A Rhythm of Life and Death
There can be great beauty in rhythms, the sunrise and sunset that bookend each day, the patter of rain steadily falling on a roof, the rhythm of the year with its times of celebration, waiting, work and rest. God created our world with these patterns as a way to bless us and so that we would rest, hope and remember him. As autumn fades into winter we recall that spring will come, just like we wait for the new creation when Jesus returns. As we take our rest on the weekend and work through the week we recall that one day we will enter into eternal rest. The rhythms of our lives are a blessing to us and a good part of God’s creation.
God also made my body to a rhythm, it’s not a perfect one, because 28 day cycles are a myth belonging to health textbooks, but it is a rhythm. And regularly, about once a month, I see the blood, I feel the pain and I draw hope. And I know that hope might not be the most normal response to that particular time of the month, but if all things are redeemed in Christ then this is too.
There is hope in my period, because it is a sign of life. The flow of blood is a reminder that God made me so that I can nurture and produce life. This is part of his special gift to and job for humanity, to fill the world and to care for it. The capacity to create, nourish and nurture life has been given to me, even if I never have the opportunity to bear my own children.
And yet, each flow of blood is also a symbol of death, the period is inherently a sign that life has not been created - that there is no life this month. For me, that is rarely a cause for pain, but it reminds me of the struggles of many women throughout time and history, some known to me but most not, maybe some whose pain was never articulated out loud. The rush of blood that is a cause of despair and helplessness. Life is not present.
Before Christ menstruating women were considered unclean for this reason (Leviticus 15). Not because, as has been suggested at multiple times throughout history, there is a link between menstruation and sin (which has also been conflated with Eve’s role in the original sin) but because the blood is (as is in this chapter of Leviticus the emission of semen) a sign of death. This uncleanness meant that women could not enter into the sanctuary to worship God, because it was inappropriate to bring death into the sanctuary in this way. But in Christ we are freed from the law, and death is no longer the enemy because it has been defeated in Christ.
My period, just like all things on this side of eternity, is held deeply in the tension of life and death. We know that as those who are born new in Christ we will never really die, and yet we still feel and experience the pain of death. We know that in Christ we have been freed from sin, and yet we still sin. We know that as children of God we have full access to the Father, and yet it can still feel like he is distant. Just as this world holds all those together, that smear of blood equally reminds me that this world is broken, and yet Christ has fully redeemed it.
And indeed, the accompanying pain of my uterine wall departing from my body stems from the original curse, that of pain in this world, and especially in childbearing. And yet, with every month, I know that that in Christ that curse is defeated. That somewhere in the middle of the acne, cravings and cramps there is a joyful capacity for life which is God’s gift to me. And it reminds me that one day I will enter into a fuller, new life, where there will be no pain.
Isaac Watts wrote that in the hymn Joy to the World that Christ came “to make His blessings flow. Far as the curse is found”. No, Watts was probably not thinking about monthly curses, but menstruation is one piece of the larger story, to which both Watts and Genesis 3 refer. It is both the sign of the curse of sin and the sign of God’s gracious plan of salvation in Christ.
Fiona is a follower of Jesus by identity and by trade a teacher of Science. She studied at Fuller Theological Seminary in California.