One of my favorite podcasts tackled faith and feminism in such a wonderful way: “The problem isn’t the Bible,” a queer feminist chaplain said. “The problem is whom we’ve allowed to read the Bible.”
Originally written as a Lenten devotional for San Francisco Theological Seminary, a reflection on Ephesians 3:14-21:
Right away I cringe at this text. “I bow my knees before the Father,” the writer says, and my third-wave feminist mind conjures images of submission, passivity, and docility. This is not the posture of a woman who makes sure she always has a seat at the conference table during meetings, who changes the lyrics of hymns to call God “mother,” who crochets pussyhats for the Women’s March on Washington. My image of serving Christ is usually more like standing up and shouting before “She-Who-Is.” This is an image I’ve worked hard to integrate into my being, working against societal norms of polite silence for women.
At a yoga class during this Lent, I tried a pose that was new to me. The teacher called it “rabbit” pose or sasakasana. I was on my knees, with my head to the floor, and my hands reaching behind me to grab my heels. This passage from Ephesians flashed through my mind, and it occurred to me that there is no more possible bowing my body could do. I was completely doubled over. The instructor encouraged us to breathe in and out, and as we breathed, to deepen our bends, and to feel the grounding of our bodies. “Thank your body for getting out of your own way,” she said.
I’m not so sure my chubby body was really doing such a good job of getting out of my way as I lay there with my knees pressing my bosom and my sweaty face stuck to my yoga mat. Nevertheless, I thanked my body, my imperfect female body, for bowing its knees, for taking in breath, for helping me to be me.
I thought of all the other kinds of bowing I have done during this Lent: kneeling on the floor to play with a coworker’s 5-year-old son, bending to whisper prayers for a hospice patient who is journeying towards death, kneeling beside the bereaved during a funeral rosary. This rabbit pose and numerous others during my yoga class.
All of this bowing, letting my body get out of my own way, helped me realize that in Christ, and in my bowing, I can also be “rooted and grounded in love.”
“I got married to be a family together, not to be a single mother,” said the woman.
“I can send you money!” said the woman playing her husband in the play.
“Money isn’t everything,” she replied.
He went anyway, crossing the border after several tries and staying in the United States for too many years.
The story is real and all-too-common in Guatemala, creating the circumstances for many social problems in the country, including hunger, violence, unplanned urbanization and homelessness. Six women of the Presbyterian Church of Guatemala have created a project called Historias de Fe (Faith Stories) in order to share their life experience outside Guatemala and to educate and encourage Guatemalans. On Wednesday, the stories they shared with our seminar were about migration, a topic that touches most Guatemalans.
In one skit, the women re-enacted their experience in attempting to get visas to travel to the United States to visit the theater company Looking for Lilith. One woman was denied a visa, even though she carried the same credentials and reference letters as everyone else. She suspects she was denied because she got flustered when the U.S. Embassy interviewer asked questions about her income. Her answer differed slightly from her paperwork. Other women said it might have been that Spanish is her second language, and she wasn’t as confident. No one is told why a visa is denied; it is the discretion of the interviewer, who might see 100 people a day for three minutes apiece.
“You see people come out, and you know they’ve been denied. Some are crying,” said Marina. “I was almost trembling when I went up. I thought that would happen to me.”
For North Americans to hear this highlights the incredible privilege that comes with a U.S. passport. I have never been detained at customs. As a visitor, I have never had to apply at a consulate for a visa. (My parents did when we traveled to El Salvador in 1993, and someone did my Costa Rican student visa paperwork for me in 2001.) I don’t tremble when I approach a port of entry; I assume they will let me through. If something goes wrong, the most I will have to do is correct my paperwork or pay a fee.
Not true for Guatemalans. They can and often will be harassed and asked the same question over and over, officials “trying to trick” them and betray a desire to overstay their visa, the women said.
Freedom of movement is fundamental to who we are as human beings, and international policies, especially those of the United States, increasingly serves to remove that human right. Migration should not be stopped, but migration forced upon people by economic need or violence, must be stopped, and freedom of movement, exchange of culture and ideas, and trade and commerce must be restored.
I was struck during the women’s skits, which they developed themselves and which are their own true stories, at how similar their project is to The Vagina Monologues and V-Day anti-violence projects. At San Francisco Theological Seminary, women are preparing to produce the Monologues for the fifth year. Participating in the play has been the single most transformative experience of my seminary career. Learning to speak for my body and to recognize and celebrate its sacredness taught me more than anything else what it is to be created in the image of God.
I was telling this to one of the Faith Stories women, and telling her that the play is a bit scandalous but is intended to voice things that women experience but that are kept hidden. “Que callamos,” she said. “That we are silent about. We can suffer internally, and we feel alone. For this reason we need to share.”
That is why the women of Faith Stories do what they do. People who see their stories realize that they are not alone. They can speak.
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The best reaction to Sofia Vergara at the Emmys that I have seen.
“Vergara’s turn (pardon the pun) arrives at the heels of too many examples of tin ear.”
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In that one look she gave me, I saw not only her anger, but her strength.
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Every week, this show has me thinking and imagining in between church services. This week was no exception. All about faith.
“The Catholic and Protestant religions encourage fear and distrust of life and of the body … But the body is smart. It does not discern between external stimuli and stimuli from the imagination.” ~Gloria Anzaldúa
From “Borderlands/La Frontera,” a classic book of Chicana/mujerista/queer studies that I am enjoying and learning from. This Christmas Eve, may our imaginations meet our God in the place of incarnation.