Note: This is based on a podcast which can be heard here.
What is love? What’s love got to do with pain and suffering? Are they related? Pain and love? Must one always be present with the other? In this blogpost I explore pain and suffering through a womanist perspective (centering the perspectives and lived experiences of Black women) and discuss how to live into wholeness and wellness. This is especially important because the Black community/women in particular’s experience in the US (and globally) has been and continues to be defined by pain and suffering. What are the theological implications?
How have Christian frameworks at associating love with sacrifice and pain justified the pain and suffering of Black women? How can we decolonize love so that liberated Black women are empowered to embrace a love that does not hurt first with false promises of rewards later in life or afterlife? Black women, pain does not equal love.
The parshah for this upcoming Shabbat is Tzav (Leviticus 6:1-8:36). It details the investiture of Aaron and his sons into the priesthood and lays out the basics of various offerings (mostly, although not exclusively, animal sacrifices) and the rules regarding the eating of them. As I’ve mentioned before on this site, I would like to complete at least one commentary on each parshah of the Torah. Yet, there are only so many times that one can question the establishment of the temple, condemn animal sacrifice, and denounce the absence of women. Yet, as we approach another Torah portion this week, Tzav , this is more or less what we have. So, what do we do?
Tzav starts, as parshot from the book of Leviticus often do, with descriptions of various laws. Here, the laws focus on various offerings including the grain, sin, peace, thanksgiving, and burnt. Only the male members of Aaron’s family can eat the offerings. Consumption of the offering increases the holiness of the consumer as long as the eating of the animals falls into the guidelines outlined within the text.
The parshah ends with an explanation of how to consecrate Aaron and his sons. The process lasts a total of seven days. It includes residing at the entrance to the tent for the duration, offering various animals as sacrifices, eating copious amounts of said animals, the donning of specific ritual clothing, and multiple anointings of the men and the altar (often with blood).
It’s hard for me to be dignified and peaceful sometimes. To produce and sacrifice without rewards, making sure I’m not “sacrificing” in a way that quells my truth and power, making sure I look at dignity in a liberating way. Words continually need to be unpacked, and I do that. I know the work. According to the OED, it means “The quality of being worthy.” For me, ‘dignity’ is just being aware of your self-worth and celebrating that. It feels hopeful and romantic and raw. To sacrifice, to me, in the way I’m using it in this moment, is to be life-giving and co-creator; I think of it in the same way as what the earth does, so that it can continue. Like a leaf fallen to nourish its own soil.
The OED definition of ‘sacrifice’ I like is “The destruction or surrender of something valued or desired for the sake of something regarded as having a higher or more pressing claim.” We can decide what is more pressing. For me it is the ethic of generosity and production in a non-greedy way. I do not sacrifice in this more self-empowered, law-of-the-universe way I’ve recently come to understand much. But I would like to. Sometimes, though, I feel tired in my production, like I need more feedback, even if it is another woman willing to listen to me, which is why posting on FAR is so healing and life-giving because there is all of you.
I’m glad I have wisdom in my body. Even if “I” (my mind?) goes chaotic, feels overwhelmed and lost, my body has this natural intelligence to heal and regain balance if I can listen and get out of its way. That reminds me a lot of the earth—regions harmed by human mindlessness have been known to restore itself, even after radiation or toxic explosions, when humans leave for awhile. But if “I” equate myself with my mind, isn’t that also a part of the body? Wouldn’t the mind (the brain? the processes that help mental consciousness and thoughts arise?) then be wise, seeking balance? It just does not feel like it. So if anyone can weigh in on that. . . why so easy for my body-body but not my mind-body?
There is a story in the collection called Avadanasataka (One Hundred Legends) of the Sarvastivadin school, one of the schools of early Indian Buddhism that did not survive to present day, relating one episode from the Buddha’s previous lives. The story is about king Padmaka who sacrificed his life to cure his subjects of a disease. Here is an academic article about this episode.
The Buddha was prompted to tell this story of his previous life in order to illustrate to his monks, once again, the workings of karma. All of the monks in the Buddha’s milieu were sick with a digestive disorder, while he remained well. The Buddha presented the story of king Padmaka as a proof that no good deed is ever lost and that what he had done then has an effect now in that the Buddha has good digestion.
Last year I got my ashes at the airport. As I sat in that airport chapel, I halfheartedly listened to a (mostly terrible) litany that was proclaimed in between announcements for gate changes. I was leaving for another campus interview after having been home for only 24 hours since the previous one. The Christian season of Lent came during a time of stress and chaos in my life. That year, when I contemplated what I might give up for Lent, I could think of nothing. So much had been taken away that I had nothing left to give.
The season of Lent is often linked with the idea of sacrifice. Some people fast, others give up a favorite vice or a favorite food. As a feminist theologian, I spend a great deal of time thinking about the idea of sacrifice. I wonder how women who consider themselves part of Christian churches can be asked to sacrifice when we have already given away too much. Too often, our labor is welcomed but our voices are silenced. As a Baptist theologian and ordained minister who has sojourned in Catholic universities, I’ve felt this in my own tradition and in traditions that are not my own. Continue reading “Ashes, Sacrifice, and Abundance by Melissa Browning”
A rabbi known as Jesus of Nazareth taught that you should “love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.” Charles Hartshorne, philosopher of relationship and a twentieth century advocate of the “two great commandments,” added that it should be understood that this means that God wants you to love yourself too.
The altar was not for particular spirits, but honored all the ‘spirits’ we brought with us to share: the spirits of the women and men in our stories, the memories imbedded in the items we gathered together and the spirit of every person present in the class that day.
Last week my students and I created a non-religious altar to conclude our class, Women, Religion and Spirituality. We read about different feminist spiritual traditions in which women created altars to honor their ancestors, spirits or deities; and I thought it might be fun to practice our own form of literal physical creation. I asked students to bring in inspiring items, pictures of people who’d helped them to grow or anything that honored what they considered sacred in their lives. I also asked them to bring food to share, as no altar seems complete without food of some kind. However, asking my students to participate in a course ritual, I also felt it was important to respect their very different beliefs… which resultantly, left me wondering how we would create an altar without God.
My religious experience taught me that altars were a place to surrender gifts in return for a greater gift of God’s blessing or love. The church I attended as a child did have a literal, physical altar; but this raised table was only used monthly to present the communion bread and grape juice before it was passed through the pews. Otherwise, I came to understand, one’s heart was the altar and we needed to present our sacrifices there. Financial gifts needed to come from the heart, then put into the offering plate. Gifts of time or action had to start in the heart, even when required by the youth group or spiritual authority; and resistance to giving these gifts also required sacrifice. My resistance or lack of desire to sacrifice required that I leave my unwillingness at the altar so that I might become appropriately grateful.
It has been said time heals all wounds, I do not agree. The wounds remain, in time the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens, but it is never gone. Rose Kennedy
This past Saturday, August 6, would have been my 34th wedding anniversary. Next Saturday, August 13 will be the wedding of my once fiancé. The former lasted 20 years, the latter 10. I have recently begun the delicate dance of getting to know another man; continuing to second-guess myself as if I’m a schoolgirl with her first crush, only I’m not. I’m a woman drawing upon 30 years of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Without sounding like Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and The City, I am asking myself what does a feminist relationship look like as it unfolds? How do I trust another with a heart that is held together by Elmer’s glue? And more importantly, how do I make myself present to another without past wounds surfacing and then projected onto the innocent?
In a recent post, XochitlAlvizo wrote on the difference, as she understands it, between sacrifice and love. All too often, argues Xochitl, we confuse the two, believing our sacrifice is what redeems us and others, when in reality, it is always love. The distinction, while at times difficult to discern, is what can bring life to a healthy, loving relationship. I can’t imagine not being steeped in a committed relationship without some sacrifice on my part. But when does this practice of sacrifice become the support system for sustaining love? How do I hold the balance of love and at times sacrifice for another without losing love of self? Continue reading “Love, Loss and Longing: The Rebooting of a Feminist Heart By Cynthia Garrity-Bond”
I went to the movies with a group of friends last Friday to watch the final Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II. It was a great movie, fun and action-filled, and the energy of opening night only made it better. Afterward we all went out to eat and exchanged notes on our favorite scenes – talking about every little detail. At one point, one of my friends commented on the strong role women have in the Harry Potter movies/books. She said the story is carried by the women – that if it wasn’t for them Harry Potter would not exist. She made specific mention of Harry’s mom as having sacrificed her life for him. Lily dies so Harry can live.
This of course is when my brain comes to a screeching halt.
Women sacrificing their lives for others – I become suspicious and my defenses go up. Sacrifice = suffering. Suffering must not be glorified. Sacrifice must not be sacralized. I see red flags everywhere. Wait, though; haven’t those of us who are Christian-identified heard the opposite affirmed a million times? Jesus suffered and died – was sacrificed – for our sins. Further, Christians’ most sacred ritual, communion, includes reference to Jesus’ broken body and spilt blood. So, isn’t that what people do for love, sacrifice, as Harry’s mom did?