At Advent Vespers this week we heard how an angel came to Mary to tell her that even though she was a virgin, she would bear a child (who turns out to be Jesus, BTW).
It’s an incredible story. (As in – it’s entirely difficult to believe and entirely awesome at the same time!) And my favorite part is when Mary completely embraces everything that is happening and says things like: “My soul keeps shouting out how great You are Lord!” and “You clearly love me and have blessed me – let’s DO this!”
It’s totally absurd, and it makes me wish I could be as confident as Mary in the wackiness of my own faith.
But that’s not what this post is about.
There came a moment in tonight’s reading when those same words that bring me such joy made me want to vomit.
To Mary’s question about how she could be pregnant since she is a virgin, the angel replies:
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” Luke 1:35
As these words were spoken, my mind suddenly interrupted with another declaration. It was jarring and was spoken in voices I had heard before. It claimed: “The Holy Spirit raped Mary.”
I heard my atheist undergrad professor say it mockingly, and my seminary professor saying it nonchalantly. I heard my classmate saying it matter-of-factly. And I heard no one taking these words seriously enough.
Rape is not a word I use very often. I know it can trigger all sorts of emotions in people. That fact alone tends to outweigh any need I felt to use the word, regardless of how correct the usage might have been.
But this isn’t just about word choice.
In what goes down as God’s most creative plot turn in all history, God comes to the world as a baby. How does God pull this off? With the help of one strong, determined, faith-filled woman named Mary.
In a Bible full of stories about men, this is truly a story about a woman. It’s the story of a woman whom God chooses as a partner in making the most incredible happen.
I hate to think that we’d have such a hard time with a powerful woman that we’d try to disempower her by raping her through our exegesis.
Let me be perfectly clear. If this horrific hypothesis is true, we have a God who could think of no better plan than to have Mary raped in order to birth our Savior. If this horrific hypothesis is true, the beloved Magnificat is a song of a woman graciously and exuberantly submitting to brutal violence.
Do you see why I wanted to vomit?
Here’s an idea: If you feel the need to be shocking or contrary – save it for another text.
For the love of God, take your sassy attitude where it can do some good. There are plenty of other stories in the Bible that could use a new interpretation.
A good friend of mine in seminary gets hymn’d out quite a bit.
It’s a condition brought on by excessive exposure to traditional hymns without an adequate balance or acknowledgment of alternative music forms.
I have a high tolerance for hymns and quite enjoy them, so I don’t feel her exact pain.
But I can commiserate.
Afterall, I get Him’d out all the time.
You know the condition… it’s brought on by excessive exposure to male language for God without an adequate balance or acknowledgment of alternative images.
My friend has a high tolerance for Hims and is quite comfortable with the imagery, so she doesn’t feel my exact pain.
But she can commiserate.
And sometimes, that’s all we need.
feminarian noun \fe-mə-ˈner-ē-ən\
: someone studying at a seminary who believes that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities – because that’s how God/dess created us
You may be surprised to find out how many feminarians exist out there. I have met quite a few of them over the past year, men and women who:
- know that the ordination of women doesn’t mean the work of feminism is complete or no longer needed in the church
- are honest about the fact that Heavenly Father is an exclusively male image, and know it will take generations to rescue the name “God” from that same limited understanding
- notice that women in the bible are called prostitutes as much as junior high girls are called whores – and take exception to both
- are sick of people thinking Jesus was so marvelous for engaging with women – Jesus is marvelous, but basic respect is something we could have expected
- <the list goes on… perhaps we might continue in the comments section…>
There are a lot of feminarians, and I’m not trying to represent all of them in this blog. I just think that knowing we exist might give some people in the church, and who have left the church, a little hope.
This blog is part of a course requirement at Luther Seminary. It is a way for me to engage the course material in a public way, in light of my own journey. I don’t intend for every post to be about feminism and/or seminary, but it is the platform from which I will dive into much of what I write about.