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And speaking of the Sacred Feminine…

And speaking of the Sacred Feminine, my wife, a doula here in Pittsburgh, has put up a page of birth art on her site. So far there are two Births of the Virgin and one Birth of John the Baptist.

If you want to talk about the importance of the Feminine in Christian culture, here’s a good place to start: with the birth of Mary, the model both of Christian obedience and of responsible Christian authority. After all, God Incarnate, as a child, was obedient to his mother (see Luke 2:51).

The practical importance of the Feminine is also the subject of these paintings. These days, birth has been taken over by a patriarchal male-dominated medical establishment, and sometimes the mother seems to be almost forgotten in the forest of beeping machines. In these pictures, though, we see the mother and child as the centers of attention.

Now, I tend to lean toward radical egalitarianism—probably more so than many of my readers here. In fact, that’s one of my objections to the supposed renewal of interest in the “sacred feminine”: emphasizing the differences between men and women, and concentrating on them rather than on the fundamental equality of the two, tends to create a sort of female ghetto. In most areas, I’m all for treating men and women as equals, and any kind of apartheid, no matter how “separate but equal,” has always been a good strategy for keeping one party dominant over the other. That’s true whether the separation is endorsed by the dominant party or the dominated party.

Jesus and Paul were both radical egalitarians like me. Jesus spoke to women as though their salvation really mattered, and Paul insisted that “in Christ, there is neither male nor female”—a statement so wildly radical that we can still hardly deal with its implications today.

Yet there are areas where men and women are clearly different. The sexes are designed to complement each other. God gave each special traits and abilities that are meaningless without the other’s equally special traits. Only women can give birth, and only men can—oh, I don’t know, drive monster trucks or something. Motherhood is a holy and blessed state, and it’s uniquely feminine. Men just can’t have it.

That’s what we see in these paintings of births. The settings are clearly Renaissance; the painters showed birth the way they knew it, not the way their researchers told them it happened just before the time of Christ.

How would we do that today? Would we show St. Elizabeth in a hospital bed, surrounded by beeping and buzzing electronics, while the anesthesiologist gets her epidural ready and the obstetrician whispers something about “emergency C-section” to the nurse? That wouldn’t look quite right, would it? It would be missing something. In fact, it would be missing the Sacred Feminine, designed by God and installed in human nature at the moment of creation.

2 Responses to “And speaking of the Sacred Feminine…”

  1. Stephen Says:

    Speaking of the birth of Mary, I’m prompted to mention that in the Greek/Russian/etc. Orthodox tradition the ecclesiastical new year is on September 1st, which makes the “Nativity of the Theotokos” on Sept. 8th the first major feast of the liturgical year, and her death in the “Dormition of the Theotokos” on August 15th the last. Some fortuitous symbolism there, perhaps.

    Very interesting about the “doula” role, btw. I’d heard of a midwife, of course, but not this.

  2. The Grail Code» Blog Archive » One year Says:

    [...] epidural [...]

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