“If Priscilla of Thecla had written our epistles instead of Paul, I suggest there would have been a good deal about Incarnation and relatively little about circumcision!” —Margaret Guenther, “Women and Spiritual Direction” in Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction (Cowley, 1992).
Guenther reminds us to be sensitive to women’s issues such as feelings of “not being deserving” and women using tentative speech out of a fear of causing anger. She helped me realize my own fear of speaking out: that I might say the wrong thing. She reminds us to be aware of the tiresomeness of endlessly repetitive menial work that women often are relegated to; and of the burden carried by those responsible for work that so often is noticed only when neglected. She reminds us never to be intimidated, even when our story is not theologically sophisticated.
A spiritual friend is called to help others to trust their own voice. We are challenged to help both men and women to be comfortable with feminine imagery for God in prayer. She asks us to remind others of the brave women who anointed Jesus, and especially the story in Mark (14:3-9) of the woman with the alabaster jar. Jesus said in response: “Wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
Guenther believes that the greatest sin in women is not pride, but self-contempt—often paired with an apparent absorption in triviality. She suggests that an icon for this is Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, describing a day in the life of a high-society woman in post-World War I London as she is preparing for a party.
When we talk to women who may have been abused, Guenther suggests we ask the questions, “What do you want?” and Where do you hurt?”
Guenther reminds us of times when we, as well, have been verbally hurt by colleagues but showed no anger, because it was not acceptable. We may repeatedly allow other women and men verbally to abuse us, because we think if we just stay kind, the situation will change. Often we assume that there is something we have done wrong to deserve this treatment.
A statement to make when we sense verbal or sexual abuse is: “I sense you have been hurt a lot.” When we perceive a special woundedness, we hope not to be afraid to ask the difficult questions: “Where was God when all this was happening to you? Where is God now? Do you feel angry at God?” We hope that eventually all of us will conclude that God was there, right beside us, suffering with us all along.
Last, Guenther writes about the danger of premature movements toward forgiveness, and reminds us to tell spiritual friends to pray to want to be able to forgive—someday.
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