Feminist and Orthodox Spiritualities: "Women's Spirituality"

Article excerpt


Spirituality comes from a Latin verb spirare, which means to breathe, to live. In Jewish tradition it is God's own breath, which calls forth humanity, and in Christian faith we believe in the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit manifested in wind and fire. Spirituality, like breathing, is part of our earthly existence: "The air is everywhere" and so is the restlessness of our heart searching, in countless ways, for meaning and fulfilment, for God.

When it comes to spirituality, we are always present in the debate with our whole life and with its most intimate moments: for me spirituality means how I so conduct my life that it becomes a visible sign of my faith; and, to quote former WCC Moderator M.M. Thomas, "how we so conduct our struggles that they become part of our worship."

Spirituality, therefore, has to do with all spheres of life: with everyday life, with the way we live our relationships, with the rituals we develop in a family, in a partnership, among friends; and with the special rituals, in which the memory of our tradition is recreated, through which the community affirms and celebrates its faith and from which it draws sustenance and commitment.

Christian spirituality has always been the most culture-bound expression of the faith, and this is precisely why it is so difficult to share different forms of spirituality. Our spiritual basics have been acquired in childhood. Some prayers, and some hymns are so dear to our hearts that nobody can argue against them--even if we might find them strange, incomprehensible or theologically wanting. They are really lodged in our hearts and not in our minds. Therefore, spirituality is not a matter of debate but a matter of shared life. As we share life in different contexts, with different people, we come to understand something, which is very important for our spirituality: we learn to see that our own way of being faithful and of expressing our faith is but a partial reflection of the fullness of all human possibilities to do so. We always see dimly in a mirror. In my encounter with others, I may recognize more clearly my own partiality, my cultural bias, also my bias as a woman.

Our theme, "Women's Spirituality" raises the basic question "Is there a women's spirituality as distinct from men's?"

If I say, "Yes, there is", I need to explain why. In doing so, I want to share with you some insights from my own spiritual journey as a woman, some of what I learned in the women's movement and some reflections by feminist theologians and philosophers.

Spirituality is always connected to the lives of people

My first insight is an acute awareness that spirituality is always "textual". By textual, I do not primarily refer to the texts of the Christian tradition. I believe that the theological debate about text and context does not take us far enough when it comes to spirituality. It is always necessary to look at the texts of scripture and tradition, and at the contexts within which these texts were composed, and into which they were received.

But when I speak about textuality I am referring to the text of life that each person is. We are the "text" we have to read and understand first of all, in order to comprehend the spiritual needs of people, and in order to value their efforts to express them.

There is no spirituality in the abstract

The famished experience God in another way than the saturated. The powerful may need the experience of humility as spiritual corrective; while the powerless may need the spiritual encouragement to get to their own feet. Those who have always had the privilege to soar to spiritual heights, may need to experience the spirituality of everyday worries; while those whose hands and bodies have been steeped in immanence, who have had to cook the food and do the slave work, may need to be given the breathing space to affirm their dignity. …