Isabel Anders’ Uncommon Mother-Daughter Wisdom

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Becoming Flame cover“Make two homes for thyself, my daughter. One actual home … and the other a spiritual home which thou are to carry with thee always.”  —St. Catherine of Siena.

Why do I write mother-daughter dialogues, and not mother-child? Most of the wisdom dialogues of old, after all, were between men: rabbis, abbots, masters of various traditions teaching male disciples one-on-one. There were reasons for this in their historical contexts. Though there are some writings by desert Mothers in the Christian tradition, they are few compared to their male counterparts.

First, I am a mother of daughters; I write about what I know. Second, I found that using a time-tested form of question and answer but between daughter and mother allows for open-ended responses by the readers themselves.

My emphasis in these writings is on exercising our gift of inner perception or intuition in concert with God’s guidance, wise counsel, and the assent of our own heart. Mother-daughter dialogues are also an encouragement to readers to trust this process.

I must have tapped into some other women’s convictions as well, that we too can knead reality and “make” wisdom between us like bread. One kind reviewer wrote:

In a day when eye contact is interrupted by the incessant call for focus on tiny screens bearing bits of information, we desperately need wisdom. Isabel Anders has chosen the model of ancient wisdom literature, borrowing style and gleaning substance from mystics and desert mothers, to bring forward the kind of mother-daughter dialogues that require eye contact and keep mere information in its place. The book is not a page turner. It is a page breather. It allows lingering with uncommon thoughts. That “fire is more than function, just as your life is more than tasks” [as the Mother says] is the kind of insight that can enrich the lives of mothers and daughters in today’s task-driven world. Consumed mindfully in small bites at shared meals, this slender volume can invite today’s mothers and daughters into discussions about time, tomorrow, fig trees, labyrinths and deepest convictions. Those dialogues yet to come [between mothers and daughters who read it] may be the book’s greatest gift.”

I have been a daughter, a mother of young children, and now an empty-nester and sometime adviser to the two lovely grown women I birthed.

A woman’s sphere is a way of life in which we ALL star—since in all of our lives decisions, sometimes life and death ones, must be made daily. We can never have all of the facts before us, and so we must act based on whatever wisdom we have gained to that point in life. What we learn from this process can sometimes come out as “proverbs” for living.

One of the dialogues in my new book Spinning Straw, Weaving Gold explains:

“Our conversations with each other,” the Mother pointed out, “are like kindling a fire—something new is ever born in the light and heat of them.”

“And like threads intertwined,” the Daughter noted, holding up colored strands, “daily we become more closely braided in strength and connection.”

“And when Love attends the process,” her Mother added gently, “it becomes not only a conversation, but a Prayer.”

So why does it happen that Wisdom bears a woman’s name? Who IS Sophia of the Proverbs, she who calls us from the gates to come attend to her truth? She who invites us to build our house, to come to her feast, to choose right living as better than jewels? Lady Wisdom, according to Proverbs 3:18, using another image, “is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her.” If you compare this to the description of the righteous person in Psalm 1, a Wisdom passage of which there are many in the Psalms, you see that she is really about living in the world. Rami Shapiro writes beautifully about Proverbs 3:190-20 in his book The Divine Feminine in Wisdom Literature that “Wisdom is not separate from creation; she is the order of creation. She is the grain of wood, the currents of wind and sea … a principle that patterns all reality. While the world you encounter is impermanent, the principle of Wisdom is timeless. To know Wisdom is to know the current in the midst of the chaos.”

Sophia is, I believe, simply put: how God works in the world. As women we are uniquely positioned to identify with her as this creative ordering principle who enfuses us with the desire to connect, to build, to love.

I believe an understanding of Sophia can be integrated into women’s lives at the crucial level of bringing God into the world in our own persons—in our families, in neighborhoods, among nations. It is this ordering principle-in-practice: love itself, that we are called to emulate, to embody, and thus to be instances of Sophia, just as we are called to be “little Christs,” both metaphors that tell all the truth, but tell it “slant”—in Emily Dickinson’s words.

Wisdom is both straight-forward in practice, and deep as the ocean. Like the many parables of Jesus that teach of the nature of the Kingdom of God, we need all these examples and images in Scripture in order to “get it.”

In my work, in these dialogues, I would like to clarify that the Mother is a REAL mother, not Sophia, not Mary, or the divine feminine or some other impossible role model. She is not a symbol of something else, but a feminine person in the midst of daily life. She can be any one of us. I simply showcase or spotlight a feminine person and voice in my examples.

I love that Wisdom has a woman’s name. That she is, in a mystery, “the Way of God’s unfolding from eternity into time” (Shapiro p. 22). She is in our midst, her ways are God’s ways, and perhaps we ourselves are called be the most tangible example of her that our children will ever know.

And so I invite you as women to sample my Mother-Daughter dialogues in my books Becoming Flame (2010) and Spinning Straw, Weaving Gold (2012).

And remember that Jesus himself famously employed the feminine image of a mother hen when he said of Jerusalem, “ … how often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”

Here is a dialogue from my new collection:

“I have read how great men,” said the Daughter, raising her eyes from her book, “speak of ‘plying’ their own shuttle and ‘weaving’ their own destiny into ‘unalterable threads.’ This sounds to me more ominous than comforting.”

[And the Mother replies]

“The question of maintaining ‘control’ over our lives is one we confront every day. It is all about balance. Too heavy a hand in any work can limit the outcome. Perhaps this is something that women can teach men,” the Mother said, smiling.

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