Tremendous Day, Part 1: Discussing "The Dance of the Dissident Daughter"

Sunday, January 9, 2011

I'm sitting here on my living room couch, munching on Club crackers (yum). I'm thinking about writing this post, and I'm feeling nervous. The topic I want to write on is dear to me, but it's a little political, a lot religious, some would even say distasteful or irreverent. To my knowledge, the things I write get read by approximately three people in the whole world, so maybe this worrying is all for nothing. Still, I've seen things like this snowball before. It's risky business.

Now if THAT introduction doesn't get you hooked and curious, I don't know what will!

This book, "The Dance of the Dissident Daughter" by Sue Monk Kidd, has been very meaningful for me lately. It came into my life when a friend recommended that we read it for our next book club meeting, and as it so happened, that "next book club meeting" took place yesterday morning, making it part one of my epically tremendous day.

Our book club meeting was made up of three people (sad to have such a small number this time around) -- me and two other women. (The only reason we ever met is that, for whatever reasons we claim, we each identify as Mormon feminists and are affiliated with LDS WAVE.) Since I don't have a photographic memory, I'm afraid I can't document the twists and turns of our discussion with total accuracy, but it was just lovely to be with these two sisters, sharing, talking openly about our feelings and the issues that affect us. The book club is somewhat religious in nature, but I didn't necessarily expect to feel the way I did: so moved that I had to bear my testimony of the truths I know. It's so comforting to be in settings where that kind of open-heartedness is possible, and I'm grateful to these other women for creating just such a setting.

I love this painting. I wish I knew where it came from so that I could give appropriate credit. It came up once during a Google Image search for "feminine divine," and it struck me as a beautiful portrayal of power, radiance, and joy. So feminine! So divine!

But back to the book. "The Dance of the Dissident Daughter" is a woman's memoir, the documentation of how Sue Monk Kidd confronted an important journey in her own life, but it's also something else, some kind of educational treatise and how-to book for other people who might encounter a similar journey toward understanding and appreciating the sacred feminine. Sue wanted to learn if and how a feminine perception of God could operate for her, and while that is an intensely personal pursuit on the one hand, it's also something that she wanted to share. As she writes in the introduction,
The reason I went ahead and wrote this book is difficult to express, so I will try to explain it this way. While I was writing it, a nature show came on television, a special about whales. I watched them on the screen as they flung themselves out of the sea, arced into the air, then fell back into the water. The behavior, the narrator said, is called breaching. He also said it may be the whales' way of communicating when the seas get high and wild. He speculated it was a tracking system for rough weather, some kind of urgent and powerful ballet that allowed the whales to follow one another's vibrations and not get lost. With each lunge, the whales marked their course, letting the others know where they were.
I thought to myself that women must have the whale's instinct. When we set out on a woman's journey we are often swimming a high and unruly sea, and we seem to know that the important thing is to swim together --- to send out our vibrations, our stories, so that no one gets lost. I realized that writing my book was an act of breaching. I hoped my story might help you find or keep your bearings or encourage you to send out your own vibrations.
I'm so grateful for Sue Monk Kidd and the others out there who have breached the surface on this topic. Their examples have been ... is "inspiring" the right word, or am I crossing the line of cheesiness with that? Ah, who cares. Their examples have been INSPIRING and have touched me in tender ways.


When I was a teenager, I had this incredible exuberance about being female. I was of the "girl power" set (slightly influenced by the Spice Girls, I must admit). I thought girls were AWESOME, in capital letters, and that there was something divine about women. Boys were okay, too, and they were special in their own way, but ... heavens, I was lucky to be a girl. It was the thing I most loved being.

A big part of this XX-excitement came from my church life. As a Mormon, I threw myself whole-souled into the Young Women's program from the time I was 12 to 18, and part of that was standing up at every YW meeting, reciting the YW theme in unison with other girls my age.

"We are daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves us, and we love him ..." I said these words a million times, and if you'd been in the room, I bet you would have seen me glow. Such pride and honor came from this belief. "A daughter of God, a princess - that's me," I thought. As I said these words, and as I bore this testimony and I saw my amazing female leaders at work, I felt utterly empowered in my womanhood.

In the years from 18 to 22-ish, something happened, and when I say "something," I of course mean "many things." These "many things" came about in the midst of some luminous times in college and my early married life, so the world wasn't all bad, but I was left feeling fragmented and ashamed in my womanhood. If only I could nail these "many things" to the wall; if only I could clearly pinpoint all the moments that made me feel this way. The best summary I can give is that between failed relationships, increased critical thinking skills, negative church experiences, and a newfound resentment of my body, I entered my 23rd year sad -- sad in general, but very very sad to be a woman.

The past few months have, again, brought changes, and I'm now close to my 24th birthday. All I can say is that if a knowledge of Heavenly Father made me happy to be a girl when I was 12, a knowledge of Heavenly Mother is making me happy to be a woman now, in my "maturity" (wink wink wink).

For Sue Monk Kidd, a Christian woman in the Evangelical tradition, there is the basic premise that God is formless, genderless. She wonders at a certain point, "... if the Divine is ultimately formless and genderless, what's the big deal? Why all this bother [to seek out a female conception of God]?" She reasons that, as human beings, "We need forms and images. Without them we have no way of relating to the Divine." And I agree: we do need forms and images to relate to God. We need comparisons, allegories, parables -- ways to understand Deity that draw from our present knowledge. If those forms, images, comparisons are exclusively or overwhelmingly male (or white, or Western, or able-bodied, etc.), then there are consequences to be considered. The largest, in my view, is that individuals who can't draw from that knowledge (those who are female, non-white, non-Western, disabled, etc.) are less able to understand Deity, despite their equal need to do so. This explanation more or less explains Sue's motivation for her quest, at least as I understand it.

While that's a worthy reason to seek the sacred feminine, one that I relate to in a big way, my faith tradition as a Mormon woman adds another dimension. As a Mormon, I was taught that God isn't formless, isn't genderless, and that's what I believe with all my heart. I believe in a literal Heavenly Father, who is out there, somewhere, right now. He is prayed to and revered in every Mormon meeting that I attend. Less publicized, but still very much a part of Mormon understanding, is a literal Heavenly Mother - female, perfect, God. Mother. Mother. That's what it's about for me, this pursuit of Heavenly Mother: understanding God more completely, knowing my Mother, the one in whose image I was made. It's not a political statement, not something to check off my list of feminist research topics. This is what my faith requires of me.

Delving into the history of this Mormon doctrine, how it fits into the larger Christian framework, how it's been emphasized at various times in the church, etc. -- it would be a huge undertaking, one I'm not equipped to cover. It's a complex subject. I wish desperately that Heavenly Mother were mentioned with greater frequency and treated with greater love in my church, no question. I wish those things. But even as I wish for an adjustment to the world outside of myself, I rejoice that I can make a change inside of myself, that I can acknowledge Heavenly Mother's influence in my life and seek her out, testify of her (though it's nerve-wracking to do so, I gotsta say).

Like I said before, we need ways of understanding God, ways that draw from our present knowledge, and the comparison that resonates with me is that of the parent-child dynamic, the love and responsibility that springs from that relationship. I've known that dynamic with my mom and dad both, blessedly. They formed me, raised me, encouraged me, taught me to check in with them regularly. I am child to them both. I am also child to both of my Heavenly Parents -- one whom I've been speaking of and praying to since I could form words, one whom I'm only starting to envision. I am waking up, then waking up some more. I see now, so bright and clear, that just as I could never ignore my mom and feel any kind of peace about it, I can no longer ignore my Heavenly Mother in worship or thought, not now that I know her as more than a nice idea.

... so, that's a lot of words, especially for something that's really just an overview of my feelings on the subject. Consider this a super-long entry in my personal history (which, as I learned in Relief Society today, is an acceptable Sabbath Day activity - extra points for me). To all three of you who have read this (if that), thanks for your indulgence. This is something I feel better having shared, having expressed and recorded. There are other facets that I'll keep for myself, but for tonight, this is me, breaching the surface and sending out some kind of vibration, to say: This is where and how I am.

Check it out: Part 2 of my tremendous day (click)
Check it out: Part 3 of my tremendous day (click)


  1. Wonderful thoughts. I agree with much you have written. (And what you said in the meeting was also very inspiring to me.)

    I too was grateful for our meeting and discussion. I left with what I told my husband was "joy in my heart." It's been a long time since I've felt that, so thanks for giving me a forum to relate. :)

  2. Thanks, Tracie. Wasn't that such a good feeling? So sure and peaceful? Wait, wait, don't tell me ... was it the Holy Ghost? =) Well, I think so at least. I'm really glad you were there.

  3. I love love that artwork--it's stunning. More than the artwork, I love your insights and reflections on our book group this weekend. We've got something going here! It's wonderful.

  4. Isn't it beautiful? It's the only representation I've seen (so far) that's really ... I don't know, plucked my inside strings. If that makes sense. It just really resonated with me, somehow. =) I, too, am so happy that we've got our little book club. It's a highlight.

  5. What a great post. Our AZ book group loved reading this book as well. In fact, I asked my husband to read it as a gift for me last Christmas. (unfortunately he wasn't blown away like I was.)

    Also, Traveling with Pomegrantes is very good.

  6. I'm glad you liked it, Jessica. I just have the urge to make EVERYONE read this book, though I'm sure most (if not all of them) would have more measured reactions to it than I did. That's always a little depressing.

  7. Hi! I linked to you over at Mutual Approbation's Month in Review! Thanks so much for writing this!


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