Womaneering Podcast: the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill

In this episode of Womaneering podcast, Tracy Johnson and Christy Bauman discuss the episode “What We Do To Women” from the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill podcast. Trigger warning: there is a lot of open conversation about spiritual abuse and dominance on women by misogyny and violent men in power.

 

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/womaneering/id1556620322?i=1000533354745


The Mystery of Funerals

The thick, rope-like straps across my high-heel sandals broke just like my cry spilling out in anguish when I saw his body in the casket. I ignored my limping ankle and continued toward the front of the viewing room. I was glad to see all the flowers surrounding him and amidst my thumping steps, I placed the small, 1945 black-and-white photo of my grandmother in his lapel suit pocket.

I couldn’t look at his face, it didn’t look like him, rather a wax statute you might find in a Ripley’s Believe it or Not. I was thankful his body looked so fake, so different than how he had looked alive just days before.

Physician Duncan McDougall proved in 1907 that there is a physical weigh difference of 21.3 grams after someone dies. It is believed to be the weight of the soul. It was so clear that my grandfather was no longer in his body and his soul had departed to another realm.

When they wheeled his coffin into the cathedral, I was flooded with the memories in my home town’s Catholic church. My grandparents were married here at 8am on October 24th in 1946. My sister and I sang in this same cathedral for their 50th wedding anniversary, and for the funerals of our great-grandparents. Our family history is wall-papered in these majestic walls.

Not growing up Catholic, I only came for those special events. It felt overwhelming to be walking into this cathedral where my grandfather was married and now buried.

The funeral begins, I desperately try to make it upstairs to the choir loft without my broken, super-glued shoe making too much noise. My sister and I sang but this time our voices beautifully crack under emotion anointing the sacredness of sorrow.

As we fist bump coming down the windy stairs with tears in our eyes, my sister says, “Awpa would have loved that we sang at his funeral.” I nod and follow her back to the front of the cathedral with my clacking shoe exposing our hushed return. My sister pulls us into a small alcove to wait until the moment of silence for the Eucharist is finished.

Immediately, my body is flooded with memories of my grandfather teaching me about these hidden pockets in cathedrals to be discreet when taking wedding photos.

Jack’s Photos was my grandfather’s photography business. In middle school, he started taking me to weddings with him as his assistant. I would set up lights and charge the batteries for the cameras and flashes. After a few weddings, I moved to be his 2nd shooter.

We probably shot over 30 weddings together. He quickly taught me where to hide inconspicuously while still getting the best angles for photos. The only mandate he ever told me was, “in a Catholic wedding, you can never take a picture when transubstantiation of the Eucharist is happening. As a zealous, non-denominational Christian, I respected the mystery of communion whether or not I fully understood it.

Twenty-five years later, standing with my sister in a side alcove in the cathedral at his funeral would I remember his lesson…we must respect the moment of transformation. The body memory washed over me reminding me that in a way my grandfather and I spent years playing hide and seek with our theology of communion, the church, and love itself.

What I believe Awpa was teach me was that we must not try to photograph the moment where the passing between life and death are in play. He suggested that one would waste their time trying to capture the invisibility of holiness.

Awpa was teaching me that a mystery is to be experienced not captured.

I stand there looking at his casket at the front of the altar, my grandmother in her wheel chair next to his body. I hear him saying, “stop and witness the mystery of death to new life.” As we make our way to the front, I step in front of the casket, I put my trembling hands on the cloth that covers him. Uncertain if it is allowed and incense lingering in my nose, I lean down and kiss his casket. Tears streaming down my face I say goodbye to his body promising to carry his lessons inside of me.

Thank you Awpa, for teaching me to stop and experience the mysteries of God rather than pick them apart in hopes of understanding them.


Marking Sorrow: An Ode to Love & Grief

 "Grief is really just love. It's all the love you want to give,
but cannot.
All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes,
the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest.
Grief is just love with no place to go."
It is quiet and dark as I creek open the screen door
I’m careful to not let it slam behind me
as the smell of their house envelops me
for what I think will be the last time with both of them alive.
familiarity closes around me like a theology of belonging,
I am home.
He is sleeping in his chair and she is in her bed.
Their hands are clasped together as they wait to see who will be taken first.
Awpa sees my silhouette in the doorway and bids me come in.
They both welcome me with such joy even in the late hour.
Their bedroom feels 40+ years comfortable to my childhood and adult body,
which automatically crawls in next to Mema at the edge of her bed.
Her warm silk nightgown is soft to my traveling body.
Her greeting is familiar,
“aww che’ my Cre-Cre”
I can tell by the frailty in her voice she has aged since I last saw her three months ago.
Awpa looks like it will not be long.
That is why we came.
The hospice nurse says she doesn’t know how long.
“It is better if you come.”
We talk for a few short minutes and then I crawl out of bed and say goodnight.
As I close the bedroom door, I hear them whispering to each other,
“goodnight sham, I love you.”
“I love you too, so much.”
With the morning comes nurses and aides, chaplains, and conversations.
We move Awpa to his chair and instead of coffee we give him oxygen.
He reaches for his rosary to say his prayers.
The circular, silver case is unclasped and lays open kissing the mahogany table,
the engraved image of the Virgin Mary peers back at me,
her arms down by her sides lay open ready to receive what is to come.
I am trying to take it all on before it will never be again.
This image of my grandfather’s morning routine that is slipping from him.
His round, short, sausage-like fingers hold the circular beads in his trembling hand as he fingers through the prayers religiously. His arms are bruised and cut from many falls in the night, he looks like a bull who has fought his way up against death and refuses to be stopped.
Slow and determined much like his breath that pumps through his aching chest. He breaks the silence.
“I am ready to go…but what about Mema?”
Death is like birth,
sometimes it comes two weeks early, and sometimes right on time.
Yet some have bent the ear of their Creator and pushed past their due date.
Death seemingly waits for my grandfather’s release because of how he holds so tightly to every moment with my grandmother.
What is this love that I see and hear whispered between their day and night?
Dehydration and a body shutting down fill the weekend hours into days.
I mentally must open my emotional medicine bag, making myself available to the act of midwifing death.
So much about the end of life is our will versus our organs and what passes through his body shows me that he is hollowed out, like his empty armchair where we would share coffee in the morning on my visits home from college.
Days turn to nights, I sleep in the living room on the couch near his recliner.
Through the night I listen for his breathing.
Sometimes he asks for help, other times he gives himself over to sleep.
Granddaughters and daughters fill the house with cooking and caring.
Grandsons configure equipment and plan to aid with aging.
He makes an upward turn and I breathe a sigh of relief.
Today will not be the end.
I kiss his cheek and make the sign of the cross on his forehead before I say goodbye.
We smile knowingly that this is not the end for us, we are forever.

Womaneering Holy Week

As we begin holy week, this conversation in womaneering podcast couldn’t have come at a better time. Tracy and I navigate what it means as women to live fully into our bodies through holy week. The theme of our conversation is around what is required for a woman to birth death and to be a doula in the life/death/life cycle. Join us please as we help you spiritually prepare to know Jesus in His crucifixion and resurrection through the body of a woman. Join us for the conversation on the Womaneering Podcast and follow us on IG at womaneering_


Everbearing: The Female Cycle & God

**Trigger Warning: There are explicit content and description of miscarriage, loss, and death.

The mist of rain falls on my unwashed hair and flannel pajamas. It is another overcast, cool morning, and the garden beds adjacent to my house have been beautifully tilled, yet I can’t stop harrowing the soil. My exhale sends a heavy cloud of condensation in the perfectly rounded out holes I am digging out. I have about twenty strawberry starters lined in a row by my rain boots, and my nails are packed with dirt. I feel wearily alive. It has been only a few weeks since my D&C procedure, this is the second miscarriage in eleven months and my body is desperate and determined to grow something that will live. So I plant each one of those strawberry plants as proof that I can keep something alive. My husband was gentle when he asked why I had spent over $300 on plants this month. It took a while to put words to but I realized that I was exhausted by so much loss and death, I wanted to surround myself with living things. The Holy Spirit is speaking to our human bodies throughout the seasons, igniting a desire in us to create. We as women are everbearing creatures, whether we want or don't want to raise children, whether our wombs are able or not able to bear children, whether we have stories of losing children, adopting or birthing children...

 

Women are everbearing creatures.

Our bodies are everbearing the cycle of life and death, our ovaries and uterus, in particular, are everbearing the cycle of hope and loss. 

We see this cycle again and again throughout Scripture. Isaiah 5 is one of my favorite examples of this. God is singing a song about what it is like as a parent to watch your son get his heart broken in his covenant relationship with human beings. 

 

[EXT]“I will sing for the one I love

  a song about his vineyard:

My loved one had a vineyard

    on a fertile hillside.

He dug it up and cleared it of stones

    and planted it with the choicest vines.

He built a watchtower in it

    and cut out a winepress as well.

Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,

    but it yielded only bad fruit.”[/EXT]

 

The verse always gives me chills.

It reminds me of the helpless parental heart which cannot make someone love their child; the futility a parent feels when their child gets their heart broken by a lost love or a lost dream. One of my favorite worship songs is entitled the Garden Song, which I imagine worship leader Jason Upton wrote after studying Isaiah 5: 

 

[EXT]“I want to build you a garden, in a dry and desert land, I’m gonna find a river there. 

For I have seen a garden grow in a land filled with injustice

 and I have heard a mother’s cry for her child to live again.

I have seen a withered soul fall like petals on the water, 

and I watched a flower grow, 

I have seen the power or resurrection, slowly rise toward the sun. 

No one knows what God has seen, 

human kind destroyed this garden, 

with bleeding hands we will plant the seeds, 

and You will make all things new again, 

God will make all things live again. ” [/EXT]

 

The process of creating a child is filled with awaiting hope, injustice, trauma, healing, celebration, longing, pain, and resurrection. It is much like this parable of the vineyard, which is a womb where God is trying to build a lush garden that gets destroyed because it is trying to grow in a fallen world. The Garden Song is a beautiful response to the brokenhearted Creator; it is a song I have tried to sing back to God in the years of my pregnancies. In the weeks of desperate waiting for a pregnancy to reach the 12-week mark, or when I have wept with blood on my hands when my baby never made it to a viable life, I have made this my prayer.

Co-creating life with God has made me a woman who has contended with faith and hope. Living through the ups and downs of a decade of reproduction, I have become a brave and wild woman who sings with faith, hope, and love. Each one of us has a birthing story, whether it is that we never had the courage to try, or we easily brought life into this world without struggle. Our birthing story tells us how we will come to the last stage of our lives, how we will lay down and die. I know my birth story and the story of my birthing years, and I will tell you this much, I will dance into my death as an autumn leaf falls to the ground.

 

I ask you to study the cyclical pattern that unfolds in your menstrual story, in your birthing years;

how do you come to the creation process?


Infertility & Loss of Hope

*This is an excerpt from the book, "Theology of the Womb", **Trigger warning: this article is about miscarriage and infertility

         Nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, little yellow birds perched in a tree, four are painted blued with life and the other seventeen painted yellow with loss. The framed picture in my sister-in-law’s living room of twenty-one birds in a tree signifies her family, 17 yellow painted birds representing her children in heaven, and 4 blue painted birds signifying her children on this earth. The verse in Ephesians is printed clearly underneath the tree which reads, “to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.”

She often remarks that abundance is different than she originally thought.

Reproduction was a long road for her, filled with years of giving herself injections, taking pills and medication for the hormonal increase, countless waiting rooms, and doctor visits. The agony of waiting and waiting to know if these embryos took, wondering if the implantations were successful. The warrior of a woman it takes to live through this process astounds me. The Proverb often comes to mind when faced with a longing unfulfilled, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” How many sick hearts I have encountered over the years. My own sick heart at many seasons in my life, but the heart of a woman who longs for children and cannot have them has been one of the sickest hearts I have ever known.

The women I have seen for therapy or done life through seasons of infertility, miscarriage, or a child’s death have been the heaviest of hearts. Infertility is referenced as the “shriveled womb” in the Bible, and I would even explain it more as a shriveled heart. The incapability of creating a child within you, if it is a desire you have, is devastating. Women and medicine have become desperate and brave by seeking alternative means such as in vitro fertilization or IVF, in which the art of creating children becomes a science. I feel deep gratitude for science allowing women to get pregnant while realizing the cost of co-creation with God through a petri dish is daunting at best.

Pelvic floor specialists report that trauma held in the pelvic floor due to traumatic D&Cs and births are prevalent. Research states that over 90 percent of women who undergo surgeries in their abdomen will have scar tissue problems, because “the female pelvis contains a remarkable array of structures, responsible for myriad complex processes. It is situated in an area of the body that is vulnerable to injury, accessible to objects from the external environment, and susceptible to infection. When structures in the pelvis heal, they can become bound by adhesions...causing pain and dysfunction.”

 

Our wombs are sensitive and powerful, fashioned by the Creator to bear witness to the complexity of creation...

Do not be fooled, the invitation to create is one of agony and glory.

 

Do not be fooled, the invitation to create is one of agony and glory, sometimes found in a petri dish and other times in sacred acts of intimacy. We must honor the process of healing when the womb is harmed for it is our sanctuary made up of that which is most holy.

When we bleed, whether years of infertility or miscarriage, something is being shed. Whether it is the potential for life, or life itself, it is being shed and we have nothing we can do at that moment but to stare down the invitation to mock death. I have feared death too long, fear only can be immersed in perfect love. I have few choices while on earth but one I do have in the face of loss and death is to choose to weep honorably and love deeper than I choose fear. I weep for injustice, I weep for loss, I weep for the pain of hope, the discipline of waiting, the ache to birth, and grief of death. I imagine God, receiving this gift of mine, whether is my blood, my low-grade eggs, an undeveloped fetus; whatever I am offering, it is a gift, my attempt to desire and create life. Can you see God asking you to carry the futility? That may look different for you depending on your story: maybe God is asking to continue trying to create or to let go of life not created. This intimate, sacred, painful image is my kindest, most loving thoughts. My fears being drowned by perfect love. There is an aftermath for the body that continues to attempt to create and remains infertile. 

Postpartum is not only for the woman who has had babies but also for the post-partum for the infertile woman.

Postpartum refers to the period of time for the mother after the birth and the postnatal care of the baby, it involves the sharp drop in the hormones progesterone and estrogen, which contribute to feeling tired, depressed, and sluggish. Postpartum, in particular to postpartum grief, is only recently being addressed in the medical world. The range of emotions in a woman after childbirth or child loss oscillates between longing attachment and bliss to protective nightmares and panic-ridden anxiety. The mother's brain shifts as the gray matter become more concentrated. We see changes in the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and all the regions of the brain that control empathy, social interactions, and anxiety. When a woman is in recovery from infertility, miscarriage, or birth, one must be aware that it is hard to explain what is happening in the brain and the healing process of postpartum. It is helpful to engage anyone in a season of postpartum with curiosity and care through this transition period. 

Loss and grief have many symbolic similarities to birth, and in many ways, we give birth to death. In the aftermath of a loss, the burial process has looked, to me, a lot like postpartum grief. Postpartum is different for everyone, and I think the same is true with postpartum grief. Often after one has a baby we ask the question, “How was the birth?”. The same is appropriate for the postpartum griever; we should ask, “How was the death? How was the miscarriage? How was the attempt amidst infertility?”. Whether death is difficult and painful or worthy of the celebration of reaching eternal life is dependent on the details of the death, much like the details of birth. How did one come to die? Were they sick or in pain? Was there family nearby? Did they get to say goodbye to everyone they desired or were they taken too quickly? Was it accidental, intentional; timely, expected? These answers don’t tell us whether one should grieve more or less around this loss, rather it gives us details of how the person grieving might encounter the next few months of postpartum grief.  

With the "shriveled womb" of infertility, we must be people who come alongside and be curious about the "sick heart" of the infertile woman and how her post-partum is affecting her heart, body, and mind.

 


Good Men

This article has been reposted from Red Tent Living, original publication can be found here.

I open my top drawer and fumble under my socks and bras until I feel the folded notebook paper. The edges are worn down and smudged, but it is the only piece of paper hidden away, so I know it is the list. As I unfold the decade-old page, I feel secretive and young, looking at the names. My timeless handwriting has titled this piece “Good Men.” 

I remember when I first started this list. I had left a therapy session in which I realized my predominant relationship with men was as their intellectual prostitute. Historically, my role with pastors in ministry, my role with my father’s intimacy issues, and my role with male friendships would default to my being used for the way I thought. 

Within ministry, men would often have conversations with me about my thoughts on God. Later, I would hear my words preached from pulpits without any acknowledgment. I remember some fifteen years ago when I was in seminary, I was pulled from my elective preaching lab after four classes due to donor conflicts with female ordination. However, some of my original thoughts, spoken openly during class, were used in chapel sermons by that very professor! My voice meant nothing to these powerful men; it was used and discarded so they could feel as brilliant as me. 

As a result, my God-fearing heart began to cringe and dismiss all-male-pastor-led churches or all-white-male-led seminaries. I have been burned. Christian men have predominantly failed to be safe and good, so when I hear Ephesians 5:25, “Men, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up to death for her,” I smirk. Christian men have proven to be some of the sneakiest womanizers, objectifiers, and narcissistic abusers I know. So, how can I say that yet also say this--“I have come to love good men”?

It has taken me a long time to untangle and heal from the abuse of men in my life. It has taken me even longer to re-engage relationships with men. In the church, it wasn’t until an eight-year invitation from a pastor who welcomed my voice at the pulpit. As a result, I began to trust that Christian men wanted to hear my voice. Within my marriage, it took ten years of my husband’s sobriety from pornography until I began to trust his fidelity. The PTSD of patriarchy and objectification wrecked my amygdala. 

 

When it comes to men, I want a do-over. I don’t want to have mistrust and doubt weighing in the background of every interaction with men. 

A longitudinal study in New Zealand was done to measure the effects on women’s well-being due to exposure to objectifying culture. Objectification is the dehumanizing of a person’s humanity, stripping it down to only an object. Particularly for women, if they are raised in Western culture with stereotypical media exposure, the average female lifespan is cut short by seven years. This can be due to increased violence on women or chronic stress on the female immune system. This is what I see in my client’s eyes. After untangling their abuse, they stare at me with desperation and ask, “Are there any good men?” I adjust my stiff body and my own betrayed and recovering heart, and respond, “Yes, there are good men.” It is after those sessions when I have heard of the most horrific harm, that I unfold that paper and read aloud their names.

When I became a professional counselor focused on women’s well-being, I was repeatedly bombarded by stories of how men had harmed women. This spanned from spiritual, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, particularly by Christian male abusers. These stories gave women little hope of good men. I could feel my own story rumbling, my countertransference difficult to keep at bay. So, I started bringing my list of “Good Men” to work with me. Originally, the list started with only three names, yet over the past fifteen years, it has grown to nineteen names. It has been a long road. At times, with tears of betrayal and deep grief, I have had to erase names on this list, and at times, with trepidation to trust again, I have reinstated names. 

In a culture of systemic oppression, particularly objectifying systems are playing at large. My work to help restore women’s well-being comes at a cost--many times a war within myself to believe in male goodness. I look down at the names with tears falling, baptizing these good names I have acquired. I read them aloud, pray for their courage and continual pursuit of what is holy. Lastly, I thank these men who have spoken up against sexism, objectification, narcissism, and patriarchy. What good men you are.  

Christy BaumanLMHC is committed to helping women come into their true voice. She offers meaning-making and story work consulting. She is the author and producer of three works: Theology of the WombA Brave Lament, and Documentary: A Brave Lament. She is a psychotherapist, supervisor, adjunct professor who focuses on the female body, sexuality, and theology. Christy co-director of the Christian Counseling Center for Sexual Health and Trauma with her husband Andrew. They live part-time in Seattle, WA, and Asheville, NC with their three kids: Wilder, Selah, and River.


Womaneering 2021

This article is reposted from Red Tent Living and its original publication can be found here.

Almost through January...and I still feel tense.

As a mental health practitioner, I know that every human psyche subconsciously exhaled a little when they woke up and it was 2021. Welcome to this n-e-w year, you made it through the last one! My friend Leah says her favorite day is the first day of the month because she gets to change her calendar to a new, fresh page of empty squares to fill however she wants. I have felt my excitement for this particular day for a while now. In fact, sometime in October, during the height of my depression from the long-suffering year, my mind began to fantasize about getting to January. Yet, I am almost through the month and I still feel anxious.

Last new year, I could not have conceived what this past year would hold: COVID. Pandemic. Homeschooling. Quarantining. Lockdown. Masks. Hand sanitizer. Fear and Anxiety. No childcare. Online grocery shopping. The election. Protests and racial justice rallies. Family members dying. Siloed death, and thus, siloed grief.

As a mother, I watched my children go from a normal school day to online learning and no recess. As a therapist, last year my clients went from in-person sessions to online teletherapy, adapting to change after change. As a public speaker, I found myself canceling every event and holed up in our mountain cabin. No one could have told me the number of mental gymnastics it would take to make it through the compounded griefs and trauma bonds of 2020. A trauma bond is the misuse of fear or excitement that entangles us to another (Carnes, 2019). The inconsistencies of governing offices attempting to engage our nation as it encountered state lockdowns, racial protests, and accusations of election fraud are all traumatic bonds on a society’s psyche. The amount of time it will take to disentangle ourselves from these lived experiences is unknown. We must become people of resilience, this is the invitation of the past year.

The idea of 2021 has been so helpful for me, as I say things to my kids such as, “it’s only for this year we won’t see your cousins on holidays.” Yet, my body has felt this before, it knows that putting all my hope into the new year feels a lot like post-partum. The female body looks to the delivery of her child when getting herself through pregnancy. If you have never had a child before, you still have experienced postpartum. Postpartum is the time following any dream you have birthed into the world. We all know what it means to hope for something and the reality of it is not what we expected. Everyone can understand that postpartum may affect you long after the dream is born.

“2021 was a hope that I looked to often throughout 2020,
but I am well aware there will be a postpartum period.”

What could postpartum symptoms of 2020 look like:

Thoughts that 2021 will give immediate relief of the impacts in 2020
Overdrive to make up for last year losses
Fear, Ambivalence, or Savior-like fantasies of the COVID vaccine
Uncertainty about future pandemics
Inability to navigate the need to continue hope and waiting to be “back to normal”
Inability to concentrate or make decisions about how to move forward with the future
Excessive irritability, anger, worry, or agitation
Post-traumatic effects of global trauma bonding

Each year it takes me about a month to stop signing my checks with the previous year. This year I started practicing in November, writing the year 2021. I imagine it will be a similar undoing for our psychological health as well. We all have different ways of untangling ourselves from old patterns. Yet, today I am struck wondering how long it will take for the United States to unwind from last year?

My resolution this year is to unwind the impacts of last year. As humans who have been impacted by last year’s pandemic, we must begin by listening to stories of essential workers from the past year. What was exposed during seasons of stress and hardship? Due to quarantine, I spent a lot of time with mental health clients working through stress from patriarchy, rage, and grief from senseless deaths, marital discord, societal quarantining, and fear of isolation. All of these exposures are invitations for everyone to be curious about the potential postpartum we may feel in 2021. We know that post-trauma and post-partum do not heal well without patient and good care. So, may we as the United States of America, be curious and gentle with the post-partum we could feel as we come into 2021.

Our country has been invited into maturation and building resilience as a people group.

 

Christy BaumanLMHC is committed to helping women come into their true voice. She offers meaning-making and storywork consulting. She is the author and producer of three works: Theology of the WombA Brave Lament, and Documentary: A Brave Lament. She is a psychotherapist, supervisor, adjunct professor who focuses on the female body, sexuality, and theology. Christy co-director of the Christian Counseling Center for Sexual Health and Trauma with her husband Andrew. They live in Seattle, WA, and Brevard, NC with their three kids: Wilder, Selah, and River.


Womaneering the New Year: Engage Your Internal Critic

Phew! We made it to the end of the year.

As a mental health practitioner, I know that every human psyche subconsciously exhaled a little when they woke up this morning. New Year’s Day is here...welcome to this n-e-w year! My friend Leah says her favorite day is the first day of the month because she gets to change her calendar to a fresh page of empty squares to fill however she wants. I have felt my excitement for this particular day for a while now. In fact, sometime in October, during the height of my depression from the long-suffering year, my mind began to fantasize about this first day of the new year. It’s here now. Thank you, Jesus, in Heaven!

Last new year, I could not have conceived what this past year would hold: COVID. Pandemic. Homeschooling. Quarantining. Lockdown. Masks. Hand sanitizer. Fear and Anxiety. No childcare. Online grocery shopping. The election. Protests and racial justice rallies. Family members dying. Siloed death, and thus, siloed grief.

The amount of time it will take to disentangle ourselves from these lived experiences is unknown. Each year it takes me about a month to stop signing my checks with the previous year. This year I started practicing in November, writing the year 2021. I imagine it will be a similar undoing for our psychological health as well. We all have different ways of extricating ourselves from old patterns, yet today I am struck wondering how long it will take for the United States to recover from last year?

My resolution this year is to unwind the impact of last year. I must begin by listening to my stories from the past year. What was exposed in me during seasons of stress and hardship? Due to quarantine, I spent a lot of time in my house with my family. This magnified so many issues: my self-esteem and body image, marital discord, and fear of isolation. These exposures invite me to be curious about my own story.

Let’s choose one, self-esteem and body image.

As much as I have not wanted to make the common weight-loss resolutions, I must admit that I have for the last five years. It is hard to skirt my internal critic when I see my physical reflection. She waits for me in the hall or bathroom mirror, and she seemingly has endless time to find me in street shop glass windows. I have come to find that my internal critic sounds a lot like my mother. More so, my inner voice criticizes particularly what my mother critiques in herself. My sin is that I have come to align with this internal critic.

It is only through achieving a Ph.D. in counseling skills that I have come to acknowledge and engage my internal critic. Initially, I blamed my mom until I realized it was no longer her voice commenting on my figure; it was my own. It is now my work to become a better “mother” to myself.

Pull quote: Mothering your internal critic is the act of speaking to your most vulnerable parts with the wisdom of sage femme.

Sage femme is the wise woman, the one who is more mature and enlightened because she is your future self. My internal critic can invite the insecure parts of me to be mothered by the sage-femme. When I come to my reflection, or the reflection of this last year and how I survived it, I want to invite my internal, wise mother-voice to speak kindness and love over the critique.

The art of re-mothering is made up of tools that can tend to bleeding wounds, rebuild broken dreams, and speak words of hope. Hannah Gadsby writes, “There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself.”

Within my spiritual circles, a new year is also a time of reflection and planning, where one can choose a word to intentionally carry through the next 365 days. My word for 2021 is “womaneering.” I made up the word over a decade ago. Womaneering is the art of pioneering womanhood. I no longer want to use societal lenses to measure myself against. Amid the heartache, patriarchy, chaos, and ache of last year, I want to free myself to live into my most authentic self.

Last year reminded me that life is not certain or promised. So, good woman, as you step into this new year, ask the wise woman to speak to the vulnerable parts still reeling from a frightening and tumultuous year. Breathe deep and bless yourself, for you made it. Release yourself to freely womaneer into the most honest you.


The Woman in White: How Shame & Purity Culture Impacted My Sexuality

This article has been reposted from Red Tent Living, original publication can be found here.

This is the dress​.

I breathed the words barely above a whisper, just loud enough for my mom and best friend to hear. As I stood in front of the bridal mirror mesmerized by my reflection, I heard my mom break the awe of the moment with a quick clarifying question: “But we can get this dress in white, right?”

Although the ivory tone of the chiffon looked more expensive to me, I immediately knew why she was asking. It was important for my mother to have her daughter walk down the aisle in white to represent my chastity. Society has long symbolized the purity of the bride with a white dress. In Jewish custom, it is the father of the betrothed who gives an oath of his daughter’s virginity, but in Western Christianity, it would be my charismatic Catholic mother who would swear to my virginity with the whitest fabric she could afford.

White. What does a woman in white represent? White has historically been associated with freedom, innocence, omnipotence, and most commonly, purity. Long before the purity movement in Christianity, there was a demand for chastity; an expectation of sexual innocence placed on women that were not expected of men.

Women have come to bear the weight of wearing white.

Sexism and patriarchy have wielded shame and stigma, demanding a woman’s worth be tied to her virginity. These two evil agents of destruction have seeped into the church and ravaged its women. Anyone who allowed herself to be shamed into remaining pure until marriage was promised a happy, healthy sex life, yet psychological research shows us that a significant percentage of marriages from the purity movement is now in couple’s therapy, seeking help navigating their sexual health.
Sexual shame is the culprit.

Male Christians typically grow up learning about sex through hidden pornography use while female Christians squelch their sexuality, ascribing holiness to a lack of sexual desire. When I asked 400 of my Christian female clients how often they orgasm in heterosexual relationships, they said 10-15% of the time; and when I asked how often their male partners orgasm, the answer was 95-100% of the time.

Dr. Noel Clark defines sexual shame as internalized feelings of disgust and humiliation towards one’s own body and identity as a sexual being. For church-going women, these issues have often been narrated through patriarchal theologies, resulting in a skewed understanding of body image and sexuality. How have we allowed our bodies and our spiritual health to be defined by men? How has shame stolen our healthy, God-intended sexual arousal? Women who identify as lesbian or queer may receive a potential double dose of shame from the pulpit—first, due to their sexual orientation, and secondly, due to body image and general issues related to sexual activity.

On my wedding day, I was the only person wearing white. I felt the need for the color of my dress to symbolize the bride of Christ. My wedding day was everything I could have dreamt of, short of the cold temperature, but when we cut the cake and someone went to prepare the getaway car, I began to panic. I was crying with my bridesmaids as I changed into my exit dress. My tears were hot as I confessed my fear that losing my virginity might make me less holy in the eyes of God and others.
There is a sexual state that sexual shame from the pulpit also encourages, but it is less often spoken: asexuality, a lack of sexual attraction. It is highly common for me to hear complaints from my male clients of a significant decline in sex after the wedding night. I have heard partner after partner says, “My wife was all over me when we were dating, and now she never wants to have sex.”

That was my story too. The safety of dating meant I could do everything but have sex, and therefore, I felt safe to explore my arousal because I knew we would never consummate it until the wedding night. On the wedding night, my sexuality shifted. It has taken eleven years of marriage and therapy for me to approach sex differently, with uninterrupted eye contact with my partner and curiosity towards my own body and pleasure rather than focusing solely on my partner’s arousal.

Every day in my counseling practice, I witness clients attempting to untangle their sexual shame. Often shame has a powerful hold on the psyche, while a trauma can lessen in the brain, shame entwines itself around one’s self-esteem. Our God-given arousal cycle does not flourish in places of shame. Whenever we enter a covenant I believe God dresses us all in white, shameless, and holy.

 

 

Dr. Christy Bauman, Ph.D., MDFT, & LMHC is committed to helping women come into their true voice. She offers story-work consulting. She is the author and producer of her works: Theology of the Womb, Womaneering Perpetual Calendar, A Brave Lament, and the award-winning Documentary: A Brave Lament. She is a psychotherapist, supervisor, part-time professor who focuses on the female body, sexuality, and theology. Christy’s work can be found at christybauman.com