Growing up Catholic in the 1970s, I had more than a passing familiarity with the Little Gold Books series of Bible stories for children. To this day, I can still remember the stories and illustrations contained in those books. I spent ten years in Catholic school along with three extra years of independent catechism classes before I eventually left the Church, but it was these simple childrens’ stories that formed the foundation of my Catholic faith.
When you’re seven years old, picture books of Jesus feeding fish and loaves to the masses is enough to shore up a faith. But as I got older, I noticed something very interesting. Very few of those heros looked anything like me, and all the saints who were girls got that way by, well, being martyrs. Seriously, stories of St. Agnes being dragged naked through the streets to a brothel were not tempered in my young psyche by the fact that her would-be rapists were struck blind by God. All the heros were boys; all the victims were girls.
It only took a short jump from the lack of strong women I was exposed to in catechism (they seemed to gloss over Deborah and Esther in our classes) to my understanding that women in the Catholic faith had very little overt power. All of our influence had to be back-door, covert, and couched in humility.
In the last few years, I’ve come to know a few Christian scholars who are reclaiming the rightful place of women in faith. After reading a friend’s Masters thesis of women church leaders in the first century AD, I realized how much of our history has been shaped by men to the exclusion of women and women’s accomplishment.
In this new series, Beyond Little Golden: Feminist Heroes for Spiritual Folk, I will call on friends from different faiths to bring to light strong women of faith both living and dead who brought leadership and inspiration to their followers. I’m hoping that through this series I can help fuel the readers’ interest in the role of women in spiritual communities–both women-centric and tradition–as leaders, teachers, and heroines.
If you know of a woman you’d like to see profiled, please let me know. First up will be Saint Hildegard of Bingen, an 11th century Benedictine nun whose career as an abbess, artist, author, composer, mystic, pharmacist, poet, preacher, and theologian was repressed by the Catholic church for centuries after her death, despite the fact that she was one of the most influential people of her time.
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