No Crystal Stair: Womanist Spirituality
By Diana L. Hayes (Orbis Books, 2016)
Diana Hayes’ new book is a compilation of essays, prayers, and reflections written throughout her long career as one of the church’s most preeminent Black female theologians. Borrowing the title from Langston Hughes’ poem “Mother and Son,” Hayes paints a vivid picture of Black women’s spirituality in the United States, a spirituality that incorporates the legacy of almost 500 years of slavery and prejudice, and yet keeps on carrying women and the people around them toward God.
Readers who are familiar with the writing of Black female writers such as Alice Walker, Emilie Townes, and Hayes herself will be inspired by her descriptions of womanist spirituality and her own spiritual journey. But even those who have never before heard the term womanist can gain much from Hayes’ description of how people’s theology stems from their own personal history. Black women have struggled, says Hayes, but out of this struggle is birthed a spirituality that focuses on community, creativity, and the pervasive sense of a God who acts within history for the good of all.
The most compelling sections of the book are where Hayes writes about the intersection of her ethnic, religious, and gender identities. She is a Black Catholic woman—the first lay woman and African American woman to receive a doctor of sacred theology degree from a pontifical program of study, an adult convert to Catholicism, and a theologian in a field where most are white men. But despite these contradictions and the fact that, in many ways, she defies all labels (and thus is sometimes ostracized by those to whom these labels are important), Hayes continues to teach and write about her personal journey to God. “The value of my experience lies in this,” Hayes writes. “I can pass on the story of my journey to those who come after me so that they, too, will emerge as free, independent, and articulate women of God.”
This article also appears in the October 2016 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 81, No. 10, page 41).
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