Most days at I try to get out and walk around our neighborhood. Our suburban town has a nature trail I sometimes walk but other days I opt for the sidewalk that takes me by rows of older homes, bits of main street, and some historical remnants of what used to be Salem.
Even with the guidance of physical distancing and wearing masks people are pretty quick to wave and say hello as we walk past each other. I’ve also noticed teenage siblings shooting hoops outside with their family pup, a parent regularly outside with their little one, and several neighbors chatting over the fences. These are relatively small interactions but now they seem so much more meaningful. Physical touch, face to face conversations, sharing a meal — our social interactions have significantly shifted from what we were used to.
I’ve taken a lot of this for granted. Now tucked away at home my days blur together and there’s little change in the day-to-day routine. I’m “homesick” for the people who have helped make this corner of Massachusetts “home” and I’m sad to have cancelled travel plans with family, my original “home.”
The following song feels especially relevant during this time. The small things I’ve overlooked for so long, are becoming the primary sources of life for me: taking great care in preparing meals, both by planning for a trip to the store and trying new recipes, selecting a new book to read, driving, being outside and waving hello to a fellow trail-walker, among other things. These are the tender mercies of my new normal.
“Oh, the deeds forgotten; oh, the works unseen Every drink of water flowing graciously Every tender mercy, You’re making glorious This You have asked us Do little things with great love Little things with great love”
Recognizing these small-but-significant gifts of wonder and beauty has made the uncertain days a little easier.
I do recognize I have the privilege of staying home, slowing down, working remotely, and avoiding much hardship with this change of pace. There are others who have much different experiences: survivors of domestic violence, the unemployed, healthcare and essential workers, the elderly and homeless, others without access to vital resources, and those dying alone. Their suffering is not forgotten.
“In the kingdom of the heavens, no suff’ring is unknown Each tear that falls is holy, each breaking heart a throne There is a song of beauty on ev’ry weeping eye For there is One who loves me His heart, it breaks with mine”
I lament the toll this virus has had around the world and the fear it carries with it. I watch the numbers rise each day in our county and state and find myself feeling helpless sometimes. I have no answers to offer, other than the encouragement to walk with great love in all you do.
“Oh give us ears to hear them and give us eyes that see For there is One who loves them I am His hands and feet
For there is One who loves them I am His hands and feet”
In our corner of the world we are working remotely, staying home, and slowing down in hopes to slow the growth of COVID19 cases. The first week or so was new and sort of exciting but by now it’s set in that life will continue to look different in the coming months. I’m sure we all have mixed feelings about the forced slow-down. I know I do.
If you find yourself in a new rhythm of life, you may also find a little bit more room for family time, walks outside, solitude, preparing meals, or whatever else springs up when you’re at home.
As you recalibrate your routine, consider adding a new (or beloved) form a prayer, lectio divina. This form of prayer can be done individually or with a group.
“By its very nature, meditation is a discipline that enables us to slow down and respond with intentionality to the truth. We might compare this kind of reading to an extended meal that lasts through an evening, where each morsel and course is savored without hurry. We pause, consider, ruminate and take it in at a moderate pace, realizing that if we move too quickly we will miss something important.”
I won’t overcomplicate this type of prayer by getting too detailed, so if you’d like more information I’ll include a few resources at the very bottom. Essentially, there are only 4 elements. All you need is a passage of scripture and a notebook and pen if you’d like to jot down your thoughts.
“…the lectio divina honors the historical and human character of the Bible. It is important to stress that this kind of reading of Scripture takes the nature of the Scriptures seriously…We do not honor the Scriptures when we do not honor the way in which God brought them into being. Scripture has a fundamentally human character that must be respected if we are to appreciate its divine character.”
Begin by reading or listening to a passage of scripture. The passage does not need to be too long; 10-15 verses will do. Many suggest reading the passage 2-3 times either silently or aloud.
What is the scripture’s literal meaning?
After reading or listening to the passage, meditate on the text for a few minutes. Don’t be afraid to use your imagination to picture yourself in the passage. Consider how the scripture is relevant in your own life. Does anything stick out?
Where do I see myself in this passage?
When you feel ready, respond with prayer. Aloud or silently, spontaneous or with a prayer book, long or short — how you respond is up to you.
How will I respond to God?
The final step is to contemplate how to practically apply what you’ve just read, meditated on, and prayed about in your day-to-day life.
Where in my life can I implement what I’ve learned?
“Guided meditative prayer sessions which help you slow down and listen for the truth that is being born out of God’s love for you today. Imaginative and contemplative prayer with gospel stories, psalms and other scripture, drawing on Ignatian Spirituality and Lectio Divina.”
“Caring for your soul is vital to living a peace-filled and purposeful life. Join author and host, Whitney R. Simpson, for a regular dose of peace and calm for your breath, body, and spirit as you explore these practical mediations. Using yoga teachings and ancient spiritual tools such as the Prayer of Examen, Lectio Divina, and Breath Prayer, allow Whitney to companion you on your spiritual formation journey.”
“This is a facilitated space for you to slow down and be still in the presence of God. Whether you are listening with a group, on your way to work, cleaning your house, or in a focused time of devotion, may your heart and mind be filled with peace.”
In the words of Carolyn Custis James, is God good for women? How would you answer that question?
In your personal experience and study of scripture or history, has the church been a reflection of God’s loving kindness and faithfulness to women? Where would you like to see the church improve? Is there a difference between equality and power?
For many evangelical Christians there is fear associated with the concept of feminism. It can be perceived to be a threat to masculinity or an attempt to overturn the “biblical” design. Many people do not speak kindly about it or those who support it and there are plenty of polarizing, misinformed nicknames and phrases as evidence of this.
There is such a broad, beautiful spectrum of feminists. Feminism supports the idea women can freely make their own choices and raise their voices on issues that matter to them. The goal isn’t to be a monolithic movement, but to give women the same opportunity to think and choose for themselves as men have had. Women have a right to choose what to believe and how to worship, how to love those around them, care for their bodies, and how to shape their career.
For example, as a Christian feminist, I support women working hard to advance their career, whether in the marketplace or at home with her children. I support a woman’s right to choose where and how she works, even if I choose differently.
You might think women have these freedoms already. And yes, many women have these privileges. Feminist movements in the Western world have given us the right to vote, the ability to work outside the home (if you want!) and be paid (theoretically) equal for the same job, and equal access to education and healthcare. The results aren’t perfect but they have made significant progress we can celebrate. Yet, on a global level, many countries still have not adopted these practices and girls and women are not able to access education, financial independence, or bodily autonomy (female genital mutilation, child marriage, legal marital rape, etc.), among other things.
Let’s say you’re still unsure but you’re open. My purpose in this post isn’t to get down to the Greek and convince you of anything, nor is this the most elaborate explanation of how to be feminist Christian. I’m still learning, too. I offer my perspective as an invitation to discover how the Christian faith and feminism can actually work together for the mutual flourishing of women and men.
A quick skim of the scripture reveals a text full of male imagery and pronouns for God. Names or metaphors like Lord, King, or Father are used in both Old and New Testaments. Without a background in languages it may seem silly to ask if God is male or female, when the text is so “clear.”
But is the Bible clear? We use male pronouns in sermons, songs, and in our prayers. The Hebrew Bible also uses the third person singular pronoun in reference to God, which we’ve translated as male. And of course, the person of Jesus Christ is male but does this mean the Holy Spirit and God “the Father” are also male? Taking a closer look we find:
God is not a created, gendered being like humans are and cannot be accurately reflected in an image or seen outside Jesus Christ. Language about God always requires an analogy since God is beyond being.
God “the Father” is a metaphor used by Jesus Christ in Matthew 6 and 28 is not a literal relationship. God did not contribute any biological matter to create the Son. The Son is a person of the Trinity, which has no beginning. Father-language is used to reflect a personal relationship and can be appropriate to use, although not exclusively.
Deuteronomy 4:15-19 prohibits images of God and idols, both male and female. Creating either a male image or female image for God is idolatrous.
It might be grammatically awkward to withhold gendered pronouns while talking about God but it offers a more precise foundation from which to worship, communicate, and cultivate healing. What we believe about God impacts our understanding of gender, personhood, and power. Other gender-neutral names for God include I Am, Creator, Divine, Light, Vine, Redeemer, Potter, Sustainer, and Word.
This is just one example of why a feminist lens in theology can be helpful. Feminist theology, in general, wants to read sacred texts from the experience of women, which is notably different than men. Mind you, there’s many different theories and beliefs surrounding feminist theology, some more orthodox than others.
“The uniqueness of feminist theology lies not in its use of the criterion of experience but rather in its use for women’s experience which has been almost entirely shut out of theological reflection in the past. The use of women’s experience in feminist theology, therefore, explodes as a critical force, exposing classical theology…as based on male experience rather than on universal human experience.”
In the scriptures God reached out to a people shaped by patriarchy, and certainly as Christians we have relied on the faith of patriarchs like Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, and David, to shape our own faith. Yet, just because patriarchy was the longest running social norm does not mean it will continue to be the superior means to a thriving society or the only channel through which God communicates. Just ask the women at the empty tomb.
Similar to patriarchy, masculinity is not inherently bad. However, because we live in a fallen world, our understanding of masculinity and how society enforces its expectations can be misguided. Research has helped us understand that many rigid expectations(Men should be this; Men should be like that; Men should not do this) we have placed on boys and men are not healthy for the larger community as they contribute to increased rates of mental illness and violence.
This study in Australia evaluated the impact of beliefs that men are “to be tough; not to show any emotions; to be the breadwinner, to always be in control, use violence to solve problems; and to have many sexual partners.” The report details the differences between men who hold these beliefs and those who do not. Men who believe this about themselves are more likely to consider suicide, initiate verbal bullying in person or online, or make sexual/sexist comments towards women, among other responses. Read the rest here.
This study in the UK found “61% of 18-24 year olds feel UK society expects a man to “man up” when faced with a challenge and over half (55%) said that crying in front of others would make a man feel less masculine.”
As people of hope, can we observe a healthy spectrum of masculinity in the scriptures? The Bible is full of wisdom on what Christian life and practice can look like for all people, regardless of gender. The following people are a few specific examples of what masculinity can look like, as an alternative to the toxic/rigid expectations we commonly see today:
Expressed a full range of emotions including joy, sadness, anger, tiredness, and playfulness.
Demonstrated compassion, forgiveness, and self-control.
Honored, trusted, listened to, and travelled with women.
Shared space, time, and meals with those considered social outcasts and untouchable.
Washed the feet of his disciples.
Job admits vulnerability and suffering but does not curse God.
Held close friendship with Jonathan.
Repented from his sin.
Expressed emotions through artistic poems and psalms, and dancing in the streets.
Demonstrated courage during his time as a young shepherd or as a leader in battle.
Boaz acted generously and compassionately towards the poor and marginalized, namely Ruth, an immigrant widow.
Known as the “son of encouragement.”
Believed Saul’s controversial conversion and discipled him and John Mark.
Joseph and Daniel lived with integrity even as they were tested physically, spiritually, and relationally.
The authors of scripture also praise and emphasize non-gendered attributes like gentleness, peace, patience, responsibility, and self-control. Where else can you find examples of healthy masculinity in the scriptures?
Language and verses related to submission have been used to oppress various populations, both in secular and religious liturgy. The instructions in scripture surrounding submission are not justification for abuse. If you are a survivor of abuse or sexual violence, it is okay to be uncomfortable with scripture or liturgy that includes this topic. Please, take your time to heal and come back gently as you feel ready. With this in mind, I would rather use different terminology to describe the appropriate course of action for friendships, marriages, and communities.
“He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
As a church we are called to walk in humility, to love others deeply, respecting who they are and their experience, to relinquish any pride, and as the ESV says in Romans 12:10, “outdo one another in showing honor.”
Self-discipline, service, and submission are all highly praised characteristics in the scriptures. These qualities are not limited to or better suited for one gender over another. But if someone believes in the stereotypes built by benevolent sexism, it can be easy to assume men should be superior to women. After all, they are the “natural leaders,” right?
To submit assumes a hierarchy is in place. Is the hierarchy between genders? Or between Creator and the creation?
There’s enough evidence in the scripture and history to make a strong case for women’s leadership. But I don’t believe Jesus’ radical inclusion of women was meant to flip the patriarchy into matriarchy. The life and ministry of Jesus itself was backwards. The Son of God, second person of the Trinity, the Incarnation of the divine enters the world through a humble birth, denies the offer of power, and goes on to touch those who are contagious and outcast, heals chronic illness, shares meals with social outsiders, and washes the muck from his disciples’ ungroomed feet.
The parables of the Good Samaritan, the Lost Sheep, and the Workers in the Vineyard (Mt 20:1-16) among other lessons and stories from the life of Jesus reveal there is no seniority or hierarchy in the Kingdom of God. No one is above another. The hierarchy appears to only exist between God and humans.
This is a very simple summary of a vast collection of thoughts and centuries of academic study. I’ve included some more resources below if this topic is your bread and butter.
Your church may have a formal position on this issue. It may not. If your tradition does not allow women to teach or deliver sermons, this can be especially difficult for women who feel drawn to this type of ministry. Historically many churches have denied women a place at the pulpit but have sent female missionaries to teach and preach doctrine to others. This becomes a challenging situation and calls into question how church leaders view the abilities of women (How are women good enough for global missions but not for local church ministry?) and the personhood of those in “mission fields” (What do you think of the unreached if you send them your “second best”?)
Christianity, and more specifically evangelical Christianity, has not always been resistant towards gender equality. (Read a brief article on the history of Christian feminism here.) I believe this is really hopeful. It’s worth asking your church if they have a formal stance, and if not, asking more about how the church can make space for the voices of women. You could start with reading materials authored by female pastors or theologians, supporting women in seminary, or inviting a guest preacher if there are no immediate possibilities already in the congregation.
If your church has a formal stance opposed to women in leadership, there is still hope. You’ll have to discern for yourself where the Holy Spirit is leading you. If you chose to stay in your church, I suggest finding some type of online or in-person community that supports your exploration. There are still women pioneering the way for others in these traditions who may offer insight and wisdom for your context.
Do I need to call myself a feminist? Isn’t female empowerment enough?
“There’s too much baggage associated with feminism.”
I hear this more than anything else. And guess what. The people who say this are right. But they forget the term “Christian” is another loaded word that many people associate with racism, colonization, sexism, greed, and horrific physical and sexual violence. As far as I know those fearful of labeling themselves as feminists, still self-identify as Christians.
More importantly, what should I call someone who seeks the equal respect of all genders? In this moment in history we call them feminists, just like we call those who serve the church ministers. Not all ministers agree on all issues and some certainly give others a bad name. Does this diminish the role or purpose of the minister? Or feminist? If you have ideas for a new term, by all means, let’s hear it!
At its core, feminism seeks to remove all boundaries that do not allow women the same rights and privileges as men. Women, like men, deserve to make their own choices and have their voices heard.
There are different theories, perspectives, and methodologies within feminism — just like diversity of denominations or traditions of Christianity. Christian feminism reminds us of the mystery of a sovereign God, the fallenness and beauty in our interpretations of gender, and the practical instruction to honor each member of our community as we love ourselves. Using the strengths of our unique contexts we can embrace the core goal of feminism to nourish communities and glorify God.
I wasn’t so much directly instructed on how to as much as I watched how others prayed at church, before meals, and often before class. Spontaneous prayer was a frequent choice and sometimes the Psalms were used. People usually spoke from their heart and used common phrases of gratitude and names for God.
Another form of prayer was introduced to me in college through the Book of Common Prayer, which I describe more below. I wasn’t sure why it was being used or where it stood compared to scripture but I was intrigued. Could you really pray while you were reading the words from a page?
I soon discovered prayer books don’t replace scripture, nor do they replace spontaneous prayer or induce a “scripted faith” — they simply offer ways to draw closer to God through community. You may read the prayers alone or corporately. Either way you’re connected to the communal liturgy and broader (sometimes ancient) worship of the church. Sometimes I don’t have all the words to express how I’m feeling or what I’m sensing; a prayer book invites me into the prayer of another and reminds me I’m not alone.
Here are a few I’ve picked up over the last couple years.
This book shapes most of our regular Sunday services in our episcopal parish. There are many other churches who use prayers from this book, too. Perhaps this is one of the most popular, oldest prayer books out there and for good reason, no doubt. There are morning and evening prayers, daily devotionals, collects, creeds, Psalms, prayers for confirmation, baptism, marriage, ordination, sickness, thanksgiving death, church planting, and more.
Although somber, one of the most meaningful prayers for me is one we pray corporately every Sunday.
“Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in though, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.”
This is a beautiful collection of art, songs, and prayers. This prayer book also includes morning and evening prayers, as well as occasional prayers, but what is special about this particular book is one’s ability to use it as a daily devotional. It begins at the start of the liturgical year, the first day of Advent in December. Each day is a liturgy with prayers, a scripture reading, a brief paragraph on someone in church history, a space to pray for others, the Lord’s Prayer, and some include a song. (The sheet music is included in the back!) Each month has a theme and piece of artwork.
“May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you; may he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm; may he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you; may he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.”
This might be my current favorite. There’s a prayer for everything; the artwork is stunning. You’ll find occasional liturgies as well as prayers during the loss of electricity, for those who feel awkward in social gatherings, and a table blessing for each day of the week.
I’ll allow it to speak for itself. This is an excerpt from A Liturgy for Changing Diapers I:
“…I am not just changing a diaper. By love and service I am tending a budding heart that, rooted early in such grace-filled devotion, might one day be more readily-inclined to bow to your compassionate conviction — knowing itself then as both a receptacle and a reservoir of heavenly grace… So take this unremarkable act of necessary service, O Christ, and in your economy let it be multiplied into that greater outworking of worship and of faith, a true investment in the incremental advance of your kingdom across generations…”
This one doesn’t have the same visual beauty as the last two books, but it does have a thorough devotional quality. Its outline follows the rhythm of the liturgical calendar with various scripture readings and quotes from authors, artists, and theologians. The general focus is geared towards those who serve in the church but I think most anyone would benefit from it if they enjoyed the style.
This prayer book was given to us by a dear friend. The style is more traditional than the other books mentioned here but it could appeal to a variety of traditions. It lists short prayers by topic or emotion, and also includes morning and evening prayers. The book itself is small and leather-bound, which makes it handy to slip into a backpack or purse for everyday use.
“…May the truth that is in him illuminate in me all that is dark, establish in me all that is wavering, comfort in me all that is wretched, accomplish in me all that is of thy goodness, and glorify in me the name of Jesus… Uphold my steps by thy Word. Let no iniquity dominate me…”
Again, art and prayer are means for inspiration and reflection. Created by Justin McRoberts and Scott Erickson, this is a small, but powerful, book. These prayers are shorter, maybe a few lines or half a page, but they certainly give you enough to think on. I’ve shared many of Erickson’s pieces on my Instagram in the past.
“May it be enough for me to see God in the world.”
Although this may be your first formal introduction, you may have already received or given spiritual direction. Perhaps you’ve consulted a pastor or spiritual leader for advice. Maybe you made time and space to listen to a friend. “Spiritual direction”, in my opinion, is a fancy term for something we do or look for all the time: companionship.
Spiritual direction is spiritual companionship, not clinical counseling.
Spiritual direction is holy listening, not a bible study.
Spiritual direction is meant to be nourishment for your soul, not a one-size-fits-all formula.
This chart is a very helpful comparison between spiritual direction, discipleship, counseling, and other similar relationships. There is no universal solution to life’s questions and therefore no superior approach.
“The environment of spiritual direction, then, is affirming and encouraging, but it is also a place of authenticity. In spiritual direction we look at the truth of our present situation and experience. The question asked is not “What should be happening in my life?” but “What is happening in my life?” We look for God here, now, because the place where we are in our lives is the place where we find God.”
Who are spiritual directors?
Some spiritual directors are trained through specialty programs or master degrees and others appear in the form of untrained, but sage friends or leaders. Some receive payment for their time and have warm, inviting offices. Others generously offer to listen for no formal compensation in settings like living rooms or coffee shops. Spiritual direction can happen in groups or among individuals. There are all types of combinations.
One common thread in each combination is the dedication of time and space to listen. Spiritual directors listen to seekers. Seekers learn to hear and listen to God, the ultimate “spiritual director.” (Yes, this may sound corny, but it’s true!)
Meetings may begin with an open ended question like, “What is the state of your soul?” or “What has caused life to pour into you, recently?” Some meetings are filled with silence. That’s ok, too. Sometimes (most of the time?) we don’t have all the answers.
“The opportunity to tell our story opens us to hear God’s story more deeply – God’s presence and participation in our lives and in the life of the world. In God all human stories connect and when we participate in spiritual direction, we seem to notice more of the connections.”
It’s also not exclusively Christian and there’s no particular denominational affiliation. Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and other eastern religions can practice spiritual direction.
“Spiritual direction is a way of companioning people as they seek to look closely, through the eyes of their hearts, at the guidance and transforming work of God in their lives. It’s a practice that began in the early years of Christianity when people followed the desert mothers and fathers out to the wilderness to ask them how to know God. Over the years, spiritual direction has appeared in many faith traditions. It was kept alive in the Christian faith mainly through the Roman Catholic Church, but today the Protestant church is rediscovering it. People throughout the Christian church, including those of an evangelical orientation, are experiencing again the gifts that God gives to his people through the loving listening and the gentle guidance of spiritual directors.”
What does this mean for me?
Have you wondered where God is leading or inviting you? Do you have questions regarding faith or spirituality? Do you feel confident in your faith life, but might be curious for a new approach or perspective? Are you interested in new approaches to prayer or spiritual disciplines? Do you have a desire to nurture your soul?
If you felt drawn to one or any number of these questions, spiritual direction is for you!
Looking for other spiritual formation resources?
This was a brief introduction, so just in case you’re still curious: