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Women and Celebration

Crying-out, resisting, asserting and celebrating. While conservative Christian thought may promote self-sacrifice and submission as the characteristics of the Christian woman, we must differentiate self-denial from genuine Christian discipleship which is life-giving and meaningful for both the recipient and the giver. Mananzan articulates passionately what women’s spirituality is:

“It is holistic rather than dualistic. It is risk rather than security. It is a spirituality that is joyful rather than austere; active rather than passive, expansive rather than limiting. It celebrates more than it fasts; it lets go rather than holds back. It is an Easter rather than a Good Friday spirituality. It is vibrant, liberating and colorful.”

In the struggle for equality and liberation, women can feel trapped in the cycle of pain and suffering. But a woman’s story is never truly devoid of hope or joy. As a life source and a co-creator with God, women continue to produce and defend life, nurture creation and the created, sustain hope and raise saviors. In my senior year as a Master of Divinity student, I began to have a passion for liturgy and worship, realizing that how we worship defines what we truly believe. Liturgical rituals and expressions are some of the most powerful expressions of women’s celebrations. With this understanding, I wrote a Babaylan Celebration for women who turn forty. Part of the liturgy is a declaration:
You are worthy to be called `BABAYLAN,’ not because your knowledge is great, but because you are a DAUGHTER who drank from your mother’s breast and was cradled tenderly in the arms of countless women and men and thus learned of gentleness and love.
You are worthy to be called `BABAYLAN,’ not because you have authority, but because you are a SISTER who once played with brothers and sisters and thus learned the value of cooperation and equality.
You are worthy to be called `BABAYLAN,’ not because you have studied rituals and doctrine, but because you embraced LIFE and experienced living, giving, receiving, birthing and creating.
You are worthy to be called `BABAYLAN,’ not because you are admired by all, but because you are a WOMAN who can stand on your own, and yet, are truly a part of your community.

A woman becomes a BABAYLAN through life experiences which enable her to discern the needs and aspirations of her people.
A woman becomes a BABAYLAN from her ability to embody and connect the visions of her people and the revelations of God.
Today, you will receive many gifts bur the greatest of them all is – YOURSELF. And because you know this is your heart, you are worthy to be called `BABAYLAN.”

Celebrations are not limited to liturgies and our relationship with God, the church and our co-pilgrims. Celebrations must encircle our bodies, our sexuality, our creativity, our visions, our hopes and our entire beings.

In my last year as a Master of Divinity student at Union, I participated in an exposure with prostituted women. In the many night clubs and bars we visited, I encountered young girls in flimsy clothing, in a makeshift stage, swaying their hips incessantly. They avoided looking at us and they turned their faces away from us. They were stood close to one another, whispered and joked at each other. Meanwhile, continuing to move their hips in a reluctant dance. In one of the establishments, women were kept from view except when it is ‘show-time.’ Then a lone woman would come out from the dark and dance a solo number. I still remember the contours of her face and the seductive way she moved her body. But when I looked at her face, there was no joy, pride or celebration. In the noontime TV program Wowowee and Eat Bulaga dancing girls are a major component of the production. They dance with gusto and their faces are never without a wide grin. The camera crew exploit their bare legs, gyrating hips, bouncing breasts, and white porcelain skin. They all look the same. They seem joyful. They are proud of their proficiency in their dance. Six times a week, two hours a day, whether they feel like dancing or not, these women dramatize celebration. But I doubt if it is a celebration.

There must be celebration in dance.

In the past two years, we, at Union, have had the joy of being an audience of the cultural group of Zion Cleto called ‘Sanghaya.’ During the centennial celebration of Union and in various occasions, they filled our senses with music, beat, color, form, and movement. Their faces reflect a pride as they exhibit various cultures; their songs and chants express a passion for life; their dances display lithe bodies, a seeming spirituality in their sexuality, and a passion for living. These young dancers from Cavite dance not because they are paid, but because they are proud of Filipino culture. Their dances have ‘meaning’ to them. I can imagine that in dance, they feel whole.

We need to include dance in our theological expressions. In dance, we understand our bodies, express our sensuality, exhibit our sexuality, connect with others, and experience a liberation. Anna Skagersten in her presentation on the ‘body’ at Union assisted by Cleto, expressed how we have become ‘no-bodies’ by covering our bodies, limiting our movements, and denying the need for expression. Consequently, we denied ourselves of identity, sexuality and spirituality. We must re-claim our bodies and everything that resides in it.

Many feminist theologians have preceded me in the use of dance in feminist discourse: Dance Amid Struggle, a compilation of stories and songs of hope published by the Association of Women in Theology, uses dance as a metaphor for celebration, but it avoids the subject of dancing bodies; Chung Hyun Kyung danced at the WCC Conference in Canberra in 1991, but her dance was, for me, not a celebration but a lamentation.

There is a challenge to create a theological discourse on women’s spirituality and sexuality, body and dance. Marcella Althaus-Reid, and Chung Hyun Kyung, among others, have worked on this theme. I too hope to pursue it in the years to come. And I will do so in honor of the late Marcella Althaus-Reid. I will call it ‘erotic celebration.’

In the field of psychology, Clarissa Pinkola-Estes, a Jungian analyst and a cantadora or myth-maker, celebrates the ‘Wild-Woman’ as the archetype of wholeness for the modern woman. She says,
A healthy woman is much like a wild wolf: robust, chock-full, strong life-force, life-giving, territorially aware, inventive, loyal, roving. Yet separation from the wildish nature causes a woman’s personality to become meager, thin, ghostly, spectral. We are not meant to be puny with frail hair and inability to leap up, inability to give chase, give birth, create life. When women’s lives are in stasis, ennui, it is always time for the wildish woman to emerge; it is time for the creating function of the psyche to flood the delta…It means to establish territory, to find one’s pack, to be in one’s body with certainty and pride regardless of the body’s gifts and limitations, to speak and act in one’s behalf, to be aware, alert, to draw on the innate feminine powers of intuition and sensing, to come into one’s cycles, to find what one belongs to, to rise with dignity, to retain as much consciousness as we can.

She laments that a wild woman like wild wolves are hunted and run down, displaced and diminished in worth by those who think they are different, perceived as aggressive and destructive by those who seek to banish them. Their untamed environs are cleaned up, their instincts pushed towards extinction, and their innate wildness is sought to be tamed or domesticated. But she asserts,
No matter how many times she is pushed down, she bounds up again. No matter how many times she is forbidden, quelled, cut back, diluted, tortured touted as unsafe, dangerous, mad and other derogations, she emanates upward in women, so that even the most quiet , even the most restrained woman keeps a secret place for Wild Woman. Even the most repressed woman has a secret life, with secret thoughts and secret feelings which are lush and wild, that is, natural. Even the most captured woman guards the place of the wildish self, for she knows intuitively that someday there will be a loophole, an aperture, a chance, and she will hightail it to escape.

In the preceding paragraphs, I argued the necessity of celebration of women’s bodies and dance. Pinkola-Estes proposes a celebration of women’s power and instinct. She articulates the liberation of women when they reclaim their wildish nature:
…for with her their creative lives blossom; their relationships gain meaning and depth and health; their cycles of sexuality, creativity, work and play are re-established; they are no longer marks for the predations of others; they are entitled equally under the laws of nature to grow and to thrive…They know instinctively when things must die and when things must live; they know how to walk away, they know how to stay…When we understand the wildish nature as a being in its own right, one which animates and informs a woman’s deepest life, then we can begin to develop in ways never thought possible.

Alice Walker thanked “everybody (in the book) for coming” after finishing writing The Color Purple. Delores S. Williams was likewise thankful, as she wrote Sisters in the Wilderness, for ‘Hagar’s coming.’ Through Hagar, she writes, “I learned …I felt…I discovered…I saw….” the struggle, resistance, and survival of black women. Williams writes about the striking similarities between the story of Hagar and the stories of African-American women: they were slaves, had no control over their bodies, were cast out and sold, their children disclaimed by their slave-owner fathers, struggled to survive and were saved after encountering God. She argues, “women must claim their experience, which has for so long been submerged by the overlay of oppressive, patriarchal cultural forms. And one way to claim experience is to name it. Naming also establishes some permanence and visibility for women’s experience in history.” Arche Ligo, likewise validates women’s stories, especially those from the grassroots, which are expressions of women’s voices. She says, “Feminisms underline the centrality of women’s experiences and the narratives of these experiences as valid and valuable sources of truth. But as truths, the voices of women are poly-vocal because there are specific circumstances to the woman question.” They are not proposed as universal truths nor as metanarratives to define and determine the experience of women. But in the sharing of their stories, women find a commonality. However, as many of women’s experiences are intended for diaries, letters and stories, women’s voices are most powerful when they are spoken and heard. The ‘sound, tone, timbre and feeling’ expresses what written words cannot say. However, she emphasizes that it does not end with personal sharing. This is followed by an analysis of experiences which moves women towards struggle in both their individual and collective lives. Sue Monk Kidd tells her stories as “a woman’s journey from Christian tradition to the Sacred Feminine.” She says,
I realize that the women who are bringing about this kind of new female life are brand new beings among us. I keep meeting them; I keep hearing their stories. They confirm my own experience, that somewhere along the course of a woman’s life, usually when she has lived just long enough see through some of the cherished notions of femininity that culture holds out to her, when she finally lets herself feel the limits and injustices of the female life and admits how her own faith tradition to that, when she at last stumbles in the dark whole made by the absence of a Divine Feminine presence, then the extraordinary thing I have been telling you about will happen. This woman will become pregnant with herself, with the symbolic female-child who will, if given the chance, grow up to reinvent the woman’s life.

Williams privileges Hagar’s story which enables her to understand the survival and struggle of African-American women. Arche Ligo validates women’s stories and experiences as sources of truth that move them towards struggle and transformation. And Sue Monk Kidd asserts how women’s stories lead us to the Sacred Feminine and give birth to ‘new’ women. That women now tell their stories is already a celebration, but the greater celebration is how women draw wisdom and revelation, create movements and find commonalities, and celebrate women’s stories as their own. These, indeed, are reasons for celebration.

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3 thoughts on “Women and Celebration”

  1. Thank you, Lizette. Your lovely piece has opened my eyes to the myriad dimensions of women—new, strange, wonderful, exciting, sensual, sacred, magical, even mysterious that I have somehow sensed in a very profound but inarticulate way. Could it be that the culture in which we have been nurtured, bounded at either extreme by the hypocritical restrictions of Victorianism and Freudianism, has distorted women to the point where when we look at them, they are either sexual objects or commercial ones.

    I am sorry for having participated in the demonizes perpetuated by that culture so much so that I have missed so much of the grace, beauty, glory and power of the women I have come close to. I have kept a secure and safe distance from them to avoid an exciting but deadly sexual entanglement with them, thus missing so much of what they can give. Ah, had I been plunged into the knowledge of who and what women are as you described them, my life would have been far more enjoyable and fulfilling!

    Our culture has made me perceive women primarily as sexual creatures; they are human beings, yes, no question about that, but they are wonderfully human because they bear something that ecstatically satisfies and fulfills what I have. Is it possible to excise that perception of women by men, so that they can dance in any kind of movement that their (both men and women) their bodies allow, and thus be truly free, and so give expression to the totality of their potentialities without falling into feelings of lust and domination? Is there something in the worship of Baal that we are missing? It has been judged as wallowing in lust and moral degeneration and perhaps as total depravity, while in truth, the worshippers themselves might be experiencing a kind of ecstasy that is a virtual participation in the union of heaven and earth, sky and soil, and human and divine, and thus something similar to a mystical experience.

    My theology professor was shocked when he first saw men holding hands with men, though they are men in the full sense of the word. His Western eyes judged Filipino camaraderie between men as acts of homosexuality! I myself was not even aware of the fact that I held hands with my male friends while strolling. So we may have judged the Baalists from a moral perspective absent from theirs.

    There is really a great need for a deeper exploration, though I must admit I am too far advanced in age to engage in that experiment. I have the advantage of not being vulnerable to the more illegitimate pleasures of sex.

    Right now, I have a more pressing and horrible date—to sit in a dentist’s chair. More next time.

    1. When we see a beautiful flower, or a magnificent mountain,we don’t say it is a source of temptation or the embodiment of sin or evil. The flower and the mountain are just what they are. One can paint them, take pictures of them, and remember them again and again, but their memory will not cause shame or regret. It is too bad that many times women and sexuality have been demonized. But I have hope because I have changed my attitudes, and people who are willing to learn and are genuinely seeking life are changing.

      I am so thankful for your friendship. Our exchanges deepen my own understanding of what I have written about.

  2. What you say is true—a beautiful flower, a magnificent mountain, could hardly be the cause of debilitating temptation, for no matter how beautiful they are neither of them has that appeal that arouses the sexual passion in human beings that lead to domination and rape. The beauty of a woman is vastly different, for in the first place there is the possibility of a personal relationship which is not possible with non personal objects. With a woman there is the possibility of interaction on all levels of being, including the mysteriously sexual at which demonization takes place. I must confess that I have come close to beautiful women who could be available for the asking, and I have to exercise a great amount of restraint not to fall in sexual demonization; love after all between a man and a woman seems to be incomplete without sexual union. Of course, Christian faith has elevated love with sex to the highest possible level of morality; it has made such unions as absolutely exclusive and permanent. I know that morality, even Christian morals is changing, but it is on this one point that I cannot as yet theologically budge, for I know people, given our present state of morality, will be hurt, complications will arise, and life could be messy. Perhaps we should limit or explore ourselves to Shakespeare’s “To the marriage of true minds, let me not admit impediments.
    Ah, what does true minds mean? that is the question. Thank you—your reflections on the various nooks and crannies of human life are so eye opening and life changing.

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