Women come off pretty badly in Christianity. Through Original Sin they are held responsible for everything in the world since the Garden of Eden. Women are weak, unclean, condemned to bear children in pain as punishment for the failures of Eve, they are the temptresses who turn the minds of men away from God; as if women were more responsible for men’s sexual feelings than the men themselves! Like Simone de Beauvoir says, women are always the ‘other’, the real business is between a man in the sky and the men on the ground. In fact women only exist at all as a kind of divine afterthought, put together out of a spare rib to keep men company and iron their shirts, and the biggest favour they can do Christianity is not to get dirtied up with sex, stay chaste, and if they can manage to have a baby at the same time then they’re measuring up to the Christian Church’s ideal of womanhood – the Virgin Mary.
This, it has to be said, is a pretty good summary of what has unfortunately and for far too long been a prevalent attitude within Christianity. Intriguingly, this summary is offered by Mary, one of the characters in Ian McEwan’s short story ‘Psychopolis’.
Some sobering and insightful thoughts about the Eucharist from Sara Miles’s inspiring book Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion:
The entire contradictory package of Christianity was present in the Eucharist. A sign of unconditional acceptance and forgiveness, it was doled out and rationed to insiders; a sign of unity, it divided people; a sign of the most common and ordinary human reality, it was rarefied and theorized nearly to death. And yet that meal remained, through all the centuries, more powerful than any attempts to manage it. … The feast showed us how to re-member what had been dis-membered by human attempts to separate and divide, judge and cast out, select or punish. At that Table, sharing food, we were brought into the ongoing work of making creation whole.
Some quotes on love and forgiveness from Francis Spufford’s recent book Unapologetic:
If someone asks for your help, give them more than they’ve asked for. If someone hits out at you, let them. Don’t retaliate. Be the place the violence ends. Because you’ve got it wrong about virtue. It isn’t something built up from a thousand careful, carefully measured acts. It comes, when it comes, in a rush; it comes from behaving, so far as you can, like God himself, who makes and makes and loves and loves and is never the less for it. God doesn’t want your careful virtue, He wants your reckless generosity.
God … wants us to love wildly and without calculation. God wants us to love people we don’t even like; people we hate; people who hate us.
We’re supposed as Christians to go out and love recklessly, as God does. We’re supposed to try and imitate Jesus in this, and to be prepared to follow love wherever it goes, knowing that there are no guarantees it’ll be safe, or that the world will treat such vulnerability kindly. ‘Take up you cross and follow me,’ says Jesus … risk everything, even death. Take love’s consequences.
We’re supposed to see God’s willingness to mend, to forgive, to absorb and remove guilt, as oceanic; a sea of love without limit, beating ceaselessly on the shores of our tiny island of caution and justice, always inviting us to look beyond, to begin again, to dare a larger and wilder and freer life. But it is possible to shrink it instead into something like a Get Out of Jail Free card, to be played by God only very occasionally in a game otherwise dominated by the same old rewards and punishments, human justice writ large all over the cosmos.