A feminist paradox

I’ve been mulling over a couple of paragraphs by Sarah Coakley in the recent account of her personal theological journey, “Prayer as crucible” (in the “How my mind has changed” series in Christian Century), about how silence and  submission in prayer relate to action — to speaking up, that is, — especially for women.

At the heart of the prayer of silence is a simple surrendering of control to God…. Not only was this shift into practiced loss of control intrinsically anxiety-making, it also brought with it for me a taxing feminist paradox. Was not lack of control, lack of autonomy, precisely the problem that women were countering with feminism? Was not vulnerability an ill to be avoided rather than a precious state to be inculcated? Was not this, in other words, a dangerous invitation to sexist discrimination, even abuse? ….

It took me a while to work out that a seriously false dichotomy was at work here, and that submission to God and silence before God — being unlike any other submission or any other silence — was that which empowered one to speak against injustice and abuse and was the ground of true freedom (in God) rather than its suppression..

As both feminist and practitioner of prayer, I find her words encouraging and true.

[The entire article is currently available online only to CC subscribers, but I also recommend an interview with Sarah Coakley here — “Living prayer and leadership” — and a moving piece about practicing the prayer of silence with prisoners — “Meditation as a Subversive Activity.”]

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