The Dance of the Dissident Daughter:
A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine
by Sue Monk Kidd (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996)
Much that Sue Monk Kidd writes about her journey from complicity as a “good daughter” of patriarchal Christianity to her rebirth as a daughter of the Feminine Divine resonates with me. I have traveled much of the same path as she. But often our paths also diverge. I think we are both headed in the same direction, towards the same goal, but some of the ways she traverses seem foreign to my experience as a Christian feminist.
Kidd divides her journey into four parts, which she uses to organize her book. My experience and hers are most similar in Part One: Awakening, especially when she describes the “feminine wound” that each nascent feminist must feel in some way, “the original sin of being born female,” as Anne Wilson Schaef expresses it. For me, as for Kidd, this was reinforced by church, family, society, and culture. Like Kidd, I struggled to form a feminist critique of church and culture to help myself be reborn as a whole person, to be cleansed of that sense of original sin.
Our paths went different directions, however, during Initiation, which is the title of Part Two. Having rejected the authority of God’s Word in the Bible, and instead taking as her ultimate authority “the divine voice in my own soul,” Kidd finds the Feminine Divine speaking to her in ancient Goddess myths and her own dreams and interpretations of them. Jungian psychology also plays an important role in her initiation.
For me, initiation involved connecting with a group of Christian feminists, Daughters of Sarah in Chicago, and learning to use a feminist hermeneutic to read God’s Word in the Bible-to discover the “texts of terror” there but also to discover Sophia, Shekinah, sister-disciples, and the feminist Jesus. Goddess myths and my own dreams have never seemed to speak Divine truth to me, but Jesus’ life and teachings-a brief, shining period of clarity on Earth-help mere-vision the patriarchal Old Testament and Church.
While Kidd finds her Grounding (Part Three) in Goddess, creating worship rituals and, it seems to me, creating Goddess in her own image, she also wends her way back to Goddess as revealed in the Bible. Monk’s distinction between pantheism (“the Divine as encompassed by the universe”) and panentheism (“the Divine as expressed by but also larger than the universe,” p. 159) seems to put too fine a semantic point on the question.
Nevertheless, Monk and I join paths again when we find healing for the Feminine Wound in female community, in telling our stories, in mindfulness, in transfiguring our anger, and in forgiving. Monk chooses to be “a loving dissident” towards the Church, “[t]o dance the dance of dissidence,” which can be done “from the inside or the outside,” (p. 192). For me, this echoes Sister Joan Chittister¹s remark at the 2000 EEWC conference that Christian feminists often find themselves called to be “defecting in place” within the Church.1
While Monk constructs her own form of worship and re-imagines Goddess from outside the Church, I find myself, more often than not, defecting each Sunday right in my pew at Hope Church in Framingham, Massachusetts. Sometimes I like to think of myself as “the burr under the saddle” of my church and denomination.
The last stage of the journey is finding Empowerment. While I agree with Monk as to what female power is-“a potent, forceful power, yes, but one that is also compassionate, that enables others as well” (p. 199), once again, she and I part company in how we find this power. Hers comes from personal symbols and her own mythology of “buffalo medicine.” I am still searching for my source of full Empowerment, but I think I will find it in a Word from God(dess) rather than in a symbolic element from Creation.
1See also Defecting in Place: Women Claiming Responsibility for Their Own Spiritual Lives by Miriam Therese Winter, Adair Lummis, and Allison Stokes (New York: Crossroad, 1995).
Editor’s note: Usually this space is devoted to reviews of recently published books; but from time to time, we feature personal reflections on books that have been around for awhile. Recently, while participating in the Women’s Leadership Institute at Hartford Seminary, Linda Bieze wrote out her personal thoughts about an assigned book that has had a considerable impact in the lives of many women. EEWC Update invited her to share her reflections with us.
Linda Bieze lives in Arlington, MA and works as a senior development editor for a college textbook publisher. At the summer 2000 meeting of the EEWC Council, Linda was elected to serve as our organization’s next Coordinator. Her term begins in January, 2001.
Letters about Books
Ed. note: Rather than writing a book review, EEWC members may sometimes prefer to use a “letter to the editor” format to tell us about a special book. Two such letters have arrived for this issue. Other readers are invited to send in “letters about books” to be used as an occasional feature for future issues of EEWC Update.
To the Editor:
I’d like to recommend for reading a book recently published by Harper Collins, Nine and Counting: the Women of the U.S. Senate by Catherine Whitney.
This largely biographical book is both refreshing and informative. Quoting from the book cover: “These nine women demonstrate how ordinary women can overcome barriers and achieve extraordinary goals. . . . Their backgrounds, personal styles, and political ideals are as diverse as the United States itself. Yet they share a commonality that runs deeper than politics or geography.”
These women “serve as role models for young and old.” I loved reading about their approach to problem solving and mediating-and about young children running in the halls of the Senate building.
With the last election, this number has increased. Reading this book may encourage others to keep the trend going.
An EEWC member recently sent me Joan Chittister’s latest book The Friendship of Women (Erie, PA: Benetvision, 2000). It is a visually beautiful book because of the art of Marcie Bircher. This book will look great on our coffee table.
But as I read through the 67 pages I was struck by Chittister’s marvelous writing style, her research, and even more by the wealth of wisdom on every page. She so skillfully outlined eight special attributes of women’s friendships as exemplified in the lives of select women of the Scriptures.
As I read through each of these, I kept thinking of friends of mine who have lived these roles in my life-by being a model for growth, helping me confirm myself as Self, supporting me in hard times, bringing a wealth of experience to our friendship, being present when I needed a presence, accepting me as I am, nurturing me, trusting me, and loving me without end.
Reading The Friendship of Women has brought into focus some of the gifts of friendship that I have been given and for which I am deeply grateful. In addition, it has provided affirmation by making me appreciate that I too have been a good friend at times. And it has made me realize that I want to “be there” even more.
I recommend this book to our EEWC members and friends. I think it speaks directly and beautifully to what many of us have experienced in our connectedness through the years and are still experiencing (or want to) as we meet and make new EEWC friends.
© 2000 Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus voume 24 number 3 Fall 2000