The Messy, Wild Mystery that’s Stronger than Wrong by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir


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

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29 replies

  1. Thanks for the piece! I am grateful to the One God you survived your ordeal with covid 19! Your prayers were heard and it wasn’t your time. As a Muslim Im reading the Quran with a small group of Progressive Muslims and when i read I change all the “He”s to God to de-genderize, and several others in the group have adapted that small correction. (Mostly the sisters). Every step we take makes a difference.
    Thanks again. So glad you’re healing. All praise is to God the Great and Merciful!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, you are very kind. I remember when I studied Islam that my teachers were quite clear that Allah is not a gendered term, and Allah is not considered to be gendered. However, the grammar used in the Qu’ran is male. I have encountered some very inspiring Muslim feminists over the years, who argue that Muslims should not confine Allah to male grammar. I am sure you are making a big difference, and I pray that it grows and grows! May Allah bless your work with her grace and power! <3

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  2. I am so glad that you are on the mend!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, dear Sara. It has truly been harrowing and emotionally very depleting. And my recovery is full of ups and downs. But yes, I am grateful beyond words, far beyond words, to be steadily mending now. I pray you and yours keep safe and well. <3

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  3. Such a moving post. Thanks to all the wild, messy, merciful divine and human mysteries that you are alive and will be well.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Goodness
    Godness
    Goddessness

    I am glad you are still here! Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Eline. That’s a lovely symbolic statement. I think Goddessness is my new favorite word. May you and yours keep safe and well! <3

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  5. She is indeed eternally an healer. I’m glad you’re being healed. You can go back to annoying people. Attagirl! Bright blessings to you and to your family and to the people who have been taking care of you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barbara I love how you love how I’m annoying. You inspire me so much. Thank you for your loving blessings. I hope and pray you and yours stay safe and well. <3 <3 <3

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I hear you. I once walked out of a Christian service when the reading was the first commandment. My Goddesses are many, each and every one a Beloved, not the One God of the Judeo-Christian tradition. And yet, every so often, in moments of crisis, I find myself crossing myself in the Catholic tradition. I have never been Catholic, yet due to the strong Italian heritage that I inherited, Catholic traditions have always been a part of my life. How easy it is to slip back to the familiar, to the well-loved traditions. There is a comfort in knowing that we can draw upon whatever memories can soothe searing souls, and they are all “right”.

    I am so glad you found comfort in your time of crisis. Thank you for this beautiful post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, MaryAnn. I am glad you walked out when you needed to. Drawing those boundaries is so important, and gives the freedom to reclaim whatever feels right. Isn’t it liberating to know that crossing yourself can mean whatever you need it to mean when you choose to use it, on your own terms? It is not the property of any person, group of people, or set of rules – the Divine cannot be imprisoned by anyone. I like to think of you crossing yourself whenever and however you choose, trusting that it is your very freedom, and the very liberating power of the Divine, that enables you to engage whatever symbols bring you wellness, whenever and however you like. That’s just lovely to think about. Thank you for sharing your story. I am blessed by reading it! May you and yours stay safe and well. <3

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  7. Amen, sister. And isn’t it a huge relief – that Donatism has been thoroughly and repeatedly disproved – and that broken vessels can still confer divine power, grace, and healing, because at the end of the day – all we have are broken vessels!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good point, darling. All we have are broken vessels. Well said. Maybe the very existence of life necessitates freedom and thus growth and thus flaws. <3 <3

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  8. Lovely post – so much to say about this – think I need to write my own essay. But besides all that, I think the deity, if it had a persona would want us to take comfort where we find it. Such an amazing word comfort – I haven’t looked up the etymology but’with strength’ comes immediately to mind. Which makes me thinks of my husband’s arms around me, my head on his shoulder. In more than fifty years of companionship we’ve had our ups and downs – some very low indeed. During those ties I was sometimes furious of the feeling of comfort found in those arms – it seemed false and illusory at the time, impermanent and foolish. But the comfort was undeniable and real – one of the lessons I took away from our struggles to regain our footing- grounding I should say- was the incredibly complex nature of reality. I find that complexity comforting just because it is mysterious and ineffable. It reassures to know we can’t understand everythibg- gets me off some kind of cosmic hook and allows me to value the moment I’m in – which is the place where comfort dwells – in the moment, where it is, in that moment, the only reality we need.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Christine, what powerful insights. Thank you for sharing them. I hope you do expand them further and write up an essay. I think you are right about divinity being present and alive in the giving and receiving of comfort/strength together…. certainly the oxytocin we get from holding loved ones has measurable health benefits and even extends longevity. We must be inherently designed, somehow, to value comfort in the moment. Thank you for sharing this, it’s giving me more to ponder as well. <3

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  9. So glad you are healing and becoming well. I did notice what you said about Joe and I have been annoying my feminist friends on this subject too. Sigggghhhh

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Are you saying that Joe Biden is really a rapist? Tara Reade is not credible. Check out her beackground! Sent from my iPad

    >

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  11. Dear Trelawney
    I am so glad to know that you have come through – are coming through – the infection. Your voice and being are significant and precious not only to your wonderful family but to many many others – including this community.
    And I am glad that you found comfort – even if in unexpected places – within the dreadfulness.

    Thank you so much for writing.
    Thank you for being annoying and doing it deliberately – it’s a lonely way to live and you embody it joyfully – you inspire me to continue.
    Thank you for sharing your experience and the significance of tradition and familiarity and the treasures as well as the nonsense.
    Thank you for your openness and acceptance.

    You bring great blessing, may you also receive much blessing

    Margaret

    Liked by 1 person

    • Margaret, what a generous, abundant affirmation. I think I will print it out and hang it by my desk to lift my spirits when they need lifting. Truly, I am humbled and grateful for your kindness and loving message. I am in a place to treasure even small blessings with heartfelt joy, and this is a large and beautiful blessing, and I honor your large and beautiful heart. <3 <3 <3

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  12. Trelawney, I’m so glad to hear you’ve turned the corner! My heart leaped when I saw that you had posted, and I got the biggest smile when I saw it was a blog post. I’ve wondered many times how you were doing, and am glad to see you had it in you to write.

    As usual, your writing stretches my thinking. Today you helped me recognize some of the trauma I’ve experienced. From the days I spent activey trying to act more male, having observed that people seemed to think it was better to be male, and learning of the hated that gets spewed upon people who don’t “act their gender.” I never was very good at girling, though.

    I’m also glad to know I’m not the only one who is maintains a deep love for hymns, while also being highly uncomfortable with their content quite often. I’m always on the hunt for places to find more hymns to listen to, so I’d love to hear some of your favorites.

    Thanks for making it a great day to be on Facebook!

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    • Dear Calley, thank you for this very kind and affirming message. I have unfortunately been struggling through a relapse of this virus for the past few days, but I am glad I am well enough today to sit at my desk for a little while. I am so glad you found my post thought-provoking. I hope you find sources of support for your trauma healing. I find gender stereotypes quite violent and damaging, and what is “girling” anyway? Who gets to decide? What is “acting male”? Why should anyone have to perform these things? I long for a free, liberated, peaceful society where no one has to perform to try to earn acceptance or respect. All we have to do is remain faithful to good principles of love, justice, and goodness, in our own unique expressions. I hope and pray.
      Aren’t hymns powerful? My sister Tallessyn has rewritten hundreds of hymns, and she has an amazing gift for maintaining the beautiful poetry and powerful theology while releasing the problematic bits. It is so hard to pick favorites, because it really depends on my mood and the day. I love so many. Just off the top of my head, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” is a longtime family favorite, sung at every family occasion for generations. I learned recently it was written by a professor eager to help Christians see that there is no need to be afraid of science, all things work together to give glory to the Divine. I also love Let there be peace on earth (my mother’s favorite), It is well with my soul, How great thou art, also favorites in my family line. And I have great personal love for Jesus, Lover of my Soul, and Come O, Thou Traveler Unknown, and O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus, and O Young and Fearless Prophet, and What a Friend We Have in Jesus, and This is my song, and Be still my soul, and that isn’t even touching all the spirituals!! Or Easter, Christmas, and Good Friday hymns! Goodness, I could be here all day. Tallessyn has been digging around in old hymnals and playing them for me every night, and she has found some incredible treasures from a time when there were more hymns about nature, seasons, evening and morning, and rogation. And one that she found, “My Anchor Holds” has been a tremendous comfort for me through this past relapse. She switched it to the minor key, and it runs through my head day and night, to my blessing. What are some of your favorites? If there are hymns you love but find some words or lines troublesome, I think Tallessyn would be happy to take a look at them and suggest a few adjustments. Having progressive versions of my favorite hymns is life-changing. Peace be with you, and every blessing! Thank you for lifting my spirits today. <3

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  13. Welcome back in our your annoyingly, messy, wild and loving wholeness. I am so delighted you are well and come through this fire with strength and love. And while I must say I haven’t known you all that long I have never seen anything you write as annoying. I might characterize you as divergent, honest, truthful, strong, far-seeing, genuine and forthright.

    I’ve had this personal feeling all throughout these months that there is a stronger essence at work here and those who think they have power, worldly power that is, do not have the power they think they do. There is something much more mysterious and powerful at work here. Thanks for putting thoughts similar to these in words through your own harrowing experience.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dear Janet, thank you for your kind affirmation. I think the fact that you do not find me annoying says a lot about you, and I am smiling with happiness and gratitude. <3 :) I hope I can be all those qualities you named, and I admire all those qualities in yourself as well. And a very generous heart.
      I am interested in hearing more about your feeling. What a powerful insight and reflection. I love what you have said… they do not have the power they think they do. That is such a beautiful theological idea. I'm going to sit with that and let it comfort me today, as I seek to align with the stronger essence you name. Thank you for giving me a comforting meditation. May you be safe and well. <3 <3

      Liked by 1 person

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