Call it what you will: knowing the unknowable, a hunch, a gut feeling. A woman s intuition is a powerful thing. Just last month, a Georgia woman named Tracie Dean had a chance meeting with a three-year-old girl at a convenience store in Alabama a meeting that ended up saving that girl s life, and that of a 17-year-old boy as well. The girl captured Ms. Dean s attention because she appeared hollow, and had a vacant look in her eyes. Pardon the mixed metaphor, but it was as if someone had taken a red flag and poked her in the gut with it. She sense that the man the girl was with was not a relative; she knew he was not the least bit paternal. Dean said she spoke kindly to the child, and that the girl reacted as if she wanted to leave with her. But as the girl tried to follow her out of the store, the man stopped her. Dean felt uneasy enough to scribble down the license plate as the two drove away.
Her suspicion that the child did not belong with the man did not fade. She called 911. The police told her that everything checked out it was the girl s grandfather. Fine. She returned home to Atlanta. And yet& she could not shake her unease, could not forget the look in that child s eyes. She recalled, Every morning I woke and thought about it. Every night I went to be bed and thought about it. I told my sister, When my heart says to let this go, I ll let it go.
For the next week Dean checked missing-child web sites. She called different law enforcement agencies. She even called the television show, Americas Most Wanted. She kept running into dead ends. But Ms. Dean was obsessed. So much so that she drove the 265 miles back to that convenience store and asked to look at the surveillance tapes. There they were again, the man and the child. Serendipitously, a police officer came into the store as she was reviewing the tapes and she shared her suspicion. He took the tape, did some legwork, and found that the 58-year-old man who had aroused Ms. Dean s suspicions was not only a convicted sex offender, but wanted in another state for arson. This man and his wife were arrested and charged with unspeakable sex crimes against that child and another boy law enforcement found in a trailer.
Thank the Lord for Tracie Dean! And thanks be to God for the fact that she trusted in her intuition. Because she trusted herself, and what haunted her to her core, she was able to remain diligent and courageous, and to scoff at any notion that she was some kooky woman on a wild goose chase. Is the notion of a woman s intuition just another cliché? I think not. Intuition reflecting and acting upon knowledge that exists outside the realm of language is, like faith itself, a divine gift. But how do we learn to trust something that by definition cannot be rationally explained? How do we explain intuition in a way that is, well, not intuitive?
We should think of intuition as one s brain on autopilot. We process information outside of our conscious awareness that we are doing so. With intuition there is no direct evidence. No logic. Only a conviction that something in the soul is telling us what is right and what is wrong, pointing out the path that must be taken. Sadly, fear, complacency or analyzing something to death can kill the omniscient woman s intuition.
When Mordecai implores Queen Esther to intercede on behalf of the Jewish people with the Persian King, she balks at first, saying, & if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law all alike are put to death. Esther s reaction is not cowardice but a statement of fact. Mordecai responds by prodding her to act, emphasizing the importance of human action in accomplishing God s purposes. If you keep silence at such a time as this, he says, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.
Esther certainly reasons that her appearance before the king could be suicidal, but her gut, her intuition tells her that she has to save her people even at the cost of her own life. She tells Mordecai to gather all the Jews in Susa and fast and pray for three days on her behalf. She is not afraid to ask for help. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law, she says. And if I perish, I perish. She redefines normal. Esther had no time to think over or overthink her pledge. The reality is that even as queen she is but one of many wives in a harem who lack claim on her husband, or on any real power. Thankfully, she trusts in herself enough, and is possessed of enough courage and intellect, to follow through, to face the consequences. She does not crumble under the weight of her own apprehension. Her life force is the silent Yahweh.
Another woman who redefines normal is the sinner or prostitute, as we are to infer from Luke s gospel, who intrudes upon Jesus dinner party. This woman appears from nowhere and begins to wet his feet with her tears and wipe them with her hair, going so far as to kiss his feet and anoint them. I can t think of a more intimate and seemingly inappropriate act from a stranger. If she had insulted Jesus, as an unclean woman, she would have been thrown out or worse. But Jesus knows something Simon the Pharisee does not. Jesus knows her heart, and he knows the mind of God, who has forgiven her sins. This woman risks banishment because she perceives what is Truth (truth with a capital T ) without any conscious reasoning. Jesus calls it love; she calls it maternal intuition. This woman risks her life to bow down before a man who she feels is the Christ.
You know, I am just as guilty as the next woman of overriding my intuitive gut-level reactions altogether, of ignoring my native responses and bowing down to the ways I think I should act. Which, of course, is another way of saying: the way I believe others think I should act. I fear being judged. I cop out. Oh, to follow in the footsteps of Esther and the prostitute, who trusted in what the life force within told them that their sixth sense was the Spirit of God and that they as women had access to this eternal reservoir.
To be created in the image of God, as we all are, is to know what it means for the human and divine parts of ourselves to be in tension. Living in this tension means that if we knew exactly what to do and what was truth, we would not need to pray. Being present to the Spirit means that you have to let go of the need to control and know every detail. Remember what Annie Lamott said last night: The opposite of faith is certainty. Dr. Renita Weems, in her book Showing Mary, writes, There is a place in your spiritual journey when you have to trust God even when you can t track God. Stop trying to figure it out. You have to trust your instincts. Trust your heart to guide you. Let the inner woman have her say. She knows more than you think. She has information you need. She s been clamoring to get your attention. She s your gift from God.
I couldn t help but laugh this morning at Annie s diagnosis of clinical sensitivity. You know what, I am not laughing at the misplaced stereotype of a typical girl or woman who displays her weepy and emotional self at all the inappropriate times. And to those who laugh I say: Get over it! Let us lay claim to that clinical sensitivity of ours. Let us birth it. Let it cry.
In this country, at this time, never has the environment been more divided, more polemical. The definitions of knowing or understanding are entirely rhetorical. They are defined by language, by what one can argue logically with words or express with intellect or define by red and blue.
The kind of knowing and understanding shared by Tracie Dean, Esther, and the prostitute is dismissed, ignored. And yet it is this type of knowing empathetic, slow to judge, feminine, deeply felt, impossible to explain that makes faith possible, that best resembles faith. It is an incarnational knowing that says, Jesus is in me. My eyes are his, my hands are his, my soul is his. (Annie Lamott) Who could ever put such a feeling, such a knowing, such a truth, into words? It is a faith defined by intuition and emotion rather than language and intellect. Language by itself can make a pale of tracing of what it means to be a faithful human being.
The root of the word enthusiasm is entheos. It literally means “filled with God.” Just think, when you feel enthusiastic, when you suddenly get goose bumps, when the spirit lodges right here and forces you to fight back tears, that s your cue to pursue your dreams, your way forward, to fight for what you know is the truth. That feeling means that God is speaking to you and through you and prodding you to trust yourself.
As women we constantly struggle to find holy ground, only to be searching for it in all the wrong places. We forget that we are the holy ground and its core is right here (motion hand on chest). The next time that your intuition nudges you to act and you resist, remember the words of Mordecai when he said to Ester, Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this. You are holy ground. You are protected because God is within you. I am going to leave you with the final AMEN, words from a meditation written by Dr. Weems: I found God in my Self, and I love her.