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Introducing Feminist Images of God.
Mary Grey.
Sheffield Academic Press 2001.
ISBN 1-84127-160-8. Pb.

From the title, I had hoped that this would be of interest to most of our readers. However, Professor Grey is a Catholic, and the book is primarily about Christian feminist images. There are short discussions of Jewish feminist and the Goddess movement.

The feminist movement of the 1970s and 80s was a political movement with roots in the lived experience of women. Academic feminism developed from these roots, but too often feminist theory became separated from them. One of the joys of feminist theology is that so many of its academic practitioners understand that it must be of relevance to everyday life if it is to be true to itself. Mary Grey, for instance, has done much work in campaigns to provide pure water for villages in India. She relates strongly to the work of Carter Heyward, a theologian, a lesbian, and a priest, and mentions that Heyward and other feminist theologians flew to Nicaragua in support of the Sandinista regime.

Feminist theologians (and even many traditional theologians) who are white and European or American are aware that this is a privileged position, and they do not ignore the very different experiences of others. Such forms of theology as womanist theology (a movement among black women in the United States — the word 'womanist' was coined by Alice Walker) and mujerista and Latina theology (the first coming from Hispanic women in the United States, the second with women in Central and South America) are engaged with and valued as highly as the theologies of white women. The American Academy of Religions, the main academic body for US scholars of religion, has several sessions in its annual conference for both womanist and mujerista standpoints. The series Introductions in Feminist Theology, to which the current book belongs, includes an Introduction to Asian Feminist Theology and an Introduction to African Women's Theology.

One of the reasons for this political awareness among some Christians is seeing the suffering of Jesus as a form of God's suffering with us, that “God weeps with our pain”. This leads to a passion for justice, a justice which is both political and personal, in the wider society and in the family and between individuals. This passion leads the author to remind us (p. 11) that "it is poor women of colour who are usually cleaning the office blocks late at night or early morning, and receiving very low levels of pay." Not many academic texts would regard such a reminder as relevant.

There are chapters on An Embodied God and on Tragedy in God. The first of these sees the world as the body of God, and also addresses erotic experience as experience of God, and the hospitality of God. This last is ambiguous for women, because so much hospitality rests on the labour of women. But is is the bountiful hospitality of God that sustains life; the gifts of the earth, crops, water, trees, and the sun, are all part of God's generosity (see page 81).

Mary Grey is a wonderfully clear writer. Anyone interested in Christian feminism, or feeling that Christianity lacks concern for people's everyday lives, should read this book. It is also of considerable value to those who are not Christian but who want a philosophical basis from which to explore the connections between human beings and the divine.

Wood and Water
75, Summer 2001
© Daniel Cohen

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