“He who does not toot his own horn, his horn shall not be tooted,” intoned the college professor self-mockingly, holding up his new book for our class to admire.
His words ran counter to everything I’d heard in church about the need for humility. After all, the meek—not the proud—would inherit the earth. The church’s teachings went hand in hand with my family’s. “Who does he think he is?” was an oft-heard question. Completing the triple threat was society’s conditioning that women were to be the mostly silent “power behind the throne,” not the power sitting on it. So I learned not to value my own work, unless it was housework or done in service of others. Too often we heard a portion of Proverbs 31 read on Mother’s Day. Among the qualities of the idealized woman portrayed there, preachers emphasized her skills in home management, not those in business management.
So the notion of blessing my own work was foreign to me until I began attending Art and Spirit sessions, which were held in the home of a woman who lives about an hour away. A small group of women gathered around her dining room table to create mandalas, collages or wreaths. After one of us read a short selection of poetry or prose, we maintained a contemplative silence, the music of chant playing in the background.
“It’s about the process,” one woman explained to me as I bemoaned my lack of artistic skill with a brush or watercolors, “not about what you end up with.” To prove that point, after we had completed our work, we gathered in a circle in the living room. Our host lit a candle in our midst and we sat admiring one another’s pieces, which were passed around as each woman explained what she had been thinking about as we worked. Then we each blessed the works lying on the floor in the circle, using both words and the blossoms of flowers waiting in a basket. Each woman moved inside the circle, speaking aloud a blessing. “I bless this opening down here in the corner of the picture.” “I bless the courage I hear in your voice as you talk about this.” “I bless this bright red swirl.” I was always amazed at the things women chose to bless and affirm. We each managed to say something different, dropping petals on the artwork before us.
I can’t throw out my pieces, even the worst of them, the ones I think are ugly. They represent stages of my spiritual growth. They are each a step on the way to believing that my work of thinking and writing—not just my ability to make quiche—has value.