The Maroon

Faith and feminism meet at Feminist Festival prayer vigil

Lauren+Poiroux%2C+sociology+senior%2C+A%E2%80%99niya+Robinson%2C+political+science+senior%2C+and+Patricia+Boyett%2C+director+of+the+Women%E2%80%99s+Resource+Center%2C++read+along+at+the+Interfaith+Prayer+Vigil+on+Tuesday+March+8%2C+2016.+The+prayer+vigil+was+a+part+of+the+Feminist+Festival+put+on+by+the+Women%E2%80%99s+Resource+Center.+Photo+credit%3A+Taylor+Galmiche
Lauren Poiroux, sociology senior, A’niya Robinson, political science senior, and Patricia Boyett, director of the Women’s Resource Center,  read along at the Interfaith Prayer Vigil on Tuesday March 8, 2016. The prayer vigil was a part of the Feminist Festival put on by the Women’s Resource Center. Photo credit: Taylor Galmiche

Lauren Poiroux, sociology senior, A’niya Robinson, political science senior, and Patricia Boyett, director of the Women’s Resource Center, read along at the Interfaith Prayer Vigil on Tuesday March 8, 2016. The prayer vigil was a part of the Feminist Festival put on by the Women’s Resource Center. Photo credit: Taylor Galmiche

Lauren Poiroux, sociology senior, A’niya Robinson, political science senior, and Patricia Boyett, director of the Women’s Resource Center, read along at the Interfaith Prayer Vigil on Tuesday March 8, 2016. The prayer vigil was a part of the Feminist Festival put on by the Women’s Resource Center. Photo credit: Taylor Galmiche

Dari Zeltser

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At Loyola’s feminist interfaith prayer vigil, “Celebrating the Feminine Divine in Me,” students and professors got the chance to explore their faith and what divine femininity means to them.

Held in the Ignatius Chapel, the vigil began with a welcome from Patricia Boyett, director of Loyola’s Women’s Resource Center. The crowd was composed mostly of women, both students and professors. Boyett explained that the vigil would include brief prayers or rituals from four different faiths: Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, each led by a member of Loyola’s community.

Naomi Yavneh, director of the University Honors Program, represented Judaism and asked the crowd to stand. She led a song called “Ozi v’Zimrat Yah” whose lyrics loosely translate to, “My strength balanced with the Song of God will be my salvation.”

Michaela O’Connor Bono, Resident Priest and Co-leader of the Mid-City Zen sangha, represented Buddhism and began by sharing the story of the Buddha’s aunt, Mahapajapati Gotami, who demanded that women be allowed to become priests. She gathered 500 women and with them fought for the right to be ordained, eventually making the Buddha give in, according to Bono.

The crowd then learned about “Sophia,” a theological concept for wisdom, from Laura Broders, Spiritual Director of the Ignatius Chapel Community, Alliciya George, communications junior, and the Rev. Terri Zehyoue of the Christ Church Cathedral. Broders explained that in Christianity Sophia is another aspect of God that is largely ignored as a result of patriarchal themes within the religion. George and Zehyoue then led two prayers: one call-and-response and one communal.

Samar Sarmini, PhD, from the Loyola Intensive English and International Program represented Islam. She discussed the way God transcends gender in Islam. While Sarmini said that Islam defines God as separate from all of his creations, the wife of the prophet Muhammed was the source of many Islamic teachings, and tradition made it so Islam was seen as a masculine religion.

Finally, Alvaro Alcazar, Liberation Theology professor and Director of Urban Partners for the Twomey Center for Peace Through Justice, led an interactive interfaith prayer.

Mary Arias, English freshman, attended the vigil and said it taught her a lot about women in religion. Arias went to a Catholic school before Loyola, but said she never heard that much about women in Church.

Anahi Herazo, biology freshman, described herself as a feminist and also as very religious, but never thought of combining the two.

“Normally, people think of men doing everything, men being priests,” Herazo said. “It’s not all about men; it’s also about women.”

Elizabeth Goodine, professor of Women in Christanity, sees themes that run through both feminism and religious faith. Feminism focuses on liberation for all people, specifically women, and many religions also focus on that same idea, Goodine said. She points out that Christianity and all of the world’s major religions have grown up in a patriarchal culture.

Feminist scholars are working to reinterpret biblical women in a more empowering way and others are working within the Church to raise the position of women, especially to allow them to be ordained within the Catholic Church, according to Goodine. She said this work is slow going.

The importance of the vigil is expressed by Anne Daniell, who teaches Eco-Feminist Theologies. She begins by explaining the way religions are shaped by the context in which they grow up.

“Religions have been very patriarchal throughout history,” Daniell said. When religions start everyone must take leadership roles, women included; it is only as the religion becomes more institutionalized, that it becomes more patriarchal, Daniell said.

According to Daniell, feminism can be part of pointing out and criticizing that patriarchal culture.

“Patriarchy should not be central to the religion,” Daniell said. “Misogyny should not be central to the religion. Human dignity should be what’s central to all religions, or one of the central themes.”

On the topic of divine femininity, both Goodine and Daniell were hesitant to run with the idea of a “female God.”

“The divine is neither masculine nor feminine, so I would shy away from anything that interpreted that as a female God,” Goodine said.

Daniell brought up the point that the concept of divine femininity is more an issue of representation than the actual identity of God. Daniell discussed the issue of using only male pronouns to refer to God.

“It’s not that you want to replace the maleness of God with the female, it’s to open it up,” Daniell said. “If you can only see the male, then even if you say you know God isn’t male, if that’s the only pronoun you use, you’re stuck in it, and you’re really only imagining the male.”

She commented on how being able to see the “Ultimate Power” as not only masculine can change the whole image of God and allow us to think about power differently. She acknowledged that there are problems with expressing the feminine divine as the nurturing, caretaking part because it seems to perpetuate preexisting and oppressive ideas. Still, she maintains the importance of characterizing God in a way that women and girls can see themselves represented.

“I think it’s important to image the divine in a way that affirms a little girl—that affirms all of us,” Daniell said.

A’Niya Robinson, political science senior, and Lauren Poiroux, sociology senior with a minor in women’s studies, were on the committee that organized the vigil and gave their own reasons for its importance. Major religions tend to be male centered and feminine involvement is on the outskirts, Robinson said. For her, the idea of divine femininity is a way of rethinking her faith-life.

“It’s thinking and growing and evaluating,” Robinson said. “It’s bringing in the marginalized and putting them in the center.”

For Poiroux, the vigil brings new ways of praying or acknowledging divinity. She also said that it can also help people who have never connected with religion before find a deeper spirituality.

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