I gave my “When’s God Gonna Show Up?” workshop last week in Sleepy Eye, Minn. This time, my audience was comprised of women only; it was a special event for mothers of all ages, both actual and spiritual. The coordinator had tipped me off  that there were women in attendance who’d recently lost husbands, jobs or had experienced other kinds of traumas. I took this into account and tried to be especially sensitive to their needs when I gave my presentations.

As always, I watched closely the facial expressions and body posture of the members of my audience. Those non-verbals can tell me an awful lot about how my message is being received. What I noticed as I spoke was quite interesting. Actually, it was more than interesting – it was inspiring. I saw the frequent exchange of knowing looks, comforting pats on the back and sisterly hugs of compassion. In the afternoon when I divided them into small discussion groups the chatter quickly rose from polite conversation to an animated roar.

This experience took me back to my childhood. When I was small, my mother often would visit with the neighbor ladies. She’d go over to their house or they’d come to ours and they’d sit down together at the kitchen table over a cup or two of coffee. We kids used to make fun of Mom and her “kaffee klatsch” habit. We saw it as a waste of time, a useless way to spread gossip, an avoidance of her motherly duties.

Well, there might well have been a little gossip going back and forth, but there was much, much more to these little kaffee klatsches. As they chatted, they offered one another companionship, support, understanding and validity. It wasn’t just the caffeine that gave them oomph to keep going; it was the dynamics of old fashioned face-to-face female conversation.

That’s not to say that men don’t need to talk to one another. Before I alienate my male readers, I want to point out that guys enjoy and benefit from the company of each other. However, they do so in a way that is different from women. In general, men don’t kaffee klatsch. They discuss together, they work together, they recreate together, but they don’t kaffee klatsch together.

I think it has to do with the way the two genders process things. When something comes up, men usually go off by themselves, think about it, take the components apart, put them back together, make a decision and then act on it. Period. Women take things in, look at the big picture, wonder what the picture would look like in a different light, assess their feelings about it and then talk about it. And talk about it. You see, women work things out by verbalizing them. That’s how we process things so that we can make sense of them and figure out how to act on them. Thus, the kaffee klatsch. 

In Minnesota, I witnessed a kaffee klatsch en masse, and it was an awesome thing to observe. Later, I reflected on it and was led to the biblical images of the women at the well. Both the Old and New Testament have scenes in which women gather around the well to draw water for their families.

And he made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at the time of evening, the time when women go out to draw water. (Ge 24:11)

The time when women go out to draw water … that’s a biblical kaffee klatsch! Sometimes I wonder if the “chicken or the egg” question could be applied to “women or the well.” Which came first? Did God first place in us a need to dig wells or did he first place in women the need to gather around them? For all the jokes both genders make about the way women can yak and yak and yak, there is some sense to it. I saw that demonstrated by the women at my workshop.

Never again will I poke fun at my mom for her kaffee klatsch habit. In fact, I probably owe her an apology and I’ll do so – right after I talk to my lady friends about it!

(Fenelon, a mother of four, and her husband, Mark, belong to St. Anthony Parish, Milwaukee. Visit her Web site: <www.margefenelon.com>.