Diane D’Souza is one of the most creative people I know. Not only is she a visual artist and an adjunct professor at Suffolk University in Boston, but she is also a visionary. Happily for me, this year began with a visit from her.
When Diane lived in Hyderabad, India, she was associate director at the Henry Martyn Interfaith Institute, a United Church partner. In the 1990s, Rev. Bruce Gregersen visited on behalf of our denomination. Over coffee, Diane and Bruce discussed interfaith work because at that time (and perhaps even now), it was mostly a men’s domain. Together, they asked the question: how might women do it differently?
The answer was the Women’s Interfaith Journey. Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Cree travelled from Canada to India in 1998 to meet met with our Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Tribal counterparts. With Diane as facilitator, we journeyed to six cities over three weeks, carrying each other’s luggage, drying each other’s tears, ranting, dancing, laughing and singing. We visited peace builders, professors, nurses, educators, NGOs and healers.
Nine months later, we travelled in Canada, ending up in Beausejour, Man., at the Dr. Jessie Saulteaux Centre. I hardly remember talking about religion; rather, we created art and shared rituals, stories and our lives.
The Women’s Interfaith Journey changed all of us. After that experience, my heart knew that creativity feeds change. We met women, for example, who were tired of the police ignoring family violence complaints. So 12 formed a society, printed identity cards, stamped and laminated them. The next time there was a beating, they accompanied the victim to the police station. Flashing their cards, they announced that unless the officers took proper action, they would return with 200 friends. Einstein rated creativity above knowledge. We need both.
I celebrate creativity watching Abigail Disney’s award-winning documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell. It’s the story of how Liberian women blocked the door (and windows) when warring factions tried to leave peace talks. The women had T-shirts made proclaiming an end to the war. As one said later, “When I wear this T-shirt, I am powerful!” They were so powerful in fact, that they soon elected Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman to become a president in Africa.
Diane went on to create and facilitate Women’s Interfaith Journeys in India, Kenya, South Africa and Sri Lanka. Today she continues to encourage people to explore change, peace and conflict resolution all over the world.
Diane’s visits always set me to dreaming. I dream of a world where each of us remembers we are creative and powerful. An unknown artist wrote, “We are angels. We have forgotten these things.” Entering 2011, I want to remember.
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