‘The World Needs Women’s Minds and Hearts, Joined in Christ’: Meditating on the Feminine Genius
Word on Fire’s ‘With All Her Mind: A Call to the Intellectual Life’ culls from the example of Mother Mary, saints and creative canon.
WITH ALL HER MIND
A Call to the Intellectual Life
Edited by Rachel Bulman
Word on Fire, 2022
152 pages, $29.95
For a beautiful compilation of essays about women and the intellectual life, pick up a copy of With All Her Mind: A Call to the Intellectual Life. Edited by Rachel Bulman and published by Word on Fire in 2022, the book offers rich food for thought on a variety of topics by women of various walks of life and vocations — religious sisters, mothers, writers, academics, speakers and creatives.
For this reviewer, the delight of this collection is that each essay is entirely different from, and yet seamlessly enters into conversation with, the other essays. Rachel Bulman sets the stage for this diversity of voice and thought by stating in her introduction:
“What does pursuing the intellectual life look like for you? I think there are as many ways to answer this question as there are women in the world. But it will begin with the things that you love. It will set those things afire, and the flames will spread throughout your entire life.”
The first essay of the collection by Sister Josephine Garrett is appropriately titled “Foundations of the Intellectual Life” and focuses on the life of prayer. “Love of God,” Sister Josephine says, “is the prerequisite to the intellectual life. … The prerequisite of love of God is cultivated in silence and lived out in prayer, and its fruit is a desire to learn that is ordered toward the Beloved.” Without a relationship with God, Sister Josephine says, we can be intellectuals, but we will work much harder: “Approaching the intellectual life without proximity to the Father through prayer is like drawing water from a well with a teaspoon instead of a bucket. Significant human effort will be put forth with very little gain.” She shares with readers how to cultivate silence, enter into prayer, and deepen one’s desire to learn.
One theme running through this book is making room for the intellectual life, for God. The writers take a variety of approaches in their essays for creating this space. For simplicity’s sake, a few of these approaches are listed below:
Cultivating One’s Reading Diet
In “Becoming a Bibliophile,” author Haley Stewart, who is managing editor for Word on Fire’s Spark children’s imprint, recommends reading not only beloved books but those that “push us out of our comfort zone … challenge our minds and force us to wrestle with difficult ideas, slow down to absorb beautiful imagery, or re-read before mastering.”
Similarly, Stephanie Gray Connors, a veteran Canadian pro-lifer, invites readers to “return to depth” in her essay, “Marriage, Motherhood, and the Mind”:
“If we really want to understand a topic, we need to dive deep. We must consult experts and even welcome opposition. Listening to one person in the context of another who disagrees provides an opportunity for our own minds to clarify inconsistencies, fortify weaknesses, embolden strengths, and so forth.”
In a rapid-fire culture of sound bites and communication bound by character limits, this call to deeply engage ideas is refreshing.
Leaning Upon Leisure
“The School of Leisure” by Jennifer Frey is a personal favorite from this collection. In a productivity-obsessed culture — one plagued by what Frey, a philosophy professor, calls “workism” — leisure is not idleness, nor is it an optional part of our existence. Rather, Frey explains, “In the Catholic intellectual tradition, leisure is explicitly connected to contemplation.” She goes on to suggest that “spending our leisure time in study is central to the life of women. As Aquinas defines study, quite broadly, it is a kind of focused attention on some object that is worthy of it.” Such attentiveness is restful and begets wonder. Frey notes that in her pondering posture, the Virgin Mary is a model of contemplation, and so too are children in their ability to lean deeply into wonder. Both demonstrate virtue by taking time for leisure. We would do well to follow their lead.
Growing More Fully Into Who God Created Us to Be
In “An Integrated Mind and Heart,” Daughter of St. Paul Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble points out the modern milieu that encourages “the diminution of the heart and its division from the mind.” In contrast, Scripture shows us “how inextricably intertwined the mind and heart are truly meant to be, especially in our spiritual lives.” Though in our culture it is tempting to divorce the emotions from the intellect, women demonstrate this integration. “The world needs who we are as women,” Sister Theresa Aletheia notes, citing St. Edith Stein/St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
“The world needs women’s minds and hearts, joined in Christ, to be like two rivers that purify one another in a unity that can only come from the One who is both Logos and Love.”
When we allow him into every experience, we become free, as writer Tsh Oxenreider reminds readers in her essay, “The Mind of Writing.” Relating her experience with post-partum depression and how writing allowed her room not only to create, but to think, she recalls, “Making space for my words cleared space in my mind, which breathed much-needed life into my soul. I became more present in my daily life. I became more myself.” Each woman is responsible, as Rachel Harkins Ullmann, former executive director of the GIVEN Institute, says in “Holy Boldness and the Feminine Mind,” for “discovering the gift only you can give, because of the gift that you are.”
With All Her Mind: A Call to the Intellectual Life is a vivacious, living “garden” in which to wrestle with ideas and come to rest. Women have much to contribute to the Church and to the world. May we receive with joy the profundity of their diverse gifts.
Lindsey Weishar writes from Kansas City, Kansas.
- international women's day
- catholic intellectual life
- holiness and motherhood
- feminine genius