Inside Out

The Next revolution will begin within

| January / February 2006

Oh Madonna of the Trail,
Your sisters crossed this nation
Full of brave determination
Looking for the land of their dreams
But the dream comes up empty
In this land of plenty
In my hometown.
-- Jane Gillman, singer/songwriter

In November, Utne sponsored a rEVOLUTIONary women's event at the Crossings retreat center in Austin, Texas. Over a three-day period, 90 women from all over the country, most of whom had never met, ages twentysomething to eightysomething, came together to form a remarkably intimate community. And while I knew we had all the components of a good conference -- a great location, a strong program, and amazing participants -- the results transcended all of my expectations.

At the end of the retreat, I sat by myself in the Crossings' caf? and listened to songwriter Jane Gillman, who had settled in Austin after years on the road as a musician. I was floating in a slightly dazed afterglow when Jane, who now works in the Crossings' sales department (and didn't know I was in the audience), dedicated her song 'Madonna of the Trail' to the women from our conference. She said the feeling that radiated from the group was unusually strong, even in a place that regularly hosts spiritual events.

The Madonna she wrote about was based on one of twelve identical statues commissioned in the late 1920s by the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution and placed along the National Old Trails highway, spanning from Upland, California to Jane's childhood home of Bethesda, Maryland. With a babe in her arms, a rifle at her side, and another child at her skirts, the Madonna is emblematic of an indomitable and explicitly feminine pioneer spirit -- a spirit Jane said she felt emanating from our group and envisioned radiating across the country as we dispersed.

As she spoke, waves of feeling started to wash through me as I realized what was so compelling about the week-end: We came together with a clear intention for renewal, inspiration, and commitment to service; we allowed room for spirit to enter; and we celebrated each other's unique gifts, whatever they might be and wherever they originated. Now that power was already touching others, literally making them sing.

Of course, our weekend was a privilege -- a blessing for those who could afford the time. But the principles that made those days so potent are accessible any time, free of charge. This month's cover section, 'Calm in the Chaos,' was born out of the recognition that our planet needs all the help it can get. Right now. From all of us: because every gift is essential, each engaged life as unique as a snowflake. And that means the person who grows our food or cares for children needs the same sort of spiritual energy as someone who runs a social change organization or participates in civil disobedience.