To celebrate International Women’s Day, CCJ staff have reflected on inspirational Jewish and Christian women.
In Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Gilead, the ageing minister the Revd John Ames remembers a moment from his childhood:
‘I went up to the church to watch the dawn come, because that peace does restore me better than sleep can do. It is as though there were a hoard of quiet in that room, as if any silence that ever entered that room stayed in it. I remember once as a child dreaming that my mother came into my bedroom and sat down in a chair in the corner and folded her hands in her lap and stayed there, very calm and still. It made me feel wonderfully safe, wonderfully happy. When I woke up, there she was, sitting in that chair. She smiled at me and said, “I was just enjoying the quiet.” I have that same feeling in the church, that I am dreaming what is true.’
Marilynne Robinson’s novels are replete with stories and memories which demonstrate the value of human life. International Women’s Day is an opportunity to affirm this equal value in human behaviour, the decisions of government, and the conventions of society, and to make reality the belief that all lives are equal, regardless of gender.
The value of the human life is reflected in this moment from Gilead. In remembering just one aspect of a relationship between mother and son, the Revd John Ames experiences just how important a single encounter can be, just how singularly unique and valuable one interaction between people is in enabling someone to find true peace and fulfilment, an experience of the divine perhaps.
Countless, diverse, myriad people make us who we are. Women and men, teachers, friends, and strangers: all leave a tangible glimpse of humanity and truth to bear on the meaning of our lives. Years later, we can recall a few spoken words, a kind gesture, or like John Ames’ mother, the person who sat with us in silence, and the memory can sustain our life in the here and now, reaffirming that we—all of us and each of us—matter.
I think my faith and my experience of Church taught me this from an early age. But Marilynne Robinson confirmed it for me. She wrote in Gilead that ‘there are a thousand, thousand reasons for living this life. Every one of them sufficient.’
There is a sufficiency to each of our lives. More than that, there is a reality and a potential far beyond our own self-conception because if others have value for us then we ourselves—with all the confusion and complexity which we struggle with on a daily basis—have value for others.
With this knowledge, we might glimpse an opportunity for each of us to make every day a search for hope, joy, and life, reaffirming the essential value of everyone whom we encounter. We might then have the satisfaction that in our dreams we also are dreaming what is true.
Rob Thompson, Senior Programme Manager