Death is a Gift, and Christ is a Hag by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir


My father is dying, and I am haggard with grief and exhaustion. Over a month of frantically arranging child care, driving to the ICU in the middle of the night, fighting to protect my Dad from neglect and malpractice, chasing case managers, begging doctors, negotiating with nurses, sensitive, depleting, agonizing family debates about hospice and DNR, and hour after hour sitting and holding my Dad’s hand, singing, comforting, soothing, reassuring. Washing his face. Massaging salve into his feet and legs. Continually checking to see if he is too cold, too warm, in pain, breathing ok. Weeping as I drive home through snow and rain and dark, watching car accidents happen just one lane over, trying to soothe my frazzled and anxious little children, support my husband in his degree program, and not lose my own career entirely.

So when my daughter asked me, “Mummy, why does Grampy have to die?” I felt dizzy for a moment with my exhausted, overwhelmed, haggard inability to have an instant, perfectly formulated response to provide comfort and meaning for my child. Finally, I said, “Because, darling, if no one died, no one could live. All of us, our bodies are made from the food we eat, which is made from plants, which is made from dirt, which is made from everything that has died. Death is the only way for life to exist. Death allows life, births life, IS life. Death is our only path and connection to eternity.” 

I love Jesus. I love stories and symbols of Jesus, and as Bob Neville[1] has so beautifully explained, our symbols can help heal us and form us into healers of our communities and our world. Christian symbols for Jesus have included: Christ, moral exemplar, prophet, priest, King, Father’s only begotten Son, Lamb of God who takes away our sins, teacher, healer, Emmanuel, and Good Shepherd. I find some of these symbols true, and others I find oppressively false. Liberation theology provides symbols of Jesus as female, black, Asian, and queer. Symbols are “true” when they help us become healed and healers. If engaging with the symbol of Jesus as a lesbian helps me heal my own society-given fears and wounds around issues of sexuality, and helps me spread wellness to the wounded people and systems around me, well then – Jesus is a lesbian. By the same token, liberation theology teaches us that the most marginalized parts of society are the most important parts to lift up as holy, sacred, reverent, and divine. So today, I lift up Christ the Hag.

Both paganism and Judaism shaped Christianity profoundly. Now, Neopaganism gives us the three phases of Goddess: maiden, mother, and crone. The patriarchal disease that infects all religions and ideologies has worked hard to denigrate and vilify the crone symbol, in order to secure a monopoly on spiritual power for men. Words about older women developed negative connotations. However, debates about word origins open up fun and exciting possibilities to reclaim the fullness of the divine image in all people. Some scholars believe the name Crone means “crowned,” and the words “witch” and “hag” mean “wise” (as in wit, wizened, and Hagia Sophia). Female Elders have been venerated as rich sources of divine wisdom in cultures around the world for millennia, and when we reject their imago deae, we reject Jesus. Crone, witch, and hag conjure images of an old, wrinkled, bent woman, possibly fat, warty, hairy, and hoarse. Sometimes with green skin! We recoil from the words, as though simply associating with them can taint us and make us vulnerable to our own mortality.

But Jesus never lets us off that easily. God/ess never lets us run away from our fears permanently. She calls us to face our fears, and she offers us healing Grace. So we learn that the symbol of Jesus as Word, Logos, eternal Christ, comes from Hebrew ideas of eternal female wisdom Sophia. She was there from the very beginning of creation. In the beginning was Sophia, and Sophia was with God/ess, and Sophia was God/ess. To follow Christ, we must follow Sophia. And… she’s very, very, VERY OLD. Sophia-Christ is beautiful…. And OLD.

I look in the mirror at my haggard face, and it is easy to wince. I have been taught to fear the loss of the appearance of youth and physical strength since those attributes give social currency in our diseased society. But our faces become haggard because of age and suffering. My face is the face of someone who has lived over four decades of a rich, full, blessed, painful, traumatic, tragic, beautiful, precious, sacred life. Right now, Christ is my father, dying so that my children and I may live. Christ is my children, the new little sprouts of green who rise from the buried grain. And I claim Christ in my haggardness: willing to suffer for the sake of love, willing to do the right thing even when it is incredibly, horribly, painfully, hideously hard, willing to stand up repeatedly for my vulnerable father, and dammit, reflecting the glory of the divine in my grey, wrinkled, puffy, haggard face. I think of women elders throughout my life who have taught me courage and wisdom over the years, and I remember them as the most beautiful faces I have ever seen. They deserve to be named for the Goddesses they are.

Sophia-Christ is alive in the body of the community. To honor her, we must lift up the witches, hags, and crones among us. They crown us all. So I give you this hymn, to be sung to the music from “Crown him with many crowns,” in honor of the ancient Sophia-Christ, incarnate in the wizened bodies of our beloved Women Elders.

Crown Us with Many Crones

Crown us with many crones:
Sophia-Christ alive!
Hark to the Wisdom of our own
Dear elders, kind and wise!
In joyful praise we sing
Of Old Ones, strong and free
And join the ageless lore that rings
Through all eternity

Crones, O ye sages high
In years and ancient power
We venerate your teachings wise
The seeds you’ve brought to flower
To Thee be reverent praise
Who teach of death and life
Show us, O hags, thy Goddess ways
Be ever our Midwife

Crones, O ye witches bold
Your glories now we sing
Ye beauteous hags so fair and old
Your Grace to us you bring
Your silver crowns held high
Your brows of wisdom raised
You bring the Goddess ever nigh
O crones, be ever praised!!


[1] Neville, Robert C. Symbols of Jesus: A Christology of Symbolic Engagement. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

 

Trelawney Grenfell-Muir  teaches courses about Sex, Dating, Marriage, and Work in the Religion and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and about Cross Cultural Conflict in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant at the Religion and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard University, she holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. Previously a fellow at the Institute of Culture, Religion, and World Affairs and at the Earhart Foundation, Grenfell-Muir has conducted field research in situations of ongoing conflict in Syria, Lebanon, and Northern Ireland.  Her dissertation explores the methodology, constraints, and effectiveness of clergy peacebuilders in Northern Ireland. She has been an invited speaker in community settings and at MIT, Boston University, Tufts, and Boston College on topics of gender violence, economic injustice, and religious or ethnic conflicts and has also moderated panels on genetic engineering, cloning, and other bioethics issues. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.

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Categories: Aging, Christianity, Death, Death and Dying, Divine Feminine, General, Healing, Paganism, Symbols

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44 replies

  1. Reblogged this on Reclaiming Yourself From Domestic Abuse and commented:
    Wonderful piece on death and life and the value of the crone!

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  2. Dear Trelawney, your post arrived in my inbox the same day that Hawaii’s governor signed the “death with dignity” bill, enacting it into law. I don’t think there will be a rush to use it despite all the alarm raised by the churches. But it may be the what some may feel a need to reach for in their final days because they can no longer bear the suffering. It seems like the compassionate thing not to punish them or those who help and support them on that difficult journey. Your post just opened up more pathways to reflection. Thank you. And I hope your journey with your father is blessed with grace and the strength you need for your labor of love.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much. That really means a lot. I was given the strength I needed to play my part, and I am finding sources of comfort and solace in my grief journey. I hope and pray that this bill can help prevent suffering in exactly the most loving and ethical ways possible.

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  3. Have you told your father it is OK with you if he dies and is there anyone else who needs to tell him that? Sometimes this enables the dying to let go. In any case I wish him and you well.

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  4. Thank you for this; these themes have been much in my mind of late, not least because I’m approaching 60 and my end is closer than my beginning. Added to this is my own prolonged ill health and lack of mobility limiting my ability to be out in the world, and involved in community. Lots to reflect on.

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    • I’m sorry to hear about your challenges and difficulty with communal involvement. I hope you are finding ways to be connected in your community and get the support you need. I hope and pray that your life is rich and blessed for many, many years, with wellness, meaning, and joy. <3

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I love the way you liberate Jesus to be so much more than most people think he is! Very refreshing and makes Him so relevant,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you – it helps me a lot, and I’m glad you find it helpful, too. I am continually grateful to my seminary professors for tearing down the parts of my faith that were flimsy and harmful, and offering me an array of building blocks to construct a more useful and stronger meaning within my tradition. Blessings on your journey. <3

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  6. So sorry for what you are going through. But what a testimony you have given your daughter, and those who have watched how you have handled your self.
    Crown Us With Many Crowns is one of my favorite hymns :) Jim

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you – that means a lot. Do you sing “Crown us” instead of “crown him”? interesting! Sounds like something my sister Tallessyn might have written! :) She rewrote the hymn to say “Hail we with many names” – it’s a lovely rewrite. I will try to find it and post it here if you like.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I do not think there is an etymological link b/w hag and “hagia” or “agia” αγια, and a quick search suggests not. Not that it matters to your main point.

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    • Maybe, it does matter; to her main point, if we look closely.
      The difference, etymologically, between hagia/hagios (holy, in greek) and hag (Old English) was pointed out by Daly in the introduction of her book, Gyn/Ecology. Still, is Old English ‘older’ than Greek?! Could there be a connection between the words, anyway? Old English is divided into primitive, early and late AND into Mercian, Northumbrian, West Saxon, etc, all of which varied according to the peoples that invaded, viking or norman. There has to be a connection between the words. I think Old English definitions for hag were a variation of the greek hagia (saint, holy woman; which is what a crone is.)

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      • I’ve read some very fun scholarly debates on this. I tried to post them here, but I think it was at a time when my phone had little service, and the post did not go through. I can try to find them again. To. me, having the conversation broken open by debates is the most important part – and most of the scholars use quite a lot of qualifiers – “Possibly” and “probably” and “may have” etc. So to me, the importance of a symbol is whether or not it is “True” in the platonic sense, rather than in the Aristotelian sense. And as you say, Carol, for that kind of truth, Platonic truth, as Neville describes it, the Aristotelian historicity doesn’t actually matter. But it does tease the mind, and I love your comments Christina. When the mists of time are this foggy, when experts disagree, these debates are mostly enriching and open up possibilities rather than closing them down, IMO. Bless you both. <3

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  8. So beautiful, poignant, powerful, true. Thank you!

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  9. Blessings to you,your dad and your family on this journey.

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  10. “Sophia…she’s very, very, VERY OLD. Sophia-Christ is beautiful. And OLD.”

    Thanks, Trelawney Grenfell-Muir, for your deep and generous sharing here today at FAR. Big hugs from us all and much love.

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    • Thank you, Sarah. I gratefully receive the hugs, love, and affirmations of you and this community, which has helped me so many times with the wisdom shared here. It really does mean a lot. <3

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I applaud your wisdom and courage speaking such truths to your children at such an impossible time in your life… you are wise beyond your years with a deeply compassionate heart that is able to stand the truth of what you know… May the Spirit of Nature and your gods and goddesses be with you through this dying time….death and life are one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Sara. I have felt enormous strength and succor from my ancestors as well, in ways I never dreamed or imagined. I am grateful for your affirmations and blessings – it means a lot to have a pat on the back, a mental hug, in such a raw and confusing time. <3

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  12. Such a beautiful way to explain death to your little one! I hope you and your father find peace. I sat with my father recently as he died. I’m so glad I could be there for him. Blessed be!

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    • Thank you, Katharine, that is very kind of you – I will add you and your father to my altar and light candles for you both. I hope you find peace as well. I do believe my father and I are finding peace. I sense him near me throughout the day and talk to him frequently. It is helping a lot. I am glad you could be with your father as well. Every blessing on your journey. <3

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  13. Dear Trelawney, thank you for letting us be with you for awhile at your father’s bedside. May his passing be gentle.
    I’m listening to a video presentation by Ilia Delio, reminding me that the Universe is billions of years old, and expanding. The image of Christ as Hag/Crone means more to me than the image of royalty or son of god. Thank you for that too! May her arms enfold you, comfort you, and give you strength.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Barbara – what a kind blessing, and I will sit and let it soak into me throughout the day. It feels deeply, gently powerful.
      Thank you for sharing the thoughts from the video about the universe… I am smiling at the lovely, precious image of Christ as an expanding, billions of years old Hag. That makes me so happy. Blessings on your journey. <3

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  14. Love those lyrics. Something amazing in these words especially…
    “Show us, O hags, thy Goddess ways
    Be ever our Midwife”

    Reminds me of the Benedictine Abbess, Hildegard of Bingen’s 12th century lyrics, and how she refuses to separate our lives into categories of young and old: for her, it’s simply one life-giving path. Here are the lyrics from her chant, titled, O Virtus Sapientiae:

    O strength of Wisdom
    who, circling, circled,
    enclosing all
    in one lifegiving path,
    three wings you have:
    one soars to the heights,
    one distils its essence upon the earth,
    and the third is everywhere.
    Praise to you, as is fitting,
    O Wisdom.

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    • Fran, I love Hildegard, and I continually hunger to read more of her work. Thank you so much for sharing this piece. I read it as one of three Hildegard readings as part of our ceremony while we released my father’s body to the undertakers for its journey to the crematorium. I love it SO MUCH. I plan to print it out and hang it in my home. Much gratitude to you, Fran. Blessings on your journey. <3

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  15. Thank you, Trelawney, for this powerful piece. I posted a piece about Kali in 3 parts here on FAR that made the same point that your statement to your daughter makes. Her reality IS life/death/rebirth.

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    • Nancy, I will find your three part piece and read it. My Indian Hindu friend told me recently that I am Kali. Her exact words were “I know the grief is painful. It will wash over you as you celebrate your Daddy. You are the power and strength and love of the Mother Goddess Kali.” That meant an enormous amount to me, to have her say that, and it also made me want to learn more about Kali. I have heard of her, but I do not know much detail. So I look forward to reading your piece. Blessings on your journey, and thank you for sharing such a kind and affirming sentiment. <3

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  16. Friends, on Thursday my father died and was reborn as a beloved ancestor. It was gloriously holy, rich beyond imagining, with the agony of deep and soul-wrenching love. We sang him to the ancestors. The ancestors gave me strength to play my part. He wrote in one song about death, “Wrap me in thunder, Lord, just like a mother rocks her child.” We did that. For hours. It was incredible and awful and wonderful and more. Afterward, I had a vision of him, much younger and strong, radiant with peace and joy, vitality…. beaming at me with a far happier smile than I’ve ever seen on his face, overflowing with pride, gratitude, delight, power, and love. Now the long trek of grief journeying continues, but I feel him with me frequently throughout the day, and I have numerous conversations with him that bring me immense comfort and wise insights. I am grateful for the friends and communities who have held me during this journey, and I thank each one of you, from the bottom of my heart, for your kind blessings and affirmations. Bless you all. <3

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    • Trelawney,

      I don’t want to come across as overbearing in my faith but I cannot shake your story off my heart and I truly believe that God wants you to know just how much He loves you and your family. Please share with your children that even in death, there is the opportunity for life. “He has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.” – 2 Timothy 1:9. And Romans 8:10 states that, “If Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.” I pray that you may experience the love of Christ, that you will be made complete in Him<3

      With love in Christ,
      Bekah

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  17. Moving and Beautiful. Thank you for sharing a part of your journey.

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  18. Deepest condolences. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you and your family at this most difficult of times. Rest assured that this very same grace will enable you to be united with your father again when we all awake again to everlasting Life through the blood of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.

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  19. Thank you for letting us know and sharing your visions. Heart with you!

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  20. A great palliative care team would alleviate a lot of the medical decisions and running around. Aside from that no one can love your Dad the way you do day in and day out. He is a lucky man.

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    • Thank you, that is very kind. We did work with the hospital’s palliative care team, but with five siblings all trying to make decisions that wouldn’t result in a permanent family breach, it took an enormous amount of life force to keep up. I thought the palliative care team did a good job, but of course in situations like these, emotions are so high, so sensitive, and when people passionately disagree, it can take every ounce of patience and communication skills to keep the family together. Thanks again… he passed away April 5, in hospice at my sister’s home, and it was a profoundly beautiful, if agonizing, time of journeying on to the ancestors. <3

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