Saturday, April 30, 2011

Wife Abuse Theologically Understood

Stanley Hauerwas has an essay called, "Abortion Theologically Understood." I don't presume to be at the level of scholarship that Hauerwas is. Not even a little bit. But, I've been pondering lately the tragedy of wife abuse and what Christian theology has to say about it. In this discussion, my thoughts are applied to Christian marriages, in particular. Much of what I say might apply to non-Christian marriages, as well, but the following thoughts are based upon what the Scriptures have to say about Christian marriage, in particular.

The first chapter of the Bible tells us that God created humankind male and female, in God's image. Past understandings of the imago Dei have focused upon the intelligence and reasoning capacity of human beings. The idea has been that humans bear the image of God because they are capable of reason, something that separates them from animals.

Without denying the uniqueness of humanity's reasoning capacity, many contemporary theologians have suggested that the image of God is better seen in the male and female character of humankind. That is to say, perhaps the imago Dei is in the relational character of humanity--human beings bear God's image precisely as male and female, together, in harmony. This is based on the idea that God is in God's own self, a relational being. The Trinity is a union of three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit co-exist in loving unity. Because God is an eternal being of loving relationality, God made humankind to reflect this relationality. Men and women together bear this image. (And, I'm not just talking about married people here. Men and women in general bear God's image as they govern God's good earth in harmony.)

As we all know, the third chapter of Genesis speaks to the dissolution of the original harmony of humankind. Men and women are now at enmity with God and each other. From my theological perspective, this is most apparent in the reality of patriarchy, a system of male rule that has dominated human history and almost always resulted in the subjugation of women and all "others" to ruling males (by "others," I'm thinking of immigrants, conquered peoples, the disabled, the weak, and children--all of whom are typically subordinated within patriarchal societies, too).

One way in which this reality is practically obvious is within the marriage relationship, where, as many of us know, conflict and strife are often prevalent. As the original couple experienced perfect vulnerability and unity in the garden, so now couples living after the Fall experience struggle in those very areas. Sin has marred God's creation.

And yet, the message of the Gospel is that Christ is making all things new. His death and resurrection have signaled the defeat of death and sin and the turning back of the effects of the Fall. So, among many other things, there is hope within the Christian marriage to see the image of God restored beautifully in the harmony of married life. I believe that, among other things, that is God's intention for the Christian marriage: to be a living sign of God's restoration of harmony between men and women and an indication of the new found fruitfulness of humanity in the reign of God.

This is the first reason why wife abuse is so tragic and evil. If part of God's work in marriage is to signify the restoration of God's image in humankind, then abuse is an evil perversion of that sign. It runs contrary to the will of God and extends the effects of sin in an even more diabolical direction. Beyond the disharmony brought about by the Fall, abuse brings violence and the willful destruction of another's body and soul into the relationship. This is a grave sin.

Although I am inclined to agree with contemporary theologians that men and women together bear the image of God, I am still unwilling to give up the notion that human beings individually bear the image of God, as well. As a result, every individual is a creature of God and a reflection of God's intelligence, creativity, and relationality. Applied to wife abuse, this concept again yields the conclusion that the violence done by a husband to a wife is a work of great evil. Kicks, punches, slaps, insults, and curses all serve to deny the image of God in the woman and subject her to a level below her God-given status. More than even the isolated instances of abuse, however, the abusive relationship itself--filled with cycles of abuse, remorse, and fear--creates a life for the woman that is truly subhuman. Once again, this is a gross perversion of God's good order.

Another element to the theological consideration of wife is abuse is also found in first chapters of Genesis. There, we are told that the relationship of the first couple illustrates the truth that in marriage, the man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, so that the two become "one flesh." This language of "one flesh," indicates both the physical and spiritual reality of the married relationship: the "one flesh" displayed through sexual intercourse indicates the "one flesh" nature of the couple's souls (not ontologically, of course, but spiritually, emotionally, and mentally). (This is one major reason the Hebrew Bible considers sex to be what makes a marriage. For them, one flesh = sex = marriage.)

The fact that marriage involves the joining of two persons in "one flesh" highlights once again the perversity of wife abuse. Violence against one's partner is violence against one's self. It is destructive of another human being and destructive of one's self. It involves the diabolical preying on the human being with whom one is the most intimate and vulnerable.

A further element to the theological consideration of wife abuse is the fact that the New Testament and Christian tradition testify that the marriage relationship is, mysteriously, a picture of Christ's relationship to the Church. This is found in Ephesians 5, where Paul says that when he speaks of marriage he is also speaking in a mysterious way of Christ's union with his bride, the Church. The dynamics of this relationship are clear from the preaching of the Gospel. Jesus Christ loved his people, his bride, and gave himself up to death in order to redeem her. This love was self-giving and sacrificial. Furthermore, Christ continues to show his love for his Bride by gifting her the Holy Spirit and caring for her despite his physical absence.

If the marriage relationship mirrors the love of Christ for his Church, then this means a specific way of life for both husband and wife. And, it should be clear what wife abuse does to this great mystery. Violence done by a husband to a wife is an evil reversal of the sign intended for marriage. It is unthinkable that Christ would mar the body of his beloved, mistreat her, use her, curse her, or otherwise bring her harm. An abusive husband presents Christ as a sadistic enemy, rather than a self-giving lover. An abused and victimized wife presents the Church as a brutalized prisoner, rather than an adored and cherished bride. For a husband to abuse his wife, especially within a Christian marriage, is an egregious sin and distortion of the mysterious symbolism God intends for marriage.

If all of the above points are legitimate ways to understand wife abuse from a theological point of view, then it should be clear that the Church of Christ cannot take such behavior lightly. Sadly, in the past, the Church has not been the friend or protector of abused women. I've seen firsthand how pastors, deacons, parishioners, and others who should know better either turn a blind eye to instances of abuse or gloss over them as if they are insignificant.

I've even heard stories of women being told to return to the punches and kicks of their husbands because in so doing, they might "win" the men's souls to Christ. Such counsel is as theologically unsound as it is morally outrageous. Jesus Christ was the God-man and the only person capable of freely giving his body up to death as a sacrifice for others. In fact, one might say that he did this so that others would not have to. Advising victims to accept their oppression as a means of saving their oppressors is a perversion of the salvific message of Christ.

Today, wife abuse remains a serious problem in the United States and around the world. Although evangelical marriages are less likely to be abusive overall, they are more likely to be abusive when they are explicitly patriarchal. (You can read other statistics about wife abuse in a previous post.) I urge my fellow evangelicals not to shrug off this issue and I urge pastors to make it a subject of their preaching and teaching. We need to make victims of wife abuse a part of our collective concern, along with the unborn, the sick, the orphan, the widow, and the disabled. The reality of wife abuse is a despicable perversion of the Gospel and it is vital that we make that very clear.

Epilogue: I should add that I think the principle of "one flesh" provides sufficient foundation for divorce in the case of wife abuse. In the Gospels, when Jesus allows for divorce in the case of sexual immorality, I think he does so on the same principle. The person who commits adultery has become "one flesh" with someone other than their spouse and violated the union of the marriage. I would take the spirit of Jesus' teaching here and apply it to the situation of abused women. Victims of abuse have had the one flesh nature of their marriage violated and, in my mind, effectively dissolved. By having their literal flesh violated by their partner, women are thereby released from obligation to the "one flesh" of their marriage partnership. But, this is my own opinion and not the focus of this post.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

I'm Not Having That Conversation Anymore

I'm a big fan of dialogue. I think its the best way for us to learn from each other and have our characters formed in such a way that we become more like Christ. (This is predicated upon the idea that both side are really listening, of course.) Not to mention the fact that I'm in the academic realm, a sphere of life that, at its best, is organized around discussion, dialogue, and learning from one another. For this reason, I'm happy and eager to dialogue about a lot of issues--just about everything, in fact. But, lately, I've decided that there's one issue I'm fed up with--one topic of debate that I'm done weighing in on: women in ministry.

For those of you not in the evangelical world, its probably a surprise that this is still an issue. But, it is. Its a very big issue. And, a resurgence in traditional views of gender roles (in the SBC and elsewhere) has kept the pot boiling rapidly.

I don't come down on the "traditional" side on this debate. As I have written elsewhere, I contend that the good news of the Kingdom of God tells us that human beings are the unique and beloved climax of God’s creative work. God formed human beings in the Triune image, as male and female, to reflect God’s relationality, love, creativity, spirituality, freedom, and intelligence. Spirit of God created in humans a capacity to know and respond to God’s loving initiative and to participate in the rule of God in the created order. God's intention for humanity as male and female was for mutual, equal, and interdependent communion, but sin has marred God's original creation and perpetuated subordination and misogyny in human societies. Part of the renewal of all things in the Christ's new creation is that men and women are reconciled to one another in Christ. Through Holy Spirit's power, men and women are able to reclaim their loving, peaceful, and mutually submissive place together in the reign of God. This means that men and women both image Christ and, therefore, serve in all aspects of ministry, depending upon their gifting and qualifications for service.

In the past, I've weighed in on this matter with my perspective more times than I can count--in almost every context having to defend myself and my views to those who would say that I'm "out of place" in the pulpit and in the classroom. In these ways, I've always been on the defensive: defending why women are indeed equal in both essence and function in the body of Christ. I've answered the biblical questions time and time again. I've written on interpretations of Genesis 1-3. I've argued about interpretations of Ephesians 5, 1 Timothy 2, Titus 2, and more. I've written my own blogs on these issues and posted things on other blogs. I've interacted by email, over coffee, in churches, in classrooms, and even on instant message. I've defended myself and the women I feel I represent over and over and over again. And, slowly, I've grown tired of doing it. (Just to get an idea how much time I've spent writing on this issue, you can search "gender" or "women" on this blog and see what comes up.)

It dawned on me this week just how much time and energy I've spent justifying myself. And, I'm not alone. Women in just about every academic field (but especially theology and ministry) spend countless hours explaining to detractors and critics why they should even be doing what they're doing. In fact, even women whose fields of study don't include gender issues or feminism or anything of the sort find themselves expected to be conversant in such matters in order to defend their right to practice in their field! (You can read a post here with a lengthy explanation from women's historian Gerda Lerner of how the advancement of women in education and academic fields has been retarded, among other things, by this constant demand that they justify themselves).

After thinking about this for a while, I've decided that this situation is absurd. Women should not have to reinvent the wheel every time they want to exercise their gifts in the body of Christ. I should not have to preface every publication, every lecture, every sermon with an explanation as to why I should be able to do what I'm doing (and even, as I've actually been asked many, many times, whether my husband is "OK" with what I'm doing).

There comes a time when dialogue ends. There comes a time when conversations should cease. I don't hold my brothers and sisters who disagree with me in contempt. By no means. I don't contend that they're anathema for disagreeing with me (and I hope that they would say the same for me). I do not deny that the matter of women in ministry remains a major issue for evangelicals and I do not suggest that anyone take the issue lightly. But, for me, I've made my decision. I've put my stake in the ground, so to speak. I'm no longer "searching the Scriptures"; I've come to a conclusion. And, to proceed otherwise is disingenuous.

I'm convinced that the Scriptures, the person and work of Christ, and the practice of the early church supports the view that women are equal heirs with men and equal servants in God's Kingdom. I'm convinced that this is not a secondary issue, at least not for the women it concerns. I'm convinced that patriarchy results in systemic evil and that androcentrism and misogyny are grave sins against God's good design for humankind.

And so, I've decided I'm not having that conversation anymore. I'm happy to talk about gender, sexuality, and the church, feminism and Christianity, and more. I'm happy to discuss the challenges women face in ministry, the dual roles of motherhood and academia (or motherhood and ministry), and the dynamics of marriage and family in an "egalitarian" model. I may even find times when I feel convinced that rehearsing the same old arguments about women in ministry is beneficial for the person with whom I speak. Of course, in that case, I hope I'll be obedient to the leading of God's Spirit. But, I'm not defending myself anymore.

Enough is enough.

The time is too short. The Gospel is too precious. The mission is too urgent.

For those who are certain I'm wrong, my arguments from Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience will more than likely fail to convince you. And, the reverse is also true. We are at a theological impasse. And so, rather than waste time, energy, and resources rehashing the same arguments that neither of us are going to be convinced by, let's move on and leave the conclusion of the problem up to our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I'll find a communion in which women are free to function as Spirit of God equips them. You'll find something in keeping with your own convictions. And, as it has been throughout history, the Kingdom of God will advance despite our differences.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Beyaz Commercial, Part 2: Making Myself Clear

I've learned recently that, amazingly, I'm the top Google search result for "Beyaz commercial." I'm really not sure how this happened. But, I now have 19 comments on my previous post regarding the new commercial for Beyaz. And, based on some of the feedback I've received, I feel that I need to make myself clear in a few important ways.

My main objective with the post about the Beyaz commercial was twofold. First, to interrogate the common and almost universally accepted narrative that artificial birth control, especially "the Pill," means liberation for women. Second, to point out the often overlooked but just as widely accepted narrative that children are a commodity. Let me expand a little bit on these points...

(1) I have nothing against artificial birth control, in theory. I do not take the official Roman Catholic position on ABC and do not (necessarily) oppose its use. I do question the idea that ABC means liberation and "choice" for women, particularly women in the West. It is important to understand that I'm not talking about women in developing countries around the world for whom access to ABC may very well make a significant difference in their quality of life (and the quality of life for their family).

What I am saying is that, by and large, the Pill has not delivered what it promised and Beyaz (presented by its commercial) is just another version of this empty promise.

Moreover, I question the presumption that "choice" and family planning are not possible without ABC of some kind (be it Beyaz, condoms, intrauterine devices, and more). Many, many people plan their families without such interventions, for a variety of reasons. There are religious and ideological reasons, yes. But also, environmental and health reasons (health reasons especially for the women taking hormonal forms of birth control). These people limit the number of births in their relationship through natural means. It is possible and it does happen.

(2) As I said above, I have no problem with women and men planning their families and choosing to space children, with or without artificial birth control. But, I do have a problem with the American consumerist notion that children are a commodity, an accessory. This is something that rings loud and clear in the Beyaz commercial: children are an accessory, a valuable, an investment--a commodity to be "bought" and "sold" like everything else in this country. This narrative presumes that the value of something is dependent upon what it does for us--what it does for me, myself, and my life.

Furthermore, this narrative feeds the conception that children are something to be added to life only when the setting is just right. First, one must become financially comfortable, fully educated, settled in one's job, with a good house in a good neighborhood--then, add children and stir. Repeat if desired.

I think the notion that one needs such things to be able to provide a loving home for a child is preposterous. Ideal? Maybe. But, not necessary. If that were the case, then we should be chastising all of the poor women of the developing world for continuing to reproduce despite their sometimes dire circumstances. Life is good. And, children can be loved and nurtured in a variety of circumstances. Not all of them are as easy as others. But, that doesn't mean that having children in difficult situations is somehow irresponsible or wrong. (I might qualify this statement somewhat in cases of women dealing with abusive scenarios, but that's another post for another time.)

Finally, I'm bothered by the modern notion (brought on by advances in ABC) that children really are "choices" rather than the natural product of a sexual relationship. We seem to have forgotten that procreation is what sex does. Its not all it does or all that its for. But, sex makes babies. And, to treat our bodies and live as though that isn't the case is foolish. I'm afraid that the birth control mentality advances this notion that sex and children can be separated. And, again, this is something the Beyaz commercial further advances.

Beyond these two main points, I have one more that I'll add based upon many of the comments that I've received. I strongly contest the notion that you can't have children and have a life. I am a married mother of two with two university degrees under my belt (a BA and MDiv) and working on a terminal degree now (PhD in theology). Is it easy? Absolutely not. Is it possible? Yes.

This is not to say that everyone has it so easy. Single motherhood is the outstanding example here, where being a mom and having a life is very, very difficult. But, I am the product of a single mother, as is my husband, and we've seen them achieve some (though certainly not all) of their dreams while raising their children. Again, is this ideal? Of course not. But, it happens more than people realize. And, I'm certain the notion that a child means the bitter end of one's life is one of the many things contributing to the high rate of abortion in this country.

I hope this has cleared a few things up for my readers. I'm surprised at how much attention that Beyaz post has received. But, thanks for stopping by and offering your comments. I'm happy to continue the conversation, as time permits.

After posting Part 2 of my coverage of the Beyaz TV commercial, I thought of one more beef that I have with it that I only mentioned in passing in my original post: their portrayal of men and their involvement (or lack thereof) in the "choice" of procreation.

First, it is objectionable that the ad features men as objects to be shopped for and acquired. A man is not an accessory to be added to one's life any more than a child is. If women do not want to be objectified by men, then we should protest when men are objectified--especially when it is done is such a blatantly obvious way!

Second, it is highly problematic that the conversation about the "choice" in childbearing is focused completely on the woman in this ad. Because the men are located in plastic cases, added to the shoppers' carts on a whim, they are not involved in the decision-making about children. Notice that the woman waving away the stork is without a companion--a partner with whom she would presumably need to have sex (at the very least!) to make a child. (Last time I checked, that was still the way procreation worked.)

Quietly and unselfconsciously, the Beyaz ad continues the prevalent Western narrative that fertility and childbirth are the primary responsibility of the woman--something she must get "control" over, with all of the perceived positive and negative consequences of her choices being born solely by her. Moreover, the fact that the woman shopper waves away the stork in pursuit of the "Trip to Paris," at least implies that she should (probably) also do the same if she's going to acquire the man of her dreams (previously displayed).

The Beyaz commercial, with or without the intention, suggests not only that women are alone in their responsibility for planning children, but also that a child (whether planned or unplanned), would mean the man she's "shopping" for is out of the question, too.

There you have it. One more reason why I detest the new TV commercial for Beyaz!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Understanding Pro-Choice: A Woman's Control of Her Body

I've titled this blog post "Understanding Pro-Choice," for a reason. I am not in pursuit of a "solution," whatever that might be, to the theological and ideological impasse that exists between pro-choice and anti-abortion groups (or, pro-abortion and pro-life groups, whatever "label" you prefer). As an evangelical believer in Jesus Christ (who also happens to be a feminist), I approach this matter from a very particular point of view. I believe that the life formed at conception is precious to God and inherently valuable to humankind. Of course, this does not necessarily mean I am forced to conclude certain things about public policy or law, but it does mean that at the most basic level, I find both the act of abortion and the society that normalizes abortion deeply tragic and wrong on multiple levels.

So then, although I am not in pursuit of a solution to the impasse, I am in pursuit of understanding--that is to say, a meeting of the minds, even if for only a brief period of time, over a few select issues. I am writing, therefore, with the hope that my readers can appreciate the value of understanding each other, and (especially in the case of my evangelical friends) exercise discernment enough to realize that when I seek to better understand the point-of-view represented by abortion rights advocates, I am not seeking to promote the point-of-view.

The place most people begin in discussions of abortion rights is the infamous US Supreme Court decision called "Roe v. Wade," decided in 1973. In this ruling, with a seven to two majority vote, the Court concluded that most laws against abortion in the US violated a constitutional right to privacy under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Since that time, anti-abortion groups of various persuasions have taken issue with this "right to privacy," because, in the words of dissenting Judge Byron White, they believe the court "simply fashion[ed] and announce[d] a new constitutional right for pregnant mothers."

At this point, I will leave the legal discussion to the legal minds. Although the Roe v. Wade decision is the starting point for most in the abortion rights discussion, I think it is vital for the sake of understanding to realize that the average defender of abortion rights does so not on the basis of a Court decision (although they will fervently defend the decision, for sure), but on something much more basic and, frankly, much more significant: the right to control one's person, that is, the inherent human entitlement to have primary say over what happens to one's body, mind, and soul.

Now, I know there are lots of directions we could go in the discussion of this presumed basic human right. Persons from Jewish, Christian, and Islamic perspectives would rightly bring up the rulership of God over all things, which certainly has an impact on the way one may exercise one's individual right to control one's person. As a Christian, I affirm that my body is not my own and I do not have absolute say over what happens to it. Also, there is the discussion of one's obligation to the community and the consideration of the perceived impact a person's "rights" have on the broader society (a topic I addressed in my post Thoughts on Feminism and Abortion. These matters are significant. But, I have a feeling my readers are familiar with these ideas and I'm headed someplace else.

Although I cannot speak for abortion rights advocacy groups, nor can I presume to speak for individual women who seek to protect their access to abortion, I am quite convinced that abortion is not an act they relish or find inherently good. (I'm sure there are some who do feel this way, but they are in no sense the majority, even among the most fervent pro-choice advocates.) Indeed, if you listen closely, the matter of the right to control one's person comes up over and over again.

As I seek to better understand the abortion rights position, I have pondered this issue for some time. For those who advocate for abortion rights, why is the right to control one's person such an important matter to defend? And, why would any limitations on such rights be so abhorrent and objectionable (when, at the same time, in the view of pro-life advocates, such "rights" lead to equally abhorrent practices)? There's insufficient space at this point to address this matter fully, but let me unpack just a small portion of the baggage wrapped up in this debate.

Although Western democracies have made significant advances in the protection of women and women's rights, for most women in the US, it remains a fact of life that she will have her physical (not to mention mental and spiritual) person violated on a number of occasions. By way of personal example, when I worked in a restaurant as a teenager, I had to contend with male employees and customers who violated by bodily space (through a variety of means I won't mention), simply because I was female. I'm sure the men in question weren't thinking deeply about their actions, but clearly the fact of my female body clearly suggested to them I had no right over my body--the right to not be touched, harassed, etc. It would not have occurred to the same men to treat the bodies of other men in a similar manner.

Admittedly, this is a rather mild example, compared to what other women have experienced. The truth is, fear of harassment, rape, abuse, etc, is something women in the US face on a daily basis and most of that is closely tied to the fact that men don't believe women have "rights" simply because they are women. The female body, even in the Western world, is constantly seen as vulnerable and open to misuse by men. (I could also talk here about the rampant problems in the maternity care system in the US, in which women constantly have their bodies violated without or against their consent in the name of "medical care.")

Moreover, in the rest of the world, women are generally and systematically deprived of the right to control their own person. In some countries, there aren't even laws to appeal to in order to right these wrongs. I could illustrate this problem with a vast number of examples, but here are a few.

Women abuse. A quarter of the world's women will experience sexual assault by a man in their lifetime. And, every ten seconds in the US, a woman is physically assaulted by an intimate male partner. I've detailed additional statistics about this evil pandemic in a previous post. This is a major problem.

Rape. Women are raped by their boyfriends, acquaintances, husbands, fathers, brothers, cousins, and neighbors. Women in the developing world often experience rape as a tactic of warfare, where soldiers will kill the men of a particular region and then systematically rape the women.

I don't have the time to go into the other horrific things that women experience all over the world. Sexual trafficking. Enslavement. Honor killing. Sati. Bride burning. Female circumcision or excisement. Targeted abortion of female babies. Forced prostitution. Feel free to Google or Wikipedia these things for more information.

Unfortunately, the ways women are subjugated and controlled do not end with this brief discussion. But, I think this description is sufficient to make my point. With so many women worldwide, unable to exercise even the slightest control over their bodies, it is understandable that abortion rights advocates fervently defend against anything that would provide further restriction. The above practices are not limited to "undeveloped" or "under-developed" countries and, in a sense, women everywhere are at a fairly constant risk of being exploited or mistreated. This is not an exaggeration. This is a statistical and experiential fact.

So, what am I getting at? Although we do not have to go from this observation to the defense of abortion as a practice or abortion rights as a public policy (because I don't and many others don't), I do believe evangelicals (and all those who call themselves Christians) need to soberly consider how the Christian faith informs the way we approach the defense of women and women's right to control their own person.

Tragically, in the past, Christian theologians and leaders have done more to contribute to the plight of female subjugation than they have contributed to its alleviation. Indeed, a frank survey of the Early Church Fathers, Reformation leaders, and others, reveals a sad history of misogynism and androcentrism. I don't want to repeat this problem in the present day but I fear that many unwittingly do so.

Women's bodies should be protected and their persons defended. Their right to control their person should be upheld. And, women's babies should be welcomed as the natural good that they are. In my humble opinion, somehow, Christians need to find a way to affirm both. Is that possible? I definitely hope so.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Body of Christ

This semester, I'm taking a seminar on the sacramental theology of the Western Church. The bulk of the course has been spent on the theology of the Eucharist, particularly as it developed in the Medieval period in the thought of Peter Lombard and Thomas Aquinas. This class has been quite an eye-opener for a Baptist with very limited understanding of Catholic sacramental theology. Indeed, there is a major difference between what we think we know about it and what it really is. (I hope to write a series of posts soon about the many common evangelical misunderstandings of Catholic theology that I have uncovered since arriving at UD.)

I remain in disagreement with Catholic sacramentalism in a number of respects. But, there are also a number of ways in which their sacramental theology has appeal for me. I appreciate the emphasis upon real participation in the Triune God. An essential aspect of the sacramental system is the vision of a way by which Christians individually and collectively participate in the Godhead. In various ways, Catholics believe, the grace of God uses the sacraments to incorporate the believer into the life of the Godhead--conforming the person ever more to Christ's character and bringing them into harmony with the work of God's Spirit. This participation is facilitated through physical, practical means: words, actions, and things--water, wine, bread, oil, touch, prayer.

This makes sense in some way because God has made humans to be bodily creatures. We experience the world in a bodily, sensual way. And, God revealed himself to humans in a physical way: the man Jesus of Nazareth. Since it is not against the nature of our God to reveal himself through the earthly and physical in Jesus Christ, why wouldn't it be fitting for God to continue to do so through earthly, physical means such as baptism and the Eucharist? Indeed, it has been the pattern of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob throughout history to use the earthly to communicate and mediate the supernatural: the pillar of cloud and fire, the Ark of the Covenant, the Paschal lamb of Passover.

All this is not to say that I'm "sold." As I said, I remain in disagreement with Catholic sacramental theology in a number of respects (that I won't go into here). Still, I have a new found appreciation for the very natural, human desire to encounter God in a real, tangible way. Faith remains key here. I'm not suggesting Christians should walk by sight, not by faith. But, it is understandable that bodily creatures would desire a bodily means by which to worship and commune with their Creator. I can sense this desire within myself and it pushes me toward a reconsideration of the Church's sacraments in a way that takes this into consideration.

With all this in mind, I share the following reflection with you. I'm not a poet, but it seemed best to write this particular train of thought in a poetic form.

Corpus Christi
My daughter gropes for my face
in the dark
She nurses
Plump fingers
stroking cheek
Body becoming assurance
in the black

My fingers grasp the wooden pew
lips moving
with hushed recitations
I pray
Mouth taking, eating
Savoring the taste
Understanding better now
for the crucifix--
for the body of Christ

My daughter gropes for my face in the dark
I search the world for the texture of God