Finding Feminine Connections to God in History, Psychology, Poetry

Article excerpt

In both our churches and our political arena, women's issues appear to be as contentious and controversial as ever. Whether it is the Vatican's extreme ban on the ordination of women and the receivership of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious or the ongoing political fights over the government's provision of contraception and equal pay, those braving these battles may find sustenance in a crop of new books that explore the relationships between women, God and the church.

April DeConick's Holy Misogyny is the product of 25 years of reflection and study of the Bible's relationship to understandings of sex and gender in the ancient Mediterranean world. DeConick, a professor of biblical studies at Rice University in Houston, was inspired to write the book when her young son asked her, "Where is Lady God?"

"Here was my 5-year-old child giving voice to what has been for hundreds of years the prickly thorn of Christian theology and ecclesiology," DeConick writes. That is, the absence of a feminine image of God. DeConick mines deeply into ancient Jewish and Christian history as well as the texts of the New Testament to answer questions that are crucial to a fuller understanding of the status of women, not only in the Roman Catholic church, but in any society with Judeo-Christian roots. Each chapter asks an intriguing question of the tradition. Why was the Holy Spirit neutered? Did Jesus think sex was a sin? Did Paul silence women?

Readers will gain insights into why male imagery for God remains dominant, why women are associated with sin, and why the notion of women priests still arouses so much negative sentiment. Many will be satisfied with DeConick's conclusion that the distortion and erasure of the female in Christian history "is the result of ancient misogyny made divine writ."

Though DeConick is a scholar and this book the fruit of her scholarship, her writing is remarkably accessible for lay audiences, and even quite humorous. Holy Misogyny is an invaluable resource for those looking to find the historical roots of the ongoing struggle for women's equality in the Christian tradition.

If DeConick's text traces the roots of holy misogyny, Jennie S. Knight's Feminist Mysticism and Images of God presents a thorough picture of its repercussions. Knight presents her study of the importance of feminine images of the divine for expanding faith and spirituality, developing a holistic self-image, and deepening the intimacy of one's relationship with God.

Knight, who serves as assistant professor in the practices of religious education and community ministries and director of religious education at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, finds a disconnect between the seminary and church communities. Though many seminary students learn about the importance of using feminine images for the divine, they are apprehensive about introducing these images of God once they begin ministry in their congregation. "Little has changed in the context of worship, even in seemingly progressive churches and denominations," she writes.

The crux of Knight's book comes in her study of women from the Atlanta-based community Mary and Martha's Place, an "extrachurch nonprofit center devoted to women's spirituality and feminist theological study" Woven throughout the book are interviews with four women from the center. Readers may be able to relate to these members, whom Knight describes as women "on a spiritual quest" who are "not nurtured by the traditional parish setting."

Knight includes these personal narratives because, though there is bountiful literature on reimaging the divine from feminist, womanist, mujerista and black perspectives, little attention has been paid to the "lived experience of individuals as they interact with particular images in their cultural contexts. …