Nevertheless, She Resisted

March 29th, 2018

“In a culture of answers, obedience is always the highest virtue... In a culture of questions, thinking is the highest art, conscience is the highest virtue.” — Sister Joan Chittister

“I liked you a lot better when you were nice.” — A relative

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Women who make choices for themselves, who speak for themselves, who risk for themselves, especially women with a theologically significant story, are no stranger to disapproval. In the beginning was the woman.

She didn’t always have a name.

As a child and into my teenage years, I knew the mother of all living in the same way that my Sunday School peers knew her: as everything good girls were not supposed to be. Temptress. Liar. Bearer of our fall from that which was good and pure until she ruined it with humankind’s first choice and an apple. It’s a familiar set of lessons to many women I know and, I assume, to many more that I haven’t yet met. Don’t ruffle any (patriarchal) feathers. Don’t question (patriarchal) authority. Don’t step outside your (patriarchal) role.

It is often easier to believe and/or repeat the stories we are told by others than it is to seek out or listen to the original source. There is a convenience to shared opinion, one that doesn’t require a willingness to be wrong or, at the least, misinformed. It is the “culture of answers” Sister Joan Chittister refers to in her spiritual memoir, Called to Question. “Clearly, the function of answers is to preserve what is,” she says. “It locks up the world, calls it finished, brooks no disturbance of its sureties.” Acceptance without investigation, much like repeating rather than listening to, might rightly be called a sin. 

While not as theologically scandalous as Eve, Sister Joan is also no stranger to ruffling patriarchal feathers of patriarchal authority outside her patriarchal role. Having long fought against the oppression of women, her willingness to persevere in the face of rejection has carried her through decades-long service as a Benedictine nun. In a male-led tradition, she, too, has dared to choose, speak, and risk for herself and all women.

“To begin to believe your own truth,” she offers, “is to begin to withdraw from dogmatism, institutionalism, authoritarianism, and parentalism. These things conspire to keep a woman ‘nice.’”

Eve wasn’t nice, and I believe we are the better for it.

To be on this side of the fruit is a privilege she did not have in her Eden days. The knowledge of good and evil has been ours with examples and stories, but it was not hers until she chose it to be. On her side of the fruit, there were no definitions, no experiences, no wisdom. We know what it means to die but had we never known it to happen, what would death be but a word? We know what it means to appreciate but had we never experienced absence, what would grateful be but a word? We know what it means to be humble but had we never been willing to mess up, what would grace be but a word?

And before Eve brought choice into the world, what was woman but a word?

Now she is anticipation.

There is a theological poeticism to Eve’s regular presence in coming celebrations. Before there is the birth, there is Christmas Eve. Before the annual opportunity to start over, there is New Year’s Eve. She is the bridge between what was and what is to be discovered, celebrated, and remembered. She has given us the opportunity to look forward.

Women have long been and still are looking forward. Since 1987, Women’s History Month has served as a reminder of the challenges women have faced in the ongoing vision of equality for themselves and other disenfranchised populations. It celebrates successes that were once unimaginable and hopes for more. It recognizes what it has meant to be on both sides of the fruit.

And in this year of curious holiday timing, as another Women’s History Month draws to its close, it also serves as Resurrection Eve.

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