You see a great deal of hope in dialogue.

In addition to small groups of women coming together to address this in their homes, we need the National Council of Churches or different feminist groups to convene panels on the issues of faith and feminism and have the dialogue going on to establish where the issues are where we can easily converge. It seems everyone is tip-toeing around the fact that there's a great breach, and we can't afford the divide.

I was stunned with the Vatican's proclamation approved by the Pope against feminism and an explication about where all the feminists have gone wrong. The Pope does some very worthy things, but he obviously missed his opportunity on this issue. Obviously he has such a narrow view of what feminism is and many feminists have a very narrow view of what religion is. Not until the two forums come together will the convergence happen.

I am involved in a network of women's funds. The Women's Funding Network holds an annual conference. And this year, the theme of the conference was reaching out to three new populations: men, corporate women, and institutional religion. I was very involved in all the meetings around the theme of religion, of course. And it was just fantastic.

These hard core feminists came and said, "The church has hurt me so much, I was raised Catholic, there's no way I can ever go back. The church was so demeaning to me and my goals." There was such hurt expressed, and tears were shed. But we had beautiful facilitators, and the women came together. One ardent activist came up afterwards and said to me, "Helen, I got religion here!" It was very moving.

How did you choose Emily Dickinson, Teresa of Avila, Sojourner Truth, Lucretia Mott, and Dorothy Day to profile in your book?

I'm not ordinarily a mystical person, but I actually had dreams of these women. My dream life was the editor and shaper of this book.

Any dreams that were particularly powerful?

No, but I had a dream of Teresa of Avila-just dancing in her habit. And after reading and reading about her, I had a dream about Dorothy Day reaching out to people on the street. I'd occasionally have dreams like that, and I wanted to make sure that there was something universal about the selection, since it [spans] different continents, centuries, and cultures.

Some were real believers, like Lucretia Mott. But then others like Emily Dickinson, lived with such doubt every day, but the doubts were windows into her own depths and into her empathy, and it made her honesty about her struggle so powerful.

Each of the five women you discuss represents a stage of the internal journey of the heroine, you say, or the wholeness path: pain, shadow, voice, action, communion.

I wanted to stress the communion part because that's where I think we want to go. Feminism is about interconnection, but it's stopping short of the real kind of outreach that it could have. Becoming conscious of how we are all interconnected is important. We must treat one other carefully in order to not rupture the connections between each other.

The other challenge is for feminism to think about its shadow, which is the split-off part of its spiritual self.

And what would that shadow consist of and how would we work with it?

First to own the fact that, while there is a long-standing split between faith and feminism, American feminism was birthed as a spiritual effort. The women who issued the first public call for women's rights were fueled by their religious fervor and passion, and they started every one of their meetings with prayer, and their first proclamation was that women deserved to have a public voice. They knew that slavery was wrong and they were not going to stay silent. The government was saying that they had to stay silent, and the church was saying they had to stay silent, but God was telling them that they had to go speak! And they rallied! They had all these local antislavery societies, hundreds of them, and they decided to pull together-this is in 1835. These women were there because of a sacred calling. They would name it that way. They would say, God is telling us that women have to have a voice in our society. And that's the root of American feminism.

I'm not sure that many people think about how feminism was linked to the abolitionist movement initially, not just to the desire to have a vote.

The average lay person might not know, but feminist historians know it. However, few books do the needed analyses. Some historians try to minimize the religious language, thinking of it as an idiom of the day, but I think it did have meaning for the women of that period, and continues to have meaning today! We become dismembered if we divorce ourselves from these powerful traditions. So there's a lot of enthusiasm now as people are diving back in and reclaiming faith as part of our empowerment. There's receptivity to it now that wasn't there twenty years ago. And as the women began to work to free the slaves, they began to see their own slavery, which then seeded the work for women's rights.


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