My husband told me once "You are the true feminist." I bristled at the comment. To me the woman who would be called "feminist" was sharp tongued and never held back from pointing her finger at any man that she saw as being a conduit for the ongoing victimization of women. I certainly did not feel that I treated the men in my life in that way nor did I see them as being cruel and heartless creatures who were purposely keeping me from growing to my full potential as a human being. I needed my husband to explain further what it was that he was meaning by this statement. He went on to tell me that my growing knowledge regarding the divine dignity of both women and men was leading me into the necessity of being open to the truth of God and that God's divine Truth would most certainly speek of equality of dignity and what has been distorted by sinful humans. Even though I had purposely stayed away from most LiberationTheology literature I was most certainly being drawn back to the theology of those who continue to be marginalized and diminished within our society and the world whether they be poor, women, or men. Eventually I would find myself needing to engage with the wisdom coming through Christian feminist writings.
I do not feel like a victim. I have never felt like a victim. I was raised by a single mother and have tried to raise my daughters and son to reach their full potential as human beings with the knowledge that their dignity and gifts come from our gracious and loving God. This theology was handed to me through the life of my mother who knew abandonment, suffering, sacrifice, depth of love, and a colder world handed to single mothers. Her gentleness and ability to create a life for me that deceived the look of poverty placed the world at my feet. I was taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph, Carmelites, and the Benedictines that my education was a gift to be cherished in the knowledge that many women around the world were denied this opportunity. I loved to learn so this was not something that was difficult for me to do. Outside of my studies the only other thing I had to do was to wash all the blackboards on the first floor of the school as a way to assist my mother in paying for my tuition. This was a small sacrifice of time but necessary for me to receive the outstanding level of education that was provided by these very educated Religious women.
It wasn't until I became a mother and wife and recessions occurred that I began to "feel" the beginnings of encroaching expectations. It was a time when women were embattled in the fight for equality and respect in the workplace and in the home. This equality would begin to present itself as a picture of choice; choice to remain in the home parenting my children or the choice to enter into the work day world of the men and place my children into the hands of other women in varying day care situations. Women began to fight with other women over what was the "right" way of living their lives and as a young mother this became a very confusing and guilt ridden time. What I did know for myself, though, was that my ability to cook, sew, garden, and presevere was being limited time and time again through what was fast becoming my "need" to work.
Need was being crafted within the framework of advertising agencies and youthful women everywhere were beginning to replace the "ways" of the older women with the touted, new, less stressful ways of pursuing self interest and personal growth, demanding equality of household duties from spouses, all the while caring for the children. Things such as growing vegetable gardens and fruit orchards as well as baking and canning were subtly being replaced with microwaveable dishes and fast food restaurants. Quantity of time was being diminished to the possibility of living life to its fullest and only needing to provide quality of care. Bras were being burned and what was viewed as old prisoning traditions were being outed and destroyed in favor of new "ways" for women to "choose" to live their lives. Who we were as women was entering into conversations as never before.
Thus it is that transformation can come through the forceful push of a generation but it has certainly left me wondering if we, as women, have truly lifted up and affirmed the co-steward dignity of womanhood or if the desperation for equality led us more completely into the trappings of our culture of purchase. G.K. Chesterton once wrote that he hoped women would not pursue the world of men for certainly they would fall as men have fallen into lives that were imprisoned by the workings of society. He saw women as having more choice in their movements twithin the home then men who had such expectations of success placed upon their being. I have thought of his words often as I have lived the last 30 years of my life watching the battle between women lessen and become more of a clash between the "have's" and the "have not's".
During this same period of time the Catholic Church has also undergone many different changes in regards to human diginity and equality. An example would be that when I was a child, I had to wear a covering over my hair while in church and was not allowed any further towards the altar than the Communion rail. Boys were altar servers as a way of getting them comfortable in the company of the priests and Bishop and to question a possible vocation to ordination. When I was about 7, I went to Mass before school and was met at the door by one of the Sisters and told that I no longer had to wear anything upon my head. There was no explanation just an expectation of doing what she said. Later I would come to understand this as one of the changes from the historic 2nd Vatican Council. When I was about 13, I was invited by one of the Sisters to read Scripture at Mass. I was nervous but my heart sang at the possibility of being closer to my God. When I came to Mass that day, I was met by Sister who told me that the priest had said that I could not read at Mass and she was very, very sorry.
Today, through the courage of other women, religious and lay, and the enlightenment of male leadership, we have girl altar servers in many Catholic parishes. Women teach, they sing in and direct choirs, and they read Scripture from the Ambo. As a woman and as a mother of women and girls and as a grandmother of many girls I am very grateful for this movement towards inclusion. I struggle with the term "equality" here, though, for my experiences today do not speak of equality of spiritual direction or of curiosity of authentic creation. The things I see into place appear to be more of systematic change than revelation of truth. Pope Francis seems to be challenging this. Theologically I must challenge this.
There is no "place" for women or for men within the unified ministry of Christ Jesus. Holy Scripture is clear about human equality and Christ's relationship with both men and women. It tells us that "no one knows the spirit of a man except the man". All of us as Christians need to turn inward and seek God within ourselves so that He may reveal to us all that we are. Then, it is we who go forward to clarify and reveal this to others. How do we influence others to seek out, to be interested in, the spiritual life of each other? How do we throw open the doors of the Church and pray that the Holy Spirit continue to find us worthy of His advocacy and direction? How do we affirm and celebrate each human life as God's goodness given as hands and feet for the world? Could we truly find a more fully disclosed truth by looking through the lens of the "feminine way"?
I have begun my research and I am so pleased to discover so many lovely women writing theological books on the subject of women and faith or women and the church with such love and grace. There is a need for historical and modern accuracy so the violence of the sins of oppression, aggresion, poverty, sexism, etc. reveal themselves. In the midst of this I see the willingness of these women to meet theology head on. I do not see much in the way of manipulation of thought or the question of aggressive retribution but instead find a more Christ like willingness to engage and wrestle with realities of human life and seek God's will revealed. An example from She Who Is by Elizabth A. Johnson "By Christian feminist theology I mean a reflection on God and all things in the light of God that stands consciously in the company of all the world's women, explicitly prizing their genuine humanity while uncovering and criticizing its persistent violation in sexism...In terms of Christian doctrine, this perspective claims the fullness of the religious heritage for women precisely as human in their own right and independent from personal identification with men. Women are equally created in the image and likeness of God, equally redeemed by Christ, equally sanctified by the Holy Spirit; women are equally involved in the ongoing tragedy of sin and the mystery of grace, equally called to mission [vocation] in this world, equally destined for life with God in glory." How beautiful and yet how tragic that women today still need to claim their authentic equality.
This is such a huge and wonderful endeavor on behalf of the Church. It moves my heart today to say to all my Christian brothers "Please do not create a 'place' for me but, instead, ask me where the Spirit is leading my spirit for I have opened my heart to the Truth of the Lord and it is He who is revealing to me the way in which I am to go. Let us be brother and sister. Let us love one another and celebrate each other's goodness. Let us offer each other a firm, loving hand of peace and fellowship trusting that the Spirit of God will move where He wills. We will be beside each other in His peace and not worry or take upon those things that Christ has asked us to give to Him. I promise that I will be your partner in faith and Iwill do my part in discerning God's direction for my life. If we come to a place where we are uncertain and the unknown sits before us, we can prostrate ourselves together upon the altar of the Lord and ask Him to grace us with direction. I love you, my brother, in all your fullness and fruitfullness as God's beloved son. Now, I think, it is your turn to love me in this same fullenss and fruitfullness as God's beloved daughter." Amen.