Daughters of the Church Today?

Have you read this book? It was a pretty significant piece of scholarship when it was released in 1987. And, as it covers nearly 2000 years of church history, I would call it a pretty significant book still today.

From the Amazon summary:

Rich in historical events and colorfully written, this fascinating account of women in the church spans nearly two thousand years of church history. It tells of events and aspirations, determination and disappointment, patience and achievement that mark the history of daughters of the church from the time of Jesus to the present. The authors have endeavored to present an objective story. The very fact that readers may find themselves surprised now and again by the prominent role of women in certain events and movements proves an inequality that historical narrative has often been guilty of. This is a book about women. It is a setting straight off the record — a restoring of balance to history that has repeatedly played down the significance of the contributions of women to the theology, the witness, the movements, and the growth of the church. An exegetical study of relevant Scripture passages offers stimulating thought for discussion and for serious reevaluation of historical givens. This volume is enriched by pictures, appendixes, bibliography, and indexes. Like many of the women whose stories it tells, this book has a subdued strength that should not be underestimated.

But 1987 was a long time ago, and a lot has changed since then, especially in regards to women in ministry. My question for you for today is: Do you have any particular women writers, teachers, or speakers that you like to read or listen to? If so, who are they, and why do you find them an important part of your reading/listening life?

I will be chiming in a bit later with some names that I find worth my while.

As usual, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

67 thoughts on “Daughters of the Church Today?

  1. Wait, what?

    “Mothers” – not simply holy women?

    And no, I’m *not* saying that because I “do not love the Mother of God,” or b/c I’m Protestant- from a Protestant liturgical church that has many saints’days on its calendar, for saints who are female as well as all the usual suspects (male).

    It is perplexing to me that you, Mule, assume so much about “Protestantism” – particularly that all Protestant churches are like the AoG and/or your other church membership(s).

    We are not all alike, not in our doctrine, nor in our practice. Fact is, the Apostles and Nicene creeds are very important to those of us whose liturgies are centered on holy communion, rather than on preaching.

    In fact, the lectionary we use is the same as that used in Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches in the US. Between that and responsorial Psalms, we get more of the Bible (heard and read) than in any evangelical church, on any given Sunday.

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  2. aunt Dot.

    Macauley had obvious idiosyncrasies when it came to both spelling and punctuation; also capitalization.

    The opening sentence of Towers… = why The New Yorker has long includedvsnippets from English newspapers inder the heading “There’ll always be an England.”

    I liked the book, but found it very depressing in many respects. Just when it appears to be satire, Macauley takes one unexpected turn after another.

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  3. Christiane, if you haven’t read Tiina Nunnally’s new(ish) translation of Kristin Lavransdatter, I’d recommend it very highly. Nunnally sticks to the original – written in modern language, btw, not the weird pseudo-medievalisms of the 1st English version.

    Not only that, a few key pieces that were nixed on its original US publication have been restored. They’re very relevant to the early parts of the novel especially.

    Though i do wish Undset’s own religious practice had allowed for more of love, mercy and joy. What Kristin thinks of herself…. it’s a horrible weight to live with. And when i 1st read the book, back in 1978, it’s how i thought, too.

    Not any more.

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  4. It was excruciating (and I choose that word deliberately)….took a dozen years to thoroughly untangle the idea “God utterly rejects you” from the reality of “The churches utterly reject you”, and I was suicidal during part of it. Good that you got a chuckle out of it.

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  5. Then why to a lot of Christians, “Biblical Manhood” = “BOYZ RULE, GURLZ DROOL! BECAUSE BIBLE!“?

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  6. It was always there but has come out with a vengeance during the pandemic and angry political rhetoric.

    Remember the 2016 election when broken down by county instead of state:
    Clean Urban/Rural breakdown;
    Blue islands of major metropolitan areas in an ocean of red.

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  7. Yes on Dakota! I need to revisit it. Several years, I gave my copy to a recent seminary grad who was being sent to rural Iowa. I live in a rural area and the political climate of the moment seen through fellow rural church members “motivated far more by small-town pride and provincialism” is crushing. It was always there but has come out with a vengeance during the pandemic and angry political rhetoric.

    Anything by Norris is worth reading.

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  8. I agree that feminism is not always feminine. Still I do not dismiss God’s Spirit playing a role. Not that it is tuned into or necessarily emulated but our relationship to the Lord is often unruly. Some feminists are atheistic to the core and in fact blame the great patriarchal Christian complex for most of their woes. Still He works his purposes as He has through the ages. Additionally, it is never out of the realm of possibility that His works are thwarted and or distorted by human intransigence in the short run (short run being defined, in light of eternity, as decades or centuries). It is not only the feminist movement the brings this thought to mind but other societal phenomena that prompt me to think we are being given a message but are not always translating it with a sensitive ear. While I am not Orthodox I believe I can relate to the experience you describe. I have had a few similar experiences myself. One at a Catholic Monastery of all places.

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  9. The two energies of the human ousia, without confusion, without change, without separation, without division. There is more here than meets the eye.

    There is in every Orthodox church I have ever been in where there are a multiplicity of icons a wall composed entirely of female saints. When you calm your soul and just stand before these Mothers in the faith, it is a powerful experience. They are no longer married nor given in marriage yet there is an entirely different ‘feel’ to their healing presence.

    Feminism is, like Protestantism in general, so ‘this world’. That’s why I bailed. Well, on Protestantism.

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  10. From the blog , Not Dark Yet:
    “Growing up in the rural South, I experienced my share of anti-Catholic bias. Although the Catholic view of Mary is a stumbling block to many Protestants, it became one of my greatest attractions as a convert. I should add that it took years to get there, and it was not dogma or theology that opened up the path. Instead, it was an understanding of myth and archetype. Years ago I was amazed and intrigued when I read in Carl Jung’s book, Answer to Job, that he considered the dogma of the Assumption of Mary to be the most important religious event since the Reformation. The Assumption of Mary was not proclaimed as official church dogma until 1950, but Jung saw it as something that the populace had been aware of for over a thousand years. Carl Jung, the influential Swiss thinker and pioneer in the field of psychiatry, had a lot to say about how archetypes speak to us in old stories that endure from age to age. He also developed the concept of the collective unconscious, in which these universal archetypes speak to the human condition. He thought that understanding these archetypes could help us to understand our own interior lives. In reference to the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary, he said::

    “But anyone who has followed with attention the visions of Mary which have been increasing in number over the last few decades, and has taken their psychological significance into account, might have known what was brewing. The fact, especially, that it was largely children who had the visions might have given pause for thought, for in such cases, the collective unconscious is always at work …One could have known for a long time that there was a deep longing in the masses for an intercessor and mediatrix who would at last take her place alongside the Holy Trinity and be received as the ‘Queen of heaven and Bride at the heavenly court.’ For more than a thousand years it has been taken for granted that the Mother of God dwelt there.” (1)

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  11. My brother is a member of the Dorothy L. Sayers Society and goes to conferences in England every so often. He has spoken a time or two. He is a missionary in Ukraine and has been for decades. Obviously he is a big fan.

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  12. God is our Mother as well as Father. Though not a dominant theme in scripture it is there to be found nonetheless. Ultimately of course there is “neither male nor female” as Paul informs us in Galatians. Because the Father image has so dominated through the centuries we wobble in that direction. God may be opening up the human soul more so to the feminine aspect to bring us more into balance. Once we have both we can find the absence. Gender fully discovered becomes “neither male nor female”. Jesus also alluded to the genderless nature on the other side of this temporal reality when He said ,”When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage.” I think the spirit is nudging humanity to adopt a more feminine perspective to find balance and then lead us past gender, whatever that means. Obviously as long as we are corporeal beings gender is a necessity, as well as a gift, but seeing past it brings us a little closer to where we are going which is the union of the Jew and the Greek, the Black and the White, the slave and the free and, yes, the male and the female. The union of opposites. The dismembering of encampments, of sects and of persuasion. The movement of women to assert their place has been going on for multiple centuries now and continues today. I see The Holy Spirit dancing unnoticed in there somewhere.

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  13. Flannery O’Connor, a great writer.

    Her stories are powerful. The first time I read one of her short stories, it was like getting hit by a freight train.

    genre: well, it’s ‘Southern gothic’, but honestly her writing is far too complex to be slotted into any ‘genre’ and by limited by the slot. The ‘grotesque’ is ‘used’ to awaken, more than to disgust, and how she does this is magical.

    Example:

    ““He felt his hunger no longer as a pain but as a tide. He felt it rising in himself through time and darkness, rising through the centuries, and he knew that it rose in a line of men whose lives were chosen to sustain it, who would wander in the world, strangers from that violent country where the silence is never broken except to shout the truth. He felt it building from the blood of Abel to his own, rising and spreading in the night, a red-gold tree of fire ascended as if it would consume the darkness in one tremendous burst of flame. The boy’s breath went out to meet it. He knew that this was the fire that had encircled Daniel, that had raised Elijah from the earth, that had spoken to Moses and would in the instant speak to him. He threw himself to the ground and with his face against the dirt of the grave, he heard the command. GO WARN THE CHILDREN OF GOD OF THE TERRIBLE SPEED OF MERCY. The words were as silent as seed opening one at a time in his blood.”
    ( Flannery O’Connor, The Violent Bear It Away)

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  14. Flannery O’Connor is high on my list, too. While not overtly “Christian” writing, her stories and novels display grace where it’s least expected, and her satire of American religion is comical, dark humor.

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  15. Nice to see you comment Sarah. Sarah was one of the stars of the transcription team for “Reconsider Jesus”.

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  16. Kathleen Norris’ book ‘Dakota’ was transformative to me when I moved to a global metropolis (not unlike New York City) to an isolated rural town (not unlike Lemmon, SD) and was nearly driven from my faith by local abusive churches that were motivated far more by small-town pride and provincialism than God’s open-hearted and open-armed Spirit….in fact, it was my light out of my spiritual wilderness (prior to that, I was convinced that there were indeed such things as “God-forsaken” places, and that I was trapped in one).

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  17. Seconding the suggestion of Dorothy L. Sayers! Seneca, don’t let that scare you away, if you haven’t already read her stories. They’re very well written. Good mysteries, especially, and fun to read.

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  18. For those of a high church Anglican bent, The Towers Of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay is a rollicking read. Aunt Dot, who delivers the pitch-perfect first sentence of the book, ‘ “Take my camel, dear”, said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.’, is reputed to be Dorothy Sayers.

    For a further exercise in upper-class sexual ambiguity, it appears that Miss Macaulay never reveals the sex of the lover her [married] protagonist crosses Anatolia to meet, although I think he is a man.

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  19. For those of a high church Anglican bent, The Towers Of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay is a rollicking read. Aunt Dot, who delivers the pitch-perfect first sentence of the book, ‘ “Take my camel, dear”, said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.’, is reputed to be Dorothy Sayers.

    For a further exercise in upper-class sexual ambiguity, it appears that Miss Macaulay never reveals the sex of the lover her [married] protagonist crosses Anatolia to meet, although I think he is a man.

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  20. And then there’s her magesterial The Man Born to be King, the transcript of her BBC Radio plays based on the Gospel of John. Her character and chapter notes are better than most commentaries on the Gospels I’ve read. And her depiction of Judas is sheer genius (if extremely disturbing to those of an intellectual theological bent).

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  21. Senecagriggs, you might like to read some of the novels by Dorothy L. Sayers. She’s a great writer and she also has done some really good religiously-oriented writing. If you like the lighter Regency romance novels of Heyer, you might find Sayers’ series on ‘Lord Peter Wimsey’ to be fun to read.

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  22. Senecagriggs, you might like to read some of the novels by Dorothy L. Sayers. She’s a great writer and she also has done some really good religiously-oriented writing. If you like the lighter Regency romance novels of Heyer, you might find Sayers’ series on ‘Lord Peter Wimsey’ to be fun to read.

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  23. A quick note: A friend commented to me, that in her 45 years of church she had largely heard male voices. I wanted to get some idea of what people were reading/hearing from female voices. I am really trying to avoid discussions around gender roles at this time.

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  24. Anne Lamott. “Bird by Bird” is recognized as classic. Part guide to writing, part something else, it’s awesome. Just re-read it a couple months back and it helped me blast through a recent funk regarding my life and writing.

    Also, her short book on prayer “Help, Thanks, Wow” is a treat, as is “Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith.”

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  25. Ach, forgot to list Kathleen Norris – she was also a very good companion in the wilderness – incredible insight.

    Dana

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  26. Madeleine L’Engle – beautiful prose.

    Louisa May Alcott – read a bunch of her stuff in my childhood and early teens; always a great comfort for me in the difficulties of my young life.

    Phyllis Tickle – prayer books were my companions in the wilderness, and I was blessed to meet her and talk with her in depth.

    Edith Humphrey – interesting background, solid theologian – she was received into the Orthodox Church the same day I was.

    Macrina the Younger – speaking of solid theology… big sister of St Basil the Great& St Gregory of Nyssa. Gregory, called “the Father of the Fathers”, credited Macrina with teaching him everything he knew about God.

    Julian of Norwich – I believe she’s a saint.

    Otherwise, I echo Mule. There’s a whole bunch of female Saints, and in Orthodoxy they’re all on “equal footing” with male saints in terms of who we ask to pray for us – their lives are all unique. And then there is, of course, the holiest of human women, Mary the Mother of God (That’s a theological statement about JESUS; read your church history.) – who was and is profoundly more important to Christianity than Protestants allow. Read Fr Stephen’s posts on her.

    (Moderator: Edited to avoid going down a rabbit hole)

    Dana

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  27. Barbara Brown Taylor. Her book, Holy Envy, really touched me and was, in a sense, transformative.

    I also like Kathleen Norris. Her books The Cloister Walk and Acedia and Me are really antidotes to the prosperity gospel mindset.

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  28. She was not, to my knowledge, a particular Christian but the protagonists were invariably quite moral in their practices of life.

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  29. A secret pleasure: Georgette Heyer who was a brilliant writer who knew how to create admirable female [ and male ] figures. Basically she had two genre’s Regency Era Romances and rolicking detective novels. Fun reads; I have all of the Kindle copies

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  30. I have only recently discovered Chodron and I am glad I did. Buddhism, at least hers, seems so based in reality. “This is life.It’s going to hurt. This is how to help you through it.”

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  31. Found a copy of a translation of ‘Kristin Lavransdatter’, a trilogy written by Sigrid Undset when in my teens and was fascinated by the novel and was drawn into the ‘ambiance’ of the setting’s reality. Turns out the author’s father was an archeologist of sorts and Undset’s writing reflects a realism and insight into Norway’s past that is startling. Sigrid Undset told a ‘story’ but her ‘settings’ were as notable as the complexity of her characters, and that trilogy remains with me as an opportunity to be an armchair ‘time’ traveler of sorts. 🙂

    Loved the writings of Margaret Mead also; and Jane Goodall. So ‘realism’ in the hands of women writers seems to me somehow rather well done of them, if one wants to think about a ‘feminine’ insight, if that is still allowed to be celebrated in these modern days. 🙂

    Lately of course (meaning in the last twenty years), I came across Kathleen Norris, a poet of a writer, and Ursula Le Guin, whose ‘The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas’ is too painfully real to me these days of trumpism in our land.

    So to escape the present, might be time to pull out Sigrid Undset’s old trilogy for a re-read. Somehow at least that tragic and very human story set as though the author had lived in those long-ago times speaks to me with a moral clarity that I need to see more of in our present times.

    Wonder what our great-grand-daughters will write about the trump era? What will they make sense of? Or will they find in how we coped with it something that helps keep them more safe from the ancient evil? I wish them well.

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  32. Two books that I have had for years and return to from time to time, are Discipline, The Glad Surrender by Elisabeth Elliot and Learning of God,Readings from Amy Carmichael.
    My copy of Codependent No More by Melody Beattie is another I would not part with. I have about worn it out.

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  33. Female saints I pray to:

    St. Mary Magdalene, equal to the apostles
    St. Anne
    St. Mary of Egypt
    St. Brigitte of Kildare
    St. Xenia of St. Petersburg

    Don’t want to wade into the current battle of ‘man qua vir‘ over against ‘woman qua mulier. That way does not lead to salvation, and it lead to you all telling each other stories about about me, my wife, and our marriage that are neither true, honorable, or charitable.

    It is ‘man and woman qua homo‘ that is celebrated among the saints, where the true meaning of your beloved clobber verse Galatians 3:28 can be discerned, and rises above the sordid power games where no love can abide.

    That aside, I haven’t read too much divinity by female writers. I don’t read Protestant divinity at all, and the female Orthodox writers I do read and enjoy; Mother Alexandra, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Susan Cushman deal more with Orthodox spirituality, where the struggles are the same for men and women. No male privilege here.

    Also, I have exclusively been reading sci-fi and fantasy by female writers recently; Ursula Le Guin, Joanna Russ, Mary Doria Russell, Olivia Butler (phew!), NI Jimisen (double phew!), Angela Gorodoscher, and Laura Gallegos.

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  34. Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art
    The Showings of Julian of Norwich
    Ruth Tucker’s book Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife is good.

    I have a copy of Tucker & Liefield’s Daughters of the Church that I got used a few months ago. Haven’t really looked at it, but one of my daughters did. I’ll take a peek soon.

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  35. Pema Chodron

    Not Christian, but you didn’t say they had to be, did you? I like Chodron because, like any decent Buddhist teacher, she focuses on practices rather than on just changing one’s mind or thinking, that is, she doesn’t center her teaching around the idea that notional changes are transformational all by themselves. Too much Christian spirituality seems to be notional rather than holistically transformational, and, yes, this is more a problem for Protestantism than Catholic or Orthodox spirituality, though I can say from personal experience that at least in the former it is also a strong tendency.

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  36. Ann Voskamp

    I find her a very good thinker and writer, especially in the area of choosing how to interpret life.

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