Be-ing in the Church By Xochitl Alvizo


Sometimes it is difficult to make sense of the peculiar paths our religious lives take, much more so to make sense of one another’s paths which can be so different from our own.

I was raised in a Mexican American family and grew up in Los Angeles, California(my parents say I was “made in Mexico, assembled in the U.S.”). And I grew up going to Spanish-speaking Catholic mass. I have often said that the God I know in Spanish is so different from the God I came to know in English when I began to roam Protestant circles in undergrad. Growing up, the Spanish speaking God I knew was  as assumed and as basic as the air that kept us alive: always available and always with us in the good, the bad, and the ugly. God was a constant without which we could not exist.  But in undergrad, my Protestant friends seemed to have a completely different understanding of God than the one I had grown up with. Theirs was a God that required obedience, a God of very specific expectations, and a jealous God at that! It was a very confusing time for me and my engagement with Christianity wavered.

Then in graduate school, eight years after undergrad, something happened that revolutionized my life – I discovered radical feminists! As ironic as this might seem, radical feminists provided me with a way to make sense of Christianity. They gave me a language and the tools to both critique and engage Christianity and the church. I have often said that if it wasn’t for Mary Daly, I wouldn’t be able to call myself a Christian(!).

I got to work with Mary Daly the last two years of her life, me and three other friends from grad school; Mary called us the hedge hags. We were part of Mary’s local community that shared in her day to day life, and ironically, we were all Christian identified women. Mary Daly grumbled about this of course, asking how we could continue to stay involved, and so we told her. Each of us gave Mary Daly our own account of the different and complicated reasons for staying involved in the church – not all of it making sense to her of course. But, we also share one common reason for staying that did make sense to Mary. We, adult, feminist, critically reflective women, have stayed involved in Christianity because there was something from deep within our be-ing that compelled us to do so, and be-ing was something Mary Daly did understand.

Mary Daly taught me to participate in Be-ing, in Ultimate Intimate Reality[1]. What Mary wanted for me, and what she wanted for all women, was that I do that which awakens me, that which ignites my Elemental Passion[2] and connects me with the Divine. And for me, that meant I stayed; I stayed to continue my participation, critique, and engagement in the tradition that has been passed down to me and that continues to be a part of who I am (and a part of so many others whom I love and with whom I share my life). But I do so differently now. I participate and engage on the Boundary, the “Time and Space created by women Surviving and Spinning on the boundaries of patriarchal institutions.”[3]  I live on the Boundary of Christianity and find my life’s passion there. It is there that I Rage, taking the “transformative focusing force that awakens transcendent E-motion,”[4]  and it is there that my be-ing[5] takes place. Even though Mary first grumbled at the fact that these four feminist friends of hers were all women who “stayed,” she also knew we were women with the Courage to See, the Courage to Live, and the Courage to Sin.[6]

Our path was not the one she envisioned for women, and she certainly would not have recommend our path to anyone else, but Mary Daly knew it was the right one for us (at least for the time being anyway), and she enCouraged us to Rage on!

Mary Daly and the Hedge Hags (back when I had long hair!)

One of the reasons I appreciate this blog so much is because it helps keep me responsible; it reminds me of the many things of which I must be mindful as I participate in a religious tradition that has been the cause of so much harm. I am grateful that so many people participate in this blog with the Courage[7] to Con-Question.[8]  Because of it, I continue to think deeply and critically about the Christian tradition I claim and I aim to participate in it in such a way that honors the insights and experiences of those who challenge me. I won’t always get it right, but I will always be making the effort.

It can indeed be difficult to make sense of the peculiar paths our religious lives take, but maybe looking to make sense of it is beside the point. As I have commented on this blog before, the human spirit and lived reality do not fit nicely into simple or clear cut categories or explanations. But I do believe it is a beautiful and necessary practice to continue to engage one another across our different paths, Spinning and Weaving new creations as we do.

~~~~

Spinning: “Gyn/Ecological creation; Discovering the lost thread of connectedness within the cosmos and repairing this thread in the process,” Wickedary, p. 96.

Weaving: “Original activities of Websters: creating tapestries of Crone-centered creation; constructing a context which sustains Sisters on the Otherworld Journey,” Wickedary, p. 99.


[1] Be-ing: “Ultimate/Intimate Reality, the constantly unfolding Verb of Verbs which is intransitive, having no object that limits its dynamism,” as defined in Webster’s First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language, conjured by Mary Daly in cahoots with Jane Caputi, p. 64.

[2] That is to say, it ignites our E-motion: “Elemental Passion which moves women out/away from the fixed/framed State of Stagnation; Pyrogenetic Passion that fires deep knowing and willing, stirring Metamemory, propelling Wild Women on the Otherworld Journey,” from Mary Daly’s Wickedary, p. 74.

[3] Wickedary, p. 67.

[4] Wickedary, p. 91.

[5] be-ing: v: actual participation in the Ultimate/Intimate Reality  (not to be confused with capital ‘B’ Be-ing), Wickedary, p. 64.

[6] If you don’t already own a Wickedary, at this point in the blog I hope you are intrigued enough to get yourself a copy and look these words up yourself – I assure you it’ll be worth it!

[7] See, Wickedary, p. 69.

[8] See Wickedary, p. 113.

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Categories: Christianity, Feminism, General, Mary Daly, Women in the Church

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16 replies

  1. I am so happy to know Mary had you and the others!

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  2. I often think that the church that Mary Daly dealt with, and the churches that new PhD feminists in theology experience are really quite different… on the surface of things. One of my major disappointments, is that we didn’t create more places of permanance for women to soar… free of male domination, free of male control, but at the same time elegant powerful….

    Mary Daly was persecuted by Boston College, she was viciously attacked worldwide by a catholic church that was hell bent on keeping women subservient and pregnant, and keeping all the power within a wealthy male hierarchy. The male authors of “sacred” texts enshrined woman hatred into “theology.”

    It’s why the most avert enemies of lesbian existence and feminist existence are churches.

    So I was always curious about how women who actually worked with Mary Daly at the end of her life dealt with this conflict. Xochitl, I think church as you deal with it, is not related to the church Mary Daly battled. But there is a contradiction that all women need to be aware of. Whether it is liberal male dominance or right wing male dominance, it is all about enshrining second class citizenship in women. The church lives off of the free labor or underpaid labor of women. It’s why I always wondered why feminists didn’t spend more time building new structures, rather than getting degrees in the old structures.

    Did we really create as powerful an environment for feminism to flourish, or did we just give in to PhDism, academic groups, but no real countercultural framework for lesbian feminism to flourish?

    Can you still leave that old stuff around, and not be sure patriarchy won’t come back again and again with its eternal lies. Mary Daly rose in a time of radical feminist assendance, the women who go to school today are dealing with grudging patriarchal “compromise.” The same kind of “compromise’ that keeps the old game in play, ready to snare the next generation. It’s why, for example, it would be far better to outlaw the taking of male last names upon hetero marriage than to leave it to “choice.” Because given “choice” the fathers, prickers and plug uglies just wait for young women to come along, and out of “love” guess what they do? They change their last names to the husband’s last name upon marriage in droves.

    The structure still remains. What if women walked out of the church, went down the street, and built their own structures, created new sacred texts, plundered the patriarchy and took back what was theirs in the first place? Maybe it’s why I’ve never heard of an event that was a special mass for all the lesbians of Los Angeles conducted by Mary Glasspool, for example. Why hasn’t this happened yet? And the answer is patriarchal colonization yet again.

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    • Dear Turtle Woman,

      I think some of the questions you are asking here are very important and I appreciate the perspective you are bringing to this topic. Certainly, dialogue is the goal of this blogging project and I think your views are important. This being said, I also think it is very important to avoid language that can exclude or offend. I particularly found this statement to be problematic: “Because given “choice” the fathers, prickers and plug uglies just wait for young women to come along, and out of “love” guess what they do?” In the future, please continue to share your perspective, help us to continue to dialogue and create community, but please also avoid such language as our comment policy calls for. Thank you and I look forward to continued dialogue with you.

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  3. Unfortunately it is still the case that if a feminist scholar especially a feminist theologian is not affiliated with a church she is much less likely to find employment because seminaries will not hire her and religion departments do not consider her objective. Also, except for CIIS there are no graduate programs in the field where women can easily pursue studies in feminist theology or religion that are not tied to one of the major patriarchal religions because there are no faculty mentors. So it is not surprising that Daly was not surrounded by graduate students in Boston who were outside the fold.

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  4. Turtle Woman, I hear you. When I read your comments above they resonate with me and are also familiar to me. I have talked with some of my feminist and lesbian feminist friends who are older than me (of the generation of women who would have been Mary Daly’s first students), about the difficulties of being in the academy (for example) and they also express lament that more of their energy during the 70s and 80s wasn’t spent creating new institutions and permanent structures in which future generations of women could take part. And I think there are some such structures actually and they do make a difference to us – I live in Cambridge, MA and the Women’s Center that was so strongly fought for is still here – I participate in events there and have volunteered there as well. It was actually through the women’s center that I met other radical lesbian feminist who read Mary Daly’s work. We have plans to start a book group. Women do gather and connect there.

    But I think there is also other ways in which younger feminist are empowered by the work that earlier radical feminist did and continue to do – it might not look like the revolution that was expected, it may not be the total turn over of patriarchy that is envisioned and hoped for, but it still is liberating, empowering, and biophilic. Some of work do our liberating work in smaller ways, focused, local ways (other of course still go big – which is good too!). We organize, gather, and act around a specific focus or issue, many times local, other times global. Sometimes we do it on the Boundary of patriarchal institutions. And it doesn’t mean we are not flourishing and raging, cause we are, and we love it. It just means that this is the particular empowering, liberating, feminist work around which my webs want to weave.

    Feminism, radical feminism, is *inside* me. I take it with me everywhere I go. No matter where I am, on the Boundary or in the Foreground, my feminist consciousness, courage, and way of Seeing is at work, always Plundering, always Spinning and always Weaving. And I am so grateful! I was always awed at Mary, reading her first book I remember thinking – WOW, how did she think that BIG?! And definitely big is what she did, and I love her for it. Maybe at some point the work that is ignited by my participation in Be-ing will be also, but for now, I know that my work is with small communities of gathered people. Actually, maybe they are new structures, which just happen to be small in size, not in vision. :)

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  5. Mary Daly did think big, but she couldn’t escape the academy. It is useful to note that within the same time frame, Apple and Microsoft were created. How can women generate truly radical lesbian or radical feminist places, that are self generating, and job generating. I often feel that women get trapped in the PhD programs, in the academies, and they all write well, but it is not building, it is not creating giant neighborhoods where radical feminists everywhere control the buildings, the neighborhoods etc., and use the tools of Mary Daly to cause this to happen.

    That’s what disappointed me about radical feminism… it seemed to produce so little. It’s why I am so suspicious of churches because they are huge stealers of women’s talents and energies.
    Even Mary couldn’t escape Boston College, and in the end, they got away with firing her. We didn’t have the huge numbers that could have surrounded the college and scared the hell out of them. We didn’t have the ability to call 10,000 radical feminists into the streets quickly to support Mary. And the great irony to me, is that men by the thousands marched to save Mary’s job the first time around.

    How could radical feminist be wealth generating outside the non-profit sector? How could it invent and create jobs, sustain homes, shops etc.?

    Perhaps feminism got ruined by the academy… it’s message dulled and dulling, it’s intellectual power controlled too much by academics who some how disconnected with the street fighters, the builders and the entrepreneurs. Or failing that, getting the numbers to actually take over other institutions, to create women’s spaces that get larger and larger, more spacious, more elegant.

    And it seemed we didn’t do this very well at all, nor is anyone really talking about this.

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  6. “its” stands alone…oopps… typing and grammar checks don’t always work :-(

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  7. P.S. The best example of radical feminism in action is the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.
    Even that bastion of woman only space is under constant attack by male to female transjactivists… people with “previous” male privilege who won’t take no from women.

    So we have to be aware of our resources, more willing to build on them, and less willing to give in to the academic dulling machine. Women get co-opted by every cause on the planet except their own. So perhaps a greater connection to the existing women only places could create every larger circles of women’s power and energy. And then of course the visionary spiritual power of women/art/Artemis/Mary — visual representations of the heroic struggle of women worldwide, a visionary of a women’s country. But settling for some damn liberal church… a pathetic end to all that radical energy if there ever was one. :-(

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  8. P.S.S. I think that is why Mary Daly has always been so powerful to me. She never gave up and never gave in. Her mind was so powerful that patriarchy never had a chance with her. Contemporary women beware. The patriarchs are crafty in their ability to dull every revolutionary impulse within women’s liberation.

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  9. Xochitl,
    This is wonderful! Thank you for writing about this part of your journey. I see many confluences with my own faith journey in this. I choose to stay involved in my tradition as well, though I do so on my own terms, and always wary and ready to write/speak out about problems and exclusions I see and experience. I have never heard of this concept of Be-ing (shame on my for not reading more of Gyn/Ecology!) but I can see how that can apply to my choices as well. Mormonism shaped me and how I approach life and beyond in so many ways, and parts of its teachings still resonate deeply with me as powerful and liberating.

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  10. Xochitl, thank you for opening your life story to us here. I find myself drawn to the God that you know in Spanish. I am not sure how you connect this God with Mary Daly, except of course that the Spanish-speaking God is ALWAYS present with everyone.

    Living on the (north)east side of Los Angeles for more than 15 years, I have come to appreciate some of the Mexican American culture that you describe. I was raised mostly secular with a mild Protestant exposure, but I am also attracted to the saints of Catholic culture, Mexican culture, Episcopal traditions… hence I find myself writing often about LGBT saints and sensing that the “communion of saints” is always with us too. I would love to hear some of your experiences of the saints, both from the Spanish-speaking and English-speaking parts of your Be-ing. Perhaps once again Mary Daly can be a bridge… Maybe she is with us now as a kind of saint?

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Trackbacks

  1. Religious Mestizaje by Xochitl Alvizo « Feminism and Religion
  2. (Essay) Be-ing in the Church by Xochitl Alvizo | Return to Mago
  3. Transforming the Church from Within or Without? by Xochitl Alvizo «
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  5. (Essay) Be-ing in the Church by Xochitl Alvizo - Return to Mago E*Magazine

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