Sunday, August 23, 2015

Book review of “Whatever Works: Feminists of Faith Speak” by Rosemary Ganley

Dr. Amina Wadud

Even here in Canada, I had heard that Portland, Oregon has become the center of progressive thought for the continent.

This book, edited and published there by Trista Hendren and Pat Daly, illustrates that reality. It is a collection of 35 personal essays from a wide variety of feminists of faith, who speak in strong and often intimate terms of their faith journeys.

Many of these writers have been through change, pain and finally liberation to new convictions, and to ways of being, more at home with themselves and empowered to take action for equality.
It is dazzling in diversity; Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Pagan, Hindu and Goddess, women.

Their common experience is there to see: early formation in a traditional faith, periods of unease; “Ah Ha” moments of new realizations that one is being oppressed, then resistance from others, the discovery of strength and courage to follow one’s own designs and finally a kind of peace.

They are honest, revealing, accessible and long-remembered pieces of writing. One, by a writer named Metis, traces the history of menstruation in the various religions, from a time when it was considered a holy phenomenon which nourished the fields, to one under patriarchy where it has been considered a curse, a blight, during which time women are to be shunned as unclean.

Another essay by Dr Amina Wadud says that women through the ages have had to preserve their wisdom in silence, but this is not that time. The unifying theme in “Whatever Works” is that women are united in faith, faith as an affirmation of sacred presence.

No more lies, no more monopolies over truth, no more acquiescence in our own oppression. We are standing up. This book is witness to it. It is popular in style, agreeable and not confrontational, pleasant and accessible. Who could ask for anything more, either as a starter in this field or for a veteran such as myself.

I am a 78--year old Canadian Catholic feminist and reproductive rights activist with a record of 50 years in the struggle to wed feminism and faith and to reform my church. Wish me well!

Actually, next month in Philadelphia, Pope Francis, who has distinguished himself on the environment, will come for a conference on the family. Just beforehand, we 500 Catholic feminists from around the world, some priests, will meet also in Philly to draft a statement telling him what he needs to know about women and about sex.

Editor Hendren, a 40-year-old with an MBA, models how to speak freely and honestly. That’s the only kind of writing that helps another. She was raised in fundamentalist Christianity, experienced atheism, and then became Muslim. Hence, she sees many sides of the questions and knows that religion can divide. All religions can wound and can heal.

Feminist faith motivates to social justice. That is an essential. Whether writing or organizing or protesting, feminists of faith find allyship among all feminists and join in the broad global movements for change. No one race or religion is privileged.

Such contributions to understanding and freedom as “Whatever Works” makes are to be hailed. And I hope widely read and discussed. I know one lunch time faith discussion group that will be reading it.

by Rosemary Ganley
Peterborough, Ontario, Canada

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