Friday, April 18, 2014

Sue Monk Kidd, Dissident Daughter

Long before she became famous for her novels, "The Secret Life of Bees," and "The Invention of Wings," Sue Monk Kidd was known in certain circles for her Christian writing. Perhaps I knew this subconsciously and simply didn't pay attention, as her earlier titles would not have been on my radar. Now, I'm very glad that I went back to Ms. Kidd's turning point, "The Dance of the Dissident Daughter," because, not only did it speak to me on a personal level, but it gave me greater insight into her fiction writing.

If you are a seeker who has ever questioned the bible, your faith, whatever it may be, or the patriarchal hierarchy of most religions, governments, and societies, then this book is for you. First published almost twenty years ago, this is a painfully honest, brave, and yes, dissident telling of Ms. Kidd's journey away from her Christian tradition toward a more feminist sensibility of the sacred.

I remember clearly the first time that I internally challenged the logic of something one of the nuns told me in Sunday school. I couldn't have been more than 9 or 10 years old. Of course, I couldn't speak with anyone about my questions and doubts. At least, I didn't think so at the time.

Like Ms. Kidd, I struggled to work within church boundaries, teaching Sunday school, serving on adult education committees and parish boards, until one day, about twenty-five years ago, I simply got up and walked out of my church in the middle of a gospel reading, most likely from Paul. I never looked back.

But for a woman like Ms. Kidd, the daughter and the wife of Baptist ministers, coming to grips with a loss of faith in the standard, male dominated Christian tradition, created a shattering internal upheaval, which she writes of passionately and gracefully in her book. What a catharsis it must have been.

She speaks lovingly of her husband, Sandy, who reluctantly at first, took the journey with her, and of her beloved daughter Ann, whose misogynistic treatment through the words of two strangers, served as the catalyst for Sue's awakening to the power of the feminine.

Now that science has proven that all humankind began in Africa, a matriarchal society that worshipped and reflected in its art, the fecund female form, it is even more ironic that most faith traditions are rooted in the belief that only men are holy enough, perfect enough, to lead their flocks to God. Ms. Kidd's affinity for Africa and also for Greece, lead her to the realization that the sacred is indeed feminine.

Naturally, it is much more complicated than that, but Ms. Kidd takes us on her six-year search for female identity and self worth, through lengthy retreats and deep reading, explaining logically as she goes, how each wrongful, male dominated myth fell by the wayside. Try to remember how you felt as a girl the first time you were subjected to the Adam and Eve story.

Sue Monk Kidd tells her story with kindness, but she is not above well-founded anger. At one point she describes sitting in church, roiling with anger. I could almost laugh at the painfully similar memories that came back to me. She says, " female soul was shouting for her life." She goes on to say, "This is a stupendous moment for a woman...when she decides to live from her own inner guidance."

This book is a revelation, an homage to Mother Nature, to the wisdom of matriarchal societies, and an explanation of the very best in the often maligned word "feminism." It is the story of women who invented wings, a phrase that twenty years later would become the title of Kidd's novel about the crossed paths of the abolitionist and women's suffrage movements in the early twentieth century.


Gloria Drake said...

Few people seem to remember her early Christian writings, but that is how I was introduced to this author. My feminist daughter is about to be ordained in May. She's been urging me to read "Dissident Daughter." Have purchased it for our library, but haven't gotten to it. Just finished "Invention of Wings" and felt very moved by its conclusion. Thank you for bringing an older book back into the spotlight. -GD

Sallyb said...

How very interesting. Into which church will your daughter be ordained, if I may ask. My sister is an active member of an Episcopal congregation lead by a female priest. The times, they are a changin'.

Gloria Drake said...

She will be ordained as a Presbyterian USA pastor (they call them "teaching elders" now). Currently serving as a hospital chaplain in Chicago.