White Fire: A Portrait of Women Spiritual Leaders in America

This remarkable book gives voice and image to women's spiritual leadership in America today. Revealed through insightful interviews and compelling photographic portraits, the women represent both diversity and sisterhood.

Malka Drucker
Photographs by Gay Block

7 x 10, 320 pp | 978-1-893361-64-5

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They struggled to clear a new path for women; these are the stories of modern spiritual pioneers.

“I imagine this book as a dinner party where women have eagerly gathered for a conversation about being a woman, a person of faith, and a leader. While some know each other, many do not, but it doesn’t matter. Listening to them in ensemble reveals that all their differences are less important than how much they share as women of faith. Since community and interconnection tend to be feminine traits, sisterhood is important, and I hope that upon finishing the book, the reader may feel that she or he has found a teacher that offers a new way to see women and the Divine.”

—from the Introduction

There is an ancient mystical legend that the Bible was written with black fire on white fire. Now, we can only read the black fire (the letters), but someday we might be able to see the white fire. Today, with their voices and their presence growing ever stronger, women spiritual leaders in America are like white fire, and we can see the previously untapped power of female leadership.

This remarkable book gives voice and image to the too often invisible, ignored, or overlooked narrative of women’s spiritual leadership in America today. Revealed through insightful interviews and compelling photographic portraits, the women represent both diversity and sisterhood. They offer us new ways of relating to each other, and the Divine.

“Women have more room for failure than men; nothing is expected of us. We’re forgotten, so we can do deep, dark, strange things. The social expectation is to marry and have children, but if you don’t conform to that expectation, you can have a hell of a lot of fun as an outsider. That’s why women are agents of change.”

Joan Halifax Roshi

“A wonderful account of the great strides made by spiritual women in the past 25 years.”

Spirituality & Health

“When I see that everything we do has an effect, it makes me careful when I teach—not like tight, tense careful, but careful in the sense of impeccable. When we see clearly, we behave carefully. Nothing is wasted, not even wasting time! If I’ve wasted today, it doesn’t need to upset me. I’ve learned that I won’t do that tomorrow.”

Sylvia Boorstein

“We are all afraid to say that we know the truth, and we don’t support one another in that truth. When we begin to speak the truth of God, life, and love, all things are possible. That’s when things are going to start happening.”

Iyanla Vanzant

“Women have to bite the bullet—if we don’t know what we’re doing, we don’t do it. So that’s the bullet to bite. Do it no matter what. If you don’t know where you’re going, that’s fine…. My colleagues describe me as somebody who’s willing to jump off the high diving board, and when I’m in midair, I’ll check whether there’s water in the pool. I see a lot of women crippled by low self-esteem and perfectionism.”

Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress

“My hope is not just for women. It’s across the board. I want men to develop the feminine in themselves and to move out of imprisonment…. Women’s voices are very strong now, and they are singing more loudly in the metaphoric sense. Men don’t have permission to sing; they have permission to scream and yell. No one has helped them to cultivate their sensitivity and their feeling selves.”

Debbie Friedman

“Women aping men in power will just lead us to be wicked and coarse. That will just double the world’s trouble! The other mistake is to see the feminine as irrational, and therefore encourage everyone to hone the irrational in themselves…. So I’ve invented neo-feminism, which is holistic, unified, synthetic, cooperative, and circular. It brings a feeling for wholeness against being only analytical. The masculine period takes things apart to see how they work; the feminine period puts them back together again.”

Dr. Beatrice Bruteau

Acknowledgments ix
Introduction xi

1. BIRTH 1
The Right Reverend Leontine Kelly 5
Rabbi Laura Geller 13
The Reverend Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook 25
Dr. Nahid Angha 35
Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis 43
The Reverend Dr. Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan 53

2. EXILE 61
Luisah Teish 65
The Reverend Dr. Lauren Artress 75
Sylvia Boorstein 83
Dr. Elaine Pagels 93
Dr. Beatrice Bruteau 101
Starhawk 111

3. LAW 119
The Reverend Catherine Campbell
and Deacon Bettye Reynolds 123
Reynelda James 131
Maryanne Lacy 137
Mother Ammachi 145
Connie Biwer Yaqub 153
Joan Halifax Roshi 161
Sister Jose Hobday 169

The Reverend Diane Winley 181
Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati 187
Debbie Friedman 197
The Reverend Sandy Gess 203
Janice Mirikitani 211

5. HARVEST 217
Iyanla Vanzant 221
The Reverend Helen Cohen and
the Reverend Rebecca Cohen 231
Marianne Williamson 239
The Reverend Della Reese 249
Jean Houston 257

About the Photographs 267
Select Bibliography of Women Spiritual Leaders 269
Further Reading 275
About SkyLight Paths 287