In fact, it seems we designed this celebration with the “I can’t believe it!”‘s in mind. People need celebrations like this precisely because of the “I can’t believe it!”‘s that accompany the achievements they celebrate.
It takes awhile for the meaning of big events to sink in, take root. We can use some time, some space, to ponder and appreciate the fact of having accomplished something, before rushing out to do the work of living with it . . . and with everything it means.
It takes awhile to come to terms with what a big accomplishment means about us. If we don’t take the time to notice, we can miss the revelations summed up and transformed into an accomplishment: revelations of persistence, determination, intelligence, creativity, depth, thoughtfulness, wit, humor . . . We may not always recognize these things in ourselves; others may not always remark them in us. Women, in particular, have not always been led to expect to see these qualities in ourselves. We can use an occasion that calls us to pay attention to the revelations embedded in what we’ve achieved — and to make them something to remember. Because at least half the value in revelation lies in remembering it in the times when we don’t have the same clarity and confidence, and need it.
We think women, in particular, can use a special celebration in their honor. Women often have had the role of organizing celebrations: baby showers, birthday parties, receptions, fellowship times. Food, flowers, and getting people together — according to Thomas C. Foster1, all earth-motherly motifs. Women less often have had the role of being celebrated, at least historically. Pericles articulated the sentiment, that persists even today in some quarters: “. . . and greatest [glory] will be hers who is least talked of among the men whether for good or for bad.”2 In that scheme, the best official memory of women is none at all.
The mission of the Women’s Center, insofar as it includes “celebrating the gifts and achievements of women in the church and the world,” expressly challenges that sentiment. Instead, we insist that women’s achievements, half of humanity’s achievements, ought not to go unnoticed, un- or undervalued, and unsung. And since they have gone precisely this way for too long, they demand extra attention from those who have made it their task to redress the imbalance.
It takes awhile to redress imbalances that have become a deeply imbedded part of our culture, that have had the sanction of every facet of our tradition for centuries, that have generated adaptive attitudes and behaviors that people have inculcated generation after generation, and that we ourselves have cultivated in ourselves, mistakenly thinking them virtues. The attitude that people shouldn’t make a big fuss over us. The idea that taking time out from work to rejoice makes us frivolous and maybe even a bit despicable. The practice of minimizing our own achievements — to the point of making them invisible, even to ourselves.
So we can all use some time, some space, that weighs in on the other side of the balance. We can all benefit from some food, flowers, and getting women together, in the spirit of celebrating these women’s real-life-historic achievement, in the church and in the world that church serves.
1 Thomas C. Foster, How to Read Literature Like A Professor (New York: HarperCollins, 2003), p. 271, 274.
2 Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, trans. Benjamin Jowett, in The Bedford Anthology of World Literature Vol. 1, The Ancient World, Beginnings-100 C.E. ed. Paul Davis et al. (Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004) p. 1141.