Jenny Castro is communications associate and coordinator for the Women in Leadership Project for Mennonite Church USA.
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.