The Lamp That Lit The Path – My Faith, My Feminism and the Debt I Owe My Nan



No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light.  Luke 8:16

“Trust your instincts.”

This was the only piece of advise that my Great-Grandmother ever directly gave me, although there was so much I have learnt from her since. I understand better now that she wasn’t really telling me what I ought to do – she was giving me the reassurance I would need in the years to come.

Girlie* was a mystery in many ways to me: a woman of deep faith and belief, a Christian by conviction and experience, fiercely political, and a feminist who eschewed big and exciting campaigns to help fight the little battles and comfort the silent sorrows of the untold, unsung lives of the people in the community in which she lived.

The illegitimate daughter of a rebellious, tiny Maltese Catholic girl who refused to give up her child and chose instead to take on the role of widow to a husband who had never existed, Girlie understood implicitly the politics of women’s lives and the power of refusing the imposed narrative.  What she would fight the hardest for was a person’s right to be themselves, to be who they were, to the creation of God in all their individual beauty.

When the first fragile green shoots of my faith first tested the air above ground, it met in full the resistance of my adolescent and angry teenage feminism, and even angrier teenage politics. I had the badges (“women need a man like a fish needs a bicycle”), placards to wave and the clipboards with an endless supply of petitions (back in the day when you needed a pen to sign your agreement to your cause of choice rather than a smart phone). My spotty, furious social agitator saw only the ‘male’ God, the male leaders, the ‘Our Father’ and the worship of a Jesus with whom I could have no truck and no accord.

So the green shoots of my faith retreated back beneath the earth. My politics became more nuanced, my ears and eyes began to become more attuned to the discord of the un-heard narratives – and feminism and I had our first big falling out. I remember the day quite clearly: I was in the kitchen, struggling with illness and small children, listening to women who were heralded as my feminist leaders discussing plastic surgery. And I looked at my small boys, at my empty purse, at the women around me who were fighting their own silent battles against racism, poverty and domestic violence, against a society that struggled even to see them as women at all; at the periodicals which I borrowed from the library that told me about the women in other parts of the world who were prevented even from earning a living – and I thought: when did the fluff in our navels become more important than this?

The young girls who sneered at my motherhood and my feminism as they went off to their university, their futures in their impressively expensive careers and their apparent equality, were far removed from me.  Politics knew the cost of everything and the value of nothing. The feminism of my youth seemed to have got lost up its own backside.

So I distanced myself from both, focussed on the battles in front of me.

When faith once again appeared above the ground, it was not met this time with the frost of my angry youth but with the autumn of my quiet disillusionment – not necessarily more receptive, but perhaps not as damaging. As my thoughts became prayers I found myself in front of old questions – if this was what I was coming to believe, how could I accept that which my instincts rejected?

This male god – this narrative in to which I do not fit? This person whom some say I should be, ‘because scripture’ but whom I know myself not to be?

And as I stared at this path, and this road seemingly strewn with rocks and thorns and disagreements – I saw that I already carried a lamp that would help me find my way. It does not give me the answers – it helps me to see what is before me clearly and navigate the spaces between and the tensions that arise. It does not tell me what to do – but it reassures me that I will be able to figure it out.

Trust my instincts. Figure it out. Pray. Listen – God speaks quietly and through many. Love. Live. Learn.

I have much to thank Girlie for. I thank God that she gave me exactly as much as I needed for the journey.




(*Girlie got the name from her husband, my Great-Grandfather and the name stuck.)