Though we would sometimes like to think that we have original thoughts – that we are the only one who could possibly hold such brilliant, astounding wisdom and perspective – it is far more encouraging (and far more humbling) to know that exactly the opposite is true: we are not alone in what we think, what we believe, what we fight for.
I am no exception.
My heart to redeem the ancient, sacred stories of women from the ties that silence, bind, and irrelevant-ize is hardly mine alone. It is mirrored in the brave work of many women throughout time who have been committed to and compelled by the same. Chief among them, Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
A suffragist and political activist, Stanton was determined to bring a woman’s voice to a man’s text. In 1886 she attempted to form a revising committee of female biblical scholars, but was disappointed when even they found her claims suspect, namely that she did not believe the Bible to be divinely inspired. Undaunted, she tried again in 1894, this time with women who were Theosophists, New Thought Leaders, and Freethinkers. The result was The Woman’s Bible – a revolutionary work for that time; for all time.
Maureen Fitzgerald, in her foreword to the 1993 edition says, “…Stanton chose to produce the work precisely because so many would see such a document as a scandalous, radical act…”
I love this! Oh, what a legacy upon which I build, work, and live…a scandalous, radical act. (May it be so!)
On August 1, 1895, Elizabeth Cady Stanton signed the forward to The Woman’s Bible with these words penned in its introduction:
…there are some who write us that our work is a useless expenditure of force over a book that has lost its hold on the human mind. Most intelligent women, they say, regard it as the history of a rude people in a barbarous age, and have no more reverence for the Scriptures than any other work. So long as tens of thousands of Bibles are printed every year, and circulated over the whole habitable globe, and the masses in all English-speaking nations revere it as the word of God, it is vain to belittle its influence. The sentimental feelings we all have for those things we were educated to believe sacred, do not readily yield to pure reason. I distinctly remember the shudder that passed over me on seeing a mother take our family Bible to make a high seat for her child at table. It seemed such a desecration. I was tempted to protest against its use for such a purpose, and this, too, long after my reason had repudiated its divine authority.
“The sentimental feelings we all have for those things we were educated to believe sacred, do not readily yield to pure reason.”
Indeed. I have applied reason to my beliefs, believe me. I have been well-schooled in how to do so, why it matters, and why anything less is unthinkable. Church. Sunday School. Bible studies. Christian college. Missionary work. A pastor’s wife. And a Master of Divinity degree. Hebrew. Greek. Textual Criticism. The History of Theology. The History of the Church. Old Testament. New Testament. You Name It. With little “success.”
For all my wrestling, fighting, giving in, giving up, holding on, and hoping that somehow, someday God would make sense to me, this, so far, is not the case.
And this is the point. As long as I keep looking to make sense of God, I miss the point entirely. My pure reason defeats me because what is called for is a God beyond reason: a God in whom I place my faith.
No, not even this.
What is called for – and what I long for – is an understanding of the Divine that invites me to faith, period. Faith in miracles, yes. Faith in mystery, to be sure. And above all else, the means through which I hold on to faith in me.
And truth-be-told, I do not know how to hold on to faith in myself without holding on to other womens’ stories.
So many have said, “Why not just let the lot of them go? Why spend so much time in patriarchal texts that are not relevant? Why look at stories that tell of a God who is outdated, limiting, and no longer relatable?” Elizabeth Cady Stanton heard the same critique – 121 years ago. And that’s (at least one of the reasons) why: I’m not alone. I’m standing on her shoulders and those of the countless women of whom I tell, in whom I believe, all of whom I love.
I am coming to see that this is the way of faith for me: letting go of the mental/rational/academic wrestling in the dark and instead, finding evidence and hope in the light of day – in the stories of women. Women who, when they fought, were seen. Women who, when they held on, were heard. Women who, when they could barely take another breath, were revived and restored. Women who, even though silenced and barely noticed, turn my eye and my deepest, truest, most compassionate heart, who call me back, again and again, to faith.
Come, come, my conservative [or perhaps, liberal] friend, wipe the dew off your spectacles, and see that the world is moving. Whatever your views may be as to the…proposed work, your political and social degradation are but an outgrowth of your status in the Bible…How can woman’s position be changed from that of a subordinate to an equal, without opposition, without the broadest discussion of all the questions involved in her present degradation? For so far-reaching and momentous a reform as her complete independence, an entire revolution in all existing institutions is inevitable. (Elizabeth Cady Stanton)
An entire revolution…is inevitable. To have faith is one thing. To hold on to it, at least in my experience, is revolutionary. Thank God (and Elizabeth Cady Stanton), I’m not alone in this.