Sue Monk Kidd describes her experience coming out from under patriarchy using the uniquely feminine images of pregnancy. She says, “It was a process not unlike the experience of conception and labor. There had been a moment, many moments, really when truth seized me and I ‘conceived’ myself as a woman. Or maybe I reconceived myself. At any rate, it had been extraordinary and surprising to find myself – a conventionally religious women in my late thirties – suddenly struck pregnant with a new consciousness, with an unfolding new awareness of what it means to be a woman and what it means to be spiritual as a woman.” I read Kidd’s book, Dance of the Dissident Daughter, after the birth of my first daughter Frida. I resonated with the still fresh images of my own birthing experience while at the same time marinating in what it meant to be woman trapped inside a patriarchal system of belief. Her story gave me the courage to examine my own story – to begin to recognize the way my culture, my faith system and my life, in my volatile and formative years, were built on a foundation of patriarchy.
I grew up inside a family and church culture where the idea that “the man is the head of the house,” was both explicitly and implicitly communicated in no uncertain terms. I grew up thinking I needed a man to complete me and that on my own I was only half a person. Probably complicated by the absence of a father figure, my feelings of inadequacy were a faithful companion every day of my life as a child and adolescent. I cannot remember a time growing up where I felt completely whole or satisfied in who God made me to be. And yet it was the very thing I longed for the most – wholeness, completeness, to believe I am enough.
My journey of awakening was complicated and scary – coming to terms with my beliefs about myself and about God. I was in the midst of my childbearing years – I birthed three babies within five years – and so the pregnancy and birth metaphors Kidd uses to describe her awakening possessed a powerful poignancy. I was living in a body that was creating, nourishing and ushering beings into the world. I experienced with awe the exhilaration in the hard work of labor, the strength I possessed within me, and the hope that accompanies new life. Through the beautiful, natural, God-given process of pregnancy and childbirth I was transformed. I saw for the first time the magnificence that is my body and the tenacity and courage that reside in the depths of my soul. I began to believe, little-by-little, that I am exactly who I was created to be and it is good. Slowly I let go of a way of being and believing I’d white-knuckled my way through for years. And as I began to embrace my wholeness, my full sense of self, and live into the unique gifts that I alone possessed, I saw a whole other side of God that I’d been blind to before – a mothering God that loves her children with abandon, who created us in her own image, a God who longs “to gather [her] children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (Luke 13:34), a God from whom we are born. (1 John 4:7).
It is my hope and fervent prayer that the Women in Leadership Project might accompany women and men, communities and congregations who are in this painful labor process – pregnant with a new way of being and seeing God. I pray that we’d be your loving support through our collective labor pain as we come out from under patriarchy together.