(Review) Whatever Works: Feminists of Faith Speak edited by Trista Hendren & Pat Daly, reviewed by Mary Saracino

whatever_works_cover(Review) Whatever Works: Feminists of Faith Speak

A Girl God Anthology

Edited by Trista Hendren and Pat Daly, preface by Dr. Amina Wadud

Whatever Works: Feminists of Faith Speak offers readers a diverse array of writings on spirituality and religious traditions by feminists of faith from around the world.

The anthology contains short, personal revelations—essays, poems, and academic musings— written by real women about their real experience of faith in a variety of traditions, including Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Paganism, Goddess-centered spirituality, and Hinduism. Some of the stories are provocative. All are thought-provoking, honest, insightful.  And decidedly feminist.

The anthology shines a much-need light on the complexity of culture and religion and how even within the parameters of patriarchal religious traditions, feminists are working to reclaim the female face of god and give voice to women’s wide-ranging spiritual experiences.

Reading this collection is like attending a symposium on inter-faith dialogue. Better yet, I found myself wishing I could be at a dinner party with these brilliant minds so I could engage in ongoing conversations with them.

Edited by Trista Hendren and Pat Daly, with a preface by Dr. Amina Wadud, the text on the back cover notes that the book “shares stories of highly diverse women with the hope that we can find collective solutions to the global problems that plague women and girls living under patriarchy.”

And, indeed, from cover-to-cover, the book does just that. The 34 writers featured in this anthology have a lot to say.  While their voices are diverse and multi-faceted, their message is clear: feminists can also be women of faith.

In “Feminism & God/dess in Judiasm”, Neorah Garcia writes: “As a Jewish woman, my views, beliefs, and goals as a feminist differ from mainstream American culture, and we have different issues within our religion that need to be addressed (p. 23).

In “Reclaiming the Radical Feminism in the Qur’an”, Sarah Ager notes: “Muslim Feminists recognize the rights given to women and seek to recapture the original vision of the Qur’an. This doesn’t mean replicating the society at that time, but using the Qur’an as a template for a society which constantly evolves and strives for greater equality in the age in which we live” (p.49).

Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente calls for creating a women’s mosque to carve out women-only space.  Metis discusses the feminist history of menstruation, noting that “Menstruation can be the best time for a powerful spiritual experience” (p. 54). Liona Rowan writes about mothering as a spiritual and political resistance to patriarchy.

Elizabeth Hall Magill discusses Jesus and Sophia in the Christian tradition: “Bringing Sophia to my faith has shed new light on the stories from Jesus’ life, all those stories of Jesus treating women with radical equality for the time…connecting to women as his apostles, his emissaries, his sisters…now I see him, just as I see Sophia in him—helping us reclaim that which we have lost, so that we might learn how to move as God moves, fully aware of our own powers, and with compassionate action as our guide “ (p. 92).

In “Feminism and Spirituality: Taking Back What Was Lost” Susan Mehegan notes: “When the patriarchal religious leaders of the early centuries relegated the Feminine Divine to the realms of secrecy, intending to silence Her for all time, they didn’t count on us keeping Her alive in our stories, myths, rituals, and everyday life. We have always rested assured that while the followers of organized patriarchal religions are still waiting for their God to return, ours never left” (p. 55).

Monette Chilson tells us how she, as a Christian, found her spiritual home on a yoga mat: “When we sit in a church pew (regardless of the religion), we are surrounded by others’ perceptions of God, both visual and spoken. When we sit on our yoga mat, we are carving out space for our won spiritual life to coalesce. Creating our inner sanctuaries and opening ourselves up to God’s presence untainted and unfiltered by religious precepts. Yoga doesn’t create the sacred. It merely reveals it in many beautiful ways” (p. 40).

Rev. Karen Tate writes about Goddess spirituality as liberation thealogy, reminding us that “It is up to us to move away from or temper the ‘authoritarian father’ ideology that shapes our religions and culture and instead heed the advice of the Great She and her Sacred Feminine liberation thealogy as our role model” (p. 16) .

Vrinda Jamuna Shakti writes about Kali-Durga, Laskhmi, and Saraswati: “So, the Goddess in Her three forms awaits deep within the hearts of every woman for the ripe moment when She is invited into action, ready to accompany us through the story of our lives. Let us imagine living a life in which the Goddess enacts the drama of expansion of consciousness through every action, every day of our lives as the greatest blessing we can give to people around us. Let our life mission bring all wars and unnecessary miseries to an end” (p. 165).

Pegi Eyers calls for solidarity with Turtle Island First Nations women, reminding readers that “Traditional indigenous societies were egalitarian and based on the model of the consensus circle, with the emphasis being more on gender harmony than gender equality” (p. 83).

Trista Hendren declares that God is not a man—and she further posits that money (the making of it, the allocation of it, and the access to it)—is a feminist issue. Rebecca Mott addresses how prostitution dehumanizes women and she reminds us that women need to look within to reclaim their power. Rabbi Dalia Marx (PhD) provides a herstory of female rabbis.  Ruth Calder Murphy writes about the connection between divinity and creativity. Zoe Nicholson shares letters she wrote in the voice of the Divine Mother to support a friend who was dying of stage four ovarian cancer.

In “Dreaming Awake in Ceres’ Garden,” Celeste Gurevich writes: “My sense of spirituality is a swirling amalgamation, a collage of core truths borrowed from a whole spectrum of philosophies and experiences” (p. 213).

These are just some of the vibrant and important topics addressed in this anthology.

In her preface to the anthology, Dr. Wadud writes: “This unique collection has the powerful capacity to remind us of the awe and beauty in diversity without itself becoming a sort of pop culture of Self worship. Each of these stories is True, and each is intimately connected to the lives of the women telling them. Read deeply, Enjoy. Then tell your own story. That is what this volume invites you to do.”

Seen in that light, Whatever Works is a clarion call not only to feminists of faith, but to all women—inviting us to listen to the lived experience of their sisters—across the demarcations of race, ethnicity, class, or religious/spiritual affiliation—to share their lived experiences with one another and the world.  Like the consciousness raising circles of the 1960s and 1970s, this compilation provides a forum in which women engage in meaningful conversation with one another, sharing their truths and trusting that their voices will be heard.

Given the state of the world today—with the onslaught of religious fundamentalism and the oppression inflicted upon so many by the patriarchal paradigm—the inter- and intra-faith stories contained in this anthology are important, timely, and necessary.

To purchase a copy of Whatever Works visit: www.theGirlGod.com

Read Meet Mago Contributor Mary Saracino and Meet Mago Contributor Trista Hendren.

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