Sensuous Spirituality: Out from Fundamentalism

By Virginia Ramey Mollenkott
Crossroad: New York, 1992.
Paperback, 204 pages

Reviewed by Rev. Dr. Fran Mayes

Sensuous Spirituality: Our from Fundamentalism Book CoverImagine the insight of a Mary Daly without the rage, the love of the Bible of a John Spong through the mind of a lesbian woman, a twentieth century Hildegard, a Christian writer who calls herself evangelical and writes, “Like my elder brother, Jesus, I am a sinless Self travelling through eternity and temporarily having human experiences in a body known as Virginia Ramey Mollenkott” (p. 16). I have read Sensuous Spirituality twice and will surely read it again. Not because it is confusing or inaccessible, but because the profound changes that have occurred in Virginia and that she here shares with us will take some time to unpack.

Her commitment to justice remains intact: “to a genuinely centered Self everything that has life is sacred — sensuous spirituality demands a concern for justice in the here and now” (p. 22). But “the sacrifice of our peace and joy is never what the universe asks of us” (p. 24). And “We need to spend some time each day in stillness, remembering who we are, practicing the presence of God Herself within our Selves and within others, experiencing our oneness with the whole universe that is Selving itself in us all” (p. 23). It was easier for me at times to resonate with what she wrote than to understand it with my mind.

Some of the real treats for me in this book are the exegetical insights of one who reads scripture from a feminist liberationist humanist pluralistic perspective. She reminds us that we must not allow society to hear “what the Bible says” only from the traditionalists. Virginia makes clear the need for all of us to find common ground and to join together in the birthing of justice. “To seek justice only for those who are like ourselves, or those whom we happen to like, is idolatry; it is the giving of the glory of the All-Encompassing One to something smaller than her totality” (p. 63). Indeed, “We need to seek out people who are different from ourselves because we need each other’s gifts in order to be whole” (p 182). Virginia gives credit to the ideas of others as they have helped shape her own journey.

This book, more than any of the others, allows the English professor to present us with a course in “Sensuous Spirituality 101” complete with bibliography and appendices. It certainly deals with the issues of sexuality and spirituality that are spelled out in Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? but it does so in a deeply personal, mystically inspired form.

This book will become a favorite of many whose own personal spiritual journeys parallel Virginia’s. Like the writings of any mystic, much of it will take contemplation to digest. It will also have appeal to those whose own spirituality is not Christian and might even “bring back” some who have given up on the Bible as hopelessly patriarchal. It will also be misunderstood and discounted by many who will not make it past the more Eastern way of thinking. For most of us, Christianity has come packaged securely in Western thought patterns, and letting go of that bias is not an easy task. But, if you want a challenge, I heartily recommend it.

Who could ask for more than Virginia’s own testimony: “My own hope is constantly nourished by the promises of the Bible and the quiet knowledge that when I am centered, I am in tune with the universe, cooperating with the all-inclusive God who extended Herself to form the universe” (p. 166).

Ed. Note: There is a second (revised and expanded) edition of this book available, published by Pilgrim Press (August 18, 2008).

 

 

Please request written permission before reprinting any part of this review.

© 1994 by the Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus. This review was originally published in the Summer 1994 edition of Update, the EEWC Newsletter (Vol. 18, Num. 2).

CFT 50th Anniversary logo (CFT regular logo in gold)In honor of CFT’s 50th anniversary, contributions from CFT members have made it possible to publish some important historical reflections, articles, reviews, and other pieces which were previously unavailable online. See more from this series here.

Rev. Dr. Fran Mayes
Rev. Dr. Fran Mayes grew up in a fundamentalist church and learned through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at the University of Michigan that she was not infallible. “My walls were widened in a church that called itself ‘irenic’ but still evangelical.” A feminist crisis in the 70’s led her to questioning everything. She credits CFT (known as the Evangelical Women’s Caucus at the time) with rescuing her from total disillusionment. Called to professional ministry, she graduated from a Catholic seminary and followed up with other classes and ordination. Mayes served as a pastor in both the American Baptist and Metropolitan Community Church denominations. Her dissertation was Polyamory and Holy Union in UFMCC. She has four children, ten grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. She lives in rural Michigan with a cat named Sunshine where she enjoys gardening, sewing, and playing with babies.

1 COMMENT

  1. This book by Virginia Mollenkott is a must read, a classic, and a timeless piece of feminist literature. Gail Ricciuti recently reviewed this book on the WHAT THEY WROTE book discussion and I realized further how Mollenkott’s writings are a tremendous gift to the world.

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