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 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:
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!!
 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.