This post is my second in a series of three posts dealing with sexual abuse and Christian spirituality. In my first post I talked about ways that certain Christian messages tend to create stumbling blocks for those striving to heal from the trauma of abuse, and I listed a couple of ideas to keep in mind if we want to live and share faith in a way that offers hope and healing to survivors of abuse.
The first had to do with thinking about what messages will actually communicate good news to survivors, and the second talked about reinterpreting God so that God is known as a liberator and not an oppressor.
Here are two more:
3. Recover the sacred feminine.
Just as women may feel estranged from a God that is strictly male, women can also feel divided from the biblical narrative that serves as the foundation of their faith. Exacerbated by English translations, the Bible is predominately androcentric. Most books appear to be written by men for male readers. Most of the leaders and heroes are men. Most of the language is bent around male paradigms. Most honored perspectives result from male experience. And, more recent centuries of acute patriarchal influence have caused common reading and interpretation of the biblical narrative to appear even more male-centered than it already is. Thus, women can have the same problem with the Bible as they have with God. It is at least subconsciously perceived to be a giant source of authority for the system of patriarchy and is therefore “against” women.
But! If God is for women and against patriarchy (note, I say “against patriarchy,” not “against men”), then the story of God’s relationship with human beings must reflect this also. If the Bible is to be revered as a sacred recording of this relationship it must somehow contain within it the same liberation for women evident in the identity of God. And, assuming that God’s relationship extends beyond the pages of this holy book, women must be able to find evidence of God’s mission of liberation for women throughout history wherever the true spirit of God resides.
This logical approach doesn’t tell women how to find such evidence in the Bible and history. But, it does assure women that despite the attempts of patriarchy to obscure it, such evidence does exist, and women have holy permission to look for it. Thus begins the quest for the sacred feminine.
This quest may lead each person down a different path. Some recover and retell stories of biblical women. Some find encouragement from historical female saints and teachers. Some realize the potential for feminist theology to redefine how the Church shall interpret even the most patriarchal biblical passages. Others, such as Sue Monk Kidd, find God’s sacred feminine in Greek mythology, ancient Christian art, Middle Eastern mysticism, and elsewhere.
This third step of recovering the sacred feminine seems important to me so that Christian women are able to own the Christian story as their own and see that they have a place within it.
Up to this point, I have been outlining spiritual components that have more to do with a woman’s inward disposition and journey toward faith. But, if we are to be concerned with healing, there is a time to shift toward external components, and this is that time.
Community is essential. The Church is still strongly patriarchal and easily threatened by even the simple notion that God could be imagined as female. If a woman is able to cultivate a spirituality that makes room for women to be a part of God’s people, God’s mission, and God’s story in the world, that woman is going to need a community of support for strength to sustain it. Often, women need to create this community for themselves. Sometimes, they are fortunate enough to fall into its embrace. Hopefully, this will be a community of both women and men, all striving together to model relationships that resist the influence of patriarchy.
This community is a place for support. This is a place for women to go to feel loved, to be reminded that they are not crazy, arrogant or heretical for insisting on their own value. This is a place where women may rest from the perpetual struggle against patriarchy they encounter elsewhere. This is a place where there are others who will speak up on behalf of women so that those who struggle the most will know they are not alone. This is a place where pain and brokenness may be safely shared.
Community is important so that women may have the space needed for healing to continue to deepen and give birth to new life.
Again, I am eager to hear back from the Our Stories Untold community. How do you see patriarchy functioning in your communities of faith? What is most needed in your context in order to heal the wounds of gendered violence and speak a faith that does the same?
More to come tomorrow!
 And, by “for women” I do not mean against men.
This series of cross-posts by Hilary Jerome Scarsella originally appeared on the State of Formation Website.
To see the first post in this series, please click here.