From within the maelstrom of contemporary theological projects Cynthia Crysdale produces a theology of suffering which promises to stand the test of time. Expertise in the twin concerns of her academic appointment, Associate Professor of Faith Development and Ethics in the Department of Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America, is evident in this text. The dynamics of conversion (Bernard Lonergan) in relationship to an "ethics of risk" (Sharon D. Welch) provide an effective core to her daunting yet skillfully limited endeavor. Crysdale examines that suffering which comes from human choice. Under the "law of the cross" such suffering can become an aspect of transformation.
This work integrates a variety of feminist and other liberation insights in an appropriately critical manner. Crysdale is attentive to the voices that recognize how Christian attitudes and theologies about suffering and sin have served to maintain oppressive structures and relationships. She draws extensively on biographical narratives of travail and of conversion. Sebastian Moore's insights in The Crucified is No Stranger are mined for their contribution to an understanding of suffering that can itself be an aspect of liberative praxis. Ultimately, it is her deft contemplation of conversion within the framework of Bernard Lonergan's method that decisively unifies the work.
Possibly the greatest challenge to the reader is Crysdale's argument that a "retrieval of the cross" calls each person to recognize that they are both "oppressor" and "victim." She recognizes that those in power do experience their basic sinfulness in a manner distinct from the poor, the marginalized, and most women. Nevertheless, effective resistance to oppressive relationships requires that "victims" come to recognize the ways in which their own attitudes and behavior have precluded the claim to be a Self capable of such resistance. Furthermore, those who are victims in one oppressive relationship frequently react by becoming the oppressors in another. A conversion rooted in a willingness to "embrace travail" can overcome this dichotomy between oppressor and victim. One can "embrace travail" precisely because one can come to understand that they are "in the embrace of God." The cross reveals suffering accepted and transformed, not suffering sought or replaced by dominative power.
In turn, redemption is an "ethics of risk," not an ethics of responsibility and control. Crysdale thus recasts Sharon D. Welch's ethical analysis into a theology of grace. Redemption requires intentional communities that embrace travail rather than seek manipulative control. The Lonerganian notion of intellectual, moral, religious, and psychic conversion illuminates the meaning of redemption. It is the experience of being grasped by God's love. According to Lonergan's "law of the cross" evil and sin cannot be conquered by power but can be converted through love.
Embracing Travail is a work of spirituality attuned to the goals of transformative feminism. Through effective use of personal narrative, including her own, Crysdale has produced a theology of redemption which is accessible and inspiring to a wide audience. This book belongs in college and university libraries, pastoral centers, retreat houses, and personal libraries.
In addition, the narrative character of Crysdale's development balances the limitations of Lonergan's method. By attending to the role of images, and feelings as carried by narrative, Crysdale brings the dynamics of psychic conversion into closer relationship with the project of intellectual, moral, and religious conversion. The text leaves one wishing the author had addressed more closely the question of communities and social transformation as well as the reality of irretractactible and debilitating sufferings that do not hold promise of transformation in this lifetime. However, such may be the project of another book.