What if the women had been able to tell the story? What if Eve had been the one to describe God, to give the divine a name? What would have rolled off her tongue, what would my mothers have inscribed if their hands have been taught to write?

Why do we know so little of our mothers? Why were they silenced and by whom – and how different is that really from the way women’s stories are silenced now because they are different than the rest? Is it so different now, when these new sung tales are feared and quieted because they are something other (in manner if not in substance) than what heretofore had been told? (It makes me sigh, the way so many stories lie fold up so carefully like white gloves in boxes, too scary to be draw out because once you unfold them and shake them out they reveal themselves to be tie-dyed headscarves.) What would my mothers have carved into the lava slabs, the petroglyphic trails, if their hands could have strayed from the cooking pot to the chisel?

What if our Torah was the five books of Zipporah–a birdsong instead of a patriarch’s tale? What emphasizes would have shifted, how would God’s hand have been named? Would his arm still be the sword-bearing muscle slashing out new nations? Or would it be the blood-bathed skin of a midwife drawing forth new life? What of the ways my mothers told tales of Yahweh’s work to each other as they sat in the red tent braiding hair, nursing the young? What name did they whisper of Elohim, of Jehovah? Did they name him God-of-the-angel-armies? Or did some other nomenclature roll off their tongues? How did they describe the events of my past? Why is it lost, so lost, those songs, those stories? And after so much time can I ever see God they way they saw that divine being – newborn and salted, still being named, still being described, before only men spoke, only men wrote, only men named from the things they knew and the phrases they held so commonly on their mouths. Will I ever be able to peel back the layers, not of lies, but of the one-way-truth so that I might see the whole of the divine? Can that ever be done now, so long passing?

My daughter–my beautiful daughter with hair stick-straight and eyes crystalline and unblemished—my daughter Eden carries a stone half the size of her head and puts it at the foot of our short brick walkway. She stoops beside it in a wide legged squat and covers it in chalk, streaks of yellow and pink smearing together on its flat surface. The sun is just starting to slip away so the light is soft and the hawthorn tree is arching over her, its branches thick laden with red blooms and waxy leaves. She is singing some tune I can’t quite hear, blissful and alone unto herself. Later, Rebecca comes into the kitchen where I am making soup for our communion meal and tells me that Eden has erected an altar there where the sidewalk ends. “You have to put something here before you come to church,” Eden has told her,” something from the earth to say ‘thank you’ to God for the light.” She has laid a hawthorn flower there, and blades of grass on top of the smeary pastel chalk. Every single grown up obeys: a pebble, a petal, a potato bug curled.

A river is here and a river is come and a river flows out of Eden.

My little girl’s ancient ways flow out of her like a spring. What are her names of God? Oh please, please please, let them sing out! Let us not crush them! Let this be the year, let this be the season! Let us expand the scope of maps, let us stretch out our tent pegs. Tell me my tale Zipporah. Sing me a birdsong.

10 Responses to “Birdsong”

  1. april Says:

    wow rachelle… what an interesting way of putting it. i never thought about it that way… how beautiful.
    so we have to tell our stories. we have to make sure we save them and share them and stand in the river of time, putting our hands in and letting it course through our fingers…

  2. Christy Says:

    Thanks Rachelle - I just spent a weekend listening to women’s stories - all desperately painful, so I needed to hear one about a girl thanking God for the light.

  3. rob lewin Says:

    Your heart comes through your keyboard, and I feel it. And it matters.
    Keep singing, everyone needs it, not just me.

  4. bobbie Says:

    you just sang us a birdsong rachelle - it was beautiful - thank you!

  5. April Says:

    Your post immediately made me think of two books I’ve read—one very recently and one several years ago: “The Red Tent,” by Anita Diamant, and “Bold Spirit,” by Linda Hunt. Both ask, and tell stories in an attempt to answer, the questions you ask.

    Beautiful writing; thanks for sharing so freely.

  6. Fiona Says:

    Gorgeously written, descriptively dripping, boldly vulnerable. Thank you for your birdsong. Herstory needs voices.

  7. amy Says:

    this is one of the most beautiful things i have ever read on a blog. wow.

  8. Rachelle Says:

    Thanks everyone, for your nice comments. I kind of thought this ‘had wind on it’ as the Vineyardites say…but then I did get many comments so I thought it didn’t ring with folks. It was nice to read this collection of thought from new-to-me folks today!

    I do love the “Red Tent” and I’m also reading “Dance of the Dissident Daughther” by Susan Monk Kidd, which Fiona turned me on to. Amazing. I’ll post a quote and a story soon.


  9. Velveteen Rabbi Says:

    What a beautiful entry! Yes, yes, yes, and a thousand times yes.

    There’s a midrash (an interpretive story) that the Torah is written in black fire on white fire. The black fire is the words we see on the parchment; the white fire makes up the unspoken words which lie behind and between and around the written text. Some have interpreted this to mean that the black fire is the words written (historically) by men, while women’s unwritten teachings are the white fire — and that the Torah is only complete when we learn to read both.

  10. Jaime Hunt Says:

    Beautiful. Breathtaking. Haunting. Touching.