maggi dawn

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 this has become something of a go-to resource – so, incomplete though it is, here it is again, still being updated from time to time with names added from the comments section.


When 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 women’s voices in theology are not necessarily writing on “women’s issues” per se, they are simply writing theology. Certainly their experience of theology will be colored 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 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, German, 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 may be male, female, or non-binary; by people who may be white, black or Latinx, people in North or South America, Antarctica, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia, by people who may be disabled or not, Western or not, poor or rich. 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 for everyone, 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 renowned 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 theory; do one well, but don’t do both of them badly. Whatever area of interest you choose, you are being a feminist anyway.”

There are so many women with interesting things to say, some writing about feminism in particular, 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 list names some of them. It is very far from a complete list, as I am jotting these down off the top of my head – but the fact that I can come up with a list of more than a hundred without even looking at my bookshelf 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 their work! Please do add your recommendations in the comments – Note – this is about women on your bookshelf – 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)
Mechthild (Mechtild/Matilda) of Magdeburg (c. 1207 – c. 1282/1294)
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)
(and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)

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)
(and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)

biblical studies
Margaret Barker
Jo Bailey-Wells
Lynn Cohick  (Philippians, Ephesians)
Adela Yarbro Collins
Ellen Davis
Katharine Dell
Michal Beth Dinkler
Mary Douglas
Wil Gafney
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
Dorothy Lee (Transfiguration, 2004)
Judith Lieu
Lucy Peppiatt
Pheme Perkins
Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza
Carolyn J. Sharp
Francesca Stavrakopoulou
Elsa Tamaz
Phylis Trible
Gale A. Yee, Hebrew Bible
(and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)

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
Elaine Pagels
Sara Parvis
Karen Torjesen
Christine Trevett — Late Antique religion (also 17th-century sectarianism)
Frances Young
Susan Wood
(and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)

early christian art and culture 
Felicity Harley-McGowan
Susan Ashbrook Harvey
(and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)

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)
(and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)

philosophical/systematic/dogmatic/historical theology
Marilyn McCord Adams
Lorraine Cavanagh
Sarah Coakley
M. Shawn Copland
(yours truly) Maggi Dawn
Grace Jantzen
Elizabeth Johnson
Karen Kilby
Renate Kobler
Catherine Mowry LaCugna
Sallie McFague (also in ethics)
Janice McRandal (see Christian Doctrine and the Grammar of Difference)
Sara Maitland – (my favourite: A Big-Enough God: Artful Theology, 1994)
Margaret Miles (history of theology)
Nancey Murphy
Catherine Pickstock
Amy Plantinga Pauw
Rosemary Radford Ruether
Letty Russell
Marika Rose
Tracey Rowland
Anna Rowlands – Catholic theology
Sandra M. Schneiders
Suzanne Selinger
Kate Sonderegger
Janet Soskice
Kathryn Tanner
Cathy Thomson
Heather Thomson
Susannah Ticciati (apophatic theology, Barth, Augustine)
Angela Tilby
Medi Ann Volpe
Frances Ward
Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendell
Anna Williams
(and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)

theological memoir (strong in theological content but doubly interesting for their literary form)
Karen Armstrong
Nadia Bolz-Weber
Dorothy Day
Anne Lamott
Rachel Mann – Dazzling Darkness
Chine Mbubaegbu Am I Beautiful
Kathleen Norris
Katherine Jefferts Schori
Lauren Winner
(and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)

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
(and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)

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
(and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)

sociology of religion/religious studies
Kristin Aune
Eileen Barker
Grace Davie
Penny Edgell
Sally Gallagher
Slavica Jakelic
Bernice Martin
Sarah Jane Page
Laurel Schneider
Sonya Sharma
Linda Woodhead
(and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)

asian christianity and theology
Chloe Starr
Melba Padilla Maggay
Violeta T. Bautista
Pui-Lan Kwok – postcolonial theology
(and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)

liturgy, worship, musicology
Kimberley Belcher
Teresa Berger
Marva Dawn (no relation!)
Siobhan Garrigan
Maeve Louise Heaney
Monique Ingalls
Janet Morley — All Desires Known
Gail Ramshaw
Tanya Riches
Melanie Ross The Serious Business of Worship (ed., 2010)
Nicola Slee
(and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)

ethics/political theology
Susannah Cornwall (theological ethics, sexuality)
Keri Day
Kelly Brown Douglas (Sexuality and the Black Church)
Margaret Farley
Carrie Pemberton Ford
Jane Foulcher
Amy Laura Hall (also writes on Kierkegaard)
Melanie Harris
Jennifer Herdt
Ann Morisy
Rachel Muers
Esther Reed
Anna Rowlands
Emilie Townes
Deanna Thompson (Lutheran, feminist religion)
Ruth Valerio
Traci. C. West
(and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)

faith and media
Heidi A. Campbell

Olive Fleming Drane
Angela Gorrell — Always On (2019)
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
(and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)

devotional writing and pastoral/applied/practical theology (including education, youth) (you’re right, this category needs dividing up! watch this space …)
Dorothy Bass
Christina Baxter
Charisse Barron
Zoe Bennett
Elizabeth Caldwell
Joan Chittister
Katie Cross (Practical Theology)
Becca Dean — Be, Live, Pray
Rachel Held Evans
Barbara Glasson, A spirituality of survival
Elaine Graham (Practical Theology)
Janet Henderson
Vanessa Herrick
Jane Keiller
Anne Kitch
Joyce Mercer (Practical Theology)
Bonnie Miller-McLemore
Mary Kate Morse
Mary Clark Moschella (Practical Theology)
Kathleen Norris
Evelyn L. Parker
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
(and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)

feminist/liberation/womanist/queer theology
Marcella Althaus-Reid
Ann Loades (see – Feminist Theology: A Reader)
Mary Daly
Ruth M. B. Gouldbourne
Jacquelyn Grant: White women’s Christ, Black Women’s Jesus was the first? (or among the first?) womanist book, and a notable corrective to some aspects of feminist theology
Daphne Hampson
Elaine Kaye (with Janet Lees & Kirsty Thorpe – Daughters of Dissent)
Janet Lees
Serene Jones
Eboni Marshall-Turman (Toward a Womanist Ethic of Incarnation…)
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 classic intro)
Kirsty Thorpe
Linn Tonstad
Renita Weems (also in biblical studies)
(and more in the alphabetical list at the bottom of the page)

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 add new names below until I have looked them up myself — trying to ensure that the list above is all women who are *published* in and around the broad field of Christian theology — there are plenty more women who are great speakers, preachers, teachers, ministers, and more, but that’s for another set of lists! Thanks to all  commenters for adding to the list–please do read and add to the growing comments list below!

Denise Ackermann (from South Africa) / Miriam Adeney / Loveday Alexander / Sarah Apetrei – ecclesiastical history and Reformation /

B Alice Bach /  Jenny Baker / Lytta Basset “Holy Anger. Jacob, Job, Jesus” / Lynn Bechtel / Kimberly Belcher – Liturgical studies/sacraments / Alison Benders (systematics) / Adele Berlin, biblical studies / Jan Berry, British liturgist / Myra Blyth / Marcia Bunge /  Athalya Brenner / Kathy Black – A Healing Homiletic / Helen Bond / Roberta Bondi / Riet Bons-Storm / Kate Bowler (history) / Rita Nakashimi Brock / Catherine Bushnell /

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

D / Dana Robert Daneel / Lilian Daniel / Mary Albert Darling “The God of Intimacy and Action” (co-author)  / Joy Davidman, “Smoke on the Mountain – An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments in terms of today”, first published by Hodder in 1955 / Kenda Creasy Dean – youth ministry / Adrienne Dengerink-Chaplin for philosophical aesthetics / Lorraine Dixon / Rose Dowsett / Sally Douglas (AUS) / Verna Dozier/ Musa Dube from Botswana –  on post colonialism / Kristin Du Mez, A New Gospel for Women /

E / Ruth Edwards /  Elizabeth Elliott / Nancy Eiesland (The Disabled God) / Mary Evans – OT/biblical studies / Cheryl Exum

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

G / Freda Gardner, Christian education / Julie Gittoes (ecclesiology, eucharist) / Lisa Goddard and Clare Hendry “The gender agenda” / Cristina Lledo Gomez (AUS) / Mary Grey / A. Katherine Grieb. – Romans / Brita L. Gill-Austern /

H/ Joann Hackett, biblical studies / Georgia Harkness / Jane Harrison / Jennifer Harvey (ethics) / Jane Heath / Gina Hens-Piazza (biblical studies) / Carter Heyward / Sheryl Kujawa Holbrook / Bell Hooks / Mary Hunt (ethics)

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 / Karen Jobes (Biblical studies) / Serene Jones

K/ Namsoon Kang – Cosmopolitan Theology / Margot Kässmann / Sylvia Keesmaat, biblical studies & cultural/reformation studies / Catherine Keller / Tikva Frymer-Kensky / Patricia O’Connell Killen  / Ingrid Kitzberger / Judith Kovacs – patristics and biblical studies / Chung Hyun Kyung / Pui-lan Kwon (Feminist theology)

L Hetty Lallemann – OT/biblical studies / Mary Jo Leddy “Radical Gratitude” / Lilly Lewin – youth ministry and worship  / Hannah Lewis, Deaf Liberation Theology / Diana Lipton / Victoria Lorrimer (AUS) /

M/ Bonnie Miller McLemore / Kathleen McVey, church history / Catherine Madsen / Jacqueline Mariña, on Schleiermacher / Tanya Marlow / Hilary Marlow – OT / Frederica Matthews-Greene / Charlotte Methuen – Reformation / Carol Meyers  biblical studies / Alison Milbank  /  Margaret Mitchell, biblical studies /  Jeanne Stevenson Moessner / Alison Morgan – The Wild Gospel / Monique Moultie (ethics)

N/ Sarojini Nadar (from South Africa) / Susan Nelson. Beyond Servanthood / Beth Newman  / Carol A. Newsom / Hulda Niebuhr / Wendy Sproston North / Irene Nowell – OT/Biblical studies / Ella Nutu / Ann Nyland “The Source” /

O/ Kathleen O’Connor / Gail O’Day / Mercy Amba Odoyoye (The Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians) / Kate Ott /

P/ 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 / Stephanie Paulsell, practice of ministry / Helen Pearson / Kristina LaCelle-Peterson – church history/theology / Elizabeth Phillips — political theology / Christine Pohl pastoral theology / Priscilla Pope-Levison, theologian and historian (Building the Old Time Religion: Women Evangelists in the Progressive Era) /

R/  Randi Rashkover (Jewish Philosophy in conversation with Christian Theology) / Ilona Rashkow / Esther Reed / Sandra Richter “The Epic of Eden” / Mayra Rivera, postcolonial theology /Gillian Rose /Helen Rosevere – missionary, devotional-formational writing / / Catherine Ross (Contextual Theology/missiology) / Joyce Rupp – contemplative writing / Letty Russell / Andrea Russell (Richard Hooker and Anglican identity)

S/ Catherine Doobs Sakenfeld, biblical studies / Maria Skotsoba (Orthodox) –Essential Writings / Angela Shier-Jones / Angela D. Sims (womanist and social ethicist) / Edith Stein / Suzanne Scholz / Dorothy Solle / Dorothee Sölle / Brita Stendahl – Women’s ministry / Tammi Schneider (“Mothers of Promise”) / Susie Stanley – church history/theology / Mary Streufert / Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, /

T Elsa Tamez, from Mexico – on scriptural interpretation  / Marianne M Thompson /Fredrica Harris Thompsett / Kristin de Troyer /

U / Bridget Gilfillan Upton /

V / Aana Vigen (ethics) /

W/ Heather Walton  / Helen Wareing / Marina Warner (cultural/historical 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 / Ellen van Wolde / Mildred Wynkoop – theology / Flora Wuellner

Y / Michaela Youngson /


When the cows come home

This week’s conversations have ranged around a number of topics, but two ideas collided and have continued to inspire me.

I spent 3 days this week teaching about poetry and song lyric at our ISM poetry conference, a subject I always warm to and invariably am inspired by.  Along the way I had a long conversation with a friend about how in the middle of your life, you can suddenly find yourself wondering whether you lost your way or missed your calling, and whether it’s too late to do anything about it. And a poem came to mind–not only because it exactly speaks to this point, but because the poet, Patricia Fargnoli, published her first book of poems at the grand age of 62.

(I love stories like this! Both Dostoevsy and Mark Twain were in their mid-40s when their writing began to see the light of day. Laura Ingalls Wilder, of Little House on the Prairie fame, began writing at the age of 44, and worked freelance on short articles for some years, but her first book wasn’t published until she was 64. Daniel Defoe finished writing Robinson Crusoe just before he turned 60, and Mary Wesley famously had her first publishing success at 70.)

Back to Fargnoli’s poem, though. We have so many phrases in the English language to label that vague feeling that what we hope for will never take place.  Hell will freeze over before this or that thing happens; this year, next year, sometime, never is a phrase of helpless procrastination or sorry despair. And how often have you waited for something until the cows come home? Which, of course, they never do–except in Fargnoli’s hopeful, redemptive imagination:

When Will the Cows Come Home?
~Patricia Fargnoli

When the river freezes over and the pot boils
When the cat leaves the corner, when the tulips leave the bed

After absence has made your heart grow fonder
After apples have fallen far from the tree

Where the village is sleeping, the cows will come to the barn
Swishing their long tails, nodding their heads

If you have been waiting too long, the cows will come for you
If you believe in cows, they will come to your hand

If you hold out sweet grass in the late afternoon’s last hour
From the greener pastures, they will surely come to you

After what has gone around, must come around,
They will come home

After the cat’s nine lives are through and the dog’s bone is buried
After the wishbone’s been broken and the turkey’s been eaten

Go with the flow of the river, the cows will come home
After your actions have spoken louder than words

Before all good things have come to an end
Before all the bridges have burned

The cows will come home

If the rolling stone has gathered its moss and is still
If the salt has been thrown over the barn’s shoulder

All things come to those who wait
Cometh the hour, cometh the cows

Better late than never, everything in its own good time
The cows will come home

To your barn shaking their bells
They will come home to you

Science and faith? or science v. faith?

Cosmologist Rev’d Professor David Wilkinson talks about how science is in concert with faith, not in conflict. It’s a good listen.

Why are modern prayers attributed to famous or historical figures?

Yesterday I posted the prayer that is commonly attributed to Sir Francis Drake, though highly unlikely to have been written by him. Inspired by him, maybe? So far I haven’t found any clear provenance for the prayer but from its linguistic style I would guess it’s no older than 15-20 years. If you know anything about it, do let me know!

It’s well known that the internet is humming with misquotes and false attributions. But a number of prayers that pre-date the internet are incorrectly attributed to famed or historical figures. Why would that be?

The Prayer of St Francis (Lord, make me a channel of your peace) was first published in French in 1912. The story of how the prayer came about is here, but I have not yet discovered why it became attributed to Francis. Does anyone know how that happened?

The prayer of Oscar Romero (“We are ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own,”) was written by an American priest, Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, to be included in the draft of a homily given by Cardinal John Dearden in Nov. 1979 for a celebration of departed priests. Five months later Romero was assassinated, which may account for how the prayer became linked with him. Untener later wrote in a book of reflections a piece for the anniversary of Romero’s martyrdom, entitled “The mystery of the Romero Prayer,” the mystery being that though the words of the prayer are attributed to Romero, they were neither written nor spoken by him. Close to his death, he told the story of the prayer’s provenance in a letter to Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, who reported the story In the March 28, 2004 edition of the National Catholic Reporter.   More on the story here.

“The Prayer of Archbishop Oscar Romero” – by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own. Amen.