This new anthology by the author of A God Who Looks Like Me (Ballantine Books, 1995) should be read, cherished, and digested by women from age seven to seventy. Reilly tells her own story, which shares much, if not in detail at least in lessons learned, with the stories of all of us. She had a loving daddy who gave her gifts of silver dollars and chocolate milk … and then disappeared. Her mother couldn’t cope with divorce and gave her to a Catholic orphanage, where young Patty learned to Fear God. Five years later, her mother fetched her out of the orphanage and took her to a fundamentalist Protestant church where they kept her from her high school prom and prayed for her sins. When Reilly attended Princeton seminary, what she learned was that the girls should expect to become not ministers but ministers’ wives. (Carol Christ got the same message at Yale.) In the church, women are servants. What they think doesn’t count. They should be meek and silent.
One day, Reilly writes, she was sitting in meditation facing the statue of Mary at a healing retreat. The words of Luke 1:34 came to her: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” “Oh my god, [Reilly] exclaimed aloud, Mary was raped! In that moment,” she writes, “I understood her silence, her distance, her robes” that always completely cover her body (p. 28).
As a writer and speaker, Reilly works to teach women to value themselves, to imagine a world where people awaited the birth of a girl-child, where the healers are women, where the images of the divine are feminine, where women love their bodies and their minds. She tells of reactions she gets to her work. Standard-brand churches call her a sinner and pray for her. They try to convert her. One man called her work “narcissistic feminism.” That’s an interesting comment, she says, “given the tenacity with which men have safeguarded the image of the male God for the past 4,000 years” (p. 118). On another occasion, a woman said to her that she sounded like a critic of affirmative action. “We live in a color-blind society,” this woman said. Reilly’s reply: “You and I know that color-blind means the same old white dominance and privilege because there isn’t a level playing field yet.” Nor is heaven a level playing field. When we persist in thinking of god as without gender, she continues, there’s still that male god under there. “We must dismantle the idolatry of God the father in our societies, churches, and families, and within ourselves. …We must encounter the divine feminine to restore our personal and collective balance. … It is necessary to dethrone the male God and invite the exiled feminine to take her rightful place beside him, before we consider moving to a genderless sense of the divine” (p. 99).
Even for women who have already abandoned the standard-brand churches, there is much to consider in Words Made Flesh. Living in a world ruled by a macho, unelected president and his crony capitalists and where popular magazines celebrate skinniness and youth but ignore real, live women, we need to be reminded that there really is a god who looks like us. Her name may be Eve, Mother of All Living. Fertile One Who Births All Things. Great Mother. Law-Giving Mother. Queen of Heaven. True Sovereign. Mother of the World. Queen of the Stars.
Reilly’s poetry is suitable for use in rituals. She also includes performance pieces that can be read aloud as rituals. This is a book to challenge our intellect and stimulate our sense of “wowness.” Reilly’s words inspire us to imagine a world where women are valued.
~review by Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D.
Author: Patricia Lynn Reilly
Open Window Creations, 2004