Rev. Dr. Karen E. Mosby
There is a scene in the 2016 movie adaptation of August Wilson’s play, Fences, in which a group of women dressed in white surrounds the character Rose, who is portrayed by actress Viola Davis. The woman lay hands on her in prayer as she kneels with tears streaming from her eyes. This scene, the only such scene in the movie, is a brief one because the story revolves around her husband, Troy. What seeps through the main narrative though is that Rose has her own dreams her own story of sacrifice, regrets, and endurance; her own story of faith in family and God. She seeks refuge in this gathering of women because she needs the wherewithal to face a piercing betrayal that threatens her sanity and her family.
We never see her questioning whether or not she will press forward. Survival has been etched into her DNA. Instead, she wants to know: Why? Why now? How did this happen? What do I do next? She, like throngs of Black women before her — women who are daughters, sisters, mothers, wives, aunties, widows, grandmothers, community mothers, cousins, distant cousins, clergy and lay, etc. — yearns for resources in order to face another day.
What does the Lord require of us in the urgency of these days? This question permeates the days and nights of those of us living out vocations that position us alongside so many folx who can’t breathe, literally and figuratively. Trauma and chaos inundate our lives daily. Yet, in spite of these unrelenting dangers and pandemics, the divine call to serve remains. How, then, shall we sing the Lord’s song in this strange land?
Alongside the practical and necessary strategies of survival that abound, there exists an enduring ancestral resource within the life-giving nature of women gathering, particularly women of God. When we gather, assembling ourselves in spirit, within physical or virtual spaces, to collaborate and draw from each other’s wells, something subversive, strategic, and sanctified happens. It is something that resists the Western narrative of individualism and amplifies the African principle of Ubuntu that locates our humanity, identity, and wisdom within the collective. We see it at work in the scene from Fences mentioned earlier. And we see it in Luke 1:39-45 when Mary and Elizabeth gathered.
Elizabeth secluded herself for the first five months of her pregnancy.* Then in the sixth month of her pregnancy, Mary arrived. The women gathered:
• An elder and a youth
• One woman who has just come through something and another woman who is about to go through something;
• One woman who has lived long enough to trust God ‘for real’ and another woman who is on the journey toward learning to trust God ‘anyhow’; and
• One woman who has experienced the faithfulness of God in answered prayers and in the silence of God and another woman who has questions about this God who has interrupted her life.
In my woman-ish/Womanist imagination, I hear Elizabeth pouring into Mary:
Girl, come on over here. Let me look at you!
You know you are blessed, right? Don’t shake your head. Look at me!
God has blessed you!
That child you will give birth to will transform your life and the world as we know it.
My God! Even the child inside of me is saying, “Amen”!
I know you don’t know how this will happen and why God chose you. That’s alright.
I didn’t know why God chose to work through me either. And even now I still wonder.
But I need you to know that you are God’s beloved and you are enough.
Before all of this happened you were enough and after this child comes, you will still be enough.
Not because you gave birth, but because you are God’s beloved.
God will to honor your questions and your faithfulness, child.
Let me lay on hands-on you and bless you.
When you leave here, find some other women to stand with you and walk with you.
They will be strength on your journey.
Some of what we need today to continue serving in the strange land of 2020 will only emerge from what I am calling “Women-sourcing”: women praying together; women speaking truth to other women; women transferring blessings intergenerationally; women refueling or resuscitating one another’s faith in God; and women mobilizing to resist, persist and insist that societal/communal/personal/systemic change must materialize. We will not survive evil days without women gathering — never could and never will.
* Parenthetically, Elizabeth’s seclusion for the first five critical months of her pregnancy is a whole other story worthy of our reflection.