My brother complained recently that my blog is too often about “women stuff.” Well, he’s right. I write toward a holistic body theology from my perspective as young, white, female, married, member of the 99%, seminarian, and writer — just to name a few descriptors. I don’t speak for everyone’s experience. I can only speak for my own and hope that some part of my story may inspire, inform, or challenge part of yours.
But lovely readers, today is an especially “women-stuff-filled” day, so prepare yourselves. If you are a woman, perhaps you will find something of yourself in the post below.
If you are a man, I hope that you will keep reading and recognize within yourself as you do the way you feel as you read on. Do you feel somewhat excluded? Do you find yourself doing some mental gymnastics to get at the part that relates to your own experience? If so, then you are on your way to discovering what it’s like for women to experience God in a patriarchal framework. My hope is that you will find the experience useful in your own spiritual growth.
If you follow my profile on Goodreads, you’ll know that I just finished reading Sue Monk Kidd‘s book The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine. I could have quoted half the book for you, but the following passage stood out to me as particularly necessary to inform our holistic body theology.
In Christianity God came in a male body. Within the history and traditions of patriarchy, women’s bodies did not belong to themselves but to their husbands. We learned to hate our bodies if they didn’t conform to an idea, to despise the cycles of mensuration–“the curse,” it was called. Our experience of our body has been immersed in shame.
Let me interrupt to say that the understanding that patriarchy has had a negative impact on female body image is not a new idea for this blog. We’ve touched on this idea here, for instance, and here and here, and even here.
This negative impact must be recognized as a lie and uprooted so there is room for planting new understandings of the body that are more in line with the truth about who we are as human beings: male and female, together we are created in the image of God.
We’ve talked before about how the foundation of holistic body theology is our identity in Christ, but this truth is much more difficult for many women to embrace on a heart-level and experience in their own bodies than it is for men because we first have to break down the gender barrier. We have to “enter into” our identity as the image of God “in a new way,” through an embracing of our physical selves.
Waking to the sacredness of the female body will cause a woman to “enter into” her body in a new way, be at home in it, honor it, nurture it, listen to it, delight in its sensual music. She will experience her female flesh as beautiful and holy, as a vessel of the sacred. She will live from her gut and feet and hands and instincts and not entirely in her head. Such a woman conveys a formidable presence because power resides in her body. The bodies of such women, instead of being groomed to some external standard, are penetrated with soul, quickened from the inside.
I’ve been working on this process for a long time. At my awakening to the need for this “new way,” I struggled to give voice to my experience and name my pain. Now, I am still in the process toward accepting the truth about myself in my physical being and experiencing God in myself in this new way. The journey is not complete. There is more work to be done. One day I trust that I will be able to see myself fully — both spiritually and physically — as the embodiment of God, the imaga Dei.
This is where I am on my journey toward holistic body theology. Where are you?
What did this passage stir up in you? Share your thoughts in the comment box below, or drop me a line on Facebook or via email: bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com.
This weekend, take some time to honor and acknowledge the women in your faith community for their leadership and ministry gifts and abilities. Here are some ideas to help get you started:
write a thank you note
write a letter
give a $5 gift card
take her out to lunch
recognize her publicly
offer an opportunity to lead in a new area
mention her in the comment section below and send her the link
mention her on your own blog and share the link in the comment section
Whatever you say or do, be genuine and specific.
If you are a woman in leadership, know that what you bring to the table is unique and valuable. Your voice matters. Keep speaking!
This week was Blast from the Past Week during which I posted a few of my theological reflections on readings from a class on “Women in Church History and Theology” back when I was in seminary.
For today’s Forward Friday, let’s engage theologically with some of the following issues. What resonates with you? What makes you uncomfortable?
Remember, it’s important to know what we think about things and where our opinions and beliefs come from. It’s also important to know what other people think and where their opinions and beliefs come from.
Iron sharpens iron, people, so let’s get to rubbing!
- what does the Bible say about “a woman’s place” and how should we interpret it?
- are women good like Mary or bad like Eve?
- is God feminine?
- what is a woman’s true nature and does it preclude ministry and leadership?
- is the silence of women contextual or prescriptive and is there room for exceptions?
Come back by and leave your thoughts in the comment box below. If you blog about it, be sure to share a link!
It’s Blast from the Past Week on Holistic Body Theology. Here are some of my theological reflections from a class I took on “Women in Church History and Theology” at Fuller Seminary.
First posted May 16, 2008
Christine de Pizan and the question of women
“I finally decided that God formed a vile creature when He made woman, and I wondered how such a worthy artisan could have deigned to make such an abominable work which, from what they say, is the vessel as well as the refuge and abode of every evil and vice…I considered myself most unfortunate because God had made me inhabit a female body in this world.” ~ Christine de Pizan
Vile. Abominable. Abode of every evil and vice. Indeed, what woman could feel anything but “most unfortunate” when convinced of her sorry state of existence before the perfection that is held up as man? The querelle des femmes, and later the witchcraze, feature in the great debate about the nature of a woman: is she good (like Mary) or is she bad (like Eve)?
With the advent of a wider availability of education for women, a new realization of and outcry against oppression and misogyny arose. Are women really as bad as “they” say, these men who are educated by men and surrounded by educated men and uneducated women, these men who capitalize on each other’s propositions about the female sex and project their own sexual appetites onto them, these men who happening upon a woman of equal or superior learning/courage/virtue, etc. can only scratch their heads and pronounce her to have risen above her sex—are women as bad as “they” say?
Malleus Maleficarum, objectification, and witchcraft
While courtly love, this ideal of romance, was at its peak, women like Christine began to expose “the attitudes it promoted toward women, and its reduction of romance to sexual conquest—and abandonment” (Kelly 10). Women were nothing more than sexual objects made to feel empowered for the purposes of the game but ultimately losing.
A counterpoint to courtly love may be the rise of fear concerning witchcraft; where one’s romantic interest is held to be without fault, the witch is the epitome of fault. In the Malleus Maleficarum, the two authors surmise that witchcraft appeals more to the woman because (as Monter summarizes) “women are more credulous than men; women are more impressionable; also, ‘they have slippery tongues, and are unable to conceal from their fellow-women those things they have learned by evil arts’…[they have a] greater sexual appetite…[and are by] nature quicker to waver in the faith” (129).
So courtly love holds up a woman as the virginal Mary, but only for purposes of conquest. The accusation of witchcraft colors woman as the deceptive, lustful Eve who is vindictive and in cahoots with devils. Whether she is good like Mary or bad like Eve, she is still just a woman, rationally inferior (Kelly 12).
Dan Doriani, Women and Ministry
I try not to get frustrated when I read about what men used to think about women, but it is difficult when I realize that it is sometimes still the case today. Arguments from nature may have softened their terms and tone, but they are just as harmful and hurtful as ever.
I’m reading Dan Doriani’s Women and Ministry right now for another class, and the gentleness of his tone and the caution with which he steps ever harder on the attempts of women to do God’s work are beginning to infuriate me more than the brash diatribes of these centuries-old documents like the Malleus Maleficarum.
I want never to find myself in the place Christine de Pizan once was, despising her own sex, despising her own self, lamenting that God would make her at all if he would choose to make her so deformed and despicable as to suffer being a woman.
If such a state is the logical conclusion of the pontification of men over the nature of a woman, there is no good in the reason of such men. God made male and female and pronounced them good. Anything short of that pronouncement is a lie–one men have perpetuated and built upon for thousands of years.
Choosing the harder path
So I say hurray for the women who “rose above their sex” to the extent that they could recognize their oppression and speak against it.
Hurray for the women who would not accept lies about themselves or allow anyone to continue telling them to other women.
Hurray for the women who suffered and toiled and even lost for the sake of the querelle des femmes and in the face of accusations with as heavy a price as death by fire.
Hurray for women who stood up and said “no” to the insistence that they had less rationality, less virtue, less strength of character, less natural ability, less faith.
May I have such courage to speak with gentleness and yet persistence when I face accusations of my own. The way has been paved for me. And that is a blessing.