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A college student put out the word: doing research on Catholic feminists, looking for women to interview.
I felt I should talk to her, in case she hadn’t heard that Catholics could be very ‘pro-women’. I stopped by a dictionary to make sure I could accurately describe my (orthodox, Catholic, mom, grandmom, pro-life) self as ‘feminist,’ and found it easy to agree to the terms: seeks equal rights for women and men to vote, study, work.
Since her only other respondents had conveyed their sense that the Catholic Church was suppressing (at least) or oppressing women, I was glad to be a counter-point.
She was amazed that I find the constraints of the Church freeing and conducive to my full realization as a woman and as a person. Apparently, she’d not heard about artists who see constraints as the very pre-requisite of beautiful new form – invitation to creativity and powerful forward movement. We talked for two hours about how much I love being a Catholic woman!
I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but just wanted you all who are living in this glorious freedom to be glad with me that at least one young ‘feminist’ woman has had an eye-opening experience.
On this topic, I’ve enjoyed Genevieve Kineke’s The Authentic Catholic Woman and Pat Gohn’s Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious.
This is the post that led to the talk, Women on the Way to Healing: She had a strong faith, a good Catholic husband, ten children, a beautiful home, good looks, a bright and well-educated mind, a healthy lifestyle, and a depression that just wouldn’t quit. She was my friend, and she’s dead. [Read more…]
Hilary Hart’s Body of Wisdom was given to me as I’d been speaking about How Women Disintegrate and How Women Heal. I did resonate with about 70% of what she said, felt wary, but interpreted positively, about 20% more, and must reject the last 10% unequivocally. That leaves me in a quandary.
I can’t recommend the book itself, on the chance that a poorly-grounded Catholic might not discern the problems in it, but I feel the kinship of lived experience, and am grateful for the author’s poetic depth and insight. Read as a theological argument, Body of Wisdom is easily dismissed. But it would be unreasonable to read in that way what is meant as an evocation of conversation among wise, mature women. I must enter into such a book as I would enter an encounter with a person – in awe of the mystery before me, with respect for our differences, and appreciation for every good, true, beautiful, praiseworthy aspect of her being. With that in mind, and with no love for any ‘feminine spirituality’ that leads outside the bounds of my Catholic faith, I call attention to what edifies me in Hart’s offering.
First, I’m thrilled at her acceptance of gender as an essential aspect of being – a signifier rich with metaphor, that points toward the realization of a distinctively feminine approach to life, relationship, spiritual growth and service. Contra the androgynous, mentalized, self-defining ‘spirituality’ of modern Gnosticism, Hart’s approach is earthy, grounded, embodied in and affirming of physical reality. Contra the anti-human, mechanistic efficiency of modern scientific materialism, Hart presents woman as deeply spiritual and irreducible to objective functions or roles.
I’m also delighted to see, on every page, the affirmation of life’s sacredness, of child-bearing as a sacred trust, of new life as a wonderful treasure. It strikes me that we would do well to make such a beautiful, feminine appeal to women’s life-giving nature a greater part of our own fight against abortion.
Hart counsels, as I do, that women must be deeply true to themselves in order to give fully and effectively to their families and others. She thinks – and I heartily agree – that friendships among women (when ordered toward high good and away from rage, despair, pettiness and superficiality) are essential for the development and realization of what St. John Paul II called ‘feminine genius.’ We also agree that the world (even the Church, I’d say) desperately needs the gifts, giftedness, and self-giving of women to rebuild social capital, lines of communication, and networks of support for a culture of life.
A woman’s capacity for creativity, social influence, and healing can be ignored (or dismissed as ‘New Age-y’, which is ridiculous, but I’ve seen it happen), or deeply engaged to restore balance and bring healing to the disordered, broken world around us.
I suggest we focus on what Hart – passionate, poetic, person-oriented – has to teach about waking up the genius of women, and leave a modest veil over her understandable excesses. They are understandable, because she, as yet, stands outside the protective covering of a Church structure that she interprets, wrongly, as all-masculine. Where the Church has gone far beyond her thinking – female saints and doctors, Marian devotion, theology of the body, for instance – we can amplify her sense of the positive power of womanhood. Where she excels – attention to the lived experience of women, rich and emotionally engaging prose, respectful interfaith dialogue, for instance – she should lead us.
This book has a place in the conversation of discerning, well-formed Catholic women – especially those who nurture friendships with non- or newly-Christian women.
I once asked a friend who calls herself a Jewish-Catholic if it had been hard for her to accept Mary’s role in Salvation History. She laughed and said, “Heck no! Every Sabbath was begun by a Jewish mama’s prayers! I’d have been suspicious if Lord Sabbaoth hadn’t come through a woman.”
Jewish women welcomed Sabbath into the home each Friday evening with prayers and candle-lighting. I love the scene in Fiddler on the Roof where all the women’s voices rise to bless their families on a Friday evening. Sabbath was thought of, like Holy Wisdom, as a woman – even as a Queen. The Sabbath gives us some fascinating insights into the characteristically feminine movement of the Holy Spirit into the lives of the faithful.
If you enjoy discussing the ‘genius of women,’ you’ll enjoy this talk.
Here are a few other Sabbath-related talks.
In a discussion of my poem by this title, we look at the pain a woman may feel upon being loved by Christ. It is sometimes a very difficult thing to be loved, and to receive love. Many women have related to my example of a woman who fights that love as though her life depends upon keeping Christ at arm’s length. This is a very healing discussion!
This poem was first published in Canticle magazine, then used as a handout for their national women’s conference. When I discuss evangelization, I try to mention how hard it can be to accept Christ’s love. The woman in this poem is like many women I have actually known, and is a page right out of my own pre-conversion story. Christians often feel that the invitation to “Come to Jesus” should, necessarily, be seen as pleasant, wonderful, joyful – like an invitation to a party. For them, who know joy in Christ, it’s hard to imagine it could seem any other way.
But coming to Jesus also exposes wounds, tears away self-protective cover, reveals the utter neediness and brokenness of a soul. In this poem I try to give voice to that which causes someone to avoid Christ as one might avoid poison, and to give Christ’s response to that soul who needs Him so much. This talk stands on its own, or contributes to discussions of evangelism, dialogue, and womanhood.
Here’s a collection of my talks that feature poetry, poems, or poetic formation.