maggi dawn

40 ways: keeping a joyful, thankful, holy Lent

Lent begins on Wednesday February 10th 2016;  it lasts a bit over 6 weeks, or around 40 Days. So here are 40 ideas for keeping Lent. The Great Commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your giving it up heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbour as yourself” (with the implication that caring for God’s earth is rolled into the bargain) so I’ve thought up 40 ideas for keeping Lent that appeal to the creative and literary, to the development of community and relationships, to promote social action, and to encourage ecological responsibility, as well as individual spiritual concerns. You could:

  • choose just one of these (such as writing a thank you note) and do it every day.
  • choose one category and repeat it throughout Lent.
  • choose one from each category to do throughout Lent.
  • agree with a group of friends, or with your congregation, on one or more of these to practice together.

If you are very organised and energetic, I suppose you could even do them all. But I think it unlikely.

1. Start or join an online book club and read a Lent book with others.
2. Start or join a local book club to read a Lent book with others.
3. Watch “40” by Si Smith
4. Choose one great novel you have never read, and read it this Lent. Middlemarch, or To Kill a Mockingbird, for instance. Is there a character you closely identify with?
5. Choose a great novel you have read before, and re-read it. Take your time. What do you see this time that you didn’t see before? A character you didn’t notice, a theme you missed the first time, a theme that touches you now because 5/10/20 years on you see the world differently?
6. Choose one new musician or artist and listen to their work regularly throughout Lent. Listen to the words. Listen to the tone, the melody, the structure, the texture of the music. Why does it move you?

Social/community spirituality
7. Say sorry. Where is there a relationship that is cooled, ruptured, upset? Say sorry.
8. Write a random thank you note (or email, but handwritten is so lovely!). Who do you appreciate?
9. Make a list of your friends. One per day, send a brief email, make a phone call or post a brief note to say hello. Keep it short and do-able: the point is to keep in touch, not write a novel!
10. Keep a group journal. See here for Steve Taylor’s Advent Journal, and adapt it for Lent.
11. Invite friends for a Simple Sunday Soup lunch. The company is the point. Eat together. Simple, unfussy food; good, sustaining company.
12. Make a point of smiling and saying thank you to people – in shops, on buses, in pubs, on pavements, to delivery people, to teachers and roadsweepers and vicars, and…
13. Power down. See whether you can agree a no-phones at meals policy in your home, switch off all technology 30-60 minutes before bedtime, and make sure you have 30 minutes of uninterrupted time with the person(s) you love the most several times a week.

Spirituality and prayer
14. Don’t give up cake, or chocolate. Instead, give up inherited ideas about God that cripple your soul. See here for more.
15. Read all the way through one Gospel of your choice. About half a chapter a day, or less if you pick Mark.
16. Say a prayer of thanksgiving every day. Thank God for the things you usually take for granted: food, clothes, shelter, life itself.
17. Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down, and learn to keep still and silent for five minutes every day. (You might need to start with one minute and work your way up gradually.) Listen to the inner voice.

Social action
18. Take your unwanted clothes and goods to the Goodwill/Oxfam/charity shop.
19. Volunteer some time at a local charity.
20. Make a donation to a charity.
21. Join the dots between prayer and action: choose something to pray for *and* give time or money to.
22. Find out which of your local schools needs volunteers to hear children read.
23. Revive a medieval habit: reduce your household bills by eating more simply, and give the money saved to the poor. (Combine with no. 11 to make it a community exercise.)

Ecological/environmental – form a new habit in Lent to care for the earth.
24. Change the light bulbs in your house to eco-bulbs, and turn off lights when you leave the room. (Note: that thing about flourescent bulbs using as much energy to turn on as they do to burn for 30 minutes? It’s an urban myth. Turn them off.)
25. Turn the heating down by one or two degrees
26. Hang up your laundry instead of using the dryer.
27. Unplug your appliances when you aren’t using them. Do the earth a favour, and save around $100 US/£60 GBP a year as well, which you could give to charity or church.
28. Learn how to reduce your energy consumption. (Bonus: your bills will go down so you can give a little more away!)
29. Reduce, Re-use, Recycle i) – reduce food wastage. Shop with a list; use up leftovers, only buy and cook what you can eat and really need.
30. Reduce, Re-use, Recycle ii) – spend a couple of hours one weekend thinking about your shopping habits. How can you buy less, avoid buying what you don’t really want or need, eliminate shopping for leisure, buy vintage, buy fairtrade. Fairtrade USA  — Fairtrade UK
31. Use your bicycle, the bus, or share car journeys. Less fuel used = happier earth.
32. Find a source of locally grown food and support it, or grow something yourself.

Joy-inspiring spiritual practices.
33. Pause 4 or 5 times today to give thanks for what you usually take for granted. Food. Shelter. Life. Friends.
34. Take a leisurely walk, alone or with friends. Stop often to look for beauty.
35. De-clutter a cupboard or wardrobe. Give away what you don’t use or need.
36. Sing! Singing fills your system with oxygen and makes you feel better.
37. Look up! What do you miss on your daily journeys by looking down at your feet?
38. Clean the windows. Let the sunshine in!
39. Plant some bulbs in the garden or in a pot for the windowsill.
40.  Say thank you to others, for simple things. Tell people when you appreciate their kindness or value their friendship. Don’t wait to give a eulogy: tell them now.

For more on Lent: check out my book – Giving it Up: Daily Readings from Ash Wednesday to Easter Day

Saving Daylight 2am on Saturday night, the clocks will go back in the United States. In the UK, this twice a year ritual of messing about with time is known as “British Summer Time”, a title which often gives rise to wry comments during a poor summer. Here in the United States it’s called Daylight Saving, which one Robertson Davies (1913-1995) found just as much a misnomer as “British Summer Time” seems to me.

“I don’t really care how time is reckoned so long as there is some agreement about it,” wrote Davies, “but I object to being told that I am saving daylight when my reason tells me that I am doing nothing of the kind. I even object to the implication that I am wasting something valuable if I stay in bed after the sun has risen. As an admirer of moonlight I resent the bossy insistence of those who want to reduce my time for enjoying it. At the back of the Daylight Saving scheme I detect the bony, blue-fingered hand of Puritanism, eager to push people into bed earlier, and get them up earlier, to make them healthy, wealthy and wise in spite of themselves.”

(Robertson Davies, The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks, 1947, XIX, Sunday.)

Thanks. And I love you.

I’ve been r12122408_904295822983188_3360471954791227625_naising my son by myself for a long time. Sometimes it’s really hard work; often it’s show-stoppingly brilliant; most of the time it’s just normal life. Today, though, came one of those tiny moments in the middle of an unremarkable day that suddenly wakes you up to the wonder and the joy of being in this world.

I get home from a relentlessly tiring week at work. Before I even have time to make a cup of tea, I get a text:
Son: Mum, I need a favor. I’m at my gig, and the drum throne on the stage is way too low for me. Can you bring mine?
Me: Sure. You mean right now?
Son: Yes, please?
Me: B there in 30 mins.
Son: Thanks Mum!

Thirty minutes later I text him that I’ve arrived. I see his six foot three frame loping across the car park, then he disappears between the trees, and then suddenly re-emerges, face smeared with green paint because it’s Homecoming weekend, and that’s what they do here. I think my English boy has become just a tad more American than he realises.

“Mum!” he says (in his deep bass voice that still surprises me every day), “You are the absolute best.”
That’s sweet, I think to myself, but not surprising as I just drove five miles through Friday rush hour to save his gig. And I did bring him up to say please and thank you.

But then he leans over and gives me a huge, unabashed kiss. Right there in the High School car park, where it really, truly isn’t cool to kiss your mum.
“Honestly, Mum. Thanks. And I love you!”

And he lopes off again, drum throne in hand, leaving me feeling calmly, deeply joyful, as if my feet have somehow reconnected with the earth, my heart rejoined my soul. With all the handicaps and shortcomings our nomadic, turbulent life has consisted of, this remarkable young man has grown up in front of my eyes, and he is a wonder to me.

(photo credit: Gabe Simerson)

Naming God: Inclusive and Expansive language

“Like the nine billion names of God
Don’t bring you any closer
To anyone you can simply set eyes on…”          

(Bruce Cockburn, One of the Best Ones)

Language is a powerful tool. How we employ it in theology matters because we are attempting to articulate truth as we find it. But liturgical language has a particular power to reinforce ideas, images and beliefs; it is a performative utterance, enhanced and reinforced by rhythm, poetry, and music, and it sounds the depths within us because it is employed consciously and deliberately in relationship to God and to the worshipping community. It’s hard, then, to overestimate the importance of the language of worship, and in constructing it we need to attend to concerns that are closely entwined: pastoral, theological and aesthetic.

Innovation in liturgical language always has a theological undercurrent, but the initial motivation for change is often pastoral, rising from a concern to ensure that those who come to worship do not feel excluded, disinherited, or undervalued by the language of worship. In response to this, words that imply feudal, military or imperial power, gender attribution, or other culturally sensitive issues, have often been carefully excised from liturgical scripts, rendering unusable for the purposes of worship a whole slew of names for God, such as Father, Lord, King, Warrior, Strong Tower, Shield, Defender.

Problems raised by “Inclusive” Language
There are, though, a number of problems with this exercise. In the effort to make language inclusive to one group, we can inadvertently exclude another, or we find that we have achieved little more than replacing one problem with another. For example, to exclude any charge of patriarchy, liturgical language may be re-cast by replacing all male pronouns with female ones. Certainly this may have some value in shocking the ear, startling the mind into entertaining a new vision of God. But simply employing a new set of pronouns while leaving the structure and enactment of the liturgy exactly the same is at best a temporary fix. If we merely substitute one power structure for another, a new metaphor for an old one, then we are in danger of merely whitewashing sepulchers, rather than drawing closer to truth.

Another approach is to remove gendered language from liturgy altogether, and instead to engage neutral descriptors for God. One of the most-used replacements for Father-Son-Spirit is Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer, which attempts to retain a three-fold character without attributing gender to God. Yet here again the language has theological limitations. It is a seemingly Trinitarian formula, but these three actions properly belong to God in Unity; to assign them to three functionary names is, by implication, to deny the unity of God in creation or redemption. But perhaps worse, used in exclusion, this kind of language describes God in terms of function rather than relationship. It is fundamental to Christian theology that God, while not a corporeal being, is not impersonal. God is not an “it”, and the language of job descriptions doesn’t serve to address God adequately.

A further issue with avoiding particular names or pronouns is the tortured relationship that results with historic texts that are undeniably beautiful, but were not written in inclusive language. Adapting anonymous texts from unknown sources is one matter, but can we really justify updating the elegant and captivating language of John Donne, George Herbert, or John Mason? (If it doesn’t disturb the artistic conscience to replace a pronoun in one of their works, at least one would hope that respect for rhyme and meter might deter us!) But once we realize we cannot rewrite their words, are we really going to accept the impossible choice that the demands of inclusivity impose, and impoverish our experience by never reading them at all?

“Expansive Language”: a better solution?
It’s clear, then, that inclusive language poses significant difficulties. But another approach is available in “expansive language”, which has been an undercurrent in liturgics for some time, and has more recently come to the fore.

Expansive language aims to use as many names and metaphors for God as possible; to stretch the imagination towards God, in order to allow our minds and our mouths to discover that alongside the comfort of loved and familiar imagery, there is also novelty, shock, challenge and joyful surprise in our encounter with the Divine. If we limit our language for political, pastoral or personal reasons we run the risk of domesticating God, or even of making God in our own image. But the beauty of expansive language is that rather than limiting the range of language and metaphor available to us, it opens up many more possibilities. Rather than excluding or excising difficult terms, they are brought into balance by contextualizing them within a broad range of language that doesn’t privilege one name above another. Formulations such as Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer become less loaded with theological problems if they are used alongside other names such as Donne’s “three person’d God”, or the abundance of metaphor within the pages of scripture – God is a rock, God is water, God is a shepherd, a lioness, a mother hen. Traditional names such as Father or Lord can find their place when they are moderated by the use of a plethora of other names, which together serve as a constant reminder that God is far bigger than any one of them. And we are able to engage in a “conversation with the Saints” by reading historical texts, in the language of other ages, thus recognizing that our faith is not merely of the moment, but has an enduring quality.

Walter Brueggemann encourages expanding, rather than restricting the range of terms we use, pointing out that the cutting down of metaphors leads not merely to impoverished language, but to idolatry. “The Biblical defense against idolatry is plural metaphors. If you reduce the metaphors too much, you will end with an idol. So more metaphors gives more access to God…”[1]

What if I don’t like certain names, or don’t use them on principle?
If you are entirely unused to hearing God addressed as mother, it will sound strange the first few times. Or, if you have resolved never to name God with male pronouns, then it may appear retrograde to hear them included. But the invitation to expansive language is a call to stretch the imagination towards God, rather than focusing on those words that touch our own personal reflexes. It is more than merely a request to tolerate things we dislike for the sake of others, even though that has a value in itself; but an invitation to discover a richer imaginative world. Naming God in ways that are unfamiliar or uncomfortable pulls us out of our comfort zones, and thus we are enabled to catch a glimpse of the God who is “other”, a mystery that is beyond human telling.

Expansive language, then, delivers the freedom to play with language creatively, to encompass grammatical elegance and poetic beauty, to include unedited ancient language that underlines the historicity and enduring quality of faith. And the result of expanding rather than eliminating vocabulary is a liturgical language that is more broadly inclusive of those who come to worship. Rather than adjusting our language to remove all offence, then, let us stretch our imaginations: use the names that others use, listen to the various narratives encompassed within this community, and try out the names that emerge from them. Each of us may encounter names that are unfamiliar, curious, or even a little disturbing. But as Desmond Tutu famously said, we are a “rainbow people of God”; our language needs to reflect that diversity, rather than the dullness of neutralization.

Rather than make our capacity for naming God smaller, then, perhaps it would be better to reflect on the fact that some have refused to articulate any name for God as a way of acknowledging the complete otherness of transcendent holiness and mystery. Perhaps it would be better, too, to explore the breadth of the ways God has tentatively been named, always in the knowledge that every name reflects only a tiny part of the reality. We might rediscover, from the scriptures, and from two thousand years of Christian theology, some of the many names of God: helper[2], Lord[3], servant and friend[4]; compassionate father, a mother who breastfeeds her children and knits[5], a tigress, a mother hen, a shepherd, a rock and a tower, a shield and a defence, a landowner, a housekeeper[6], a baker of bread, a mighty ruler and a powerless infant, the light that lightens the world, and the darkness that is above all light[7]; the God who is both love and wisdom,[8] and at the same time the God whose name, however close we try to get to it, will always elude us.

Let’s take all these names and more besides, let’s roll them around in our mouths, and taste and see whether they are, in fact, good; and let us feel our way towards articulating our worship in a way that is both inclusive and respectful of one another as it is honoring and worshipful of the God whose name, as St Paul says, is above all names.[9]

originally published in 2011, Marquand Reader, Yale Divinity School

[1] Brueggemann, in an interview with Krista Tippet for On Being, 2011
[2] John 14:16
[3] John 20:28
[4] John 15:15
[5] Julian of Norwich
[6] Luke 15 – see Letty Russell, Household of Freedom
[7] Dionysius the Areopagite
[8] Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith
[9] Philippians 2:11

Heart or mind? Henri Nouwen on University teaching.

I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t gone through the university. I am very grateful for my own education as well as for my years of teaching at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard. I still believe that the university is a place where people can develop their minds and learn skills, but also they can develop their personalities and their spiritual life.

For me the university has always been an ideal context for spiritual formation. I always felt that if you want to offer spiritual formation at the university, you can. It is not that the university as such is against spiritual formation. It is just that often the university does not know how to integrate spiritual formation within its academic disciplines.

I must also say that the university is an enormously competitive place. It lives by an ethic of upward mobility. It says, “You have to make it in life. You have to be better. You have to be a doctor or a lawyer or whatever, and you have to show that you can do it.” That’s the world. The university has become a place that prepares you for the fights in the world.

But a university with a Christian or a spiritual side to it is good when it allows the people to realize that the deepest human values are beyond competition, that Jesus was into “downward mobility.” He took the descending way. He talked about humility, forgiveness, and healing.

A university education is very important. Here in our community, I work hard to get people into higher education, so that some of our people take degrees in theology or social work. I am not anti-intellectual. Just the opposite! I’m not saying, “Go to a nice little community and spend the rest of your life there.” When a young man comes to work with us, after a few years I say, “Why don’t you go and get a degree?” You have to be as prudent as snakes and gentle as doves.

Now some universities, more than others, are able to live with the tension between downward and upward mobility, the tension between ambition and humility, and so forth. Next fall I’ll be teaching at the university, and I feel very welcome there.

The people there are good and caring people who love Christ and the gospel. But also they have to raise scholarships, give grades, compete, and get students. It’s also a very worldly operation. I don’t think it’s so bad that the tension exists.

The great teachers are always those who can live the tension. They are not criticizing everybody, they’re not complaining. They give young people a vision. In my own family my father was always saying to me, “Be sure that you make a difference in the world. Be sure that I can be proud of you.” And my mother would say, “Be sure you stay close to Jesus.” (And my father agrees with my mother!) Yes, it’s a competitive world, but where is your heart?

an extract from Darryl Tippens’ interview with Henri Nouwen conducted at the L’Arche community called Daybreak near Toronto, Ontario, Canada on December 29, 1993.

Our rescue remedy is the timeless now…

Elbert Hubbard wrote in his notebooks (1927): “Making men live in three worlds at once — past, present and future has been the chief harm organized religion has done.” I think Hubbard was on to something. As a lover of history, I am convinced that the only way to live well is to live in a cultured awareness of both the glories and the disasters of history, and with a respect for the future of the world, of our children. But that’s not the same thing as living nostalgically or regretfully in the past, or so much under the burden or hope of the future that the present is subservient to it. Having the perspective of past and future is not the same thing as living in them. The only place we can actually be alive is in the present.

Alan Beam wrote a poem about how the right response to the awareness of eternity is to live in the present–not to ignore the past, or to care nothing for the future, but to realise that only in the present can everything come into focus and depth, so that we don’t just skim over each moment without entering into the joy that is there in everyday moments. I’m thinking of moments over the last 24 hours that seemed to stretch into eternity: good news, shared with a friend, that made her face light up with a brilliant smile and made me dance around the room. The taste of just-braised spinach, the sound of my son’s voice, the feeling of satisfied tiredness at the end of a good day, the pink-and-yellow colour of the room in the early morning light.

Alan Beam commented on his poem: “I was here imagining my wife sharing with me a sudden illumination as to how a belief in the timelessness of the present might offer some reassurance about life’s fleetingness as we entered middle age.”

Time is…

I fear time’s tumbril hurrying us

-bare wee foetuses

hardly rubbed with God’s pleasure-

to the place of execution.

“Stay!” My beloved, Giacometti above,

Renoir below,

spirit shining, horse to horse,

leaps in the way.

An angel rapes a neuron in her brain:

“Celebrate! Our rescue remedy is

the timeless now –

her handmaids

commitment, compassion and conspiracy,

the breathing together of love.

Life is delightful

from womb bliss to birth bliss

from home bliss to death bliss

and beyond

our lives ripple through eternity.


Call: – starting from scratch? starting over? or picking up where you left off?

Genesis 12:1–4a – the call of Abram

“…Liturgically, we nearly always start reading this story at Genesis 12, and by doing this we create the impression that God’s call comes to Abram right out of the blue, as if it has never before occurred to Abram to travel to another land. But if you go back to chapter 11, you discover that Abram begins his nomadic journey years earlier with his father, Terah. They leave Ur of the Chaldees, Terah and his sons and their wives and children, and their destination is Canaan—the place Abram will eventually find as the land of promise…

But at some point the whole family stops in Haran. Do they change their minds about Canaan and decide to settle down? Or do they just intend to break the journey for a while, and then somehow they never get moving again? We don’t know, but what we can see is that God’s call to Abram isn’t something he’s never imagined before. It’s a call to resume a journey he has already begun years earlier, but for some reason has forgotten or given up on…”

First published in The Christian Century, March 10, 2014.  Read the rest here.

Henri Nouwen and the Sugar Maple Tree

IMG_0157[10]Tomorrow morning, a beautiful old tree that stands right outside the window of Marquand Chapel is going to be felled. It is a sugar maple tree, and has delighted generations of people at Yale Divinity School. It survived when we lost other trees in recent storms  – Hurricane Irene, Hurricane Sandy, and Nemo, the winter storm of 2012. But it is an old tree with a number of problems, and despite propping it up with various supports, we’ve known for some time that it couldn’t last forever. Some time ago a new tree was planted close by to grow up in its place. Nevertheless, the tree is such a beloved feature of our landscape that it feels a bit like like losing an old friend.

IMG_3351When I first came to Yale, nearly four years ago, I was stunned by the beautiful view of the tree from inside Marquand Chapel. “Just wait until the Fall,” someone said to me, “we don’t need stained glass windows here, the tree does it all for us.” Sure enough, watching the sugar maple tree go through the colors of the seasons has been an inspiration as we have set up for worship every day.’s a great story about Henri Nouwen and the sugar maple tree. Nouwen is, of course, known the world over for his marvellous books, and his theology that is as deep as it is beautifully written. But at Yale Divinity School, where he taught from 1971-1981, he was loved for the way he built personal friendships throughout the community, breaking down the customary barriers between faculty and students on the basis that he did not believe it was possible to teach students anything valuable about theology withoumichael_morand_2014October 21divinity[1]t allowing them to get to know their teachers as human beings. I’m told he used to hold an “open house” at his apartment every Friday night, the rule of the house being that people not talk about work, but actually get to know each other. But apparently he also spent many hours out in the gardens, chatting with students about their lives, their futures, and their burgeoning ministries – and his favorite place to sit was in the great roots of the sugar maple tree.


It’s sad to see the old tree go, but it’s a reminder that life is a constant round of reinventions, of beginnings and endings. As Pete Seeger put it (paraphrasing Qoheleth):

“To every thing, turn, turn, turn
there is a season, turn, turn, turn,
and a time to every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, a time to reap…”

(Happily, as well as a new, young tree already growing, there are several other spots in Yale Divinity School that commemorate Henri Nouwen’s legacy, including the Nouwen Chapel which is accessible on the lower floor of the library.)

Photo credits (from top): Campbell (Brock) Harmon, Maggi Dawn, Unknown, Michael Morand, Campbell (Brock) Harmon.

Adorno on the essay

“Luck and play are what are essential to the essay. It does not begin with Adam and Eve but with what it wants to discuss; it says what is at issue and stops where it feels itself complete–not where nothing is left to say… The essay does not strive for closed, deductive or inductive construction. It revolts above all against the doctrine–deeply rooted since Plato–that the changing and ephemeral is unworthy of philosophy, against the ancient injustice toward the transitory.”

“The usual reproach against the essay that it is fragmentary and random, itself assumes the givenness of totality and…suggests that man is in control of totality. But the desire of the essay is not to seek and filter the eternal out of the transitory; it wants, rather, to make the transitory eternal.”

“The slightly yielding quality of the essayist’s thought forces him to greater intensity than discursive thought can offer; for the essay, unlike discursive thought, does not proceed blindly, automatically, but at every moment it must reflect on itself.”

“There are no women on my theology bookshelf…”

Last year on Twitter, someone wrote to me “there are no women on my theology bookshelf. Who should I read?”.

I followed up with a blog list, and was pleased to discover that without even looking up from my screen I could easily think of well over a hundred female theologians, ecclesiastical historians, biblical scholars, sociologists of religion, and others who figure on the theological landscape. More names appeared when I actually looked at my own bookshelf.

Replies flooded in through the comments, adding many more names of women authors – both academic and devotional, theoretical and practical, in every area of the theological landscape. Now the academic year is about to begin again, one or two people have mentioned the post again as a resource – so, incomplete though it is, here is the updated blog post with names added from the comments section.

10897776_469733266514841_7639664988515007378_nWhen people ask about “women theologians” the subtext is often “I need to read about “women’s issues” in theology so I need a female author”. But the most interesting women’s voices in theology are not necessarily writing about “women’s issues” per se, they are simply writing theology.  Certainly their experience of theology may be coloured by the fact they are a woman. But there is something insidious about assuming that women are there to add “women’s issues” to what is otherwise “neutral” theology. It implies that theology written by men (mostly white men, incidentally) is neutral theology, while women add the “on-the-side issues” that are not central. But in fact, no one gives you neutral theology. Barth gives you male, Swiss, post-war, post-liberal theology – strongly inflected by his historical setting and personal circumstances. Rahner gives you the perspective of a 20th century male celibate catholic priest, wrestling with language after Wittgenstein. Hauwerwas gives you white, American, Protestant theology; James Cone gives you black American Protestant theology – it’s all theology, but every one of them writes in a way nuanced by their particular setting. There is no such thing as neutral theology. There is theology done by people who happen to be male, by people who may be white, black, or asian, by people who may be disabled or not, poor or rich, Western or not. And theology by women is not done just for women, nor is it only about women; neither should it be treated as a secondary tier of theology. It’s theology, done by women.

As I set out on my PhD studies a few years ago, with my first degree behind me, I began to get calls from publishers asking me to write about women in theology, feminist theology, what is it like to be a woman and a theologian. I took these very flattering letters along to my supervisor, herself a seasoned writer and very fine theologian. “You have a choice,” she said. “You can write about women’s issues as they relate to theology, and that is a fine thing to do. Or you can just carry on doing theology in your area of interest. But you can’t do both.”
“Why not?” I asked.
I never forgot her reply: “I’ve seen so many women start out with such promise,” she said. “Then they are asked to write about being a woman, about being a feminist, and all that stuff. They spend so much time on that, their real area of interest is swamped, and then they don’t do so well on their first call. Then guess what happens? – men, behind closed doors, say to one another – ‘told you so! women can’t cut it in theology!’ So you choose: read Coleridge, or read feminist theology; do one well, but don’t do both of them badly.”

There are so many women with interesting things to say, some writing about feminism but many more simply writing about areas of theology that used to be thought of as a male preserve – or, the earlier you go, writing theology against the culture that denied them access to what was assumed to be a male preserve. This is very far from a complete list, I’m jotting these down off the top of my head – but the fact that I can come up with a list like this without thinking too hard is evidence enough that there are plenty of places to go if you realize there are “no women on your bookshelf”. My categories are not perfect – and some of these writers could appear in two or three categories, but such is the impossibility of lists. I’ve read a lot of books, but I haven’t read everything in every field so there will, of course, be many omissions – if someone’s name isn’t here it is due to my ignorance or forgetfulness, not a reflection on them! Please do continue to add your recommendations in the comments – Note – this is about women on your bookshelf – so this is not a list of wondrous women (of whom there are many), but published women.

ancient voices 
Hildegaard of Bingen (12th Century, German)
Héloïse (Heloise, Héloyse, Helouisa, Eloise, among other spellings) – famed for letters between her and Peter Abelard 12th Century (see also a number of women who have written about them)
Clare of Assisi (13th century Italian)
Julian of Norwich (14th century English mystic) – also note the excellent Frances Beer who writes about her
Margery Kempe
Catherine of Siena (14th Century Italian)
Theresa of Avila (16th century Spanish)

19th and early 20th century 
Katharine Bushnell
Phoebe Palmer (1807 – 1874, American)
Catherine Mumford Booth (19th century English)
Jessie Penn Lewis (1861–1927, Welsh) 
Simone Weil (1909 –1943, French)  
Charlotte von Kirschbaum (1899-1975,  German)
Evelyn Underhill (1875 –194, English) 

biblical studies
Margaret Barker
Jo Bailey-Wells
Lynn Cohick  (Philippians, Ephesians)
Adela Yarbro Collins
Ellen Davis
Katharine Dell
Michal Beth Dinkler
Mary Douglas
Beverly Gaventa
Deirdre Good – biblical studies
Paula Gooder
A. Katherine Grieb – Romans
Judith Gundry Paul and Perseverance: Staying in and Falling Away, 1990
Jane Heath
Morna Hooker
Denise Dombkowski Hopkins – Hebrew Bible
Catherine Kroeger – Biblical studies
Judith Lieu
Lucy Peppiatt
Pheme Perkins
Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza
Carolyn J. Sharp
Francesca Stavrakopoulou
Elsa Tamaz
Phylis Trible
Gale A. Yee, Hebrew Bible

early christianity (AKA patristics)
Pamela Bright – on Tychonius, Augustine
Roberta Bondi (To Pray and to Love; To Love as God Loves, and other titles)
Virginia Burrus
Liz Clark
Kate Cooper
Nicola Denzey
Susanna Elm
Carolyn (Cally) Hammond
Meira Kensky (biblical studies/early christianity – see “Trying Man, Trying God: The Divine Courtroom in Early Jewish and Christian Literature”)
Morwenna Ludlow
Patricia Cox Miller
Sara Parvis
Karen Torjesen
Christine Trevett — Late Antique religion (also 17th-century sectarianism)
Frances Young

early christian art and culture 
Felicity Harley-McGowan
Susan Ashbrook Harvey

Julie Canlis (writes on Calvin)
Christine Helmer (16th-C religion, Reformation, Schleiermacher, Luther, philosophy of religion, constructive and systematic theology)
Charlotte Methuen
Jeannine Olson – Reformation history
Susan Schreiner (Calvin Scholar)

philosophical/systematic/dogmatic/historical theology
Marilyn McCord Adams
Lorraine Cavanagh
Sarah Coakley
Grace Jantzen — Becoming Divine; Power, Gender and Christian Mysticism
Elizabeth Johnson
Karen Kilby
Renate Kobler
Catherine Mowry LaCugna
Sallie McFague (also in ethics) – Models of God & The Body of God
Sara Maitland – (my favourite of hers is A Big-Enough God: Artful Theology, 1994)
Margaret Miles (history of theology)
Nancey Murphy
Catherine Pickstock
Amy Plantinga Pauw
Rosemary Radford Ruether
Tracey Rowland
Anna Rowlands – Catholic theology
Sandra M. Schneiders
Suzanne Selinger
Kate Sonderegger
Janet Soskice
Kathryn Tanner
Susannah Ticciati (apophatic theology, Barth, Augustine)
Angela Tilby
Medi Ann Volpe
Frances Ward
Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendell
Anna Williams
(oh, and yours truly, Maggi Dawn!)

theological memoir (strong in theological content but doubly interesting for their literary form)
Karen Armstrong
Dorothy Day
Anne Lamott
Rachel Mann – Dazzling Darkness
Chine Mbubaegbu Am I Beautiful
Kathleen Norris
Katherine Jefferts Schori

theology, literature and the arts (including novels, poetry and literary critique of notable theological content)
Gillian Boughton – Literature and Christianity
Ruth Etchells (a pioneer in Literature and Theology)
Kathy Galloway (would also figure in systematics) 
Mary Karr Sinners Welcome 
Sarah Miles – Take this Bread
Flannery O’Connor
Marilynne Robinson – Gilead, Home
Dorothy L. Sayers – The Mind of the Maker, Creed and Chaos

ecclesiastical history
Caroline Walker Bynum (medieval history and theology)
Rona Johnston Gordon
Judith Herrin
Frances Knight
Judith Maltby
Jessica Martin
Jane Shaw
Miranda Threlfall-Holmes Monks and Markets: Durham Cathedral Priory 1460-1520
Hannah Thomas – early modern English Catholicism
Christine Trevett — 17th-century sectarianism (also Late Antique religion)
Megan Williams

sociology of religion/religious studies
Linda Woodhead
Kristin Aune
Eileen Barker
Grace Davie
Penny Edgell
Sally Gallagher
Slavica Jakelic
Bernice Martin
Sarah Jane Page
Laurel Schneider
Sonya Sharma

asian christianity and theology
Chloe Starr
Melba Padilla Maggay
Violeta T. Bautista

Teresa Berger
Marva Dawn (no relation!)
Siobhan Garrigan
Janet Morley — All Desires Known
Gail Ramshaw
Melanie Ross The Serious Business of Worship (ed., 2010)
Nicola Slee

ethics/political theology
Susannah Cornwall (theological ethics, sexuality)
Kelly Brown Douglas, (Sexuality and the Black Church)
Margaret Farley
Carrie Pemberton Ford
Amy Laura Hall (also on Kierkegaard)
Jennifer Herdt
Ann Morisy
Rachel Muers
Esther Reed
Anna Rowlands
Emilie Townes

faith and media
Heidi A. Campbell

Bex Lewis
Pam Smith (@revpamsmith)

Barbara Brown-Taylor
Kate Bruce – Igniting the Heart: Preaching and Imagination
Anna Carter Florence
Susan Durber
Fleming Rutledge
Nora Tubbs Tisdale

devotional writing and pastoral/applied theology (including education, youth)
Dorothy Bass
Christina Baxter
Zoe Bennett
Elizabeth Caldwell
Joan Chittister
Barbara Glasson, A spirituality of survival
Elaine Graham
Janet Henderson
Vanessa Herrick
Jane Keiller
Anne Kitch
Joyce Mercer
Bonnie Miller-McLemore
Mary Kate Morse
Mary Clark Moschella
Kathleen Norris
Elaine Ramshaw, Ritual and Pastoral Care
Janet K. Ruffing
Margaret Silf
Rosie Ward, Growing Women Leaders, nurturing women’s leadership in the Church
Lucy Winkett
Margaret Whipp
Almeda M. Wright
Karen Marie Yust

feminist/liberation theology
Ann Loades (see – Feminist Theology: A Reader)
Mary Daly
Jacquelyn Grant: White women’s Christ, Black Women’s Jesus (a womanist thesis, and a notable corrective to some aspects of feminist theology)
Daphne Hampson
Elaine Kaye (with Janet Lees & Kirsty Thorpe – Daughters of Dissent)
Janet Lees
Mercy Amba Oduyoye Daughters of Anowa: African Women and Patriarchy (1995)
Julie Faith Parker
Judith Plaskow
Rosemary Radford Ruether
Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza
Elaine Storkey (her What’s Right with Feminism is a very good intro)
Kirsty Thorpe

some books that attempt to highlight women in theology who were completely overlooked because it was a man’s man’s world:
Teresa Berger Gender Differences and the Making of Liturgical Tradition: Lifting a Veil on Liturgy’s Past (2011)
Reuther, Rosemary R. and Rosemary S. Keller, Women & Religion in America: The Nineteenth Century.
Janet Soskice: Sisters of Sinai
Marion Ann Taylor: Handbook of Women Bible Interpreters
Marion Ann Taylor and Heather Weir – “Let Her Speak for Herself: Nineteenth-Century Women Writing on Women in Genesis”

One begins to wonder how anyone could have a theological bookshelf that has *no* female authors on it…


Read on below for more names I missed on my first think through – thanks to all  commenters for adding to the list, and please read and add to the growing comments list below!

/ Marcella Althaus-Reid /Sarah Apetrei – ecclesiastical history and Reformation /

B / Jenny Baker / Lytta Basset “Holy Anger. Jacob, Job, Jesus” / Adele Berlin, biblical studies / Kimberly Belcher – Liturgical studies/sacraments / Myra Blyth /  Marcia Bunge /  Athalya Brenner / Alice Bach / Lynn Bechtel / Kathy Black – A Healing Homiletic / Roberta Bondi / Riet Bons-Storm / Rita Nakashimi Brock / Catherine Bushnell /

C / Lisa Sowle Cahill / Susannah Cornwall / Kate Coleman – Black Women and theology /

D / Dana Robert Daneel / Lilian Daniel / Mary Albert Darling “The God of Intimacy and Action” (co-author)  / Kenda Creasy Dean – youth ministry / Adrienne Dengerink-Chaplin for philosophical aesthetics / Lorraine Dixon / Verna Dozier/ Musa Dube from Botswana –  on post colonialism / Kristin Du Mez, A New Gospel for Women /

E / Elizabeth Elliott / Rachel Held Evans / Nancy Eiesland (The Disabled God) / Mary Evans – OT/biblical studies

F/ Danna Nolan Fewell (“Gender, Power, and Promise, co-authored with David Gunn) / Sarah Foot – ecclesiastical history / Esther Fuchs

G / Freda Gardner, Christian education / Julie Gittoes (ecclesiology, eucharist) // Lisa Goddard and Clare Hendry “The gender agenda” / Ruth Gouldbourne  / Mary Grey / A. Katherine Grieb. – Romans

H/ Joann Hackett, biblicalstudies // Georgia Harkness / Jane Harrison / / Carter Heyward / Sheryl Kujawa Holbrook / Bell Hooks /

I/ Ada María Isasi-Díaz, biblical studies / Lisa Isherwood  Companion to the Bible”/

J/ Mignon Jacobs (“Gender, Power, and Persuasion”) /   Sara Japhet, biblical studies / Kelly Johnson / Serene Jones

K/ Namsoon Kang – Cosmopolitan Theology / Sylvia Keesmaat, biblical studies & cultural/reformation studies / Catherine Keller / Tikva Frymer-Kensky / Patricia O’Connell Killen  / Judith Kovacs – patristics and biblical studies / Chung Hyun Kyung

L/ Mary Jo Leddy “Radical Gratitude” / Lilly Lewin – youth ministry and worship  / Hannah Lewis, Deaf Liberation Theology / Diana Lipton /

M/ Kathleen McVey, church history / Catherine Madsen / Jacqueline Mariña, on Schleiermacher / Hilary Marlow – OT / Frederica Matthews-Greene / Charlotte Methuen – Reformation / Carol Meyers  biblical studies / Alison Milbank  /  Margaret Mitchell, biblical studies /  Alison Morgan – The Wild Gospel /

N/ Beth Newman  / Hulda Niebuhr / Irene Nowell – OT/Biblical studies / Ann Nyland “The Source”  /

O/ Kathleen O’Connor /

P/ Elaine Pagels / Kimberley Patton, Comparative and Historical Study of Religion, (ancient Greek religion and archaeology, research interests in archaic sanctuaries and in the iconography of sacrifice)  /  Rebecca Ann Parker / Helen Pearson / / Kristina LaCelle-Peterson – church history/theology / Elizabeth Phillips — political theology / Christine Pohl pastoral theology/Kwok Pui-Lan – postcolonial theology /

R/  Randi Rashkover (Jewish Philosophy in conversation with Christian Theology) / / Ilona Rashkow / Esther Reed /  Mayra Rivera, postcolonial theology /Gillian Rose /Helen Rosevere – missionary, devotional-formational writing / Joyce Rupp – contemplative writing

S/ Catherine Doobs Sakenfeld, biblical studies / Angela Shier-Jones / Edith Stein / Suzanne Scholz / Dorothy Solle / Dorothee Sölle / Brita Stendahl – Women’s ministry / Edith Stein / Tammi Schneider (“Mothers of Promise”) / Susie Stanley – church history/theology / Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki,

T Elsa Tamez, from Mexico – on scriptural interpretation  / Marianne M Thompson /Fredrica Harris Thompsett / Deanna Thompson ( is a Lutheran theologian and professor. She writes on feminist religion and has a memoir on dealing with cancer. / Kristin de Troyer /

W/ Heather Walton / Frances Ward / Helen Wareing / Renita Weems, biblical studies/ Sharon Welch. (Unitarian theologian) / Pamela Cooper White – pastoral care/psychotherapy / Johanna van Wijk-Bos (“Making Wise the Simple: The Torah in Christian Faith and Practice”) / Jane Williams / Michaela Youngson / Lauren Winner – memoir / Ellen van Wolde / Mildred Wynkoop – theology / Flora Wuellner

And more to add from recent comments, Twitter etc:

Brita L. Gill-Austern
Joann Hackett
Jeanne Stevenson Moessner
Bonnie Miller McLemore

Awesome list! I’d also add HDS practice of ministry prof, Stephanie Paulsell.

Fantastically helpful list. Can add:

Gail O’Day, Ruth Edwards, Helen Bond, Ella Nutu, Ingrid Kitzberger, Mary Coloe, Wendy Sproston North, Bridget Gilfillan Upton, Jane Heath, Loveday Alexander, Cheryl Exum, Elaine Graham, Maggi Dawn …there are thousands…and thats just Johannine and Biblical scholars who popped into my head… and I’m so happy that my bookshelves are bursting with them!

from south africa: Denise Ackermann, Sarojini Nadar
from ghana/nigeria Mercy Amba Odoyoye (The Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians).

Jan Berry, British liturgist
Priscilla Pope-Levison, theologian and historian (Building the Old Time Religion: Women Evangelists in the Progressive Era)

Margot Kässmann,
Hetty Lallemann – OT/biblical studies
Joy Davidman, “Smoke on the Mountain – An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments in terms of today”, first published by Hodder in 1955

Sandra Richter “The Epic of Eden”
Rose Dowsett, Miriam Adeney