My Violin, My Voice

When I was ten, my mother drove me from our hometown of Concord to a violin shop located in Berkeley. flora on flowersAfter finding parking on University Avenue, my mother paused to admire the silks displayed in the Indian fabric and clothing store: shimmery splashes of magenta and chartreuse and gold-embossed tunics and saris. Besides teaching me music, she had also taught me to sew, but today our mission was music, not fabric. Walking another block, we found and entered the narrow storefront where families of violins and violas lined the walls like attentive students, silent and curvaceous, waiting to sing their notes.

We had come to select a full-sized violin for me, since I had moved up over the years from a half-sized to three-quarters-sized violin and was now ready for a full-sized beauty. The salesman pulled down a violin of reddish hue and handed it to me. I put it to my chin and listened as I stroked the bow across the strings, feeling with my heart for the sound I wanted. I shook my head and handed it back to him. He pulled down another violin, and another. The violin I eventually selected was stylish, with a bold voice. The petals of an inlaid mother-of-pearl flower gleamed from the black piece that met the chin rest. I loved that pretty flower as much as I loved the violin’s vibrant resonance: full-bodied, melodic, clean.      mom & me playing

As a pre-teen girl, I prided myself on her bold voice. She was not timid, so I could not be timid when I played her. She could whisper of course, but she was more likely to shout in solid, staccato notes. I loved bringing out the variations in her voice to match my mood. Whatever emotion I wanted to convey, she issued that tone, that feeling, into the world.

This entry was posted on January 27, 2019. 2 Comments

Unwrapping Christmas: A Memoir. “In an amazing story of turbulence, transition, and transformation, Dalberg invites us to join her as she revisits the Christmas celebrations of her past and present, revealing an astonishing journey through the heartbreak and grit of life. What she learns and shares along the way is a much-needed gift to be unwrapped this holiday season.” —Jan Sollom-Brotherton, MA, LMFT cover copy 2


The feeling of “I’m not enough” emerged in my female psyche during my tender years, in part because my helpfulness received more praise than my ability to resolve problems or think independently. Little by little, my own agency was subtly undermined, until I felt insufficient and lacking. A sexual assault hammers that feeling home. With searing clarity, it reinforces the deeply embedded notion that women and children have less power and worth, that we don’t even have the right to defend the integrity of our bodies and minds.

But within each of us burn creative embers that we can breathe to life, just as our ancestors guarded and tended the coals that enabled sustenance and health. Each waking day we can say yes to ourselves and our own creative fire. We can say yes to our voices and our ability to connect and unite.

Today is a day to say YES to whatever your embers need in order to leap high and bright, one bonfire among many in the dark starry night.

Don’t We Know this Rapist?

Mom, don’t we know this rapist? was the gist of my daughter’s message. The article she sent discussed a lawsuit involving a colleague of mine. A young academic and movement leader, he had helped my older daughter pursue a potential publishing avenue for her undergraduate thesis on femicide. Reading the article made me incredibly sad. He was such a likeable guy.

But the claimant had been hospitalized after the rape. And the lawsuit pointed to a pattern of sexual predation. Even though I knew him as a sweet social justice organizer, apparently my colleague had “hunted undergraduates,” engaging in inappropriate relationships with them. My sadness morphed into anger. If he didn’t care about his students, didn’t he at least care about his career?

My daughter’s response: “He probably didn’t think he had anything to worry about. That’s rape culture. Nobody believes the survivor. Nobody cares.”

Horrible but true. When it comes to the men we know and care about, we don’t want to see the violence that entitlement produces; we only want to see the nice young man we once worked with, or the mentor, the football star, the pastor, the neighborhood hero. But to remain silent when rape happens is to contribute to rape culture. If survivors of sexual assault can find the courage to speak the truth, so can the rest of us.

For an in-depth understanding of what transpires when rape survivors pursue justice in university or criminal justice systems, read Jon Krakauer’s Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town (Anchor Books, 2016)

For articles on this particular law suit, see:


Yesterday, cities throughout the U.S. and the world saw millions of women-led marchers rallying to defend hard-won rights. Knowing all that can be lost if we don’t stand up, we are emboldened. We arise with courage to protect what we love: to protect our bodies, our families’ and communities’ health, and the planet that nurtures and sustains us. A million courageous arisings yesterday, and the work has just begun. Call your senators TOMORROW to demand that they oppose the cabinet nominees. Call your senators to stand up for healthcare insurance for all Americans, to stand up for our nation’s commitments to lower CO2 emissions to avoid catastrophic climate change. Whichever assault outrages you the most, start with that, and call on your senators to show some mettle. Get involved with a local committee or a local mid-term election. And know that you have already begun to fight. Together with ten million others, you are already arising. Check out a slideshow of marches by the New York Times.sf-march

Writing from the Heart Retreat Sunday, February 5, 12:30 to 4:30 p.m.

Writing from the Heart Retreat is Sunday, February 5, 12:30 to 4:30. Cost is $25. Limited to six people, so reserve your place now:

The retreat date honors Bridget, goddess of creativity and keeper of the well. Legend has it that Bridget was born on a threshold. Her feast day moves us toward spring equinox, toward the balance of light and dark and all the fertility that spring brings. Come on Feb. 5 and write with Bridget from the deep wellspring of your spirit and from your own threshold places. Guided visualization and writing prompts will open up the liminal space that our hearts inhabit and inspire heart-centered writing.

Testimonies from the last workshop:

“I liked the meditation. More of that.” – Janet

“Great workshop. Thank you again for your kindness and inspiration.” – Zaya

“I liked the idea of simply jumping in, no pretense, no second guessing, no delay.” – Roland

Water is Life! Defend it.

My daughter is going to Standing Rock in North Dakota on Wednesday. I feel she is going for all of us, to defend our rights to clean water and to fulfill our responsibilities to protect the earth. I worry for her, with all the haters out and about, but I see her bravery. I applaud her solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux and other indigenous nations, the heart of today’s resistance to the beast that is devouring our planet.

circle of DAPLprotesters.jpg

The resistance spans the globe. DNBthe largest bank in Norway, just announced that it sold its assets in the Dakota Access Pipeline and is considering terminating its loans to the project. On Tuesday, 300 protests took place. Here in San Francisco I partook in a march to the local office of the Army Corps of Engineers, the agency in charge of permitting for the pipeline section that threatens the integrity of the Missouri River and Standing Rock sacred sites. Hundreds of us spiraled around those risking arrest for their opposition to the pipeline. As Native American men drummed and prayed, their voices rose like the sage smoke wafting from abalone shells, and the rest of us pressed together, ten and twelve abreast, to circle round, circumambulating and blessing the people risking arrest. It was a powerful moment, a joining of prayers and hope.

We can stop this pipeline. Here are a few things you can do today:

Call the Army Corps of Engineers and demand that they reverse the permit to build the pipeline: (202) 761-5903

Donate directly to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe to support their fight.

Contribute to the Sacred Stone Camp Supply List.

Contribute to the Sacred Stone Camp Legal Defense Fund.

Loved for Who I Am

meditation image In my dream this morning, I was with my youngest daughter and parking my car when I discovered I’d gone down the wrong street – I had mistaken the way back to my own home! So I parked and got out of my car and ten minutes later, I couldn’t find it and couldn’t even remember what it looked like! To me, my vehicle and my home are dream symbols of my life. And right now, I am feeling a little lost, a little off course. I am working very hard at my new job, and I am not taking the time I need for myself. As I give my job my everything, my personal life disappears from view. But identifying this imbalance is the first step to helping me find what I need to restore the balance. Daily meditation is key. The Divine Mother grounds me because She is right within me. I lose sight of that truth in the whirlwind of daily pressures and tasks. In meditation, I take the time to listen, to be in Her presence, which is also my unguarded presence. I create the quiet where She can enter, and I feel myself loved not for what I do but for who I am.

Lana Dalberg, author of Birthing God: Women’s Experiences of the Divine

Women of El Salvador’s War

Canciones frente de la catedral

On the anniversary of the 1992 peace accords in El Salvador, I wanted to share this video of Women of El Salvador’s War by Lyn McCracken and Theodora Simon. The film features Esperanza Ortega, one of the interviewees in Birthing God.  She is the woman in yellow in the center of the photo below.–Historias-de-El-Salvador.

Esperanza was one of an estimated two million Salvadorans—a third of the nation’s total ???????????????????????????????population—who fled their homes in terror. She recounts the Guinda del Mayo (the Flight of May, 1980), when she and her neighbors ran for days, finally hiding in thorny underbrush and capping their children’s mouths to avoid detection. “We were surrounded by the troops. They were combing the whole zone, helicopters machine-gunning from above, and we were under the chupamiel bush, praying for our lives.” She says that they had been running away from the massacre that had taken place at the Sumpul River and that they had been without food for two days. “The soldiers were so close that we could see them eating the mangos from the trees. How I longed to eat one of those mangos! We were hungry and so were our children. Instead, we covered the mouths of our babies to keep them from crying. But thanks be to God, even though in our group there were three of us who had recently given birth, our babies didn’t cry. The soldiers were close by, but they didn’t detect us.”

Esperanza explains that in that moment, God accompanied her and gave her strength. “I thought to myself, ‘This is the Spirit of God that gives strength and trust.’” She says that this moment is an example of what she calls la fe vivida—a faith that is lived. “It is confidence in your own self that God is within you. We had to trust in ourselves with that confidence. For example, there were moments when we felt we could uncover the babies’ mouths because we sensed that they wouldn’t cry. And they didn’t cry. We were not discovered.” Esperanza survived many such encounters, learning to trust the Spirit of God that was within her to guide her. “I felt this tremendous courage in my body.… This knowledge born from within gave me energy, and I felt a great confidence in my own person, that I could do what was needed.”

In another incident, Esperanza, her husband, and several others were fleeing an army incursion when her husband was hit by gunfire. “It was another experience with this lived faith, this really deep trust in myself. My husband was shot through the back, through his shoulders.” Using her hands, she shows me how the two G3 bullets exited his body. Her left hand, starkly brown against the canary yellow of her T-shirt, bursts open beneath her left breast, and her right hand splays above her right breast. “Two giant holes, here and here, and the flesh hanging out, and the blood running. And I thought to myself, ‘He’s going to die,’ because just looking at him you could see that. But a health promoter—one of our own, trained in first aid—cleaned the wounds and then covered them so that they wouldn’t get infected. It was a miracle of God! Not a single organ was touched! No infection! And we were there hiding in the mountains, in the brush, for a month! I say this because we need to have faith in our own capacities. Sometimes you think that only the doctor can heal, but no, it’s faith that heals.” The health promoter, she emphasizes, was a campesino—a subsistence farmer like herself—who had faith in his abilities to save her husband’s life.

“You have to have trust in your own self. Esta es la fe vivida. The importance of having faith is to see it concretized in your own self.”

Excerpted from Birthing God: Women’s Experiences of the Divine



“Birthing God. Kenosis.” These three words come to me in the middle of the night. The first two words provoke an apt title for my book. But the third stumps me. Not remembering “kenosis” from my seminary daDark madonna & childys, I fling back my covers to look it up and discover that it signifies self-emptying in ancient Greek. Back in bed, I try to sleep, but the notion of self-emptying echoes inside me, reminding me of the Buddhist concept of no-self: not a cipher or empty sack, but a receptivity to Spirit that makes incarnation possible.

Women, I realize, empty themselves all the time, making room for the spouse or the child and his or her attendant needs. I think of Mary—an unwed woman, a girl. What is her response to a divine being who tells her that she is pregnant when circumstances dictated that she could be stoned for that condition?

“Let it be to me according to your word,” Mary is said to have responded, opening her life to the risk and the potential of divine inspiration. Receptivity, desire for connection, making room for another: these attributes express women’s most fundamental ways of being in the world.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In preparing for this book, I interviewed many women, and everything they shared reinforced one simple treasure: however we name Spirit, we receive it with deep-hearted openness. Our receptivity is active, recognizing the value we bring to relationship by trusting and honoring the God within; by experiencing Spirit as soul mate; by glimpsing the Divine all around us; and by allowing God to cradle and nourish us. At the same time, our spirituality is a process, unfolding and growing with each passing day. Our spiritual stories are full of missteps and unabashed celebration. They are narratives of suffering and of hope; lessons in shedding fear and learning to love ourselves.

Ours are embodied stories that begin with emptying so that we can glimpse the Holy Other, this Light who appears in ways unplanned, unexpected, and unsettling. Our lives are the surprise that begins with the response, “Let it be.”

Excerpted from Birthing God: Women’s Experiences of the Divine.  Order it now and share as a holiday gift!