Have you ever had the feeling you were standing in a space that held the cries of all of humanity’s suffering and also the birth pangs of new beginnings? I was in awe as I stood inside the United Nations General Assembly building and looked out over the Manhattan skyline with the 193 member nation flags enveloping the space that had been set apart to collectively bring well-being, equality, and dignity into our world, a planet in her truest nature without borders. Last week, March 11-15, 2019, Dr. Helen Rose Ebaugh and I along with over 6,000 people, attended the United Nation’s 63rd annual gathering of The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in NYC. We were invited to offer YogaMass as a parallel event for attendees from all over the world as a way to empower women bodily, socially, and spiritually. It was an honor to empower women and to encourage respect for the whole self—mind, body, soul and spirit.
The United Nations infrastructure itself was a testimony to the immense global cooperation of the 193 member states who desire world peace, humanitarian aid, human rights, and community sustainability. I felt a deep sense of connection to the Baptismal vows we say in the Episcopal Church as we promise to “respect the dignity of every human being.” The mission was clear: dignity and the right of every human being to live a decent life with access to clean water, sustainable community, economic development, health care, education, and social protection. In the United States, we often take these basic human rights for granted, while in some countries, the struggle still continues for basic survival, especially in areas of high poverty and war-torn areas. When in survival mode, I was acutely aware that spiritual advancement and self-actualization are beyond what the daily struggle to live allows.
As we walked the halls of the United Nations, my heart grew heavy. I saw photos of children without access to clean water (a startling total of 2.1 billion people in 2015,) child soldiers laying down the automatic weapons that they had been forced to use on others, and the impact of the atomic bomb explosion in Nagasaki that melted the concrete statue of St. Agnes at a Roman Catholic Church. Why? How could such cruelty have been unleashed by humankind against one another? I am so grateful for the work of the UN, and yet in spite of the good works, it was clear that so much more needs to be done.
I am proud of the delegates of The Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion from all around the world participating in the meetings to work toward empowering women and girls politically, economically, civically, socially and in education. I witnessed the Church working for gender equality, LGBTQ rights, food and water insecurity, human rights for women workers, to name a few of the issues. I was hopeful when I met team members from St. George’s Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg, VA, who brought mothers and daughters from their parish with their female priest—they were a beautiful example of teaching the next generation to be strong and courageous! At the opening Eucharist of The Episcopal Church, the preacher offeredprofoundly, “Words without actions are empty. Our faith is bolstered through our works.”
The work of UN/CSW is critical as we work toward human rights and gender equality. I am grateful to the UN/CSW for raising up women and girls as an equal gender whose voice must be heard. Until the masculine and feminine voices are balanced, we must persevere, because survival our planet and humanity depend on this balance and harmony. Nature teaches us about balance—without balance, the ecosystem is in danger. The issue of female gender marginalization is not new—Jesus dealt with it too. Jesus had a conversation in broad daylight with the woman at the well and empowered her with new life. Jesus sat at Martha’s table enjoying meals, and Jesus empowered her sister Mary who sat and his feet and soaked up his wisdom. Jesus included women in his circle of friends, giving women self-worth and value.
YogaMass at the UN created sacred space where Spirit was invited to be a part of the conversation. As much as the meetings happening at the gathering critically needed intellectual perspectives, the women gathered at YogaMass recognized the gift of being aware of Spirit in our midst and the importance of prayer that incorporates the whole self. A Taiwanese woman gratefully told me that she would go back to her country and incorporate her faith and honoring of her body in her social work. An African woman commented that she was empowered to listen to her intuition and exercise feminine leadership as part of the gifts she brings to the table. Tears flowed as women reconnected with their hearts and their bodies as temples of the divine Spirit. Witnessing women embracing a renewed honoring of who they are, created in the image of God, was a beautiful gift.
Women, men, girls and boys—from every country and community locally and globally—need the basic support and infrastructure to grow into the knowledge and love of God, knowing that the Divine Light within them infuses their unique gifts that they offer the world. Our work must continue until every child can shine his and her light. Let us teach our children—all children, boys and girls, everywhere—to shine until the whole world is lit up with God’s light and love as infinite as the stars in the heavens.
May the Light of Christ within you shine brightly!