It’s Spring Day. The first of September.
And the first day after Women’s Month which – having seen how rapidly the hype over the 60 year anniversary of 20 000 women of all races standing in solidarity against the evil of Apartheid, and 40 years of the Ordination of Women in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, and the powerful political speeches about the struggles that women still face in our patriarchal South African society shrivelled away – really only burgeoned for a day.
And I’m not done. In fact, I feel like I’ve hardly begun to appreciate fully the remarkable gift of Woman that has emerged in my conversations with women over the last few weeks.
Truly, to talk heart to heart with a woman is to be fully open to stories of unfathomable struggle and pain … and then to be amazed at how she has managed to carry on – often with such dignity and hopefulness and grace.
I have heard how God’s Word has been used to humiliate and oppress: how some men have taken from the Creation story a mandate to dominate and subdue the “helper,” the “second-born” shaped from his rib, the “afterthought” fashioned to serve his needs; how Eve’s error points to the inherent wickedness of women and our hidden desire to lead men into depravity and sin; how Solomon’s many wives and God’s promise to Abraham of many offspring condones the cultural practice of polygamy and justifies having children out of wedlock; how Paul’s admonitions to women on what to wear and how to behave honourably in the brand new Christian community indicate that they are unfit for positions of leadership within God’s church – even today.
I have grieved at stories of how women have turned on one another – forsaking solidarity and sisterhood in the quest for promotion, love and/or lust, and validation of their worth; how some single women have considered married men fair game and jilted women have responded with venom and viciousness, exonerating their men of all blame; how those looking for love have been preyed upon and manipulated by users and abusers without a word of warning from those who have witnessed their behaviour before; how married women and mothers have insensitively told unwed women and women without children (by virtue or biology or choice) that God is obviously unhappy with them.
I have railed against a society in which women must sacrifice or downsize parts of themselves in order to meet a narrow ideal of beauty or significance or perfection; in which the pressure to perform (and the punishment for under- or out-performing) a dozen roles leaves little time for dreaming, let alone breathing; in which a thousand insecurities and irrational beliefs worm into our psyche and self-image in the way that we are socialised, educated, spoken to, and treated.
Yet, through it all, I have encountered a God who has written us into Life’s Unending Story:
- who, in our forming, wove into us the capacity for creating, for nurturing, for self-sacrificing;
- who reminds us in every act of provision and protection in Scripture that we are living expressions of God’s image, God’s very being;
- who affirms rather than beauty and charm our independence and our wisdom, our strength and our influence and commands that others affirm it too;
- who takes the vulnerable and the outcast like Rahab and Ruth and Tamar and makes them part of God’s family, a necessary heroine in the incarnation of the Messiah;
- who comes to us not as a fully grown, powerful man but is bound through the intimacy and humility of umbilical cord and a woman’s breast;
- who overthrows cultural traditions and religious laws to heal she-who-is-bowed-over-in-need and defend she-who-is-accused-of-improper-conduct;
- who appears first to the women at the tomb with good news of resurrection and new life – and tells them to preach and proclaim the truth to those still living in the shadows of loss and fear;
- who is pleased to name the church the “Bride,” sacrificially and lovingly chosen – truly wanted and worthy.
So I give thanks to the God who names me “Beautiful. Beloved.” And I celebrate the women who have drawn me closer to who God is and who I am in God through their sharing and self-offering over this time.
And I pray for eyes that will help me see the God-bearers who I will meet upon Life’s Way, and hands that will hold theirs in friendship and support, and a voice that will speak truth about their true significance and worth – not just in Women’s Month, but every day.