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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Sweet Woman

I have come to know that circles define the spiritual path of my life.

To be even more precise, as I look over the landscape of my life and plot it out, it begins to look more and more like a DNA molecule: circles folding in on itself, making it difficult to know where one begins and where the other ends, but with a logic and a pattern all its own, progressing always to new life, new growth, with an evolution of an “intelligent design” all its own..

Friday night at the Convention Center in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, was one of those spiritual circles that closed in on itself even as it began another concentric circle with an energy all its own, and yet, part of the energy of the w/hole/y.

On the evening of August 18th, part of our family – two of our daughters, Ms. Conroy and I – attended the 30th Anniversary tour of “The Changer and The Changed” by Cris Williamson.

I can hear those of you who know Cris’ music cheering wildly – and, understanding deeply.

Those of you who don’t: pay attention. What follows is one part history lesson in feminism, one part feminist spiritual narration, and one part family memoir.

The first time I heard Cris Williamson I actually got weak in the knees. It was 1976. Her music was playing on radio station WBZ in Boston, MA, and the DJ said that they were going to play the song, “Sweet Woman” despite the protests they had been getting from the heavily Roman Catholic population of Boston.

The words, a poem written by Jennifer Wysong, were simple enough:

“Sweet woman, risin’ inside my glow I think I’m missin’ you / Sing to me them soft words, takin’ me to your secret / Letting me know, taking me in, you let it all go.

Oh the warmth, surrounding me / This night is starin’ at me / Oh the warmth, surrounding me / It just won’t let me be, just won’t let me be.

A little passage of time ‘till I hold you and you’ll be mine

Sweet woman, risin’ so fine.”

Nothing risqué. Just a beautiful love song to a woman, right?

Except, the lyrics were written by a woman, and the music was written and sung with exquisite beauty by another woman, one Ms. Cris Williamson.


It was the shot not heard round the world which erupted in another circle of the revolution that was the Feminist Movement which had begun in the late 50’s with the publication of “The Feminist Mystique” by Betty Freidan.

We had all been previously warned by Helen Reddy, “I am woman, hear me roar!” This was, however, not a roar. It was decidedly sensuous and sensual and . . . well, as you can tell, elegantly, delicately, exquisitely sexual.

‘Roar’ they could take. “I am woman, hear me purr,” was way too hot – most especially for cool New England sensibilities – and neo-Puritanical susceptibilities everywhere.

Cris’ music was banned from radio stations from Boston to Baton Rouge. We’ll have none of that “Femi-Nazi” stuff polluting our airways and influencing our children, thank you very much.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I remember when the Everly Brothers, “Wake up a little Suzy” was banned from the airways for being “too suggestive.”

These were the offending lyrics:

“The movie wasn’t so hot / It didn’t have much of a plot / Wake up a little Suzy /It’s four o’clock and our reputation is shot / Wake up a little Suzy.”

It was a wake up call, not just for “a little Suzy” but for an entire generation of people who had previously equated the sexually suggestive music known as “rock ‘n roll” with people of color.

It was one thing for sexuality to be encapsulated in racism. In this moment of time, it was exploding into the mainstream. With the music of Chris Williamson, Margie Adams, and Meg Christianson, now playing on the airways, it was being relocated in sexism and heterosexism.

And, the world, much to the chagrin of the dominant male paradigm, didn’t like it.

And, it would never be the same.

It needs to be said, however, that the power of Cris Williamson’s music was – and remains, thirty years later – not about sexuality.

‘Lest you dismiss it, let me hasten to say that it isn’t just about being a lesbian. Cris’ music and words are about the essence of what it means to be woman.

It is about the power of the voice of women. It is about the soul of women – our unique voice, our distinctive perspective, our inimitable style.

Finally, finally, with Cris’ music, someone has given voice to our view of the world and it is – even thirty years later – essentially different. It is radically relational. And it is deeply, deeply spiritual.

Listen to her words from “One of the Light”:

“Wandering around in my feelings, so many ties to my heart / So many things I care for, so many left behind.

Watching for phantom travelers / Finding my way in the night / Oh tell me, what is the name of this place / and where is the one of the light? / Where is the one of the light?

Where is the light, oh where is the light? / Where is the light, have you seen the light? / Where is the light, the one of the light? / Where is the light?

Magnetic true-north, show me your face / It’s only the shadows I’m sure of / It’s been so long now, and I’ve lost my place / And there’s still no sign of the dove / Where can she be, where can she be, where can she be?

Wandering around in my feelings, so many ties to my heart / So many things I care for, so many left behind, so many left behind.”

The healing balm came unexpectedly, however, in the second set, dedicated in its entire to the music of that first album, “The Changer and the Changed.”

We have, my daughters, Ms. Conroy and I, been deeply grieving the loss of our daughter and sister, Jaime who died December 2, 2004, too soon, too soon, at the age of 33. Her loss has framed our lives and many of the choices we’ve made – and several we haven’t – ever since. The edges of our lives have been ragged and raw. Essential, deep conversations have been stunted and stilled. We have been on “pause” – waiting for the healing necessary to take another deep breath, so necessary for the continuity of the circle of life.

It came in the midst of the last song: “Song of the Soul,” which we sang together from depths of our souls we didn’t even know existed:

“Open mine eyes that I may see / Glimpses of truth thou hast for me / Open mine eyes, illumine me / Spirit divine.

Love of my life, I am crying, I am not dying, I am dancing / Dancing along in the madness, there is no sadness / Only a song of the soul

And we’ll sing this song, why don’t you sing along / And we can sing for a long, long time. / Why don’t you sing this song, why don’t you sing along / And we can sing for a long, long time.

What do you do for a living? / Are you forgiving, giving shelter? / Follow your heart, love will find you, truth will unbind you / Sing out a song of the soul

(Chorus) Come to your life like a warrior, nothin’ will bore yer / You can be happy / Let in the light it will heal you, and you can feel you / And sing out a song of the soul"

And we did – sing out a song of the soul from the broken, sad places of our souls, crying tears of healing waters and hope for the future without the light of her life shining in our lives.

Later, Julie took a picture of “our family” with Cris, who kept looking at us with an amused but confused smile, saying, “That’s my family. Didn’t we do a good job raising them?”

Oh, my dear, Sister, Cris, you’ll never know. You’ll never know.

A circle of our life completed itself that night. Like a strand of DNA, life began calling to life.

In the words of the Psalmist: “One deep calls to another in the noise of your cataracts;”

Or, as the Psalmist, Cris Williamson, would sing,

“Sometimes, it takes a rainy day / Just to let you know everything’s gonna be alright.

When you open your life to the living, all things come spilling in on you And you’re flowing like a river, the Changer and the Changed / You got to spill some over, spill some over, spill some over, over all.

Filling up and spilling over, it’s an endless waterfall / Filling up and spilling over, over all / Filling up and spilling over, it’s an endless waterfall / Filling up and spilling over, over all.”

Amen. Amen, my sister. And again, I say, I Amen.


Lisa Fox said...

Oh, lord! Has it really been 30 years since Cris' "Changer & the Changed"? I'm feeling very, very old.

Will try to reply later to your substantive remarks. But as you wrote those words, I could indeed hear her lyrics.

[Leaves now, to go put old Cris W music on the deck]

wmj said...

OK, Sis, not that I am being picky, or anything...well maybe. Ahem, it is:

"the movie wasn't so hot/it didn't have much of a plot./ we fell asleep/our goose is cooked/our reputation is shot/Wake up alittle Susie/wake up alittle Susie"

Don't pout or argue. I am older than you.

I {{{heart}}} Cris and am sorry I didn't get to see her this time round. Thanks for putting me right there.

B Hip said...

Lovely story. Thank you for sharing it.
Also reminds me of Carter's grand party.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

WMJ: You are absolutely right. I guess this proves that I am younger than you. And you know, at my age, being younger than ANYBODY is a blessing and a mitzvah.

B Hip: I don't know who you are, but if you were at Carter Heyward's "retirement party" at EDS, you know the power of Cris' music.

Lisa: Yes, child, it's been 30 years. I don't know how that happened, really. But you know, those were really halcyon days. I am who I am because of what happened 30 years ago.

Alleluia! Thanks be to God!

Mata H said...

A couple of years after this albumn came out, I was working at a vegetarian coffeehouse in Denver Colorado. All the help brought in CDs to play during our shifts and between the live jazz that was played there. Someone brought in Chris Williamson's CD and as I read your post I could hear the strains of "'s an endless waterfall..." playing back in my memories of that place and time. Thanks for the return of a few very lovely memnores!

janinsanfran said...

Those were the days. I too could hear it all as I read this and feel again some of those stirrings, that sense that my humanity was finally being freed to BE!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

A little free association (the morning's caffine has kicked in).

Your comments reminded me of Margo Thomas' album for children: FREE TO BE YOU AND ME. Do you remember that?

Okay - here's my other question:

Do you remember Cris Williamson's fantasy album for children? It was called LUMIERE. I haven't thought of it, much less heard it in years.

I'll have to go find it.

Those really were halcyon days.

Lovely, lovely memories.

Thank you all.

Mary Jane said...

How wonderful-Chris Williamson and Carter Heyward in the same week!Thank you, Elizabeth - our own sweet woman!
I have a photo with Chris too! She was a surprise guest at the women's gathering we attended the night before the CHOICE March on Washington in April, 2004.What a joy it was to see and hear her after years of listening to her music! My braver friend walked right on over to her and asked if we could have a photo with her and she posed with many of us. What a fine moment and I cherish the photo and the few words we exchanged!
Then, the next day as thousands and thousands of us marched (my daughters, my best friends and me - all together on that wonderful day) the word spread through the crowd of religious groups (i was there with the RCRC)that a woman priest was up ahead and indeed there was! Carter Heyward, fully vested, stood atop a bench and blessed us as we went by(I think she raised her hand in traditional blessing though I am not exactly sure - I know that I FELT blessed!)
So many good women who have helped me know god......and relationships of every kind have been godly for me.....