A Woman's Beautiful Cycle
Tonight, I watched A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhoodand there was a scene which made me think of Jesus. The movie is about famed children’s educator Fred Rogers, who ran a long-running television program. He was a Presbyterian minister who was commissioned by his church to use his gifts of music, singing and connecting with children, to work in the television industry.
In the movie a man is dying and Fred Rogers leans over and whispers in his ear. The dying man seems to revive a little and gives a thumbs up and says “I certainly will.” Someone asks Mr Rogers what he said to the man. “I asked him to pray for me,” is the surprising response. He goes on to explain that a man that close to death must be talking a lot to God, he’s in a special place with God.
That’s what made me think of Jesus. He doesn’t do what you expect. He turns a situation around and empowers the one who is normally pitied or avoided. He washed the disciples’ feet, he rescues a woman caught in adultery, and he turns to talk a woman who has been bleeding for years.
That woman had been unclean for 12 years. She was an outcast in her society. She was as far away from God as was possible, betrayed by her body. She touches Jesus, and she is healed. And then he turns and talks to her. He honours her with his attention.
She is healed, not just physically but spiritually, emotionally and socially.
And she probably still bled, but just once a month, like all other women of child-bearing years.
There is a lot of superstition around women and periods.
Until very recently society was still so squeamish that sanitary products were advertised with blue liquids. Yet we are beginning to embrace more fully the fact that women bleed; not seeing it as a problem, but as something that shows our strength as women. And it’s about time.
If Jesus can dignify a woman with menstrual flow; then we should be willing to make peace with our bodies.
Unless… you are a reader of the Gospel Coalition, when a few days ago you were told that when you’re menstrual you are prone to sin.
This link between menstruation and sin plays into all the worst superstitions of the past, all the worst stereotypes of women.
What is more, it was appalling exegesis.
The mistake the author made was conflating ‘flesh’ with ‘body’. For Paul, those terms are very different.
Paula Gooder is a New Testament scholar who explains in her book, appropriately titled Body, that when Paul talks about 'body' and 'flesh' he is referring to two distinct things. It is true that he talks quite negatively about 'the flesh', characterised as the part of our nature that pulls us away from God. However, when he talks about bodies he's usually positive.
The article in Gospel Coalition was an example of dualism, a heresy influenced by Greek philosophy, in which the spirit is good and the body is bad. This is not what Paul taught, says Gooder: "Within dualism there are things that are only ever good and only ever bad. Part of the essence of Paul is that he believes in redemption. There's nothing irredeemable. There is not one category that's good, and another bad."
We are not souls inhabiting bodies, we are souls and bodies. A disembodied spirituality is a false spirituality.
"For Paul, our bodies are so much a part of who we are that this view of the body would regard the desire to build an identity apart from a physical existence to be unsettling, destabilising and lacking in integration," she says. "It isn't that you shouldn't do it, but if you allowed a non-bodied existence to so take over your life that your bodied existence was seen to be less important, then you might find yourself to be less whole and at one with yourself than you might otherwise."
Our bodies are beautiful, and part of who we are spiritually, and how we express ourselves in everyday worship of God.
Menstruation is a wonderful reminder that we are grounded in our bodies. It is part of a natural process of our bodies participating in the miracle of new life.
Yes, there are hormones that negatively influence our emotions. Yes, sometimes blood leaks. Yes, sometimes our period is linked to stomach pains and discomfort.
However, a simplistic link between sin and menstruation will lead to the spiritual abuse of feeling like our gender makes us inferior; or bringing a monthly sense of guilt.
Instead we need to recognise that being physical is part of our God-given nature. It was into these bodies that God breathed life. It is an embodied soul that will live on into eternity.
So, let’s use our period as a special time to remember that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Kara Martin is Project Leader with Seed, lecturer with Mary Andrews College, author of "Workship: how to use your work to worship God "and "Workship 2: How to Flourish at Work".