My friends, I just finished reading Sue Monk Kidd’s, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter. It is one of her older selections, with a 1996 copyright and in it she documents her personal journey to come into herself as a woman, to in effect, find her voice. I had come upon this book early in my own process of finding my voice and hadn’t read it then, but reading it now was good for me, as it served as a wonderful review, especially now in the watershed time that we find ourselves for finally hearing the voices of women abused, for finally, it would seem, hearing their collective voices as one and the same—as credible.
Sue Monk Kidd came out of a Southern Baptist upbringing wherein women “knew their place” in Church and society and they knew it so well that they didn’t question the fact that they had no voice that was their own, that wasn’t first “approved” by the patriarchal system within which they lived—a system supported by both Church and State. This system, as we all know, puts men in charge, is controlled and policed by men in order to keep women and children, especially girl children, “in place,” in order to serve the whims of these same men—all nice and tidy.
The author lived as a dutiful daughter, the wife of a Baptist minister under this system, questioning not, until the day she walked into the local drugstore and saw her daughter, a teenaged employee there, on her knees, stocking shelves and being ridiculed by two men. The gist of the ridicule was a comment by one of the individuals that, “This is how he liked to see women, on their knees!” The other individual, laughed!
It was at this point that Sue Monk Kidd found her long lost voice. She noticed that her daughter’s reaction was to hang her head, swallowing the abuse as women had so many times before. In Kidd’s reflection over the next few years as she was “coming out” with her true woman’s voice; she realized that she had sat idly by listening to comments from men in the general society, in church, unaffected, like other women, but when the abuse was dumped on her daughter, the awareness of what she had gradually been coming to, through dreams, study and reflection, was made apparently clear in the rude comments thrust upon her daughter—the intention being that this was women’s place!
So, it was with a lion’s heart that she marched up to the abusers and stated in no uncertain terms that this young woman was her daughter and they may like seeing women on their knees, but that this was not women’s place!
What followed for Sue Monk Kidd were seven more years of digging deep, reading women scholars in Church and society, of the likes of Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run with the Wolves, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God-language, Sallie McFague, “God as Mother,” in Weaving the Vision: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality and others. Little by little; she acquired the inner strength to begin proclaiming publicly what she only sensed in the example of her daughter—that women, in society and in religious settings were made the pawns of men, with one intent, to use and control them, and for the most part, women were taught to enable this behavior by not speaking out.
With a great deal of trepidation and second-guessing, which, by the way, are the feelings women have to overcome in order to hear their own inner voices and respond to them, Kidd began sharing with her husband her experiences and learning, her deepest yearnings to disavow herself with the Baptist church, the very church he served in as a minister because she could no longer abide being told from the pulpit that “Women were the first to sin, the second to be created and that they were made for man’s benefit”—that because of their disobedience to God and their temptation to men, beginning with Adam, they would forever be in second place. All nice and tidy.
Well, needless to say, this was unsettling to her husband, but much to his credit, perhaps his deep care for her and their relationship, was, over time, able to listen and truly hear what his wife was struggling with and trying to articulate, and eventually, saw that change was needed.
The readings that the Church has given us today are great reflections on this watershed moment for women and men in our society and Church. I include men here because this awareness that many women come to in mid-life, if at all, is something that men must come to as well if true change is to happen. There must be the realization within men that if the birth right that women come into this world with is taken from them to serve the other half of the population, then the conquerors are left with only half a life too. Each of us is created as a reflection of the Creator and that must not be taken from us for any reason, least of all, to control others.
The beautiful reading from Proverbs today was in past times entitled, “The Virtuous or Valiant Woman.” The Priests for Equality text, that we use here, in their wisdom, have made this a gender-less specific reading in order to impress upon each of us, male and female that the traits espoused here are universal and genderless—we are all called to strive after perfect love—instilling confidence equally in each other, bringing advantage, not hurt, doing our work willingly for the benefit of each other, holding out our hands to the poor—these are the traits that are to be praised at the city gates, because these traits last, unlike physical beauty. We have to wonder that if these traits were more universally practiced across the genders, would we ever have abuse that allows one to be first to the detriment of another.
Paul is his letter to the Thessalonians writes with confidence to his converts that because they are “children of the light,” they need not worry for when God comes, they will be ready! And yet, knowing the weakness of humanity, he cautions them to not live as though “asleep.” Our ability to reflect the Creator calls each of us to stand in the light, to not allow darkness to take over any of our sisters or brothers.
And finally, as the Church Year is coming to an end and we are coming closer to the beautiful season of Advent preparation; we are confronted with the gospel reading from Matthew today about being “good and faithful servants,” “being willing to risk” and that, in the end, there will be judgment for our actions. I have always thought that if we keep our eyes on Jesus, walk in his ways, we will risk at times, our comfort, for the greater good, but we won’t have to worry about judgment. Amen? Amen!