Inside Out

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

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.

All too often, when we are worried or in doubt, we run in
circles or scream and shout. We stir up a lot of dust and mistake
that for effectiveness. What the next revolution requires is that
we work from the inside out. We start by simply showing up. We make
an ongoing commitment to opening our hearts, to clarifying our
intentions, and to dancing with change and challenge. Then, as we
get out of our own way, the magic of transformation will not only
be possible, it will be accessible to all.

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