I am an annoying feminist. I annoy pretty much everyone about it, because I’m never NOT applying a feminist lens to every aspect of life: science (looking at you, Larry Summers), politics (Joe Biden is a rapist), art (objectification is NOT empowerment), culture (make-up is a prison), and, of course religion. I’m perhaps most annoying of all when it comes to religion. I annoy Christians by raving about Christ The Cosmic Vagina, and I annoy secularists by raving about feminist Jesus. I especially annoy my church friends and colleagues by refusing to use the (male) word “God” to talk about the Infinite Divine Mystery, much less male pronouns or oppressive symbols such as Lord, King, or Kingdom.
Yep, I’ve been cheerfully annoying the hell out of everyone for decades, drawing vagina art during male-centric worship services, changing lyrics on the fly, slipping female words and symbols into prayers and startling whomever sits near me… I am a feminist. Not the fun kind.
As a trauma survivor of multiple types/instances of male domestic and sexual violence, I genuinely find it painful – quite painful – to sit in a worship service that sends me the message, through language and symbols, that the divine is more male than female. Men are more like the divine than women are. Males are superior to females, ergo females are inferior… ergo, females deserve to be treated as inferior. I deserve the ways males, and my culture, have treated me as not fully human. Every time I hear a song or prayer or scripture that’s full of HE, HIM, HIS, LORD, KING… the dots connect automatically in my mind. My church just told me I’m subhuman. My church embraces symbols that at some level imply that I deserved to be treated as subhuman. Like when I was raped. Ouch.
So yes, I’ve raised one hell of an annoying fuss about this issue. When other people aren’t as aware of how language and symbols shape violent and oppressive worldviews, I try to raise awareness about cultural violence. We would never dream of praying “Dear White Deity”… so why do we keep insisting on shoving maleness down the church’s throat? Why keep pressuring and grooming worshippers to accept male oppression in our mouths? It’s the theological equivalent of oral rape. It hurts like hell when people — especially self-avowed progressives — don’t want to understand and don’t want to try to make progress. Indifference to violence and oppression always frustrates me, and in this case, it’s also personal. I often cannot participate in prayers and hymns because the misogynist violence hurts too much.
This past 40+ days I have been fighting for my life with COVID-19. I seem to be out of the woods at last, to my immeasurable gratitude and relief. Twice nurses sent me to Urgent Care because my symptoms sounded so alarming. Twice, doctors sent me to the Emergency Room because they feared I was in mortal danger. Countless nights I lay down to sleep, wondering if my struggling lungs would badly worsen overnight, countless days I tracked my oxygen levels, blood pressure, kidney function, and all sorts of other symptoms. Hundreds of times, I presented a calm or even cheerful face to my children, all the while wondering if they were on the brink of losing their mother and having their entire world crumble into trauma and tragedy. The times I looked into their eyes and wondered if this was goodbye… will haunt me for the rest of my life, however long that may be.
And in the “dark watches of the night,” when my fear for my children overwhelmed me like a tsunami of terror, I prayed. I prayed… in the ways I usually pray – to Awen, to God/ess, Christ, the Spirit, to the Ancestors, the Trees… and in my desperate hours, I found myself praying more and more to Jesus. I’ve never been evangelical. I don’t often pray to Jesus. But I repeatedly begged Jesus to take this burden of fear from me, to carry it because it was too much for me to bear, and to carry me and my family as well. To heal me and keep us safe.
Jesus did answer my prayers. I don’t mean necessarily that he healed me of COVID-19, so much as that he helped me with my burden of terror. I found comfort in his safe, loving arms, that I could not find anywhere else.
I turned to music, too. I coast about for a while trying to find comforting songs to listen to, and I kept ending up just listening to old Methodist hymns. Male language, not-quite-progressive theology, and all… I did not care. Nothing could make me care. These were the familiar hymns of a lifetime of growing up within a tradition, and while I would have preferred feminist, progressive versions, I had no pain or sadness whatsoever listening to the original versions. I felt only gratitude and comfort.
My faith ancestors knew terror. They knew injustice, oppression, trauma, and grief. They certainly knew death. Reading the ancient scriptures, listening to old hymns, I felt only the blessing of their understanding presence. They wrote these scriptures and songs as a gift, a precious, timeless gift of connection across the world and throughout time. They knew exactly how I feel. They have walked this same lonesome valley. They were there beside me in the deepest, darkest bottom of every pit. Growing up within such an ancient tradition meant that my tradition was there when I needed it, in ways I could never have predicted.
So, I have realized in a new way, there is Something stronger than Wrong. Those male words and symbols are still wrong. They still cause terrible harm. I will continue to rewrite and advocate and annoy people. But I did not understand just how powerful the Divine Mystery truly is. I did not understand how thoroughly and beautifully it can work healing, wellness, truth, and blessing through imperfect, cracked, flawed vessels… such as science, art, culture, and religion. Each one impressive in its beautiful wisdom and its ugly lies. Each one brought to life by wrong humans in wrong communities.
As my decades march along, and I look back at all the many ways I have been wrong, I see that Something has flowed right along with me, always working to bring Goodness to life and my messy, wrong self. Something never gives up. Something is there for me, whenever I need it, never requiring perfect words or flawless vessels. Something gently, continually invites me to participate in a Truth that is far more vast and infinitely strong than my mind can conceive. In the end, She is stronger than any misogynist chains. In the end, Her Power flows free, like the gush of birth waters streaming over all Earth, baptizing all with the courage to let Her lift us and free us. What a comfort… no matter how wrong I am, no matter how wrong we human communities get it… She is infinitely, eternally, mysteriously stronger. Gloria in excelsis Deae!
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. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.
Categories: Activism, Christianity, Divine Feminine, Feminism and Religion, Feminist Theology, Gender, General, God-talk, God/des, Goddess, misogyny, Ritual, Sexism, Violence, Violence Against Women, Women's Voices