Last night I went to a lecture by Sally McFague, an eco-feminist theologian. She is 75 years old and absolutely amazing. The title of her presentation was Cities, Climate Change, and Christianity: Religion and Sustainable Urbanism. Not the stuff that everyone would flock to. Frankly, not what I would flock to, but I was definitely curious about her. I was not disappointed.
Early on she made this statement: “Religious traditions educate through stories, images, and metaphors, creating in their adherents deep and often unconscious assumptions about who human beings are and how they should act.” I put an asterisk in the margin. She then went on to talk about the necessity of changing our root metaphor for the earth from “the individual in the machine” to “bodies living within the body of the earth.” More notes in the margins, overflowing to the journal in my purse, spinning in my brain.
Here, in synopsized (and relatively raw) form, are 5 (of many more) things I thought about last night and why feminine metaphors matter – particularly as it relates to ecology, environmentalism, economics, our world.
1) We would have a completely different level of care for the earth if we understood and valued a woman’s body and experience as our teacher. Consider the placenta – a distinctly feminine biology and metaphor. It feeds the baby. Equal distribution happens naturally. There is enough. The mother cares for herself, thereby caring for the placenta and the unborn child. And, unlike our current economy and ecology, there is no depletion in this exchange. There is plenty to go around. All are fed. All are healthy. All survive and thrive. Feminine metaphors matter.
2) We would think differently about conquest and city-building if we understood and valued a woman’s body and experience as our teacher. The Biblical quickly narrative moves from Eden to the building of cities – urban centers. Enoch is first and Babel is not far behind. The trajectory continues, the flood destroys, more cities are built, more are pillaged and flattened. Imagine the possibilities if Eden had been considered as a womb; never the place we were designed to stay forever, but all that we needed, for a time, in order to enable new life to burst forth and new forms of nurture and care to emerge. Eden offered safety, self-contained and nurturing space, complete sufficiency, and communion that surpasses comprehension. What if that was what we attempted to recreate vs. building up and out, always at the expense of the earth, its resources, and eventually the harm of those who live within it? Feminine metaphors matter.
3) We would think differently about sacrifice – our own and Christ’s if we understood and valued a woman’s body and experience as our teacher. When we think about the kenotic God – self-emptying (Phil. 2:5-8) – we most often understand that in the context of tremendous and ultimate sacrifice – primarily death. And the predominant tendency therein is martyrdom – or the demand of such from others. But what if we imagined pregnancy as a form of and model for kenosis – of self-emptying on behalf of life? McFague said, “The power of the kenotic God lies in giving space for others…” Indeed, that is what women do in pregnancy: give space for others. (Parenthetically, let me state that the way in which Philippians 2:5-8 has been misinterpreted and become abusive where women are concerned would be radically redeemed if this interpretation were applied.) Feminine metaphors matter.
4) We would think differently about our economy, our resources, and North American wealth and entitlement if we understood and valued a woman’s body and experience as our teacher. Pregnancy offers us a lens through which to view even the way we spend our money. McFague said, “Giving space is a basic Christian doctrine, but it is also deep in the center of most religions – and it is felt in the hearts of all people, religious or not, who know that ‘love is the discovery of reality,’ the realization that something beside oneself is real.” Were we to utilize feminine experience and metaphor we would, indeed, realize that something besides our needs, our desires, our demands are real. We would, as in pregnancy, give space, be generous, not demand, and ultimately know a love that surpasses our doctrine and our theology. We would care for one another and our world in ways that would be ample and plenty vs. scarce and hoarded, that would value every mysterious aspect of carrying and bringing forth life vs. assuming that everything is ultimately for our purpose, use, and even waste. Feminine metaphors matter.
5) When the woman’s experience and voice is silenced, we lose (and have lost) uniquely feminine metaphors and hugely important perspectives. This is a summative statement of what is typed above, but its the first thing I wrote down when she started speaking. And it feels like the most important take-away from the night. Feminine metaphors matter.
I’m not assuming that anyone disagrees with this statement, but there is too much data out there – stories of harm from the past and current day realities to deny that a woman’s perspective, experience, and inherent, intuitive, bodily-held knowledge is and has been consistently overlooked and silenced if not dismissed and disregarded. It’s (past) time for that to change. Sally McFague is a pioneering and strong voice toward that end. I hope I am one, as well. There is so much more to say, feel and yes, bear and birth. Feminine metaphors matter. Women matter.