“When Women Gather”
In 2002, I participated in a global congress convened under the auspices of the United Nations. Hundreds of women representing the world's various spiritual traditions came together to talk about how we could individually and collectively advance the peace process. This story describes a unique highlight of that moving experience.
We had come together, these women and I, two days before as delegates of a Global Congress convened under the auspices of the United Nations. It was the fall of 2002; time, our leaders said, to bring women representing the world’s various spiritual traditions together to talk about how we could individually and collectively advance the peace process. More that 500 women from 70 countries traveled to Switzerland, each of us propelled by an urgency that was far more grave than any of us could imagine at the time. Preachers and rabbis and nuns, leaders of indigenous tribes, social justice activists, judges, diplomats, artists and writers, educators, doyennes of commerce, directors of foundations and NGO’s, princesses and Hollywood actors, women who had themselves been victims of war: the faithful, the impassioned, and the wounded made their way.
I had met Ginny on the first day of the Congress. She was from Colorado. Big-boned and blond, she looked like a snowcapped mountain in the morning sun. We had lunch. We walked by the Lake. We shared a late supper. Somewhere along the way she told me she was a Pipe Carrier, that she had brought her pipe with her to Geneva on the off chance someone would want to participate in a Pipe Ceremony. Was I interested?
Late on the last afternoon of the Congress, I spotted her in the hotel lobby. Organizers had agreed to let her hold a ceremony during that evening’s dinner hour. I offered to help her pass the word, but recruited no takers. “Well,” she said, when we reconvened, “let’s make the space for women to gather in circle and see what Great Spirit wants.” It was then that we moved the chairs to the back of the room.
During the next several minutes, the massive doors to the ballroom opened and closed many times. Some women saw us sitting quietly on the floor and joined us without a word. Others asked what we were doing, then came or went accordingly. We were a disparate group, a confluence of races and enthnicities, of ages and affiliations with no conscious common resolve that we could name other than to sit together in the palatial splendor of this now deeply silent room. When twelve women were seated in the circle, the ceremony began.
Ginny closed her eyes, lifted the pipe above her head and offered our gathering to Grandmother Earth and Grandfather Sky and to the Four Directions. Slowly, with exquisite deliberateness, she removed the pipe from its pouch and spoke to us in hushed tones about its symbology. “In my tradition, the stem and the bowl represent the masculine and feminine aspects of Spirit. The smoke is a two-way street: the pathway our prayers trod and the means by which Spirit enfolds us in blessing during the ceremony.” She assembled the pipe, filled the bowl with mountain herbs, and sent it clockwise round the circle, inviting us to offer -- silently or aloud -- the imperatives of our hearts when the pipe passed into our hands. We closed our eyes.
In the time it took for the pipe to reach me, the external locus of the group’s control shifted. A primordial ardor entered and fortified our midst and diverted my awareness from the circumference of the circle, from the edge of life -- from my individual comings and goings, from the material world rife with separateness and opposition -- inward toward a luminous, collective core. A silent prayer rose within me for the women of our gathering and our world that we each find the clarity and courage to do what we had come to Earth to do. I passed the pipe.
Ginny sent the pipe around a second time. This time when it came to me three words formed in my mind: “Great Mother Heart.” I understood these words to be an invocation and an affirmation that conceptualized, embodied, the wisdom and strength women and men could draw on in times to come, and a declaration of the possible if we but made the words our own.
The pipe returned to Ginny; she lifted it once again to the Four Directions, to Grandmother Earth and Grandfather Sky, and thanked Great Spirit for our gathering. She disassembled the pipe and returned it to its pouch.
Fifteen minutes passed in utter stillness. Someone stirred; someone rose to leave. I asked if we might each share where we were from before we parted. “America, France, Venezuela, India, Switzerland, England, Iraq,” we said. Then One by one the Great Mother Heart moved into the world.