I Need The “Feminine” On The Spiritual Journey

I Need The “Feminine” On The Spiritual Journey September 4, 2019

I’ve learned a lot from living with two women. One is my daughter, the other my wife, and they are wonderful teachers regarding all things feminine.

I don’t mean that statement in the “Whoa boy! Women are weird!” sense. I think the stereotypical “She’s-always-shopping-emotional-blah-blah” language is both unloving and unhelpful. The ball-and-chain humor that men pass off as winsome and folksy is neither.

In fact it’s destructive. Just stop it.

As a matter of fact, I believe that kind of language is a disconnect from loving neighbor as self (Matthew 22:38-40) in light of both men and women being created in the image of God (Gen. 1-2). Okay, that’s my soapbox.

The learning I’ve come to treasure from my “girls” is the value of language and imagery that many men would consider “feminine.” The language that expresses nurturing, care, and empathy is often connected to the feminine nature. Yet when I begin to look at the spiritual giants, primarily men, who have influenced me I notice something.

There is a need for “feminine” in our spiritual life.

As a male, there are aspects of the spiritual journey that I miss because of my own lenses. I don’t hate or regret the impulses that come from my male-ness. Yet I also know they are limited and even faulty.

I’m only seeing half the picture of humanity. And since humanity is both masculine and feminine, both bearing the image of God, I’m only seeing half of God.

I was reminded of the need for the feminine energy in my spiritual life while reading a thought from St. Francis of Assisi. In Jon M. Sweeney’s lovely compilation, Francis of Assissi: In His Own Words, Sweeney includes this quote:

“We are mothers when we carry Christ in our hearts and bodies with a love that is godly and a conscience that is earnest, and when we give birth to Christ through our spiritual practice, as a shining example before all people.” (56)

As I read these words, a host of Scriptural images came flooding to mind.

Paul talks about how he groans in the pains of “childbirth” until the “Spirit of Christ is formed in” the Galatian church.

Jesus uses feminine imagery of a hen gathering the chicks under her wings in reference to the coming devastation of Jerusalem.

The church – male and female – are corporately called the “bride of Christ” without any sort of qualifier or exemptions.

Not to mention all the imagery of birth and rebirth, creation and new creation, as well as the primacy of women in both the Old Testament and New Testament narratives.

As others have pointed out, Jesus entrusted the news of resurrection to women first. Women who at the time couldn’t work for themselves and whose testimony was invalid in court.

There is a great debate going on in many institutional churches right now, specifically many conservative Evangelical churches, about the role of women in ministry. It isn’t a new conversation, per se. Yet it appears that now more than ever the question of “What is the role of women in the church?” has taken a seat of primacy in theological discussions.

For the record, I identify with a position referred to as egalitarian.

The egalitarian position says that men and women were created equally in the image of God.  The opposing position, which is called hierarchical or complementarian, also affirms that statement.

Where the two positions differ is that for egalitarians, roles and responsibilities in both domestic life and in the church are best distributed by skill and gifting rather than gender.

So, I affirm women in both pastoral roles as well as in whatever roles of church leadership are appropriate to their gifts and abilities.

The pushback I get on that statement is “What about 1 Timothy 2 or 1 Corinthians 10?” While I can’t address those passages in full here, I will say that when I examine the cultural and literary contexts of those passages I see something different.

Namely, the texts that are typically used to exclude women from ministry in the local church are a) not primarily about women in what we would consider “pastoral” roles and b) address specific issues in Ephesus and Corinth that are not universal to churches everywhere.

But I have another reason for my thoughts regarding women in ministry:

Communities of faith become anemic without prominent feminine voices and perspectives on the spiritual journey.

In a contemporary American culture where there are few (if any) healthy rites of passage for men, men are left only with a quest for some form of power to form their identity. Some of that power comes from financial success, athletic or sexual performance, plus relational dominance.

Anything that threatens that power, as frail and transparent as it may be, is a threat to male identity.

In fact, I think much of the pushback about women in leadership in the local church has little to do with Scripture. Simply put, men have never been taught how to deal with their own fears about losing power and prominence.

Largely because we’ve never seen that power as something we could lose. But Jesus did. Jesus held a masculine power that was both enduring and selfless, mainly because he was content to lose it for the sake of others.

But the feminine perspective gains insight into pain and powerlessness as a part of the natural movement of biology through time. The kind of inner strength and inner experience that the feminine perspective brings to the spiritual journey is vital.

For example, texts such as the story of Abraham & Hagar or David & Bathsheeba take on a different hue when told from a feminine perspective. These stories are often viewed as Abraham’s impatience or David’s mid-life crisis (interesting how the guys are the focal sufferers in those stories?).

Instead, the feminine spiritual perspective sees those two stories as human trafficking and rape, respectively. The masculine and feminine perspectives can then meet and discover the wisdom God has to give via these age-old stories.

On this journey with Jesus, I want to keep an ear to both my masculine tendencies and my feminine teachers.

The balance of the two presents both the gentleness of Jesus and the power of the Father. Inside the Trinity there is space for creator, savior, and teacher with both masculine and feminine implications.

The greatest lesson we are invited to learn comes from the “other half” of God’s humanity.

As men, we are invited today to surrender our preoccupation with power. We can then sit down and listen to the feminine voices around us. Today we are invited to the kenosis (“emptying”) moment that is critical to the way of Jesus (Phil. 2:5-11).

I honestly find a half-voiced humanity to be an uninteresting neighborhood in the kingdom of God. Instead, like St. Francis, I believe that Christ is in me (Galatians 2:20) and so I carry Christ much like a “mother.”

How can I be that “mother” without the real and beautiful feminine voices that speak soul motherhood into being?

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