There is hope. Hurricane Katrina ripped away our illusions about
racism being an evil of the past in this country. The connections
between poverty, racism and environmental destruction have been starkly
revealed, making the need for change more obvious than ever.
Though violent fanaticism seems to have set the world ablaze in
conflicts all too reminiscent of the twelfth and thirteenth century
Crusades, a deeper look into that same history reveals a surprising
counter-movement that remains a powerful inspiration today—if we can
Between 1134 and 1300, outside of Paris, a spontaneous peace and
reconciliation movement arose with the building of Chartres Cathedral.
At the site of the sacred spring and oak grove where pre-Christian
Druids had worshipped for centuries, early Christians made a shrine to
Mary. As scholar Karen Armstrong writes:
“At Chartres, the lay people quite spontaneously created a
counterpart to the Crusade when they decided to build a new church for
Mary in their city at the same time as the Crusaders were leaving
Europe…A building society was formed that organized lay men and women,
rich and poor, to quarry stones themselves and convey them to the site…
Nobody could join the building association unless they had reconciled
themselves with all their enemies…The emphasis in this movement around
the Virgin was on peace and reconciliation, not on holy war…”
"I, too have been working with stones..."
As many of you know, I, too have been working with stones in the
rural countryside of East Texas, only these stones are gravestones,
burial markers. Yet the heart of the work is the same—peace and
reconciliation. The black community whose ancestors are buried in Love
Cemetery found themselves locked out of their own communal burial ground
for more than forty years. While doing research in East Texas, I heard
this story and became involved by convening an interfaith, bi-racial
comittee of spiritual and lay leaders. Together we began to reclaim Love
As we clear the tangled underbrush covering the graves, by hand and
with tractors, we are acknowledging the buried history of our country.
Working alongside African American elders, young Scouts and white
members of the community are learning a history many of us would rarely
glimpse otherwise. In August, 2004, we reconsecrated the two-acre burial
ground with an interfaith ceremony. In August, 2005, we discovered three
As the work on Love continues, I’m writing a book about this
experience, The Keepers of Love, to be published by Harper San Francisco
(2006-2007). By telling the story of this one act of interracial and
intergenerational reconciliation, we are providing a model of the kind
of small community action that can contribute to the healing of our
country’s deepest wound.
The story of Chartres also seems deeply appropriate as I reflect on
the conference we put on in June, 2005, at the Graduate Theological
Union in Berkeley. We called it “Awakening the Energy for Change, The
Black Madonna and the Womb of God” because no matter how much we know we
need to change, awakening the energy to do it is another story.
Witnessing two hundred and fifty vital people gather to celebrate the
Divine Feminine and the powerful, healing energy she brings validated
our instincts. Conference Recording Services in Berkeley has audio tapes
available now at
Many wanted to build on the transformative energy of the conference.
As a consequence, IOD is developing The Chartres Project: Circles of
Love. We are supporting the growth of small groups—some of mixed gender
and some for women only—meeting as “circles” to engage in
reconciliation: personal, racial, spiritual and environmental. We use
models of women’s leadership and the principles of “council” (see
Christina Baldwin’s Calling the Circle) that offer clear alternatives to
hierarchical forms. Together, we are building altars, both literal and
metaphoric, as we reclaim “the stone the builders rejected”— dark and
female forms of the sacred.
The Chartres Project is intended to culminate in three years, in a
three-day conference, “The Welcome Table.” Co-sponsorship is being
explored with S.T.A.R., the Southern Truth and Reconciliation committee
at Emory University’s Department of Religion and with Brandeis
University. Co-sponsorship is also being discussed with Mary Evelyn
Tucker, co-founder of the World Religions and Ecology Forum at Harvard
Divinity School. By bringing together these areas of discourse—race,
reconciliation, and environmental peril—within the context of women’s
leadership and spirituality, IOD will expand this critical dialogue.
Unlike South Africa, our country has no officially sanctioned Truth and
Reconciliation Committee. Like the builders of Chartres, like the early
members of Solidarity in Poland, we have to do the work ourselves, in
small, local groups.
In addition to writing The Keepers of Love and tending the Chartres
Project, IOD is in the early stages of producing video and audio
documentaries based on The Keepers of Love. We have been filming and
recording in East Texas, three to four times a year, since the project’s
inception, and will continue transcribing and editing the material for
public distribution when the book is finished.
To find out more about Circles of Love, click here.
To complete any one of these projects would take a fair amount of
support; to continue all three requires extraordinary support. But these
are extraordinary times that demand a whole-hearted response. IOD’s work
of reconciliation, our multi-media documentation, our circles and our
conferences, offer a powerful, hope-filled alternative for those of us
who cherish peace, reconciliation, and the earth itself. Your support is
critical to awakening the energy so needed now for change.
IOD recently received a generous $20,000 matching grant from the
Tides Foundation which means that your gift—whatever the amount—will be
doubled. This is a phenomenal opportunity to make your money go twice as
far to support your values at this precarious moment. Funds are needed,
most immediately, to allow me to complete the work on The Keepers of
Love (The publisher’s advance only covers about 30% of the costs), and
then, when the book is finished, to complete post-production on the
video and audio documentaries, to create the online infrastructure that
will support the Chartres/Circles of Love Project, to plan “The Welcome
Table” Conference for 2007-08, and, last but not least, to cover the
ongoing operating expenses of Images of Divinity.
In joining our community, you are taking a stand for love. Whether
it’s reclaiming the African-American cemetery in East Texas or sitting
in circles of love in your community, you can keep “choosing love when
there’s reason to hate.” as one of the African-American elders in East
Texas told me many years ago. There is no other answer. Love is the
antidote, compassion—fierce compassion—the basis for action. There is
hope, but it is up to us to keep it alive.
Click here to donate on line or mail donations to:
Images of Divinity
20 Sunnyside Ave.
Mill Valley, California 94941
Please make your check out to C.A.R.E. (Center for Art, Religion and
Education, our fiscal sponsor) with "Images of Divinity" in the memo