Revolution of the Heart

Posted on in On Our Radar by William Keepin

Gender Healing as a
Path to the Beloved


“The future of humanity will be decided by relations not between nations, but between women and men.”
—D. H. Lawrence

Last year, two boys raped my 14-yearold daughter,” Verena confided ruefully in a soft voice. “One of the boys was HIV positive,” she continued, her voice shaking. “Now my daughter is HIV positive,” she shuddered with a sense of defeat, as tears welled up in her eyes. Verena’s words struck home like a dagger. A member of Parliament in South Africa, she was sharing her personal story in a unique workshop titled “Gender Equity and Reconciliation,” organized for Parliamentarians and other South African leaders in Cape Town. We facilitated the workshop with our colleagues from Gender Equity and Reconciliation International, and it was hosted by Nozizwe Madlala Routledge, the pioneering deputy minister of health in South Africa who revolutionized the nation’s AIDS policy in 2006, saving countless lives.

“When I found out about the rape, I blamed my daughter at first,” Verena continued. Sitting just outside the women’s circle was a concentric circle of men, all listening intently. “I figured she’d been sleeping around, and I was so angry with her! How could she let those boys have their way with her!?” Verena paused, glancing at each woman before continuing. “But when she was in the hospital, I found out that she had been a virgin when she was raped. She had been truthful, and I didn’t believe her. I feel so ashamed. . . . How could I blame my daughter . . . my baby girl? I’m so angry with myself!” Tears streamed down Verena’s face, as she kept repeating, “How could I? How could I?”

Gender Equity and
Reconciliation International

Verena’s sorrowful tale illustrates one of many painful realities of gender injustice recounted by women and men in the Gender Equity and Reconciliation International (GERI) project, developed by the Satyana Institute and documented in the book Divine Duality: The Power of Reconciliation between Women and Men by Will Keepin, Cynthia Brix, and Molly Dwyer. Over the past 24 years, we have organized more than 100 such gatherings in nine countries and launched professional facilitator trainings in the United States, South Africa, and India.

The Gender Equity and Reconciliation process brings women and men together to jointly unravel the invisible knots of cultural conditioning relating to gender and sexuality. Open to men and women of all sexual orientations, the “undiscussables” of gender are jointly confronted in this rare forum, as participants plumb the depths of their experiences and move beyond habitual ways of relating to discover new forms of healing, mutuality, and relational harmony between the sexes.

As Martin Luther King observed, “Injustice and corruption will never be transformed by keeping them hidden but only by bringing them out into the light and confronting them with the power of love.” This has been the cornerstone of our method, and it has proven highly effective not only in the United States and affluent Western countries but also in more challenging cultures where gender oppression is severe, such as India and South Africa.

Cape Town Workshop,
Continued . . .

Following Verena’s story, similar stories emerged from other women in the circle. The men continued to listen in silent witness, choking back tears. Afterward, roles were reversed, with the women listening in silent witness to the men’s truth forum. Again, powerful tales emerged of men’s betrayal through abuse, sexual violation, and painful episodes of masculine socialization endured in the cultural institutions of family, corporation, military, and society.

Toward the end of the workshop, the women and men created simple ceremonies of honoring and blessing for one another—to acknowledge the healing that had transpired and to express mutual gratitude, respect, and love. The men offered the following declaration:

We have met over the past five days in community as men, and in community with you as men and women. We have listened to each other’s stories—some personal, others told on behalf of vulnerable, degraded, hurt, brutalized human beings—all for no other reason than that they are women, sisters, mothers, and girl children.

We have heard too that through the social structures of power and decisionmaking, many of our brothers have abused our intended roles of caring and protection—for their own selfish power, personal pleasure, and gain.

The bonds of humanity have been broken. We acknowledge that we have shared in the unfair and unjust advantage that has upset the Creator’s intended balance of human relationships for love, companionship, and cooperation. We further acknowledge that we have been complicit in breaking the intended dream of equality.

So now we come forward to say to you, we are sorry. We affirm that we want to start anew. . . . And we ask, will you accept our offer to take responsibility as we commit ourselves to live out—and challenge and support all men everywhere to live and work for—gender equality, and thereby seek reconciliation?

After delivering this proclamation, the men completed their ceremony by bowing in silence before the women. In a nation devastated by the AIDS crisis and dubbed the “rape capital of the world,” it was a profound experience to witness this group of South African men, all in leadership positions, proclaim their deep commitment to transform gender injustice. The women were stunned. Some wept. No one spoke for minutes afterward. Nothing had prepared them for the power of this offering. Deeply moved with their hearts open, the women proceeded with a ritual offering for the men that included a beautiful dance of veils. The workshop concluded with song, dance, and celebration all around.

Gender Reconciliation and
Interreligious Reconciliation

Never before in human history has it been more important—nor more possible—to bridge the world’s religious and spiritual traditions than it is today. Barriers between religions are shifting and breaking down, and new spiritual pathways are emerging in the burgeoning field of “interspirituality” that goes beyond traditional interfaith theology. Interspirituality emphasizes the transformative journey of the soul, where religions meet as one, and practitioners of diverse faith traditions learn not only to tolerate but eventually to love one another’s traditions. For example, millions of Westerners are deeply inspired by the brilliant poetry of Jelaludin Rumi, yet few realize that the entire source of Rumi’s inspiration comes from the Koran itself and the spiritual wisdom of Islam. “The stakes are higher than ever,” says the Dalai Lama, “not only for the survival of our species but also for the very planet itself and the myriad other creatures who share our home.”

Yet a troubling question remains: In this emerging harmony across the religions, will the patriarchal structures and oppression of women continue? Because patriarchy is systemic across all religions, East and West, it could well survive unscathed even as the religions come together. The emerging trend toward interspirituality thus poses a poignant challenge: Can patterns of patriarchal oppression be transformed through the interspiritual movement?

The jury is still out on this question, but encouraging signs are emerging. Some years back in Turin, Italy, we organized a women’s interspiritual conference titled “Cultivating Women’s Spiritual Mastery.” Systemic patterns of gender and sexual discrimination emerged as the common denominator of women’s experience in religious life. Accordingly, GERI has developed specific programs tailored for religious and interfaith groups, including the South African Council of Churches, the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative, communities of Catholic nuns and priests, and the Parliament of World Religions. Rev. Mpho Tutu, daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, invited GERI to conduct an intensive program on gender reconciliation for a senior group of religious leaders convened by the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation.

The results of all these programs are encouraging. Poignant stories are surfacing relating to experiences of clerical abuse, sexual misconduct, and male-dominated imbalances in church hierarchy and leadership. Participating women and men confront these issues skillfully together, establish renewed mutual trust and faith in one another, and create powerful ceremonies to honor one another and reclaim the gender integrity of their religious communities. As one priest exclaimed afterward, “This was more than a workshop; it is a whole new tradition!”

Cultivating Interspirituality

Interspirituality offers a new opportunity for profound healing of gender injustice within each religion and between diverse religions. Precisely because patriarchal imbalance and injustice are systemic, afflicting every major religion, transforming patriarchy in religion offers a profound pathway for leveraging systemic healing and transformation across both gender and sectarian boundaries. If “God enters through a wound,” then God enters more deeply through a deep wound. Skillful healing of gender injustice draws women and men together into a dynamic balance and mutual empowerment—across the faith traditions—that moves beyond gender oppression into a profound space of not merely mutual respect and forgiveness but also mutual reverence. The new interspirituality movement has the potential to forge an unprecedented pathway into gender healing and thereby facilitate a profound transformation of patriarchal injustice that has not yet been achieved within any of the established religious traditions. This could be one of the greatest gifts of interspirituality.

Creating Beloved Community
across the Globe

Despite major advances made by the women’s and men’s movements, gender injustice continues to afflict most human societies across the globe, including the affluent West. However, a new era is dawning that holds great promise for women and men—working in concert—to jointly transform this ancient calamity of gender oppression. Across the globe, men and women are joining together to heal gender injustice and to reclaim the sacred union of feminine and masculine.

As GERI continues to organize programs on gender equity and reconciliation around the world, we are witnessing a global network beginning to emerge. Remarkable groups of women and men—on six continents spanning east and west, north and south—are working together to transform gender relations and patriarchal oppression within their respective societies.

To our knowledge, this global network of emergent circles of gender equity and reconciliation is something new and unprecedented. These remarkable women and men all have one thing in common: they know that the era of patriarchy—which has tyrannized human societies across the globe for millennia—is coming to an end. They know that humanity will find new pathways for people from diverse gender categories to create loving, harmonious, peaceful societies on earth, and they are moving swiftly in this direction. An inspiring new era of gender equity and reconciliation is being born.

William Keepin, PhD, and Rev. Cynthia Brix, PhD (hon), are founding directors of Satyana Institute and Gender Equity and Reconciliation International. Their books include Divine Duality: The Power of Reconciliation between Women and Men, and Women Healing Women. Will’s new book is Belonging to God: Toward a Universal Path of Divine Love, with a foreword by Fr. Thomas Keating.

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