Wisdom of the Collective Mother

These past 18 months have been hard. Hard on a personal level, hard on a professional level, and hard on a collective level. The pandemic has disconnected so many of us from the embodied wisdom of community, friendships, and relationships. We have needed to be physically removed for safety, but also we have been separated based on ideologies and deep skisms that have life and death seemingly attached to them. We are divided and skeptical and don’t know where to turn. The toll has been brutal and severe. Even more than we know at this point. We need care, wisdom, and direction as we navigate a complex, heartbreaking, and ever-changing world. We need wise elders and people who have come before us who can steady the ship and set a new course.

For me, I found myself longing for a grandmother. A wise guide who would invite me into her home, make me tea, and teach me the art of making bread or a delicious berry pie. I longed for her to listen to my plight, my confusion, and my heartache and tell me how it was all going to be ok. I wanted her to remind me of who I am and who I could become. I longed for her to see my face, realize I was exhausted, take me to her spare bedroom, and invite me to rest while the bread baked. And while my fantasy was rich and lovely, I knew in my heart that no one was coming. There was no magical grandmother that could help me navigate this season of my life and I was alone. I was alone to read the books, glean the wisdom I needed, and try to decipher the code coming through my many screens and texts.

But it was not working. I was desperate, and words on my own were not enough. Then this past winter, as much of my world was falling apart, I began the bold move of gathering with some women from my church. I had been isolated, in a deep season of turmoil and trauma, and needed a community of women who were committed to seeing the fullness of the world and would also place pillows under my body as I hit the bottom. We were each heartbroken in some way and left to navigate the season without a wise mother to guide us through. We were often wandering rudderless to make our own way. But as we met and talked, we realized that between all of our experiences of sorrow, grief, and heartache, there was one wise woman. We were the wise guide we needed.

Collectively, we could hold each other and allow our pieces of wisdom to collide and become whole on behalf of each of us individually. There was enough to go around, and as our friendships progressed, we were able to hold dreams, hopes, calling, grief, fear, and combat curses against our body and souls.

Together, we found the wise woman, and because it was not up to one of us individually, we were able to carry each other’s burden with ease and compassion.

We were willing to help hold the complexity of who we were without either idealizing our circumstances or dismissing our pain. We were truth tellers and soul tenders, and in the end, I found myself literally being held up by their arms, floating in a pool, and grieving years of painful failure and loss.

Together, they were strong enough to hold me, tender enough to wipe my tears, and loving enough to tell me I was good and also enough. It was the embodied wisdom and care I so deeply longed for, and it was utterly life changing. We were the wise woman, and instead of waiting for the non-existent rescuer to appear, we rose up and became what we all needed.

Many of us are left desiring a singular person we can fully trust and drop into their wise arms and weep, but what if that which we desire is already here? What if it is not one person but all of us, together, that we really need? If that’s true, then we can be human sized, imperfect, broken, needy, and wise all at the same time. We don’t need to be heroic or all knowing, but we do need to be brave enough to risk presence and be available with whatever we can offer. If we can trust that those parts are enough, we can find a deep well of wisdom residing in the power of the women in our midst. We are the mothers we need; we are the wisdom that is born of suffering and loss. Together, we are enough.

Cathy Loerzel is a military brat, a self-diagnosed 3 on the enneagram, a mother of a 5-year-old and 7-year-old boy, and a wife to mountaineer/farmer/therapist. Cathy is passionate about cooking, decorating, hosting parties, and nagging her family about keeping the house clean. Generally astonished by her family’s capacity to wreak havoc on a tidy house, she is bound and determined to raise boys who clean up after themselves. More than a decade ago Cathy founded The Allender Center with Dan and Becky Allender, and she has spent the last 10 years helping to create the Trauma Informed Narrative Therapy methodology, design the programs, concretize their group theory, facilitate, and teach. This past year, she wrote a book called Redeeming Heartache with Dan Allender. Cathy comes alive around water—lakes, oceans, rivers, creeks, swamps—and dreams of one day having a house where she can drink coffee every morning while looking at water.