Music is powerful! It is a part of what makes us human. Especially, songs. Singing springs from the essence of our spirit. It is a formidable weapon when applied to our battles of life. Women for millennia have sung their way into victory from the ashes of defeat.
I, for one, draw strength, tenacity, and fortitude when I read about history’s examples of singing hope from the midst of personal trials to celebrating national triumphs. Since empowering women is close to my heart, I focused on songs sacred to us the world over.
Song of Miriam
Within the few verses of Miriam’s song, also known as The Song of the Sea contains a lifetime of struggle. She was born a slave to the Egyptians. Even her name mara means bitter and yam is sea in Hebrew.
Miriam was the sister of brother’s Moses and Aaron who led the Israelites out of Egypt in the Exodus as recorded in the Bible. Scholars in modern times have debated whether this event is true. However, recent archeological evidence has come to light that supports the historicity of the Biblical story.
Mariam rebelled against the anguish of her life in Egypt and led the women to make instruments of praise to express their hope of freedom. Miriam lived in complete faith her bitterness would be sweetened and her slavery would end.
After the miracle of the Crossing of the Red Sea written in Exodus 14, Miriam emerged on the other side. When her feet touched the shores of freedom, she erupted in dance and song while playing a tambourine. And the women followed suit.
“Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. Miriam sang to them:
“Sing to the Lord,
for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
he has hurled into the sea.” Exodus 15:20–2, NIV
Can’t you imagine the scene? Thousands of women singing into victory. Even though their escape was by the mighty hand of God, this multitude was singing victory over their enemies. All my life, I have rebelled against my circumstances and sing into joy.
Mirabai is perhaps the most famous female poet in India. Born into a royal family in the 16th century, she shunned the benefits of her position and spent her life in service to the Indian deity Lord Krishna.
Mirabai's family, husband, and in-laws persecuted her and made several attempts on her life. Subsequently, she escaped and circulated throughout India composing devotional poems.
Mirabai lived among people of all castes preaching and singing compositions of love in the Hindu temples. Sometimes, she sang herself into ecstasies. Her followers grew wherever she went, and others sang, as well. Even now, Mirabai’s songs and references to her life are memorialized in books, movies, and T.V.
Mirabai’s life resonates with many women who confined by familial restraints common in the world today, such as child marriages and economic disparities. They sing songs of freedom in their hearts.
Mirabai’s courage and strength to break free of cultural constraints resonates with me. You see, I stepped out of the closely held belief of my grandmother that race-mixing is against the law of God when I dated and became pregnant by a man of another ethnicity.
I am a descendant of the Cherokee Native-Americans who crossed over the land on The Trail of Tears. Those Native people forced to relocate to Oklahoma when the federal government lay claim to their land in the Eastern states. Almost all native Oklahomans know about the history of the Trail of Tears. We learned about in school, on T.V., and browsing the internet.
It is part of the identity of being an Oklahoman. Everybody in our state claims to have Native blood. Some are proud and some are not. Especially those who, like my family, were ashamed.
I cannot trace our Native heritage because my Cherokee ancestor lost her identity when she assimilated into white culture. Often, women married as a survival mechanism, hiding their history as it faded from memory. Meanwhile, I have reclaimed a small part of my patrimony through Native songs.
However, it is hard to trace any one song back to the original composition if your history is decimated. Therefore, the Morning Song is part of a tradition that women sing to greet the morning.
Meanwhile, the role of women is considered sacred in Native-Americans celebrations. As a child, my neighbor took me to powwows where I participated in the stomp dances where men, women, and children sang and danced in a circle.
The men danced in the middle and the women danced and sang in the outer circle. Grandmothers, mothers, daughters tied little turtle shells around their ankles and stepped in time with the drum beats and flutes. Within that circle of life, I felt calm and in balance with all things.
I often stood with my friend each morning turning to the cardinal directions honoring the Creator, singing the morning song, and proclaiming victory for the coming day.
Years ago, a rabbi told me that devar means to speak in Hebrew. It is the root word of Debor. Ah is the pronunciation for the letter hei which is the letter for God. Therefore, he said, “Deborah means to speak God.”
Amazed and delighted at this revelation, my passion was ignited to learn about Deborah of the Bible. I discovered this mysterious woman in Judges 4-5 of the Old Testament.
The lyrics of Deborah’s song recounts a history of Jewish oppression, a call to awake, gather the people, go to war, and ends with verses of praise.
“Wake up, wake up, Deborah! Wake up, wake up, break out in song!” Judges 5:12, NIV
“…But may all who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength…” Judges 5:3, NIV
Deborah rose to become a leader, judge, prophet, and warrior in the Nation of Israel during a time when the society was in conflict and turmoil.
She was intelligent enough to sit as a judge among the people interpreting and upholding the laws of the land. She soared above the patriarchal culture of her time. Like many women today whose voices are ringing in the high places of our country.
I identify with Deborah because she was strong calling herself a mother to the people. She rallied an army and led a nation to victory over her enemies. I identify with her because I stood against the world forty-five years ago and fought for my right to be a mother.
Too often, women are trapped in tradition and chained into captivity by cultural and gender prejudices. Deborah broke out of those confines and sang a vision for our future where women are called to a purpose greater than themselves. Let’s join her and other women to sing our way into triumph.
Just as the women of history sung, we may also have bitter lives and feel imprisoned. Let’s sing to swing wide the gate so we can step out into freedom.
Our stories can become our songs. Compose one of your own, and sing your way into victory!
Debbie Walker is a great-grandmother, blogger, and writer with a BA in Psychology. Her vision is to help others live the life they can live…one word at a time.