My vision for Thean Evening Prayer was simple: it would be an intimate gathering for those who identify as women to pray together to God in their own (female) voices using feminine images for God and imagining God in relationship to Creation through a feminine, feminist lens.
When I arrived, my dear husband helped me arrange the space the way I wanted it, and then he departed so I could pray before others arrived. At 5:00, the time when prayer was set to begin, I was the only person in the room. I continued to pray, and as I prayed, I was surprised by the awareness that I actually wasn't alone--I was in the company of thousands of generations of women, women who had come before me, who had refused to be silenced or disempowered by oppressors, women who had imagined themselves and their God the way they chose, women who had loved, created, mentored and empowered girls and women within their influence. All their efforts, all their willingness to stand up for themselves, all their willingness to make a difference when they were told to shrink and be quiet--all of that energy had culminated in this moment, this hour, in which I was able to embrace my public ministry as a spiritual leader, a Thean priestess, a woman who wouldn't settle for the oppression that would seek to rein me in.
I knew going into the night that several women who wanted to pray with me were out of town. I knew also that several women who had wanted to pray with me had something come up at the last minute. I prepared to pray with my cloud of witnesses. I waited. Then a familiar face arrived, a woman who had prayed with me at our former Episcopal parish in Tempe, a woman who was preparing to lead her own spiritual circle for women. We hugged, we talked for a few minutes, I showed her around the rooms of Pathways of Grace, and eventually we settled into our seats to pray. I sounded the singing bowl four times. We stood, and I intoned a invitatory that I had learned years ago at my Roman Catholic parish in Cleveland, the same parish that ignited my love for liturgy: Let my prayer arise like incense in your sight, the lifting of my hands a sign of trust in you, O God. She joined with me in singing, and we sang it several times, letting the words soak into the space and ourselves.
We prayed the psalms next--Psalm 141, from which the invitatory came, and then a series of other psalms. Between each psalm there was a pregnant, full silence. At one point, I held my breath in between verses to keep my voice from breaking and tears from falling. Next time--next time I will let them break and fall.
At the conclusion of the psalms, we moved to the homily. I explained that in the Christian (and particularly Benedictine) tradition, Saturday night evening prayer was a big event, because it was the vigil for Sunday, the most important day of the Christian week. Saturday evening prayer was therefore when a homily was given, at least in communities that prayed together the liturgy of the hours every day. I noted that the homily would traditionally be given by the presider in top-down fashion, the presider imparting (his) reflections as seeds to be planted in the hearts of those around (him). Then I explained that in the case of Thean Evening Prayer, the homily was open to every person present, because a key Thean belief is that every (woman) has deep wisdom to share. So we shared the homily based on phrases from the psalms that had particularly resonated with us. Our homily was a mutual conversation in which we listened to one another and sounded/heard our own voices, recognizing that Thea's voice resounded through each of us.
I don't know how much time passed--time felt as though it was suspended, but I know from the content of the conversation that it must have taken a while. When the homily had reached an end, I turned to the next portion of evening prayer: the anointing. A bottle of oil stood on the little altar before us. I removed the glass stopper and poured a small portion of it into a glass bowl, inviting my praying partner to partake of it. I spoke of olive oil as an ancient healing balm, but I also spoke of it as the stuff with which royalty, priests, and prophets were anointed. To partake of scented oil is a sign not only of healing, but of empowerment and authority, specifically the power and authority to speak and act as one deems fit and wise. I said that it was particularly poignant to anoint the parts of ourselves for which we seek wise power and authority: the eyes, the ears, the mouth, the nose, the hands, the heart. My prayer partner and I dipped our fingers in the oil and rubbed the rose and clove scents into our skin, and then prayed Psalm 45 from the Thean Psalter, which included verses like, "You, a woman, are among the wise ones; grace flows from your lips," "Your leadership shall endure, for you love goodness and reject unkindness," and "Thea anoints you with the oil of gladness."
Thus empowered, we prayed together for those all around us, and lifted up personal prayers of our own. Then we stood and prayed a modified version of the Lord's Prayer called "Our Mother," written by Miriam Therese Winter of herchurch in San Francisco. We concluded with a collect prayer and this blessing:
May Thea bless us with courage,
guide us with her unrelenting love,
and empower us to answer her sacred call. Amen.
Our time together was not over--we stood, moved to the other side of the room, and talked over a small spread of food and bubbly water I had brought to share. We talked about our experiences, our faith, our friends, our leadership, our children, and our lives. We talked and talked until suddenly it was nearly 7:00--between the two of us and the cloud of witnesses that surrounded us, we had spent the two hours for which I had reserved the space.
I feel full: full of gratitude, full of joy, full of wisdom, full of holy power. This gathering was and wasn't about me. It was about me as a woman who has been on a journey all her life to arrive at the moment of taking up her life's vocation. It was about every woman who has ever done the same or sought to do the same. It was about every young girl who is figuring out who she wants to be, and it is about countless generations of women still to come who will change and lead this world for the better, overcoming oppressions and embracing who they see in the mirror as living icons of the Holy One.