The Spirituality of Women: A Share in Creation Part Two

I was able to spend a little time with the Hebrew texts today, so here is a brief exegesis on which I based Part One. I did not try to put in the Hebrew characters, but have transliterated them for ease of reading.

God’s intention is to create woman equal with man – thus her definition is eisha, equivalent to male eish; the change in ending merely indicates gender.  Adam calls Eve “flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2.23), Hebrew basar. There is an equivalency in usage; it is not “you are part of my flesh” but identified as a separate being – “the flesh of my flesh.”

At Genesis 3.16 and 3.17, the same word is used to describe the pain of labour in childbearing and the pain of labour in tillage: atseb. Again, there is an equivalency – woman is not punished more than man. Our post-Victorian minds see hard work as satisfying and rewarding while we see childbirth as frightening and punitive. Our ancestors did not see it this way. They worked very hard at physical labour, which was at times quite dangerous. Anyone who has done manual farming and worked with animals will know what that means. Hunting and fishing could be dangerous as well. It is only in recent times that we think of work as something done primarily indoors and sitting down, with the most common physical danger being carpal tunnel syndrome.

Childbirth was not always viewed with the dread we inherited from the Victorians. While complications made it life-threatening, women who worked physically and were in good strength managed it very easily, as is true today. Neither field work nor childbirth could be avoided in the context of family life, which was the heart of Israel’s culture.

Why is woman put under subjection to man? He will “rule”, mishel, over her. This is traditionally interpreted to mean that she is dependent on him because of his superior strength and size, that he is responsible for protecting her and their children and providing shelter and food for them. The “king” or ruler (melek)  of a clan in Israel was paternal; he was father to his children and all members of the household, whether he was biological father or not. The dominion was not one of sitting on a throne and giving orders, but one of careful planning, hard work and great responsibility.

A woman had equal responsibilities in her own realm, within the tent and the garden, and with the small livestock kept close to home. She had her own authority in preparing food and making textiles. We rarely see signs of continuing domestic conflict between husbands and wives in the Five Books. Too much was at stake to risk the fallout of a power struggle in the household. Husband and wife had to work side by side and in the light of Torah; as a Hebrew commentator put it: “Obedience to the Torah…restores her (woman) to her former and proper status as the ‘crown of her husband’ and ‘pearl of his life.'” (Stone Tanach, notes to Gen 3.16 [Hirsch]).

Note: I have used the New Jerusalem Bible, The Stone Edition Tanach, and The Interlinear NIV Hebrew-English Old Testament in preparing these exegetical notes. The transliterations from Hebrew are my own.

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7 thoughts on “The Spirituality of Women: A Share in Creation Part Two

  1. I think after your posts, I will write about my conflicts of being in Seminary but choosing to ultimately wanting to be a homemaker. I want to see what else you have to say, first 🙂

    • I don’t see any conflict between being a theologian and a homemaker. I will be writing about hospitality and Christian faith soon; that might resonate with you. Be sure to contribute your thoughts on these spirituality posts. I am relying on reader input to guide what direction I take.

      • I don’t see the conflict either, in my heart. It’s the push from others for me to be at the “very least” a Children’s Minister, a counselor, SOMETHING besides
        “just” a homemaker that makes me doubt myself and my calling. Lord give me strength!

  2. As a fellow theology student who is also a home-maker, I see no conflict either. Christ’s entire relationship with humanity is predicated upon hospitality… (here I go again)… Matt 25: 34-40, the entire book of james, larger-scale shared hospitality within the body of Christ Acts 2: around 42-46,47 and similar. It is no coincidence that the one miraculous act of Jesus repeated in all four gospels is the feeding of the five thousand (In actuality, this number would in all likeleyhood have approached at least fifteen to twenty thousand with the inclusion of women and children). One cannot go past the beautiful statement (Magdalena, if you would like to book/chapter/verse reference this for me…

    ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock, to he that opens it, I shall entre, and sup with him, and he with me’…(the ‘sarah’ version of this passage paraphrased)

    Hospitality to our own families, neighbours (there’s much more to the parable of ‘the Good Samaritan’ than many immediately think about – hospitality and healing are essential central themes). Hospitality within the body of Christ is sorely needed and woefully lacking in far too many congregations; disgraceful! We could learn so much from intentional faith communities who practice what I call Organic Hospitality; that is, hospitality that occurs naturally, that is a common thread throughout said community, that is viewed as neither burden nor duty that weighs one down. Almost worse than abject lack of hospitality is the instance in which a tiny few are left to carry the load for a community or congregation (Magdalena, you would have encountered this far too often as a minister) with burnout the sad conclusion to this state of affairs.

    Then there is hospitality to all… This is our gift, our ‘sacred women’s business’. As a student of theology, and, eventually, god willing, a theologian in my own right, perhaps teacher, perhaps not, I will be fulfilling this calling as much, if not more, by caring for and enriching my home circle with heart, passion and love than could be accomplished in any article for (insert name of journal or periodical). If I am to teach, conducting classes in the home ecconomics kitchens, taking my students out to minister to those who have come upon hard times by providing good hearty meals and, perhaps even sharing the skills behind it will bear witness to theology in action.

    Now, here is a question to ponder… is it mere coincidence that God is raising up women comfortable with the feminine, empowered by the profound nature of our role, studying either at seminary or within the context of a faith-based university, who, in several cases embrace the Plain calling? Where feminist theology has failed so greatly in acknowledging the value, esential nature and power of the feminine and potential of ‘sacred womens’ business’ is a new generation being called forth to rectify the deficiency?

    Magdalena, Please, please keep on writing!!!! You are touching upon something so essential for which the Body of Christ is starving to receive!

    • I too am appalled by the lack of hospitality in the church. The clergy are professionalized, supposedly to avoid that burnout, but it leads to isolation and not only burnout (doing everything yourself) but to compassion fatigue ( overwhelming emotions about those for whom you care, and eventually depression and cynicism). We are told to practice collegiality, but we are too competitive to make it work. We are told to take retreat days, but given no time in which to do it. Clergy become pillars of salt in the desert, having looked back with longing to the world where we had companions and success, and then unable to move on to where we were called. I will probably have to do some Latin exegesis before I get into a long series on hospitality, and some reading on the early church and the monastic movement.

  3. magdalena,

    I have known personally ministers who have become burnt out; wonderful faithful souls passionate about their calling, serious about their flocks, and you are correct; these men (never got to know the handful of woman pastors) fell like burning meteors into the wilderness of depression coupled with mental, emotional and physical exhaustion. and the question resounded again and again,; where were their colleagues and supervisory ministers????? Nowhere to be found!!

    Some denominations have approached the professionalization of the clergy by appointing ministers on a voluntary basis (though this in and of itself also contains potential thorny issues).

    My knowledge of the role of the monastic communities in the provision of hospitality is vibrant yet sparce… caring for the surrounding community, providing welcome and refuge for the pilgrim (think minestrone – yes, this dish had its origins within the Italian monastic tradition with either it or something like it always available for the passer through)…

    how do we rid the ministry of competition and naked ambition? How do we re-institute an environment that nurtures and nourishes those who have dedicated themselves to a life of service?

    I will continue praying, giving it to our heavenly Father, praying for the hard of heart to be chastened and moved…somehow, some way…

    • I was just sitting down to write some notes on hospitality and its basis in God’s generosity. (I blame Chris Armstrong for this sudden surge of theologism. He agreed that I am a neo-medievalist!) Mu own husband was a burnout victim, and he never recovered. I suspect the tremendous strain contributed to the inducement of the stroke.

      Just to be blunt and way too general, we need to rid ministry of competitive male attitudes. Men have competition surging through them with the testosterone. Then women in ministry have to adopt the same attitude to get anywhere past running the Sunday School. “Envy is the sin of priests,” I used to say. CA above and I had an interesting dialogue on this subject over at his blog, “Grateful to the Dead,” on pride and envy.

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