February 2020 WATERritual

Witnessing Womanist Wisdom

By Diann L. Neu and WATER Staff

Our womanist work is to draw on the rugged endurance of black folks in America who outwit, outmaneuver, and outscheme social systems and structures that maim and stifle mental, emotional, and spiritual growth.

—Katie Geneva Cannon, Katie’s Cannon: Womanism and the Soul of the Black Community

 

Preparation

Put books of womanist authors around the room. Many are listed at the end of this ritual under “Learn More from These Resources.” Gather the books named in this ritual so readers can pick up the book to do the reading. On a table or center space, place African cloths, candles, sweet corn bread, and goblets of wine and juice.

Call to Gather

February is Black History Month. During Black History Month and anticipating Women’s History Month, we gather to celebrate and support womanist theologians and ministers who are on the forefront of the struggles for liberation. We lift up their memories, life stories, and contributions as we walk the path of justice together. We join our sisters of African descent in the United States to resist racial, gender, and class discrimination and all forms of social oppression. We come to learn, to be nourished, and to be inspired by Womanist Wisdom in order to make this world a place of justice, equality, and peace for all.

Naming the Circle

Let us share our names, and give a glimpse of what we think of when we hear the words “Witnessing Womanist Wisdom.”

The Wisdom of Alice Walker, novelist, poet, activist

From In Search of Our Mothers’ Garden: Womanist Prose (San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, 1983), xi

Alice Walker defines womanist:

  1. From womanish (Opp. of “girlish,” i.e., frivolous, irresponsible, not serious.) A black feminist or feminist of color. From the black folk expression of mothers to female children, “You acting womanish,” i.e., like a woman. Usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior. Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered “good” for one. Interested in grown-up doings. Acting grown up. Being grown up. Interchangeable with another black folk expression: “You trying to be grown.” Responsible. In charge. Serious.
  2. Also: A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually. Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility (values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter), and women’s strength. Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or nonsexually. Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not a separatist, except periodically, for health. Traditionally universalist, as in: “Mama, why are we brown, pink, and yellow, and our cousins are white, beige, and black?” Ans.: “Well, you know the colored race is just like a flower garden, with every color flower represented.” Traditionally capable, as in: “Mama, I’m walking to Canada and I’m taking you and a bunch of other slaves with me.” Reply: “It wouldn’t be the first time.”
  3. Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.
  4. Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.

Response: Thank you for your Womanist Wisdom, Alice Walker!

Song

“I Am Light” by Indie Arie  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OL-gxfx2QtY

I am light, I am light
I am light, I am light
I am light, I am light
I am light, I am light

 

I am not the things my family did
I am not the voices in my head
I am not the pieces of the brokenness inside

I am light.

 

I’m not the mistakes that I have made

or any of the things that caused me pain

I am not the pieces of the dream, I left behind

I am light,

I am light.

 

Hmmm.

 

I am not the color of my eyes

I am not the skin on the outside

I am not my age, I am not my race

My soul inside is all light

All light.

 

Hmmm.

I am divinity defined

I am the God on the inside

I am a star, a piece of it all

I, I am light.

The Wisdom of Mercy Amba Oduyoye, Ghanaian source of inspiration for womanist theology

From Introducing African Women’s Theology (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), 76.

Women’s struggle for survival in Africa is not only a struggle to stay alive. It seeks a quality of life that can be truly and fully human not only for themselves but also for men. When women refuse to stay on the margins, they are making a statement concerning their understanding of what it means to be human. The spirituality of resistance therefore enables one to hold on to one’s humanity. Resisting anonymity is an expression of the belief that our individual humanity is meant to find expression in community.

Response: Thank you for your Womanist Wisdom, Mercy Oduyoye!

 

Song

“Ella’s Song,” by Bernice Johnson Reagon of Sweet Honey in the Rock, from Breaths (Songtalk Publishing Company © 1983).

Solo with drum

Freedom:

We who believe in *freedom cannot rest,
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.

The Wisdom of Katie Geneva Cannon

Womanist theologian, founder of the Center for Womanist Leadership, professor of Christian ethics at Union Presbyterian Seminary, first woman of African descent ordained by the United Presbyterian Church in the United States.

Journey to Liberation: The Legacy of Womanist Theology

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjhtUGqFCWg

Being a front runner in a lot of this work, people wanna dismiss the truth that I speak as anecdotal. Okay, if I don’t have a scientific database, where I can prove that what I’ve experienced is true for so many people then it’s not true. So, the epistemological sea of forgetfulness is when people take truth that hurts, truth that goes to the core of the being, truth that goes to the marrow of the bone and people wanna say, if you can’t prove it scientifically, factually then it doesn’t exist. So, what I try to encourage people to do is, that kind of truth that stings like a serpent’s tooth, that kind of truth that makes your teeth itch. The kind of truth that causes some people to lose their minds, up in here, up in here. So even when people call your truth a lie tell it anyway, tell it anyway.

Response: Thank for your Womanist Wisdom, Katie Geneva Cannon!

 

Song

“Ella’s Song”

Solo with drum

Unity:

We who believe in *unity cannot rest,
We who believe in unity cannot rest until it comes.

 

The Wisdom of Emilie M. Townes

Dean of Vanderbilt University Divinity School, professor of womanist ethics and society

Journey to Liberation: The Legacy of Womanist Theology

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjhtUGqFCWg

Black women in America are morally bound…to be, justice seeking whole human beings. Even in the face, of being told, sometimes relentlessly so, that we are less than whole, we are less than human, don’t believe that lie. Don’t live our lives in a lie. We cannot live our lives in the folds of old wounds. It’s not healthy; it’s not life-giving; it doesn’t bring in justice; it doesn’t bring in the next generation. So that’s what the moral imperative is for black women: to live life beyond those old wounds, those old, old folds. Know they’re there but we don’t have to live in them and through them. Take seriously that this is the land of the free. Create spaces and more spaces and more spaces of freedom, so that people can become who they are, what they’re about, what they can be, and that um there are no limits. And in the midst of that so with a strong sense of injustice and bringing along others with us.

Response: Thank for your Womanist Wisdom, Emilie Townes!

 

Song

“Ella’s Song” 

            Solo with drum

            Knowledge

We who believe in *knowledge cannot rest,
We who believe in knowledge cannot rest until it comes

The Wisdom of Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan, Professor of theology and ethics at Shaw University Divinity School, Ordained Elder in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, author, musician

From Refiner’s Fire: A Religious Engagement with Violence (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2001), 1.

She looked in the mirror:
No immediate image did she see;
The vastness of the horizon
Seemed to mock her: she could not see her reflection
Through the skewed lens of dominant culture
She saw nothing
A sister came along,
With dignity and joy,
And a different way of seeing.
She was mesmerized.
A thing she could not fathom
Was about to cross her path,
And that incomprehensible other
Opened her mouth;
And spoke;
And lovingly said: “You are somebody.”
She looked in her mirror, again.
And this time she saw
Gazing back at her, a beauteous vision:
Nobility and peace.
The empty objectiveness that was but a shadow
Had been replaced
By her mighty image.
And she heard God say:
“That’s good!”

Response: Thank you for your Womanist Wisdom, Cheryl Kirk-Duggan!

Song

“Ella’s Song”

Solo with drum

Goodness:

We who believe in *goodness cannot rest,
We who believe in goodness cannot rest until it comes.

The Wisdom of Audre Lorde, Writer, poet, activist

From Sister Outsider (Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press, 1984), 44.

We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired. For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us. The fact that we are here and I speak these words is an attempt to break that silence and bridge some of those differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.

Response: Thank you for your Womanist Wisdom, Audre Lorde!

            Song

“Ella’s Song”

 

            Solo with drum

 

            Speaking:

We who believe in *speaking cannot rest,
We who believe in speaking cannot rest until it comes.

Reflection | Sharing

Think about what you heard from these womanists. Witnessing Womanist Wisdom . . . Struggling, Resisting, Rising Up . . . Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender . . . The spirituality of resistance enables one to hold on to one’s humanity . . . They trusted the end to God . . . Our womanist work is to draw on the rugged endurance of black folks in America who outwit, outmaneuver, and outscheme social systems and structures that maim and stifle mental, emotional, and spiritual growth . . . Women have to reclaim their right to read and interpret sacred texts for themselves . . . The evolving character of womanist theology . . . You are a sacred child of God . . . And she heard God say: “That’s good!” . . . There are so many silences to be broken.

Let us take a few moments of quiet to reflect on these questions:

What have you learned from these womanists? How can you put it into practice?

 

Song

“Ella’s Song”

            Solo with drum

 Freedom:

We who believe in *freedom cannot rest,
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.

Blessing Bread and Drink

Let us bless this bread and drink together in memory and in honor of the womanists who witness with wisdom.

One person holds the basket of bread. Another holds the goblets of wine and juice.

 

Blessed are you, God of Goodness, Spirit of Resistance, Holy Trust,
for giving us this bread and drink as gifts and symbols of Womanist Wisdom.
We bless them with gratitude for Womanist Wisdom,
with gratitude for womanist struggles for survival,
with gratitude for a womanist spirituality of resistance,
with gratitude for womanist reclaiming of sacred texts,
with gratitude for womanists breaking silence,
with gratitude for womanists who bring to the forefront the unity of knower and known.

We bless this bread and drink with gratitude for womanists and Womanist Wisdom.

As we eat this bread and drink this fruit of the vine, let us be thankful for the precious gifts of Womanist Wisdom and for the womanists who witness them.

Take Action

Let us put our prayers into action. Here are some possible ways:

Song

“Ella’s Song”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6Uus–gFrc

Verse: Struggling myself don’t mean a whole lot,
I’ve come to realize
That teaching others, to stand up and fight
is the only way my struggle survives.

I’m a woman who speaks in a voice,
and I must be heard
At times I can be quite difficult,
I’ll bow to no man’s word.

Chorus: We who believe in freedom cannot rest,
Hear me talkin’ to ya’
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until comes.

Sending Forth

Let us go forth to struggle, resist, and rise up, unafraid, to move mountains together because God says, “That’s Good.”

Let us go forth to resist racial, gender, and class discrimination and all forms of social oppression.

Let us go forth with gratitude for Womanist Wisdom.

Greeting of Peace

Let us greet one another with peace, saying, “Go in peace and rise up.”

Learn More from These Resources

Baker-Fletcher, Karen. Sisters of Dust, Sisters of Spirit: Womanist Wordings on God and Creation. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998.

Brooten, Bernadette J., and Jacqueline L. Hazelton, eds. Beyond Slavery: Overcoming Its Religious and Sexual Legacies. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Byron, Gay L., and Vanessa Lovelace. Womanist Interpretations of the Bible: Expanding the Discourse. Atlanta, GA: SBL Press, 2016.

Cannon, Katie Geneva. Katie’s Cannon: Womanism and the Soul of the Black Community. New York: Continuum Publishing, 1995.

———. Remembering What We Never Knew: The Epistemology of Womanist Theology. 2nd ed. Richmond, VA: Center for Womanist Leadership Publishing, 2018.

Copeland, M. Shawn. Knowing Christ Crucified: The Witness of African American Religious Experience. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2018.

Douglas, Kelly Brown. The Black Christ. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1994.

———. Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2015.

Gilkes, Cheryl Townsend. If It Wasn’t for the Women . . . : Black Women’s Experience and Womanist Culture in Church and Community. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001.

Grant, Jacquelyn. White Women’s Christ and Black Women’s Jesus: Feminist Christology and Womanist Response. Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1989.

Hayes, Diana. Hagar’s Daughters: Womanist Ways of Being in the World. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1995.

Kirk-Dougan, Cheryl. Exorcizing Evil: A Womanist Perspective on the Spirituals. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1997.

———. Refiner’s Fire: A Religious Engagement with Violence. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2001.

Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press, 1984.

Martin, Joan M. More Than Chains and Toil: A Christian Work Ethic of Enslaved Women. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000.

Mitchem, Stephanie Y. Introducing Womanist Theology. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002.

Morris, Catherine, and Rujeko Hockley, et al. We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women 1965–85; New Perspectives. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018.

Oduyoye, Mercy Amba. Introducing African Women’s Theology. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001.

Sanders, Cheryl. Living the Intersection: Womanism and Afrocentrism in Theology. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1995.

Townes, Emilie M. Breaking the Fine Rain of Death: African American Health Issues and a Womanist Ethic of Care. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2006.

_______. Embracing the Spirit: Womanist Perspectives on Hope, Salvation, and Transformation. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1997.

———. In a Blaze of Glory: Womanist Spirituality as Social Witness. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995.

———. A Troubling in My Soul: Womanist Perspectives on Evil and Suffering. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1993.

———. Womanist Justice, Womanist Hope. Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1993.

Walker, Alice. In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens: Womanist Prose. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Javanovich Publishers, 1983.

Weems, Renita J. I Asked for Intimacy: Stories of Blessings, Betrayals, and Birthings. San Diego, CA: Lura Media, 1993.

———. Just a Sister Away: A Womanist Vision of Woman’s Relationships in the Bible. San Diego, CA: Lura Media, 1988.

Williams, Delores S. Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God Talk. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1993.

© 2020 Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER). Planned by Diann L. Neu dneu@hers.com