Excerpt from Positive Sisterhood
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The Lie of Inconsequence
When you read the writings and letters of some great Christian women of the past, not least those proclaimed doctors of the Catholic church, such as Teresa of Avila and Hildegard of Bingen, (in fact, along with Therese of Lisieux there are only three) it is not hard to discern that these women felt they were uneducated, weak and inferior to their male counterparts. Or at least, it is not hard to discern that they knew that is how the males in the church wanted them to feel, and wanted them to express themselves, in Uriah Heep-ish humility that makes a modern reader want to cringe. “Wretched, and indeed more wretched in my womanly condition..” writes Hildegard to Bernard of Clairveaux in 1147 38. They did it to avoid criticism and censure for sure, and also perhaps to make the point that the church had not educated them in the same way it would have done if they had been male.
“Was this emphasis on Hildegard’s inadequacy merely a useful foil? From the point of view of the Church’s attitude towards women daring to speak, the more ignorance she could claim, the safer her position.” Asks Hildegard biographer, Fiona Maddocks.39
Whether this self-effacing attitude was indeed a foil or not, women in the church have always been forced to play down their hand, even amazing, way ahead of their time women like Hildegard and Teresa, so intelligent, eloquent and spiritually soaring. This is, sadly, still true today, and in the world as much as in the church. Ought the church not to have cottoned on by now that women are human beings equal in worth and ability and anointing to the men? We are a dreadfully slow species and a terribly inaccurate mirror of our Lord’s intentions.
We have been held back by well-meaning devotees of the translations and understandings we have of St Paul’s letters who insist they are bible believers and yet take no time or trouble to investigate those teachings that seem terribly unlikely to be current given the clear mandate of equality set out by both Jesus and Paul. Bad teaching, a lack of teaching is greatly to blame. As is laziness and the modern loss of the ability to read scripture as metaphor, or as figurative, as something beyond the literal. As is confusion, as are perhaps, the hearts and motivations of those who have the most to lose.
But we should take heart, my sisters, because the Lord has never let the Church get in the way of his plans, and institutions are more often than not, far behind the Holy Spirit and her passionate, cunning ways. Women are not second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God, we are powerful and strong. We are prophets and we are priestesses and we are psalmists; we are writers and composers and healers and visionaries; we are mystics and theologians and pray-ers and poets. We are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11) and we are each gifted in some way:
“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” (Romans 12:3-8 my emphasis) Notice Paul does not specify that this is only written for those without fallopian tubes. It is for everyone. So, never think that you don’t matter. Never think that you are unimportant in God’s plans for any reason, and certainly not because you are female.
I have had personal spiritual battles in this area, not least because of what I felt the Bible said and how the Church preached it, but also because of my being chronically ill and therefore disabled, unable to take part in the usual church activities. During a ministry session, I was given in my mind’s eye, a picture of a gigantic snake, a huge constrictor like an anaconda, that lay between me and the altar of my then church. My minister asked me if the snake had a name and I knew it straight away. It was inconsequence. It was the lie that I did not matter, that I was of no importance, that nothing I said or did made any difference and I might as well never have been born. This is a real whopper of a lie for me to swallow. No wonder the snake in the picture was so big! With this spiritual reality prayed into, the snake began to slither away. It could not stand between me and the Lord’s sacred places any more, because it had been trumped by the truth, the truth that I do make a difference, that I do matter.
Ever since then I have believed myself (and every other female I know) to be a woman of consequence. Still now just typing that four word description of myself makes me smile. A woman of consequence. Say that out loud about yourself now (unless you are on the train in which case say it deep inside to avoid strange looks). You are a woman of consequence. I don’t care who you think you are, how low and unworthy you imagine yourself, none of that matters, because to God, in his plans and in his heart and in his kingdom, where he rules, you are of great consequence. This doesn’t mean you will take the world by storm tomorrow (though you might), but it does mean you are every bit as important and useable as anyone else. Keep hold of that truth. Send that snake packing.
© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2014