I read Sacred Voices: Essential Women’s Wisdom Through the Ages, edited by Mary Ford-Grabowsky (Harper Collins, $24,95), with a mixture of resistance and curiosity. I opened the book to its publicity blurbs, and discovered that half of them were from men! The foreword, by Andrew Harvey, expresses his longing to honor the divine feminine as something sacred that has been missing for too long. True enough. The editor’s introduction reminds us that for thousands of years, it has been men who wrote history as we know it—Religious doctrines, governmental regulations, societal rules. Ford-Grabowsky is determined to bring forth “the sacred voice of the feminine.”
The scope of the women included here is impressive; so is the span of time their lives cover. We have inspirational writings by or about 172 women: goddesses, queens, priestesses, rabbis, artists. Buddhist monks, nuns, nurses, doctors and other contemporary women, each one with her own sense of courage about speaking out and sliaring a piece of wisdom. The reader’s journey begins in the second or third millennium BCE, reading about Inanna, the Great Mother Goddess in Mesopotamia. From there to Egypt, where we meet the ancient queen Hashepsowe, to India to meet Patacara, who followed her heart, lost her family and became a member of the first Buddhist community of women. Sufisms revered and beloved poet-saint of Persia, Rabia Al-Adawiyya, (717-801), “needed nothing because she had everything,” says her twelfth-century biographer. And then there’s Angela of Foligno from Italy, in the thirteenth century, who didn’t have any spiritual interest at all prior to a mystical experience at 40. Judaism is represented by. among other’s, Tirza Firestone, a rabbi living in Boulder. Colorado, reclaiming her sense of spirituality in judaism. She says, “I believe that this is what God most wants of us: to discover and offer our true selves.”
This book—with its candor and wisdom from women of vastly different backgrounds, eras, religions and cultures— can be a useful step on the path “to reclaim wholeness, integrity,” as Rachel Naomi Remen puts it. (She’s Jewish and a medical doctor and author living in New York.) Reading this book I heard not only my own inner voice, but also the values we, as women, hold to be sacred, including joy and pure celebration of life.
Shelley Silver Whizin lives in California; among her many Jewish involvements, she serves on the board of the Institute for Contemporary Midrash.