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Women & Power:
Giving Birth in Bethlehem

presented to the SkyHy chapter
of the American Business Women's Association

December 7, 2006


Reinventing Christmas
Katy and the clergymen
What is women's power?
The meaning of power
Giving birth in Bethlehem
Meeting Lahama
Hail Mary


Reinventing Christmas

Every year at this time, I need to rediscover the meaning of Christmas. If I don't, this "holy-day" season seems bleak indeed.

This year I made a remarkable discovery. I came across some very good news about Christmas.

I'll share that good news with you as we make our way toward Bethlehem — and in the process of considering: what is women's power?

Katy and the clergymen

There's a place in the county west of where I live called the Speedwell community. Speedwell is home to a woman by the name of Katy Johnson.

Katy never went to college. She hasn't had any formal training. Still, she's tended to the spiritual needs of her neighbors with such kindness, skill, and devotion over the years that people there recognize her as their minister.

A couple of years ago, the clergy in this part of the state organized a three-day retreat for themselves. People in Speedwell gladly put their money together and sent Katy to the lakeside conference center. Turns out she was the only woman there.

You didn't have to listen too hard to hear the clergymen sputter, "What's she doing here? She never went to seminary. She hasn't been ordained. She can't even preach a sermon!"

On the third day of the conference they all trooped down to the lake and piled into a boat for a picnic on the other side. Halfway across the lake, the engine died. The captain tinkered with it a bit. Then he admitted he'd forgotten to fill up the gas tank.

While the clergymen were muttering among themselves, Katy stood up and said, in her matter-of-fact way, "I'll go back and get us some gas." She stepped out of the boat and walked across the water, back to shore.

The clergymen turned to each other and snickered, "Look at that. She can't even swim!"

What is women's power?

We women possess extraordinary, even miraculous power. Yet we often take it for granted, hide it, or try to forget about it. To us, it may seem rather ordinary.

Here's the starting point for our journey to Bethlehem: creativity. And here's a question for you. What are three ways you've expressed your creativity in the past year? Name at least three things — experiences, opportunities, connections, designs, systems, networks, or whatever else — that you've created during the past twelve months.

Here's another question. Where does creativity take place in your body?

You've already testified to your creativity. You've given birth to ideas, products, services, designs, systems, and more. Perhaps you've given birth to a child as well.

Whether we've ever been pregnant or not, whatever our age, we each have the capacity to give birth.

The power we contain within our bellies is procreative power, the capacity to bring new life into the world. Even more, it's pro-creative power: the power to promote creation in any dimension we choose.

What's the best-kept secret in contemporary Western culture? It's something that women and men through time and across the globe have known: The belly — the body's center — is the origin of our physical and spiritual vitality. It's the site of our soul power. It's our connection to Source Energy, the divine energy that animates our lives.

The Japanese call the belly and its power hara. In other cultures, the body's center is named Throne of the Creator, Energy Garden, Luminous Pearl, Self-Radiant Diamond, Ocean of Life Force.

The energy concentrated in your body's core ignites your creativity, confidence, and sense of purpose. The power to promote creation that you embody is kin to the Power of Being that creates, sustains, and transforms the world.

This pro-creative power energizes the entire cycle of life: Giving birth, launching a project. Sustaining, guiding the project through its growth and development. Transforming, wrapping the project up once it has fulfilled its purpose.

As life cycles through the creative process, something else happens: consciousness evolves.

Women's power is this: giving place to the process of creation, and to the evolution of consciousness.

The meaning of power

We usually encounter "power" as power-over. Someone's up and someone's down. Someone wins and someone loses. "Power-over" is domination. It implies ranking, establishing a hierarchy of value.

Distinct from domination, women's power is dominion. Sovereign within our own realms, we see to the well-being of who and what is within our circle. We're the pivotal force within our domain. Dominion implies responsibility, relationship, partnership.

Women's power is giving place to the process of creation. Women's power is exercising dominion. Our fundamental, most essential dominion: our bodies.

Where does creativity happen in your body?

Christmas is one time in our culture when a woman's big belly gets some good press. Mary, the pregnant virgin. Mary, big with the Divine Child. Mary, the Mother of God.

What expressions refer to a woman being pregnant? She's got a bump. She's expecting. She's got a bun in the oven.

The image of Mary with her big belly is a sign of women's power. And the sign points straight toward Bethlehem.

Giving birth in Bethlehem

Bethlehem is a town south of Jerusalem. Its name in Hebrew is Beit-Léhem and in Arabic it's Beyt-ul Lahm. Texts dating from the 14th century BC mention a town south of Jerusalem called Bit ilu Lahama.

Both Beit-Léhem and Beyt-ul Lahm mean ''house of bread." Christ was born in Bethlehem. Does this mean Jesus was born in a bakery? Tempting, but I don't think so.

What is bread? Bread is extracting seed from grass, grinding seed into flour, mixing flour and water into dough, shaping dough into loaves, watching the loaves rise, placing the loaves into ovens, heating ovens with fire.

In cultures the world over, women and men have imaged grain as a divine being, a goddess. Grain is the staff of life. It's the grace that allows the tribe to survive.

Bread works miracles. It mediates between nature and culture, between earth and person. It conducts grace from divine being to human body. It transforms the elements of air, water, earth, and fire into the substance which feeds us.

Bread is life. Everyone needs enough "dough" to pay the bills. If you're gainfully employed, you're a bread-winner.

The first request in the Lord's Prayer is "Give us this day our daily bread." The Christian calendar marks August 1 as Lammas, the "loaf-mass." Giving thanks for the first harvest of grain, celebrants bring a loaf of bread to church to be blessed.

Bread is a miracle. The loaf rises. A woman's belly swells. What's the burgeoning life inside?

Christ was born in Bethlehem. In the house of bread.

Bethlehem. In Hebrew, Beit-Léhem. In Arabic, Beyt-ul Lahm. In texts recorded fourteen centuries before the birth of Christ, Bit ilu Lahama.

Bethlehem also means "house of the goddess." Which goddess? Lahama.

Meeting Lahama

In the Babylonian story of creation, Lahama is the daughter of the primordial goddess Tiamat. She guards the gate to the sea; the sea is her dominion. She holds an overflowing vase; she contains, bestows the waters of life.

Lahama. Her name is the sound of "ah" said three times. The syllable "ah" figures in nearly all names for divine being. It is the sound of the breath moving out into the world.

We can meet Lahama through the Sumerian syllables that comprise her name.

"La" refers to bright and light. We can see and hear that light in the word lamp.

"Ha" refers to mouth and the capacity to speak. We can see and hear "ha" in the Latin halitus, meaning breath, and in the English word halitosis. We might see and hear "ha" in hallow, to make holy, as well. In Hawaiian, aloha means "may you have everlasting breath"; "ha" means breath of life. We hear "ha" in the Japanese hara, the body's center and its capacity for transforming breath into life energy.

"Ha" has the sense of to speak, to name, and to give breath to. It refers to manifestation, bringing something into evidence in the world. Also meaning mouth, "ha" suggests passage through an opening, a gateway.

"Ma" refers to a ship, a vessel. Ships and sea-going craft are agents of transformation. They transport you from one shore to another, from one form to another. Many languages refer to ships and vessels with words in the feminine gender.

We can see and hear "ma" in the Latin mare, meaning sea. The names Mary, Maria, and Miriam incorporate the sound and meaning of "ma." Ma takes meaning as mother.

In my listening, Lahama means: She who carries forth the light. She who brings spirit into form. She who gives birth to the being of light.

Christ was born in Bethlehem. In my listening, these words mean: The light of consciousness is born in the house of the goddess. In the temple of Lahama.

Hail Mary

Who is Lahama? She who gives place to the process of creation. Just like you do.

Where is Bethlehem? Close to home.

What is Bethlehem?

Bethlehem is your blesséd body. It's the power to promote creation concentrated — where? In your body's center, your belly.

Hail Mary, full of grace.

Hail Mary, with a bellyful of grace.

May we know ourselves as sacred beings.

Mary Christmas!

 

2006 Self-Health Education

 

 

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