Having taught us how to tell women’s stories in chapter 8, Johnson here offers a schema through which these stories, told within the context of the communion of saints, can support, sustain, and inspire women and the church. Drawing heavily on political theology and the work of Johann Baptist Metz, we learn here how the communion of saints can be a powerful symbol when memory, narrative, and solidarity are braided together through the stories of holy women.
Memory is fundamental to identity. Memory that grapples with the messy realities of human life, rather than succumbing to nostalgia or despair, can be eschatological: pointing towards a better future and inspiring us to work towards it. Subversive memory challenges the dominant cultural or political narratives to insist that the experiences and lives of the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed matter, despite the potential risk: dangerous memory indeed.
Narrative is the natural structure of memory, and humans are story-telling creatures. A powerful story changes the teller, catches up the listener into a larger narrative, sustains the community, and repudiates oppression. This is particularly true for stories of grief, suffering, and death: stories with which the Church’s story of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus particularly resonates.
Solidarity is where narrative memory goes in order to change the world. People whose hearts have been moved by the same stories are moved to stand and act in solidarity with each other: “their sufferings and joys become part of one’s own personal concern and a spur to transformative action.” (175) Solidarity unites the privileged with the oppressed in working towards justice, in a unity that embraces and celebrates differences. Solidarity unites the living with the dead, “by means of which the dead can be affirmed as significant in their lives, and the living who are struggling are succored and encouraged by their memory.” (176)
Although most stories of the saints as traditionally told hardly resemble the life-changing narratives described here, women’s practices of memory have just such a life-giving effect for many women in the church today. (174)
Q9a: Which of these sections on “subversive memory, “critical narrative,” and “solidarity in difference” spoke most strongly to you, and why?
Q9b: How do you see the material discussed here as relating to contemporary issues in our society?