This week’s Torah portion is a double one, Vayak’hel-Pekudei (Exodus 35:1 – 40:38 and Exodus 12:1-20). Vayak’hel covers the construction of the Mishkan, or the temple that traveled with the Israelites while in the desert, and Pekudel outlines the requirements for Pesach, particularly the sacrificial lamb, the blood on the doorposts, and the requirement to eat unleavened bread. For this post I will focus on Vayak’hel as it is the only portion that makes direct mention of women. It reminds us of the ways in which religion and religious institutions would not be possible without the contributions of women.
Vayak’hel centers on the construction of the Mishkan beginning with the general assumption that everyone (here men and women) will donate the items needed to construct the Mishkan. The text also contains verses in which women are specifically mentioned. They donate their gold jewelry (35:22) and mirrors (38:8) as well as spin wool and linen into yarn to be used for the Mishkan’s copious amounts of curtains (35:25-26).
“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Audre Lorde
Question: What tools do we have that are powerful enough to dismantle the Master’s house?
Storytelling does not belong to the “master.” Storytelling is subversive because it belongs to the collective and not to the individual; it gives agency to the powerless; it is not dependent on time or money, and it makes visible those who are overlooked and ignored in our globalized industrialized system.
We are not seeking to overthrow the patriarchy or “master,” and replace him with a queen. We are seeking something which Riane Eisler (2002) would call a partnership society or a society in which polarities are well balanced, in which the masculine and feminine values which we all hold are given equal weight. We have become so indoctrinated in the patriarchal master’s way of thinking that we think we need some show of force, some violence, some upheaval to create the more beautiful world. But – truthfully – it won’t look like that. It might actually look like a group of women and men gathering together in a circle, in community, to tell stories. Storytelling is subversive because it belongs to the community; it is a medicine to transmute the toxins of industrialized society; it is a spiritual practice. Storytelling is the antidote to empire.
My husband, Marty, is a retired podiatrist. He worked in pockets of New York City that were poor and largely immigrant. When he first started his practice, he treated women from China whose feet had been bound. Despite being officially outlawed 1912, footbinding was still being practiced well into modern times. He saw these patients in the 1970s and 80s.
For those who don’t know what it is, young girls, as young as 3-5 would have the bones in their feet broken and then the feet bound with cloth strips. Every few years, the feet would be broken again until the desired result was created. To create that affect, the toes would be flattened against the bottom of the foot and arch would be so broken and damaged that the heel would curl back to the front of the foot. At each of the breakings the girl would need to learn to walk again. One can only imagine that pain of walking on foot bones that had been repeatedly broken. And here is an especially chilling part. The mothers would do it to their own daughters. I won’t go into further gruesome details because they can be easily looked up on the internet. It left the girls crippled for life.
Greetings Feminism and Religion family! It has been soooo long and I have missed you so much!!
I have been working on a few projects that were rudely interrupted by a heartbreaking divorce, decisions of survival, and the subsequent recovery that followed this period. I have spent the past at least 6 months healing from the shame, guilt, pain, and blame that was placed in my lap for the collapse of the marriage. Needless to say, that shit is heavy and it kept me in an endless and perpetual night- not the beautiful mysterious, infinite, expansive darkness that I have come to know but the night that I was afraid of when I was young. No one could save me from the ways that I tormented myself or questioned my womanhood, motherhood in particular. Even more, no one could save me from being an emotional punching bag from my ex-spouse, who also torments himself.
That being said, I am on the mend and am settled in my own apartment furnished with peace, wholeness, and healing for myself and my daughter. As an earth sign, stable ground and a comfortable home in which I can be myself means the world to me. I am a spiritual advisor at a recovery center in Massachusetts and therefore have studied the art of recovery in many ways. Recovery from loss and recovery of self are two procedures that I address in my upcoming book, Black Gold: The Road to Black Infinity!!
“thea-logy begins in experience” – Rebirth of the Goddess
It is hard to believe that Carol P. Christ – Karolina as she dubbed herself in her beloved Greece—has been gone for a year. She remains such a vivid presence in my life—in all of our lives. I think of her and draw strength from those thoughts daily, the way so many women say they think of and feel close to their deceased mothers. For Karolina was indeed a mother to me—a nurturing spiritual mother who initiated me into the ways of the Goddess she adored and, whom she so beautifully defined as “the power of intelligent love that is the ground of all being.”
I first met Karolina in June of 1995 on a bare hotel rooftop in Athens. I had just flown there from New Orleans to join the Ariadne Institute’s Goddess Pilgrimage Tour, a leap of faith inspired by my reading the previous year of Weaving the Visions: Patterns in Feminist Spirituality, a pioneering anthology edited by Carol and her long-time friend and collaborator, Judith Plaskow. That book, along with Carol’s Diving Deep and Surfacing and Judith’s Standing Again at Sinai had spoken to me more deeply than anything I had ever read before. I had grown up in a Middle Eastern Orthodox Jewish family. drawn to spirituality, I had never able to find a place for myself in the deeply patriarchal structures of synagogue or even family rituals … Carol and Judith offered me a way in, and I wanted immediately to embark on the paths they were clearing. I wanted to meet them, to know them, to learn from them, to share with them. Boldly, I decided to join the Pilgrimage, signing up for my first trip overseas trip, the most costly vacation I had ever granted myself. How could I have known that it would transform my life and bless me with a miraculous, deep friendship?
In recent days I have been pondering the fact that some people and some feminists seem to see the issues of religious faith and belonging to be rooted in birth, family, and community, while for others the question of belonging to a religious community hinges on belief and judgments about the power exerted by religious institutions. What accounts for this difference in the way we view religious belonging?
Recently I watched The Secret History of Sex, Choice and Catholics, a film featuring Roman Catholic feminists and ethicists who dissent from the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s views on contraception, abortion, and homosexuality. At the beginning of the film those interviewed state almost univocally that for them being Catholic stems from having been born Catholic. These Catholic dissidents continue as Catholics, even though they disagree with major portions of Roman Catholic teaching. It may have been because they were not asked, but most of them did not name reasons of belief for remaining Catholic.
I started writing this post a day after news broke that beloved activist, poet, feminist, and academic, bell hooks had passed away. This news comes months after our FAR community lost Carol Christ; another academic, feminist, writer, and maker of history. This post was finished as almost three weeks into a new year has gone by. The advent of 2022 is filled with the last two years’ heavy, unbelievable, heartbreaking, and extraordinary experiences and events.
Moderator’s Note: We here at FAR have been so fortunate to work along side Carol Christ for many years. She died from cancer in July, 2021. To honor her legacy, as well as allow as many people as possible to read her thought-provoking and important blogs, we are pleased to offer this new column to highlight her work. We will be picking out special blogs for reposting. This blog was originally posted March 26, 2012. You can read it long with its original commentshere. Carol mentions a book she was writing with Judith Plaskow at the time with the working title: God After Feminism. The book was published in 2016 under the title of Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embedded Theology. You can find it here.
Many women’s dreams have not been realized. How do we come to terms with this thealogically?
Although I am as neurotic as the next person, I am also really wonderful—intelligent, emotionally available, beautiful (if I do say so myself), sweet, caring, and bold. I love to dance, swim, and think about the meaning of life. I passionately wanted to find someone with whom to share my life. I did everything I could to make that happen—including years of therapy and even giving up my job and moving half way around the world when I felt I had exhausted the possibilities at home.
For much of my adult life I have asked myself: What is wrong with me? Why can’t I find what everybody else has? Even though I knew that there were a lot of other really great women in my generation in my position and even though I knew that many of my friends were with men I wouldn’t chose to be with, I still asked: What is wrong with me?
Moderator’s note: This marvelous FAR site has been running for 10 years and has had more than 3,600 posts in that time. There are so many treasures that have been posted in this decade that they tend to get lost in the archives. We are beginning this column so that we can all revisit some of these gems. Today’s blogpost was originally posted June 19, 2012. You can visit it to see the original comments here.
I have a beautiful picture of vagina hanging on my wall. However, for the longest time it was in the back of my closet, with a plastic bag covering it. I wasn’t ashamed of it but my ex-boyfriend, like most gay men, refused to have it on the wall where he could see it. He is now long gone; the vagina is now out and proud.
I bid on the picture one fall during a showing of the Vagina Monologues at Claremont School of Theology. One of my best friends was in the show and I had always loved its powerful message. I walked out of the theatre, waiting for my friend, and there it was: the picture of the vagina. I found myself caught up in its beauty. Its gaze had mesmerized me. The outlying layers of red, the contours of its shape, they all began to mold into a figure before my eyes. While I have never thought of myself as a religious person, I realized that at that moment I was no longer looking the old photo but rather I was staring at the outline of the Virgin Mary. At that moment, I realized that I had to have the picture.
We gathered roses and bright zinnias to crown their heads with flowers, these shining daughters who we’ve cradled and fed and loved with everything we have and everything we are. We knelt before them and sang, our hands gently washing the feet that we once carried inside our own bodies and that now follow their own paths. For a moment, time folded and we could see them as babies in our arms, curly hair and round faces, at the same time seeing the girls in front of us, flowers in their hair, bright eyed and smiling, and so too we see women of the future, tall and strong boned kneeling at the feet of their own girls as the song goes on and on. We tried to tell them what we want them to know, what we want them to carry with them as they go on their ways: You are loved. We are here. You are loved. You are strong. You are magical. We treasure who you are. This love that carried them forth into the very world they walk on, we hope it is enough to embrace them for a lifetime, and so we kneel and sing and anoint and adorn and hold their hands in ours. We are here. You are not alone. You are wise in the ways. You belong. We are not sure if tears can say what we mean to say, but they fall anyway as we try our best to weave our words and wishes and songs and stories, with strength and confidence into a cloak of power that will encircle them with magic, no matter how far away from us they journey.
Hello FAR family! Here are photos from the October 2nd Women’s March in Long Beach, CA. The Women’s March began after the 2016 “election” and continued through the Trump years, and was not immediately active after Biden won. But after Texas passed it horrific ban on abortions with no exceptions, the Women’s March re-ignited across the nation… especially in response to the recent Supreme Court approval of the unconstitutional ruling on abortion in Texas which limits abortion access to 6 weeks of pregnancy – a time span that denies abortion completely as almost all women do not even know they are pregnant within this time, never mind having time to decide if an abortion is their choice.
The Women’s March came together in October in a very short amount of time. For example the Long Beach rally came together in just 10 days. I attended and was one of 500+ (though reports said 200, I was there and we were more!
Click then scroll to see full image…
May the revolution continue! As Hillary Clinton said, “Women’s Rights are human rights.” And my favorite chant throughout the March was, “Who sent us? Ruth sent us!!”
Marie Cartier has a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis on Women and Religion from Claremont Graduate University. She is the author of the critically acclaimed book Baby, You Are My Religion: Women, Gay Bars, and Theology Before Stonewall (Routledge 2013). She is a senior lecturer in Gender and Women’s Studies and Queer Studies at California State University Northridge, and in Film Studies at Univ. of CA Irvine.
Five years ago, I wrote an essay for Feminism and Religion musing about rituals for our sons. I wondered aloud how we welcome sons in manhood, how we create rituals of celebrations and rites of passages for our boys as well as our daughters. I have been steeped in women’s ceremony and ritual since I was a girl myself, watching the women wash my mother’s feet and crown her with flowers at her mother blessing ceremony as she prepared to give birth to my little brother when I was nine years old. Her circle of friends honored us too, crowning their daughters with flowers and loosely binding their wrists with ribbon to their mothers as they crossed the threshold into first menstruation.
At 24, I then helped plan the rite of passage for my youngest sister, then 13, as she and her friends gathered into a wide living room, flowers on their heads and anticipation in their eyes as we spoke to them of women’s wisdom and the strength of, and celebration of, being maiden girls on their way to adulthood. I knew then that I would have a ritual for my own daughter, yet unconceived, one day. I birthed two sons and lost another son in my second trimester. I led a circle of mothers and daughters through a series of nine classes culminating in a flower-becked coming of age ceremony while newly pregnant with the rainbow baby who would become my own daughter.
“I wake up under a tropical dome that has been with us most of August. The thick air feels like it is smothering me, and with emphysema that may not be my imagination. I can no longer walk or hike in this weather. Migraines and other peculiar headaches come and go – dizziness too – the former probably due to changes in pressure; As yet I have no diagnosis for the latter. I am feeling old because I am getting old. I move into my 77th year trying to adjust to increasing physical limitations.”
On the first harvest moon that occurs in August, (according to ancient teaching by Northern Indigenous peoples) I harvested elderberries under a burning sun, sloshing through mud, thorny bushes and cattails to reach the clusters of ruby beads that would soon become a tincture that I knew would help me resist colds flu and perhaps also the Covid variants. The world health organization in Europe is presently researching elderberry because studies have indicated that it apparently block viruses from entering cells (it does with H1N1 virus), but I have been using this remedy for years and know that it mitigates the effects of colds and prevents flu, at least for me. While removing the berries from their tree – like stems my fingers were stained the most beautiful purple, reminding me of a story I had written when I turned 70 about becoming an old woman… In this tale, I imagined that an Elderberry woman came to guide me into the future.
At the outset let me state that this post is mostly a collection of musings, rather than having a definite thesis statement.
I’m currently in India. I had to think hard before coming here for many reasons as you can guess. I finally decided to take the risk especially since there’s no telling how long this situation is going to last. After all, I’ve canceled twice and my parents aren’t getting any younger.
My father is 89, mum 79. When you visit on a yearly basis, that which eludes the daily eye becomes quite obvious in terms of reminding one of parents’ mortality. Wrinkles, aches, pains that develop over months and years seem shocking to the interim visitor, and in recent years, I’ve always left with the hope that I get to see them again.
Authors: Irie Lynne Session, Kamilah Hall Sharp and Jann Aldredge-Clanton
Publisher: Wipf & Stock, 2020
Womanist theology is a form of theological reflection that centers on Black women’s experience, sensitive to issues of race, class and gender. It originated in the United States in the mid-1980s and has grown in scope, sophistication and influence, but until recently there has been no expressly womanist church. This book charts the founding and development of a womanist church from the perspectives not only of its pastors (Irie Lynne Session and Kamilah Hall Sharp) but also of its ministry partners (Jann Aldredge-Clanton and others). Continue reading “The Gathering: A Womanist Church BOOK REVIEW by Mary Ann Beavis”
“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Audre Lorde
Question: What tools do we have that are powerful enough to dismantle the Master’s house?
Storytelling does not belong to the “master.” Storytelling is subversive because it belongs to the collective and not to the individual; it gives agency to the powerless; it is not dependent on time or money, and it makes visible those who are overlooked and ignored in our globalized industrialized system. Continue reading “Storytelling as a Spiritual Practice by Nurete Brenner”
In March, my husband drove our daughter into town to work at her Girl Scout cookie booth and released me to prepare for an all-day Red Tent retreat for my local women’s circle. After I packed my supplies for ritual, I set off on a walk in the deepening, rain-dark twilight. As I walked, I sang a song of sanctuary over and over, until I felt transported into a different type of consciousness, my feet steady on muddy gravel, the leafless branches stark against grey sky, moss and stones gleaming with sharp color against the roadside. A fallen tree absolutely carpeted with enchanting mushrooms caught my eye and invited me off the road and into its arms. As I stood there, feeling as if I had stepped out of ordinary reality and into a “backyard journey,” the spring peepers in the ephemeral pool in our field began their evening chorus. It has been so cold out with below freezing temperatures, snow, and ice for days since first hearing them in early March that I actually wondered if they would survive to continue their song.
Over the past few days, I’ve been spending time at a church in Alexandria, Virginia conducting oral history interviews. I’m doing research for a project about the arts and the church that has me diving deep into the church’s congregants’ and leaders’ experiences. Yesterday’s conversations offered insight about many theological topics that interest me, but what was particularly encouraging was what I witnessed concerning women in ministry. That’s not what I was looking for, but it is what I needed to see.
Before beginning these interviews, I had already been thinking about the ways women’s authority and voice are often challenged. This past weekend, I attended a regional religion conference where I assumed a leadership position and my voice was sought out for advice and insight. I had great conversations with other women in academia about wellness and success while I was there. Attending the conference provoked fond memories of a similar conference many years ago, when I connected with many colleagues in this FAR community and we discussed the theme of “Women and Authority.” Those were positive experiences. But I had an unpleasant encounter, too, when I was on the receiving end of a male colleague’s condescending remarks. I was also made aware of a disturbing incident in which a woman of color was publicly disrespected while speaking at a university event and subsequently trolled. Those experiences triggered anger and deep sadness. To be honest, I also felt a sense of resignation and defeat. Patriarchy is just so persistent.
From November 1-7, I attended the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto, Canada. With a myriad of religions and spiritual traditions represented, this was my third Parliament. Inspiring people from all over the planet gathered to teach, to listen, to learn, and to grow as human beings. From there, we take that wisdom and knowledge back to our communities and live by example – at least I try.
I was struck this Parliament by two things: That our planet is in peril. Literally. And, Compassion is something that needs to be taught? I am asking, not stating.
For the gender queer, marginalized community who are testing the waters of gender difference by frequenting this bar, many for the first time, for the pool leagues, and yes, the college folks, but also the working class people, and the tentative younger folks, this may be “the only place.” For the democracy of a gay bar creates a conversational cauldron for marginalized people to “hear themselves into speech” to quote the theological Nelle Morton.
I am quoted in an article done by Virginia Pilot report Amy Poulter saying that “LGBTQ bars are also tasked with filling in the gaps as religious spaces, support groups and the go-to location to celebrate milestones and mourn losses. Bars like Hershee are often the only place LGBTQ people feel at ease and comfortable in their own skin.”
I spent last weekend in Norfolk, Virginia. I was brought there by the folks at Old Dominion University; my visit was brainstormed and facilitated by y Professor Cathleen Rhodes who teaches in the Women’s Studies Department and also manages a magnificent archive of historic LGBTQ+ spaces The Tidewater Queer History Project. This project has a walking tour of significant LGBTQ+ spaces in the area, an online archive, and graduate students intensely interested in archiving the remains of past and current LGBTQ+ sites for study, and community.
“Women, when you begin to make fierce sounds on your own, don’t be surprised if it’s difficult at first. Start gently. Get close to the earth. These sounds may bring up memories, emotions. Have a way to work with them. When you get together to make fierce sounds with other women, experiment. Try a growl, a howl. You are sounding for all the beings that have no voice. It’s bigger than your personal story. The sounds of outraged women have not been heard collectively on this planet for a long time. Let them out. We are a force of nature. It’s time to quit being afraid of our power. Many women are terrified of their outrage. They confuse it with anger. Anger is a small, though intense, emotion. Outrage is rooted in love. It’s ok. Understand it’s time. Time for these sounds to come out.” –Rebecca Singer, founder of the Fierce Heart movement
One hot summer day my friend Rebecca and I both participated in local marches in different towns in support of immigrants’ rights. A lively band called Tinhorn Uprising led our march in song. At Rebecca’s march there were choruses of an oft heard call and response: “Tell me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!” Nothing wrong with the sentiment, but Rebecca suddenly knew she was done with the old chestnuts, chants and songs. A powerful vision came to her:
In her novel, Kingdom of Women, Rosalie Morales Kearns imagines a reality that is post-patriarchy, and post male violence while showing us what near-future women had to go through in order to get to that reality. Morales Kearns weaves this story through the voices of multiple characters. One of these characters is Averil Parnell, a female Catholic priest. Part I of the book opens with a woman visiting Averil to seek her counsel in regards to taking revenge on her male college professor who has been harassing her ever since she refused to sleep with him.
While Averil seems to be of little help with this particular conversation, we learn that Averil was one of the twenty three original female priests that were to be ordained by the Catholic Church. On the day of their joint ordination however, the Cathedral Massacre took place and twenty two of the female seminarians were killed in cold blood. Averil then, is most definitely a woman who understands the yearning for revenge, the feeling of survivors guilt, and the expectation to be a wonderful priest for her dear friends who had that chance ripped away from them.
At the same time this conversation is taking place it has become clear that small groups of vigilante women are popping up around the world and punishing men for acts of violence against women. The male dominated government of course sees all these punishing acts as coincidental, explaining them away in one way or another, or ignoring them completely, never imagining that it is in fact the beginning of women rising up to truly end male dominance and violence.
Rachel Fassler was in so much pain that she couldn’t remain still long enough for the emergency room nurses to take her blood pressure. After hours of being overlooked, dismissed, and misdiagnosed (she was initially treated for kidney stones) by two male doctors, Fassler was finally treated appropriately by a third physician, a woman, and rushed into emergency surgery to have a swollen ovary removed.
The details of Fassler’s horrific experience in the hospital that day was told by her husband Joe Fassler in The Atlantic back in 2015. The piece “How Doctors Take Women’s Pain Less Seriously” opened the floodgates for women to share their stories of having their pain ignored sometimes for years by mostly by male doctors, though not exclusively. Rachel Fassler refers to this as “the trauma of not being seen.”
I have always loved to hear these kinds of stories from Carol and other friends, since I lost my own grandmothers before I felt I really knew them. My mother’s mother passed away when I was a young child. My father’s mother lived until I was in my twenties, but Alzheimer’s stripped her of her ability to recognise her family many years before her physical death. How I wish I had known them as an adult and had been able to talk to them, even once, woman to woman. And how I wish I had received the advice, support and unconditional love which Carol describes, and which I have seen other grandmothers offer their grandchildren. This absence has left an aching heart, a raw wound, for my entire adult life.
…and Ella can’t remember the last real meal she had. After supper with the refugees in the witch’s house, she and the witch put their heads together to begin making significant plans. She’s also been meeting all the refugees who now live on the witch’s farm. She knows first-hand why these people fled the capital and the other cities. “Oh, lordy, yes,” she says. “I used to know all the important people. My dear sisters and I went to all the big events, ate the finest cuisine—” suddenly remembering where she is, she looks down at the table “—oh, dear, but I don’t mean to criticize your cuisine.”
The ravens, all perched on the backs of chairs look straight at her. “Good food, this,” says Kahlil, “except these girls don’t serve eyeballs.” “Stop that,” Domina whispers (if ravens can be said to whisper). “Don’t be so picky. Everybody here gets enough to eat.”
Ella, who is more used to cats and dogs and the occasional parakeet than to ravens, blinks and continues. “I wish I knew where my sisters are now. Thanks to our ‘relationships’ with the princes, we were High Society and—”