 minutes over whether some birds we passed were ducks or geese. Thirty minutes. Ducks or geese. Yikes.

And everyone is constantly shouting, “Just listen! Why won’t you listen? Just shut up and listen to me!”

I spoke little through elementary school, and in my 17th year stopped speaking altogether. (I dropped out of high school so there were no teachers to notice.) If no one could hear me, why bother with talk? I was in my thirties before I learned to speak freely.

Voicelessness. My family issue.

Yet I’ve always craved silence and I loved the monastic silence.

In his Rule, Benedict says to prefer silence and even “refrain from saying the good things.” There is really something in that. Often I ached to speak to “fix” someone – which made me superior and the “fix-ee” inferior. Or I ached to speak to put salve on those old experiences of silencing - shouting, “I am here. See me,” like an urban youth tagging subway trains.

So what if it felt like I was being silenced - like I'd been thrust back into my childhood? I wanted to know how to tell when talk was “necessary, true and kind,” as a Buddhist teacher said of “right speech.” Maybe being forced into silence would be a way to learn. Besides, I longed to rest in the sense of God filling me, being already so completely known and heard, I could listen openhearted without a need to speak. Then the difference between being forced to be silent or choosing silence would melt away (I thought).

But my monastic experience, and my recent voicelessness, points to a problem with that program. In At the Root of This Longing Carol Lee Flinders talks about four major spiritual practices that are also the very tools of patriarchal repression. One of these is silence. This leaves women (and other repressed groups) with a strange and terrible conundrum. How can we get spiritual growth from practices that our cultures have used to destroy our souls?

We need silence to hear the voice of our inner being. But how do we nurture silence without falling into repressive silencing?

Voicelessness. It’s been an interesting three weeks.