What a weekend it’s been! The events of the Interfaith Conference “A Woman’s Voice,” which enveloped the Fifth Annual Katie Geneva Cannon Lecture, proved even more richly enjoyable and memorable than we had anticipated. Lunch on Sunday, which we expected to be informal (yes, it was) and “nothing special” (it was not!) turned out to be a delightful swirl of reunions and first meetings, animated conversation and anticipation. The opening ritual, “Dancing on Common Ground,” which we expected to be animated and moving, was also serendipitously interactive and celebratory. Suendam Birinci’s first plenary session presentation, “Places of Authority for Women in the Muslim Context–Shared Perspectives” was eye-opening and thought-provoking. Dr. Gay L. Byron’s lecture “Teaching Empires, Interpreting Texts, Redefining Authority” opened up a glimpse of multiple worlds: the neglected world of the ancient Axumite Empire, the newly-dawning world of critical womanist literary studies, in which Dr. Byron is a pioneer and to which she is an inspiring contributor, and the world of engaged scholarship, a planet whose air is always bracing.
Monday brought further ritual challenges as we contemplated and enacted “Reaching Across the Boundaries–Accepting and Respecting Difference.” We heard from Dr. Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer on “Places of Authority for Women in the Jewish Context” with fascinated delight. We were able to see the many and complex ways that the histories and texts of the three religious traditions represented at this conference — Muslim, Christian, and Jewish — form patterns of distinctions and similarities that led us to new insights about our own religious traditions and commitments, as well as deeper understanding of our neighbors’. By midday on Monday, it was difficult to pull people out of the enthusiastic conversations that were forming in the morning’s workshops, to reconfigure and renew those conversations with a shifting cast of participants.
When we finally gathered around the table of the closing ritual, shared some bread and fruit, and heard Dr. Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer recited a poem* in blessing over the group that was able to delay their departures to places near and far that long, we knew that we had, indeed, been vouchsafed a sojourn in “holy space and time.” Like all such sojourns, this one has left us both elated and a little exhausted — in that good way that means gathering the lessons and renewing the energies spent for the next push at the work that remains.
[It would be wrong to say it was “a mountaintop experience” — that metaphor is overused, and in this case it would be imprecise. This conference might be better described as “a shoreline experience.” That is, it brought us together at a place where we could look out at a distant horizon together, and practice pointing out to one another what we see, based on our different, but related, skills and practices of discerning possible, hoped-for, and worked-for worlds. Like all such moments of standing, right around dawn perhaps, at a place where we can begin to catch sight of the wideness of the forces at work, in their multi-hued wildness and deep beauty, it was breathtaking, and rejuvenating.]
Many and deep thanks are due to all the people, in many roles and capacities, who made the occasion of hearing “A Woman’s Voice” the marvel it was. In particular, students and alums of Louisville Seminary brought a treasure-trove of gifts to the planning and presentation of this conference. These, along with the grace and good cheer with which they came, demonstrated that these remarkable women, along with their much appreciated male allies, have riches to contribute to the church and the world. We are blessed to be able to call them our friends.