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Center for Action and Contemplation

Reclaiming Women’s Wisdom

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Gender and Sexuality: Week 2

Reclaiming Women’s Wisdom
Tuesday, April 24, 2018

While there is great value in the archetypes of feminine and masculine principles—which, regardless of our gender, we might all embody—it’s important to acknowledge the inequality within the church and culture at large. For example, in the United States, women make 83% of what men earn; the wage gap is even higher for women of color. [1] I can only nod in agreement with criticism of the Roman Catholic Church for its disregard of women as leaders.

Thankfully, there are many people working toward a more inclusive and just society and religion. Womanist theology is helping to restore a feminine view of God and Scripture, honoring the voices and experiences of black women. It applies Alice Walker’s concept of “womanist” to theology, a field that has long been dominated by men. [2] Delores Williams writes:

What then is a womanist? Her origins are in the black folk expression “You acting womanish,” meaning, according to Walker, “wanting to know more and in greater depth than is good for one—outrageous audacious, courageous and willful behavior.” A womanist is also “responsible, in charge, serious.” She can walk to Canada and take others with her [a reference to Harriet Tubman]. She loves, she is committed, she is a universalist. . . . Walker insists that a womanist is also “committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female.” [3]

Other theologians are reclaiming the importance of women in the Bible. Though the Bible was written primarily by men during patriarchal periods, there are plenty of examples of women in positions of wisdom or authority: Deborah, Esther, Ruth and Naomi, Judith, Rahab, Anna, Priscilla, the several women who accompany and support Jesus, and of course Mary, the mother of Jesus.

And then there’s Mary Magdalene. My colleague, CAC core faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault, suggests that a careful study of this woman who first saw the Risen Christ can help us “cut through two millennia of doctrine and dogma to Jesus’ teaching. We find here relational health, an astonishing vision of love as a transformational path, and profoundly empowering models of women and men working together in spiritual leadership roles. To reclaim Mary Magdalene is to reclaim Christianity. Without her, our understanding of what Jesus really taught is incomplete. In fact, it is significantly distorted.” [4]

Tomorrow I’ll share more of Cynthia’s insights from this maligned and ignored woman who may have been a friend and follower closer to Jesus than his twelve male disciples.

[1] Pew Research Center, and

[2] For more on womanist theology, see Linda E. Thomas, “Womanist Theology, Epistemology, and a New Anthropological Paradigm,” Cross Currents 48(4), Winter 1998/1999, 488-499,

[3] Delores S. Williams, “Womanist Theology: Black Women’s Voices,” Christianity and Crisis (March 2, 1987), available at

[4] Cynthia Bourgeault, God As Us, disc 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2011), DVD, CD, MP3 download.

Image credit: Study of a Boy Turning His Head (detail), Jacopo Pontormo, c. 1529, Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: If Jesus shows us what the completed human being looks like in male form, Mary Magdalene models it for us in its female version; together they become the Christosophia, the androgynous archetype of human wholeness. —Cynthia Bourgeault
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