Take a long slow, deep breath in…Hold it for a moment, and then slowly exhale.
Take another long slow, deep breath in…Hold it, and then exhale. Empty your lungs completely with your out-breath.
Take a third deep breath in. Take your time. Hold it for a moment, and then let it go.
Relax. Close your eyes and allow your mind to quiet.
Imagine that you are standing at a door. You raise your hand and knock, hearing the sound vibrate on the wood. You wait, feeling your anticipation build. You’ve been looking forward to this meal for a long time.
Soon the door opens, and you are invited in to a hallway. The person who answers the door invites to you join the others who have gathered in the dining room at the end of the hall. You hear your own footsteps echo as you walk toward the festivities.
You stand in the doorway and take in the scene before you. There is a long table surrounded by comfortable chairs. The shiny wood of the table gleams warmly and reflects light that is being thrown by a crackling fire in a large hearth as well as the sconces spaced evenly around the room. Thick drapes keep drafts from entering through the long and high windows at one end of the room.
The scene before you is festive and welcoming but not fancy. Earthenware bows and platters are stacked with delicious offerings. Thick mugs wait for warm coffee or tea. Murmered conversations from various parts of the room fill your ears. You continue pausing at the thresh hold, wondering if you should enter or wait to be invited.
As you glance around the room, you realize that you feel at ease and relaxed. You see some familiar faces…and you suddenly realize that the room is filled with women of faith. Some are smiling and laughing, others lean forward to hear what the woman near them is saying. Others are nodding in agreement or reaching out a hand to connect and comfort someone. Some seem lost in thought while some are speaking animatedly and gesturing with her hands. All of them are beautiful in their own way. Each face tells a story of a life that has been lived, experiences that have been had, and joys and sorrows that have come and gone.
Just as you decide to step into the room, you hear a bell ring. It is a crystal bell and the notes are clear and light. Silence descends and all of the women move toward the table, choosing a chair—picking their place at the table. You step forward and see several empty chairs and you wonder where you would like to sit… who would you like to sit next to.
First, you see a woman whose face is suffused with hope and trust. Her clothes are of an unfamiliar style, with long and full skirts and a wimple that covers her head, leaving only her face visible. Somehow you recognize her, the wise and caring Julian of Norwich, who gave such good advice to her neighbors, who knew God through her visions and who wrote profoundly about divine love. She smiles an invitation to you, glancing at the empty chair next to her.
Just across from her you see a nun dressed all in black. She exudes calmness and quiet, but also kindness. You see her mouth a single word of welcome in your direction: “Bonjourno.” Upon closer inspection, you see a face that has been etched with grief, yet remains calm and humble. You recognize her as well. It is Therese of Avila.
At the other end of the table, you see a woman with dark hair and eyes. Her expression seems a bit stern but you see from her gaze that her complete absorption with everything that is going on around her is more likely the reason that she is serious than that she is unfriendly. Next to her, a pair of crutches lean against the wall. She has trouble walking unaided. Behind her, you notice a painting…and you realize that she was most probably the subject of the art and the artist. It depicts a young woman in a white blouse. A hummingbird lies at her throat caught in a necklace of thorns. A monkey peers over one shoulder while a black cat hisses at her other shoulder. Two butterflies perch in her hair. You start to put it all together. This is Frida Kahlo, the artist.
A little bit further down the table you see a gray haired woman in a flowered blouse. It is a Hawaiian print.. making her look like she was waylaid on her way to a Polynesian vacation. You can’t quite place the face…and then you recognize her from a photo on the back of a volume of poetry that sits on your shelf. It is Kathleen Norris. More than her poetry, though, you remember the warm connection you felt as you read her non-fiction works. Perhaps you should take the chair next to her?\
But wait…there are still a couple more chairs that invite you. You see a thin and intense woman dressed all in black. She isn’t a nun…but she clearly has bigger things on her mind than fashion. Ink stains her hands… and she leans toward the person on the other side of the table, clearly in a heated but respectful debate on some very important topic. Perhaps Catholic doctrine? Perhaps the political system of communism? It would be interesting to find out. She is Dorothy Day, journalist and activist…
Then your eyes reach the farthest side of the table and you see ayoung girl. She can’t more than 20 or so, could she? Her hair is covered with a colorful scarf that wraps around her neck and shoulders as well. You can see her dark hair, parted at the side, peeking out from beneath it. Her gaze is open and friendly. You recognize her from an interview that you saw recently on television. Oprah was asking the young woman about her thoughts on education for young women in Pakistan. She is responding with fire and enthusiasm… she has taken bullets for this cause and earned a Nobel Peace prize for her courage and good work. The title of her autobiography comes to your mind: “I am Malala.”
There aremany other faces around the table including other amazing and wonderful women who have been spoken up and been heard. Some spoke to the whole world and a few spoke only to you. Maybe you will choose to join one of them and share this meal.
Your mind spins with the possibilities. Where are you going to sit? Every open chair beckons you… What calls most loudly to you. Spirituality? Art? Activism? What speaks most to your core identity? How do you want to make a difference in with world?
You take a seat next to one of these amazing women. For a moment, you sit and wonder how tobegin a conversation. Is there something you want to ask her? Is there something you feel that you need to tell her? Maybe she speaks first…
As the meal continues, grace is said, and serving dishes are passed. Plates are piled with delicious food but often you forget to take a bite, because the conversation is so engrossing. After awhile, you feel full, completely sated. You have had enough food and enough conversation. You have new feelings and ideas swirling in your head. You know you will need ti
me to sift through the many thoughts and learnings of this time. For now, though, it is enough to just be with all these amazing women.