INTRODUCTION: WHEN SISTERS SING

by Carolyn Brigit Flynn

A world comes born when a book is made. It is a community, a kinship, a collaboration among souls who come together to create a thing of beauty that will wing its way into the world. With a luminous collection such as Sisters Singing, the community is rich, varied, sweet, and profound.

The sacred writing, art and music in this volume are part of a global web of prayers, peacemaking and creativity devoted to singing the world back to wholeness. Yes, a world lives inside these pages: a world of hope, of alignment with beauty, of devotion to allowing our deepest soul to speak, and a commitment to a livable future for our descendants and all earth creatures.

Because I have had the privilege of working closely with these sacred offerings, I know the luminescence and beauty that awaits the reader new to this book. Lucky you, I want to say. It will all be new. Walk through bare-footed, loose-clothed, or naked. Open your heart to the sacred stories, the poetry, the art and songs, like fresh grasses and elemental flowers in an open field. May there be nothing between you and the sisters as they sing.

In an anthology such as this there are many visions, but only one weaver. The weaver takes the sacred threads, the various visions and voices, and binds them together. She places two pieces of poetry side by side, or art by a unique story, because they belong next to each other. She allows them to help each other, to provide support and sustenance, to become woven into a whole song, a new wisdom blanket. And she sits back, as I have recently done, breathless, for beauty has come born.

A few years ago I learned a term from the world of carpentry that delighted me. A piece of wood attached alongside an existing beam for extra support is called a sister joist. And the verb describing the particular and specific action of providing essential, side-by-side support is known as sistering. Thus we see from an ancient handcraft of brothers a truth so old, so necessary, so obvious, that it comes unbidden outside the world of women. To sister is to provide an extra bit of vital support, to stand beside, right next to, to support invisibly—to hold someone up.

And of course, in truth, we all know what a sister is.

Most of us have one, a true one, if we are lucky. Some of us are gifted with sisters through blood and family lines. But beyond that, we find that our sisters simply emerge along the journey of our lives. Here, at this moment, this woman came forth at just the right time. She brought me tea, or good whiskey. She let me put my head in her lap. She held me to her breast, and let me cry. She listened. She did not need me to be more, or different, less broken-hearted, more wise. She knew I needed simple reinforcement, help where I felt weak. She provided that help. She held me steady. She sistered me.

In many ways, to sister the world is to provide just this same sort of sustenance and invisible reinforcement for the earth herself, and for the entire world community of humans, animals, forests, deserts, rivers, oceans, and plants. To sister the world is to be part of the web which those who pray each day weave around the planet. These people, these pray-ers of the world, are woven within the living spirit of the earth. They know what is at stake. Imagine the world with no prayers in it. No quiet blessings before dawn, no whispered prayers in a morning garden, no heart praise walking a beloved path, no silent meditation at the zendo or in someone’s living room, no prayer bells, no sacred songs, no drums and rattles at community circles, no chants, no rosaries, no mantras.

It feels lonely and cold—for humanity and for the planet. It feels, in fact, like we would feel if we had no sister joist, no support, no energetic web holding us together. Prayer is endemic to the human core, as much a part of being human as walking upright.

Yet in truth it is remarkably easy to lose our connection to prayer. Our hearts often feel broken by a world caught in war, and by bleak concern for the future of the earth. We sometimes feel detached from all that is holy to us. We know we once touched it—but then it was gone. And in many ways, how could this not be? We are called into the physical world: reaping, loving, building, creating. We are doing our work, caring for others, going to jobs and meetings, tending our families. But there is something in us hungry. It is ancient, musty, deep at our core. It is a need as old as humanity. We have it in us to pray, to touch the divine, to feel the stars.

Thus Sisters Singing. Here is a collection of writing from our sisters who have entered the world of spirit and returned with a song. Here, here—she wrote it down, she sang it out, she caught something ephemeral in her hands for a brief moment, and offers it to us. This book and the writings, songs and art which live within provide that essential sistering…a deep support, steady sustenance to hold us up, a sense of hope, and the wellspring that emerges when we touch what is authentic within. It is a book which transcends religious boundaries and speaks to the interior, intimate aspect of sacred experience—the lived, embodied interaction with the essential mystery at the heart of all life.

Every single human, every animal, every growing bush, every plant and stone has its own way of spirituality and holiness. It would be impossible to categorize women’s varied and intimate ways of prayer and connection to spirit in one way. Yet it can be said the common, daily, often invisible acts of sacred sistering are deeply intrinsic to the female soul. In our time, wherever we grew up on the planet, we have come of age in a world where the voices and soul experiences of women have not been fully included in religious traditions and holy texts. In some cases women’s authentic sacred experiences have been systematically and harshly repressed. We all suffer from the loss of that wisdom, the lack of what it might teach and where it might lead. This book of women’s sacred writing, art and song is an offering to help restore a holy balance. It is a book for us all, men and women, as we repair our world and move toward creating a living, viable future.

The grandmothers of the many traditions and ways of prayer in this book are its guiding spirit. I can see her now: old Great-Great-Grandmother, holding this book in her hands like a sacred rattle, prayer beads, a rosary or a drum. Chuckling, dancing, humming softly in a green open field, she sprinkles holy waters over us, sacred seeds. She feels the hum within the book.

Open Sisters Singing to any page, and use it as a talisman or a divination. It will give you a message from the beyond. Or make your way to a certain section and enter the world of silent meditation, or nature, or mothering, or prayers for the world. Or read, as I have done, from cover to cover. Here you will find the secret melody, the hum that makes its way through the book. It vibrates, it whirls; there is a song within the whole. Pick up the book, and you know: the sisters are already singing.