BTR, human sexuality, Old Testament, theology, women

The Gospel According to Lualhati

Celebrating Sexuality
An excerpt from my MTh thesis

In “Bata, Bata…,” Lea has three men in her life: Raffy is the father of her first child, Ojie, and her legal husband who left her when she refused to leave with him to work in another place. He now had a new wife and another child. He is characterized as loving and responsible, and the one whom Lea will always love. Ding is the father of her daughter, Maya, who became her common-law husband when Raffy left her. He is irresponsible, insecure and demanding, and Lea does not have a deep appreciation of him, but she seeks to dignify their relationship, even when most people perceive it as immoral. Johnny is her co-worker, friend and ally who understood her passion as a woman and as a mother. All three men have a connection with Lea at some time in her life. She does not love them equally but she loves them all.

Lea and Raffy meet for the last time just before he leaves for America. This is an excerpt of their long conversation:

Raffy: Don’t you have any regrets, Lea? (pertaining to her failed relationship with Ding)
Lei: I did not just have sex with him. I loved him. Just like you. I really loved you, Raffy.
From the different parts of my being I will love again, with the different faces of their being.
Don’t look at me that way. I am just being true to myself.
I do what is true to me and I embrace everything that comes with it. I am not always happy but I am not always sad either.

Lea: Raf, are you happy?
Raffy: Sometimes.
Lea: Can you love me for one more day? We may never see each other again…Can I have one more day with you?
Raffy: What will we do?
Lea: Whatever! We can go to the places we used to visit. Let’s eat ricecake, drink Coke! Tell each other stories, tell jokes to each other! Share each other’s dreams! Come on, Raf…let’s be crazy for a moment! (Bautista, Bata, Bata…Pa’no Ka Ginawa: 230-231)

In the next scene, Lea and Raffy are in a tight embrace in bed. Both are crying. Both are celebrating. Words are unnecessary to express their love and, perhaps, regret for the inevitable goodbye. In an earlier scene, Lea laments that in the most intimate acts of love that she has shared with Raffy and Ding, she remained untouched and unknown by them. In this last scene, I think Lea and Raffy experience ‘being’ and knowing each other, which they had not experienced before. Despite the ironies and impending separation, it is a cause for celebration.

I am tempted to celebrate this scene and present it as a novelty in the life of Lea. But while it is a crucial moment in her journey, it is not “the” moment; while there is an awakening, there have been and will be other revelations; while it exhibits a fullness, it does not complete her. Lea embodies our hopes, fantasies, visions and dreams of more meaningful lives and more life-affirming partnerships. These have no finality, end or boundaries. Lea does not love one man, she loves three. Perhaps there will be more. Lea does not ask for a lifetime commitment, she asks only for a moment or a day. Lea does not search for ‘perfection,’ but is committed to live life. One man, a lifetime commitment, and ‘perfection.’ All these seem ideal, but for women like Lea they only create boundaries and limitations. Lea celebrates a life that is free from boundaries. It is not without fear, doubt or pain, but every now and then, because she is free and honest, she feels truly whole. So many women have one man, a lifetime commitment, and ‘perfection,’ but the truth is, some of them are not whole. They live broken lives.

Reading Amanda and Lea, I have seen how women can celebrate self, sisterhood and sexuality. Ruth and Esther, have no sense of ‘self.’ The former turned her back on her true identity and the latter is contained in a palace. Ruth and Esther, have no sisters. They are dominated by men in cultures where women are rivals. Finally, Ruth and Esther cannot celebrate their sexuality, their survival depends on the pleasure they give men.

Many women are still like Ruth and Esther. Many women are also like Amanda and Lea. They mirror our lives and our struggles as women and they prepare us for crying-out, resisting, asserting and celebrating.

The Gospel according to Lualhati

Mary John Mananzan defines the mission of a feminist theology of liberation:
It is not enough to analyze the situation of women in the churches or to pinpoint the roots of women’s oppression in religion. It is imperative that out of this analysis, efforts must be exerted to remedy the situation through participation in women’s movements. Women trained in theology must also re-think the discipline itself and bring about a transformation within the churches.

Many feminist theologians continue to privilege the Bible, the ‘sacred’ text. While Elisabeth Schussler-Fiorenza proposes a hermeneutic of suspicion and Phyllis Trible has exposed the ‘texts of terror,’ the biblical text is still ‘the’ text. But it is undeniable that “the Bible is made by men, for men, and all the women in it are constructs of the men.” In response to Mananzan’s challenge to “re-think the discipline and bring about a transformation,” it is imperative for feminist theologians to privilege ‘life,’ not the ‘text.’ I have already expounded on my critique of how women like Ruth and Esther are constructed in the text. They are not real women, and even if there are women like them, they are not able to celebrate self, sisterhood and sexuality. In privileging Lualhati, I privilege real-life women who have stepped out the box and broken the mold men, patriarchy, and the bible have created for them. In privileging Lualhati, I propose an expanding of that which we call ‘sacred texts.’ In privileging Lualhati, I privilege the struggle of women for wholeness, freedom and life.

Rosemary Radford Ruether delineates the critical principles of a feminist theology of liberation:
“The critical principle of such a theology is the promotion of the full humanity of women; whatever denies, diminishes, distorts the full humanity of women is, therefore, appraised as not redemptive. Theologically speaking, whatever diminishes or denies the full humanity of woman must presumed not to reflect the divine or an authentic relation to the divine nor to reflect the authentic nature of things, nor to be the message or work of an authentic redeemer or the community of redemption. This negative principle also implies the positive principle: what does promote the full humanity of women is of the Holy, it does reflect true relation to the divine, it is the true nature of the thing, the authentic message of redemption and the mission of redemptive community.”

Ruth and Esther have been celebrated in Christian tradition as women of faith. It is not just in the text, it is also evident in the interpretation. Ruth and Esther, if placed in our context today, are both objectified and victimized. But the text and its interpretations continue to honor them while neglecting the denial and distortion of their humanity. Consequently, Mary Magdalene and the Woman at the Well continue to be interpreted as prostitutes and adulteresses, when these are not even in the text, nor implied in the text. Centuries of interpretation have presented them as ‘bad women.’ These interpretations of Esther and Ruth, and Mary Magdalene and the Woman at the Well have not been redemptive of women.

By biblical and traditional standards, Lea and Amanda are likely to be interpreted as self-centered, wild and even immoral. But by proposing Lea and Amanda as models of resistance and celebration, I believe I promote what Reuther presented as the positive principle: the full humanity of women, true nature and true relation, redemption and community. Mary John Mananzan, when speaking about feminist theology, does not just speak about mission. She also speaks about movement. To find new ways of theologizing and interpretation, we must also give voice to women in the ‘movement.’ Lea and Amanda are not products of biblical women at the end of their stories, they are products of women’s movements and people’s movements toward transformation and liberation.

Lualhati fulfills what Mananzan asserts as the agenda of renewal — “lead to the stripping away of women’s false consciousness, freeing them to discover themselves and their potentials and to come to their full blossoming. In the running over of this bliss, they, together with all peoples of God, will use their energy towards the transformation of society into a “new heaven and a new earth.”

Finally, Lualhati Bautista says,
So many women own up the story of Lea Bustamante. Vilma said to me, “Are you sure that is your novel? It seems to be the story of my life…” I am happy to know that many women identify with my characters. When I won the GMA Telecine Bahaghari Award about a battered woman, which was produced by Pilita Corrales, she said on-stage, “Half of the story is my story.” I was so surprised. I did not even know she was a battered woman.

Lualhati Bautista is one of the most celebrated and read Filipino contemporary writers today. Both her characters in Dekada ’70 and Bata, Bata… have been portrayed by one of the most respected and multi-awarded Filipino actresses, Vilma Santos. Lea and Amanda’s characters have mirrorred the lives of so many women who have experienced sacrifice, domination, and abuse. Who among us today can still see ourselves in the stories of Ruth and Esther? Some, maybe. But in the unfolding of the stories of Lualhati’s women characters, women are able to find a connection; how can we ignore the emptiness felt by Amanda, how can one deny the feelings of need, anger, and pain of Lea over the men in her life, how can we not claim Amanda and Lea’s love for their children as the same as ours? Who can deny their hunger for love and life? We are them and they are us. Lualhati has shared with us her stories. But really, she just shared with us ‘our’ stories.

Mananzan and Radford-Reuther assert a feminist theologizing that affirms life, movement and transformation. Lualhati shared stories of women crying-out, resisting, asserting and celebrating self, sisterhood and sexuality. That to me and many women is ‘good news.’

This, then, must be called ‘the Gospel according to Lualhati Bautista.’

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1 thought on “The Gospel According to Lualhati”

  1. Pakikipagniig
    ..balat sa balat
    ..hininga sa hininga
    .. puso hanggang pintig

    Kaluluwa ang nangungusap
    …Lagpas salita, pumapailanglang
    …Sa lilim ng pag-ibig
    …Ang mainit na himig

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