February 2023 WATERritual:

Womanist Ways of Knowing

Tuesday, February 21, 2023 at 7:30 pm ET

You can follow along with the WATERritual here.


Preparation: Have a book of a womanist author near.

Welcome and Call to Gather

During Black History Month in February and anticipating Women’s History Month in March, we gather to celebrate “Womanist Ways of Knowing.” Womanist theologians and ministers are on the forefront of the struggles for liberation. They resist racial, gender, and class discrimination and all forms of social oppression. They challenge others to do the same.

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 Ways of Knowing in order to make this world a place of justice, equality, and peace for all.

Song: “Young, Gifted, and Black” by Nina Simone https://youtu.be/1Veqv373Vpg

Young, gifted, and black
Oh what a lovely precious dream
To be young, gifted, and black,
Open your heart to what I mean

In the whole world you know
There’s a billion boys and girls
Who are young, gifted, and black,
And that’s a fact!

“You are young, gifted, and black”
We must begin to tell our young
“There’s a world waiting for you..
Yours is the quest that’s just begun”

When you feel really low
Yeah, there’s a great truth that you should know
When you’re young, gifted, and black
Your soul’s intact

Oh to be young, gifted, and black
Oh, how I long to know the truth
There are times when I look back,
And I am haunted by my youth

Oh but my joy of today
Is that we can all be proud to say
To be young, gifted, and black
Is where it’s at!

Is where it’s at!
Is where it’s at!

Listen to the Wisdom of Alice Walker, novelist, poet, activist
From In Search of Our Mothers’ Garden: Womanist Prose

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.”

Thank you for your Womanist Wisdom, Alice Walker!

Song Refrain:
“Ella’s Song,” by Bernice Johnson Reagon of Sweet Honey in the Rock

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

Listen to the Wisdom of Delores S. Williams, womanist theologian, former professor of theology and culture at Union Theological Seminary, first to use the term “womanist theology” in her 1987 Christianity and Crisis article, “Womanist Theology: Black Women’s Voices”

From Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God Talk by Delores Williams:

“The greatest truth of black women’s survival and quality of life struggle is that they have worked without hesitation and with all the energy they could muster. Many of them, like Hagar, have demonstrated great courage as they resisted oppression and as they went into the wide, wide world to make a living for themselves and their children. They depended upon their strength and upon each other. But in the final analysis the message is clear: they trusted the end to God. Every important event in the stories of Hagar and black women turns on this trust.”

Thank you for your Womanist Wisdom, Delores Williams!

Song Refrain: “Ella’s Song”

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

Video: Listen to the Wisdom of Womanist Theologians Katie Geneva Cannon, Kelly Brown Douglas, Jacquelyn Grant, Emilie Townes in Journey to Liberation: The Legacy of Womanist Theology


Thank you for your Womanist Theological Wisdom, Katie Geneva Cannon, Kelly Brown Douglas, Jacquelyn Grant, and Emilie Townes!

Katie Cannon founded the Katie Geneva Cannon Center for Womanist Leadership, was professor of Christian Ethics at Union Presbyterian Seminary, the first woman of African descent ordained by the United Presbyterian Church in the United States, and an artist who died in 2018.

Kelly Brown Douglas is Dean of Episcopal Divinity School, an Episcopal priest, and Canon Theologian at the Washington National Cathedral.

Jacquelyn Grant is a Methodist minister and founder and director of the Center for Black Women in Church and Society at the Interdenominational Theological Center.

Emilie Townes is Dean and Professor of Womanist Ethics at the Vanderbilt University Divinity School.

Song: “Ella’s Song”

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

Reflection | Sharing

Think about what you have heard and seen.
What have you learned from our womanist sisters? How can you put it into practice?

Video: Hidden Figures  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1VZ1-ZdQ7k&ab_channel=20thCenturyStudios

Listen to Womanist Ways

  • Mathematicians Mary Jackson (1921-2005), Katherine Johnson (1918-2020), and Dorothy Vaughn (1910-2008), you are Hidden Figures no more. Your life transforming work put astronauts on the moon and satellites into space.
    Thank you!
  • Author Harriet Jacobs, (1813 or 1815 – March 7, 1897), your autobiography “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” published in 1861, is now an American classic.
    Thank you!
  • Poet Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784), your “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral” published in 1773, captures the struggles of enslaved Africans.
    Thank you!
  • Harriet Tubman, American abolitionist (born Araminta Ross (182 –1913), you are perhaps most well-known of all the Underground Railroad’s “conductors.” During a ten-year span by some accounts you made 19 trips into the South and escorted over 300 slaves to freedom.
    Thank you!
  • Educator and presidential advisor Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955), you became one of the earliest black female activists that helped lay the foundation to modern civil rights movements.
    Thank you!
  • American voting and women’s rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977), you were one of the most powerful voices of the civil and voting rights movement, a community organizer, and a leader in the efforts for greater economic opportunities for African Americans.

Thank you!

  • Rosa Parks (1913-2005), you were the civil rights leader whose refusal to give up your seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus, led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Your bravery led to nationwide efforts to end racial segregation.

Thank you!    

  • Michelle Obama (1964-), attorney and author, you are a fearless and graceful model who served as the first African American First Lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017. You passionately advocate for girls’ education, for healthy families, for respect for all women.
    Thank you!
  • Ketanji Brown Jackson (1970 -), first African American Supreme Court Judge, you are an exceptionally well-qualified jurist whose credentials, experience, and even-handed approach to the administration of justice make you an outstanding Supreme Court
    Thank you!
  • Women whose stories of contribution to ending slavery and granting freedom for African Americans are still buried and yet to be told, we await your truth telling stories.

Thank you!

Take Action

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

. Read womanist theology, especially that written by the women named here and listed in “Learn More from These Resources.” Hold up the book of a womanist author you recommend.

. Learn about and support the Katie Geneva Cannon Center for Womanist Leadership in Richmond, Virginia, https://www.upsem.edu/cwl/

. Learn about Black Lives Matter, https://blacklivesmatter.com/

.Visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture, https://nmaahc.si.edu/

Sending Forth

Let us go forth with gratitude for Womanist Ways of Knowing.

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

Let us go forth knowing we cannot rest until freedom comes.

Song: “Ella’s Song” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2T216XgiO0&ab_channel=SWEETHONEYINTHEROCK

Refrain: We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes

Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons
Is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons Refrain:

The older I get the better I know that the secret of my going on
Is when the reins are in the hands of the young, who dare to run against the storm

Not needing to clutch for power
Not needing the light just to shine on me
I need to be one in the number as we stand against tyranny Refrain:

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 Refrain:

We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes


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.

© 2023 WATER, Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual; created by Diann L. Neu with Pamella Miller, Patrice Rupp, and the WATER Community