A Woman's Lament

By Ann McGovern, RSM

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I am admittedly hesitant about sharing this blog, because I feel voices of people of color need to stay front and center during the current moral social movement for justice and equality. Still I feel deep in my heart that we are witnessing an incredible convergence of so many justice issues which hopefully will move us toward a more just society in which everyone can freely breathe.

I, like so many of you, was incensed by the recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks. I found it particularly painful to see Officer Chauvin press his knee on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, but when I heard George cry out to his mother with his dying breath, my heart broke. As I prayed through my rage, I wept from a very deep place for justice and mercy and I cried out to God for the unearthing of the Spirit of God’s feminine voice, the Holy Spirit, the Feminine Divine. I felt a poignant parallel rise up in my heart between the breath of George Floyd being smothered and Jesus gifting all of us with the breath of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday, celebrated just one week after George Floyd’s death.    

George Floyd’s death lit a fire in me to challenge with more vigor inequality, sexism and patriarchy and, specifically, the naming of God as Father, no the limiting of God as Father. It seems to me that we need to catch up with God’s breath and creative presence in our midst today. However, sexism and patriarchy are keeping people suppressed, women in particular, and unfortunately, it has been proven that patriarchal systems in society and Church can become unhealthy. Too often, we see such systems result in abuse of power, cover-ups and hypocrisy.  

Thanks to Eleanor Rae, one of my Professors in a Diocesan Ministry Training Program that I participated in back in the early 90’s at Fairfield University, and, Sister Elaine Deasy, RSM, who I saw for spiritual direction when I first began to discern a possible call to religious life, I came to experience the Holy Spirit as an image of the Feminine Divine or the Feminine Breath of God.

Image by Mary Southard, CSJ

I feel the Feminine Divine is being squelched unjustly in our society and Church and I believe this is causing harm to humanity and keeping us from seeing one another as made in God’s image. As I sat with my tears, felt them and prayed with them, I came to the realization that the lock down and the Covid-19 restrictions against hugging one another afforded me more time to reflect and grieve at a deeper level than I’m normally able to. My heart broke open morning after morning and so did my passion for a more just society and Church. I truly feel the Spirit of God urging me and freeing me to speak up more forcefully about this issue.

I remembered a reflective Psalm of Lament, I wrote some 20 years ago while I was a student at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford for a class on the Psalms. I came across this in October as I prepared to celebrate my Silver Jubilee at Mercy by the Sea. 

Faithful friend who inflames my heart when I wake each morning, help me to name you to others and live out your justice and mercy. I feel you are so much more than the words we use to name you, namely Father. I feel the limitation of our words causes us to miss the awesome wonder of your presence in creation and in one another.

Oh God, I know and experience you as Spirit Alive, breath within humankind. I know you are neither male nor female. But there are no feminine images of you in so many of our Churches, nor any naming of you as She or Mother in any of our communal prayers. Nor are their any culturally inclusive statues of Jesus, his Mother Mary, or dare I say, Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles.

I feel to deny the feminine creates an imbalance, denying us all of holiness and wholeness, for we need a balance of the masculine and feminine energy within each of us. Right now, humans are out of balance and so is our society and Church. It takes years for some girls and women to recognize the Divine in themselves. Lack of inclusive language in our prayers and in our hymns reinforces feelings of exclusion and being not good enough, at least that’s been my experience. To not recognize one’s self in God is an injustice to us and all our relations. I truly believe that women will not be seen as fully equal to men until we stop over-emphasizing God as He and/or Lord (which reinforces a patriarchal system).  

O God, you know this is not radical feminist thought. Afterall, you said to Moses, “I am who am.” For me that says, don’t limit my existence by your words. Jesus used Abba, meaning loving parent to describe you, in an effort to move the people of God, in his patriarchal society, from the image that you are simply a judging God. Our world is calling out for a more relational, mutual and empowering feminine God.

Julian of Norwich in the 14th Century, famous worldwide for her “Revelations of Divine Love,” prayed to you as Mother. “My kind Mother, my gracious Mother, my beloved Mother, have mercy on me.”

O Beloved of my Heart, I don’t want to substitute the idea of motherhood of God for that of fatherhood, but can’t we weave together our words, enabling our hearts and eyes to see, feel and experience you in new ways.

O Heart of all Hearts, I long for the day when we become creative with our God language, using the imaginations and depth of our individual spirituality and freedom with which you have gifted each of us with. Free to envision You as Beloved, Breath of God in Every Lung, and in the very breath we share with one another.

God as Mystery, Creator, Healing God, Radiant Dawn, Mother of the Universe, Generous God, Birthing Mystery, Compassionate One, Awesome Presence, Gentle Spirit, Maker of our Hearts, Mercy, Hospitable One, Faithful One, Reconciling Presence.

I imagine us then being Co-creators, God bearers for one another and for the sins of inequality, discrimination, sexism and patriarchy to exist no more in society and Church! 

For your reflection and prayer, I invite you to listen to Bernadette Farrell’s God Beyond All Names. And Breath of the One Life by Jan Novotka.

Sister Ann M. McGovern, RSM serves as the Director of Mission Integration and Hospitality. She has been a Sister of Mercy for twenty-five years.