"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Monday, March 28, 2016

A Twin Sister For Jesus

The Coronation of the Virgin with Six Angels, c. 1390
by Florentine Artist Agnolo Gaddi (c. 1350 - 1396)

It turns out that I'm not the only one
who believes that Jesus needs a sister!

Here are a few more:

1. In the 1980 Thomas Henry Huxley ~ Memorial Lecture, social anthropologist Edmund Leach asks not only " 'Why did Moses have a sister?' but also 'Why did Jesus not have a sister?'" (emphasis added).

Concerning the above painting of Christ crowning his mother as Queen of Heaven, Leach writes: "Apart from the fact that Christ is already wearing his crown and the Madonna is not, the two figures are represented as virtually identical; they might as well be twins" (57).

2. Contemporary American novelist James Morrow gives Jesus a younger sister in Only Begotten Daughter:
"Sister and brother, side by side, day after day, comforting the damned. It was like tending a garden, Julie decided, like watering flower beds of flesh. They divided the labor, Jesus cooling the bodies, Julie dispensing the drinks. He had the most wonderful hands, two featherless birds forever aloft on sleek, graceful wings. As he moved them, air whistled through the holes in his wrists." (182)

3. In The Friendly Persuasion, Jessamyn West allows an elderly Civil War era gentleman this forward thinking opinion:
"'God's only begotton son,' said old Eli Morningstar, leaning across the fence rail in his earnestness. 'Why only one, Jess Birdwell, and why a son? Whyn't a daughter? Something fishy there, Jess Birdwell, and the more you think on it, the plainer it becomes. Something mighty fishy. Something mighty fishy.'" (151)

4. In The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, Sue Monk Kidd recounts the day that her eyes were opened to this selfsame "Something mighty fishy":
Now sitting in church I was full of questions. Why was God always the God of Abraham, never the God of Sarah? Why was it often impossible, rare, or difficult for a woman to hold real power in the church? Women had been the largest consumers of church, yet we'd held a vastly disproportionate amount of power compared to our numbers and commitment there. . . .

The congregation stood to sing. Unbelievably, as if all the irony in the world were crashing down at once, the hymn was "Faith of Our Fathers." I tried to sing, but I could not open my mouth. It was as if something had given way in my chest. I lowered the hymnbook and sat back down. I was fighting tears.

. . . I felt too heavy to move. Until that moment I hadn't fully understood. I was in a religion that celebrated fatherhood and sonship. I was in an institution created by men and for men.

By the time I got home I felt disbelief that I'd not seen all this before -- that the church, my church, was not just a part of the male - dominant system I was waking up to, but a prime legitimizer of it.

I was too dazed to be angry. Mostly I felt disillusioned, sad, betrayed. . . . How could [the church] negate and exclude us this way? How had this happened?

. . . As de Beauvoir put it, religion had given men a God like themselves -- a God exclusively male in imagery, which legitimized and sealed their power. How fortunate for them, she said, that their sovereign authority has been vested in them by the Supreme Being.

That night I couldn't sleep. I slipped out of bed and went to my study. I stood by the window, looking out at the night. The tears I'd suppressed that morning in church finally rolled down my face."
(50 - 51)
I know that's a long passage, but I had to include the entire segment because Monk Kidd expresses the disillusionment so well, the intolerable hurtfulness of being excluded by sexist language and male emphasis. Even at Christmas it's a struggle not to feel disgruntled and saddened by focus on father, son, and baby boy (thank goodness they "abhor not the virgin's womb"). The liturgical readings may be beautiful, historical, intellectual, and literary; yet the patriarchal, exclusive language in The Book of Common Prayer and the hymnal can also make girls and women feel like non - entities. Sadly, although in many instances, the language could be easily modified, the editing process does not seem to be a priority and, as ever, egregious old habits die hard.

I myself have stopped many times in the middle of a hymn (or at the beginning or sometimes declined to join in even before it starts), dismayed by the exclusivity of the masculine pronouns in every stanza. How can I keep on singing these songs? I recall Anna Quindlen writing a decade or so ago, "Well, we stick around because it's our church too" (still searching for source). But you know what -- when I hear those hymns and readings, it sure doesn't feel like my church. It's all about something that's not about me, and it hurts my heart.

Sometimes under my breath, I just change all the words to include women too, but this can be exhausting and should not be necessary (e.g., "With God as our father, brothers all are we"). Subversive murmuring may work in the short term, but we need a feminist revision. I guess it worked out okay for my sons -- Sunday school and choir -- but if they had had sisters, I'd have been worried for those girls and the negative impact on their psyches. Wouldn't it be nice to have a religion that included everyone? A Heavenly Mother (and I don't mean Mary; I mean a Goddess) as well as a Heavenly Father?

Wouldn't it be nice if God had a wife and Jesus had a sister?!

Next Fortnightly Post
Thursday, April 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading


  1. http://darkwoodbrew.org/father-heaven-and-the-limits-of-language/

  2. Katha Pollitt:  "Never mind that women constantly have to write themselves into language that does not specifically mention them—the Constitution, for example—and imagine themselves into stories written by men about men."


  3. I have an idea, lets all join hands and sing that inspiring song "Let there be Peace on Earth . . . with God as our Father, Brothers all are we." And lets just remind all the mothers and sisters that "when we say MEN, we mean WOMEN too."

    This is what Pollitt means about women having to imagine themselves into the stories of our history & culture, into our patriotic songs and into our religion.

    Why aren't more men willing to use their imaginations here a little bit, the way women have been doing forever?