A student of mine wrote the following and asked for my response:
I am fully starting to grapple with being a feminist Catholic, and am personally finding this to be somewhat of an existential crisis. I cannot remove my heightened sensitivity to anything gendered away from me– especially in the faith that I hold so dear and want so badly to participate fully in.
There are no easy answers, but here is part of my living, breathing response. Mary Hess, a Catholic feminist I deeply respect, long ago introduced me to the architectural term tensegrity. It is a word describing tensional integrity. When multiple things are held in tension, it makes the structure stronger. In my being, Catholic and feminist are so often in tension with each other inside my body. I do believe, although the tension can be uncomfortable and even painful, ultimately it makes me stronger.
I lean on the writing of other feminist Catholics, and other feminist women of faith like Dorothy Day, Joan Chitister, Anne Lamott, Marie Howe, Kathleen Norris, Karen Armstrong, Elizabeth Johnson, Rachel Held Evans and Dorothee Solle, to name a few. I welcome their voices, their truth into my head and heart. I lean on the strength of the nuns, the liberation theologians, the lovers of Christ, the feminists who are living for peace day in and day out, quietly or not so quietly transforming our communities. I study the history of dual anthropology and mind-body dualism. I read our creation stories, where I am created in the image of God, very good. I read about the women in the gospel who actually got it, and Jesus’ radical way of seeing them. I read the Bible from the perspective of the women and wonder who they were.
I remind myself that women are the ones who have presided over the table since the beginning of time. I meditate on the power my body has to bear a child and breastfeed that child and how that is a real, powerful, gorgeous iteration of love. I understand, in a small way, the phrase, “Here is my body, broken for you.”
I believe institutions must be moved from the inside. I hold onto my jurisdiction and teach equity where I have earned trust, where my voice is valued. When my Lutheran and Presbyterian friends invite me to preach, I say yes.
I write. And teach. And write some more. After all this, it still hurts. It’s still not always enough. Humans are broken. We draw lines that God does not see. As a feminist Catholic, my heart is continually disappointed. If we stay awake to our gender and our faith, it doesn’t get easier.
I wake up, and try again. I live in the tension, tall and strong. And this is faith.