Still Sneaking Tampons: Christian Women & Womanist Theology


Still Sneaking Tampons

(excerpt from Theology of the Womb: Knowing God Through the Body of a Woman)

 

It is the last blazing hot weekend in the Pacific Northwest, and our annual church camping trip is nestled in a large campground between the beautiful mountain ranges just north of Seattle. My family of four is unloading our camping gear on our chosen campsite. The kids are playing around the campground while my husband and I are putting up the new tent, miraculously without a bickering word. Our pastor’s wife and decade-old friend Cherie walks over to me and whispers in my ear, “Do you have any tampons? I just started my period.” I walk to the car and rummage through the glove compartment. I am still breastfeeding, but my period came back about a month ago, so I am pretty sure I have something stashed away. Hidden by the covering palm of my hand, I carry and pass the tampons off like a drug exchange. She has no pockets in her running clothes, so she slides them into her sports bra. We smile knowingly and continue talking about other things. My husband comments from behind an almost assembled tent, “What are you both doing?” His inquiry is playful but forthright. I am well aware he is awaiting my return and needs my help. Cherie and I giggle, and he smirks with a ridiculous comment, “Oh, well the secret is out, I am telling all the guys that Cherie is on her period.” We all laugh and begin a conversation about how women have silenced and hidden their menstrual cycles for decades. The conversation becomes insatiable as we exchange countless stories back and forth about embarrassing moments around our bleeding that we have carried silently for years. As thirty-seven-year-old women, we have each birthed three babies, yet the conversation of our period is still so quiet. We tiptoe around the subject as if it will infringe upon others to know that we are on our periods. I consider this silence throughout the weekend, I wonder why I feel so embarrassed about something so natural and normal. Even at a church function, with my closest friends and women I have walked alongside through pregnancies, how is it there isn’t much of a theology tied to our bodies? In particular, our wombs actually invite us to know God as a creator in a way no other human is invited to know God. When I push past the embarrassment, I am in awe of how God is telling a story through the body of the woman and the womb which brings a soul into this world. How tragic that we have turned away from our bodies in embarrassment and hid this expression of the gospel. What we desperately need is to turn toward our bleeding and bearing bodies with kindness and curiosity and bless them. We need to study the theology that is being displayed in a woman’s womb. Thus, the birth of this book, Theology of the Womb.

Twenty-two years after my first period, I am only beginning to have open conversations about menstrual cycles. Although Cherie and I are no longer embarrassed about carrying tampons and scrounging for feminine products from each other, we are still careful to hide and keep our bleeding a secret from men and from the world. In the Bible, the stories of women mostly present imagery of the woman’s beauty as sexual, and their value is measured in terms of their reproductivity, specifically, as it applies to bearing males. I have yet to read a Bible passage on a lineage that has more than one woman’s name in it. Even though it is a woman’s body that births humans, their names don’t make it into the passages on bloodlines. The few women who are named in the Bible are categorized as either virgins, promiscuous, mothers, infertile, widowed, or temple prostitutes.

My 6-year-old son Wilder and 4-year-old daughter Selah have had many questions throughout their childhood, seeking to deepen their understanding of dominance between gender; who is where on the food chain sort of questioning. Whether in public or private, with friends or strangers, t.v. shows, or sporting events, they would root for the person who was their same gender. Often male competitors were more prominent in sports, and their wins would leave my daughter in tears, to her brother’s delight. Selah would often ask me, “Mom, where are all the girls?” I have often asked myself the same questions, usually when reading the Bible. Biblical women prided themselves on birthing males for their husbands, even though, physiologically, it is the man’s sperm that determines the sex of the child. The patriarchal era of men being better than women is slowly fading, allowing for some advocacy for equal worth amongst all humankind, regardless of gender or skin color. We can still see this mindset lingering globally, as China’s one-child policy has only recently changed to a two-child policy; civil rights laws are only decades old; refugee and gender laws are still controversial.

So, when my daughter asks “Where are all the women?”, and the Biblical text has no female Deity, I am left wondering. A Biblical woman’s reproductivity is often seen as their dominant career or calling, and their menstrual cycles as something to be avoided.

Scripture literally mandates that a menstruating woman must ‘go outside of the city and live in the ‘unclean tent’. That’s not exactly the type of body-positive message I had hoped to receive from my Creator, nor do I  know how to explain this to my daughter. The text of Leviticus 15, for example, reads with terminology such as, “When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge in her body is blood, she shall be in her menstrual impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. And everything on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean. Everything also on which she sits shall be unclean. And whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening.”[1] Go ahead and try to feel good about yourself and your period after reading that verse. No wonder Cherie and I are still asking for tampons in secret at the age of thirty-seven; we have been conditioned to feel shame around the most common and normal activity of our uteruses…Menstruation.

While the Old Testament serves an important purpose in telling the story of God’s creation of and care for His people, I find many of the specific commands in books like Leviticus to be outdated and difficult to apply to my own life. When we as Christian women look to the Bible for understanding and insight around our bodies, we are met with limited and confusing ideas. We have not been encouraged as the body of Christ to foster creativity and imagination around our sexuality or re-productivity. In our exploration of our body theology, I like to begin with the uterus: Why did God give me a uterus? Furthermore, why did He create my clitoris, vulva, menstrual cycle, vagina, and breasts? Inevitably, when answering these questions, you come to face many more questions, but we will focus on this one, for now: why did God create women to bleed, and bleed monthly at that? The word "menstruation" translates in Greek to mene or moon and in Latin as mensis or month. The menstrual cycle quite closely approximates the month and the moon’s 29.5-day synodic cycle. There are 3.8 billion women in the world, the vast majority of which will experience menstrual bleeding throughout their lives.

Of those billions of women, we ALL remember the story of the very first time we started to bleed.

Do you know the story of your uterus and bleeding?

 

Dr. Christy Bauman, Ph.D., MDFT, & LMHC is committed to helping women come into their true voice. She has a podcast entitled Womaneering and she offers story-work consulting, womaneering weekends, and marriage intensives with her husband Andrew Bauman through their organization, Christian Counseling Center for Sexual Health and Trauma. Andrew and Christy host the Therapy Shorts podcast for couples. 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, she works between her Asheville, NC, and Seattle, WA locations.


Fallen Warrior Is Not The Same As Defeated Warrior

“The fallen warrior is not the same as the defeated warrior.” 

Her voice is cheerful and unlike most of my yoga instructors in Seattle. Three months into our cross-country move, I have found myself exploring new yoga studios in the small, mountain town in Western North Carolina. The room is small and holds only six of us today, everyone is older than me and I feel hesitant to share my practice with a new demographic. 

The teacher is focusing most of the class on warrior poses which is a common entry yoga pose that builds balance and stability. The class feels pretty technical until the teacher asks us to do the fallen warrior pose. This is a new pose to me, one I have never heard of, and it requires your body to be face down with all four limbs pointing in the North, South, East, and West directions at one time. From an aerial view, the body takes the shape of a compass with arms and legs positioned in the cardinal directions. 

At this point in the class, I am struggling to finagle my way into the fallen warrior position, I keep peeking around at others in the class to see if my form looks similar. As I awkwardly set into my best attempt at a fallen warrior, I realize it feels vulnerable. My focus turns to breathe into the pose when she says the words, “fallen warrior is not the same as defeated warrior”, and the tears sting my eyes. 

In the global world, I have watched Ukraine’s infrastructure be bombed and destroyed, with refugees forced from their homes, and citizens remaining to defend. I think about the fallen warrior pose, to lay one’s body down as a compass directing the cardinal points. I think about the idea of fallen versus defeated. The verse, “Blessed are the ones who fight for justice”. 

As I lay there in fallen warrior, I whisper the lyrics from Common Hymnal, “Blessed are the ones who suffer violence and still have the strength to love their enemies, blessed is the faith of those who persevere, though they fall, they’ll never know defeat.” 

God, be with those in Ukraine. 


The Work of Celebration: Three Kings Day & King Cake Traditions

The Work of Celebration: Three Kings Day & King Cake Celebrations

 

Their thumbs and forefingers drop purple, green, and gold dyed sprinkles on top of the warm, liquid glaze. My kids have been waiting after hours of measuring, mixing, kneading, and baking to get to this moment, the decorating.

“What do the colors stand for again, mom?” She is trying to memorize all the information to present her king cake to her classroom tomorrow. “Purple stands for justice, green represents faith, and gold symbolizes power; legend says these were the colors of the jewels in the king’s crowns.”

I answer as she continues to spread sprinkles half-listening but also dreaming about eating this traditional delicacy.

“And what’s the story again?” Her questions continue and I turn my attention from baking to storytelling.

Long ago, before we celebrated Christmas with ornaments on trees, stockings, or presents from St. Nicholas, the tradition of king cakes marked the Magi who traveled to see Jesus. The Wise Men, or the Three Kings, who traveled to baptize baby Jesus' journeyed for years following the stars as their map, because they didn’t have GPS. The three Magi were named Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar and in many other cultures around the world, people celebrate the day the three kings finally made it to Jesus and baptized the newborn king. This day, normally celebrated on January 6th each year, is referred to as Reyes, The Twelfth Night, Three Kings Day, Epiphany, Timkat, Little Christmas, or Denha. These cultures celebrate by gathering as a family, exchanging small gifts, taking down your Christmas decorations, and baking sweet bread or king cakes.

My daughter interrupts my story, “Why do they make king cakes?”

The story goes that the three kings had traveled so long, they had to ration food because the journey took years longer than they intended. They were weary and almost hopeless when they finally found out they were one day’s walk from meeting Jesus. As a way to celebrate their journey’s completion, they took out all the food they had left and “feasted” because they no longer had to ration, they had found their King. The next day when they walked into the town Jesus was staying in, the children put out grass and cakes on the road to welcome their coming. The grass was laid to feed their weary and hungry donkeys, and the sweet cakes were celebrating the completion of the Magi’s long journey and the baptism ceremony for Jesus.

“Is that why we put a small, plastic baby in the king cakes?” Her question makes me smile.
“Yes, and the tradition has it whoever gets the baby in their piece of cake must bring the king cake at the next gathering.”

We are all quiet for a few minutes. I hand out the plastic babies and each child finds a secret place underneath their king cake to insert the small doll. I try to imagine Mexico’s traditional mile-long Rosca de Reyes bread that feeds over 200,00 people who gather to celebrate. I am overwhelmed by making a king cake for each of my children’s classrooms and worldwide there are king cakes created miles long filled with as many as 7,000 dolls inside the pastry.

There are some Guinness World Records held for king cakes, such as chefs from La Universidad Vizcaya de las Americas were awarded the Guinness record for the longest Rosca de Reyes bread in the world. Measuring at 2,065.43 meters, the lengthy traditional bread beat the previous world holder for the longest loaf, which was Switzerland. Carlos Tapia of Guinness World Records for Latin America verified the length of the bread and its new world record, noting that the previous record held by Switzerland measured in at 973.24 meters. Haydel’s Bakery created a king cake that completely circled the United States, Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, weighing 4,075.7 lbs | 1,847.68 kg with a circumference of 2,643 feet.

“And why is Mardi Gras the last day we can eat king cakes?”

Mardi Gras, which is French for “Fat Tuesday” is the day before Ash Wednesday, it is the last day we can celebrate before we go into fasting or penance. It is our last day of celebration before we get ourselves ready for Easter. My daughter doesn’t skip a beat when she responds to my answer with, “phew, it takes a lot of work to celebrate big.”

I smile. “Yes my darling, it takes a lot of work to celebrate well. Now, let’s go celebrate while there is still time.”


The Liberated Female - Christy Bauman, PhD

 

“So long as the feminine is unconscious,

dependent on the masculinity that is dependent on her,

the psychic constellation is incestuous -

mother bound to son and daughter bound to father.”

-Marion Woodman, Leaving My Father’s House

 

“I hope your session goes well and you feel liberated.”

 

My husband's words are intended to be kind. I have a therapy session with our beloved mentor and it is coming on the heels of my almost mental breakdown this past month. When we sold our house and moved as a family of five from the Pacific Northwest to Asheville, North Carolina it was possibly the best financial decision we will make in our lives. What we weren’t ready to encounter was that this decision was possibly the worst emotional decision for me personally. It would take me twelve nights of dry heaving and panic attacks to muster my way through as we drove cross country to my husband’s hometown where we had purchased a house in cash from the gains of our Seattle home sale.

One month in this new town, our kids settled into new schools, and our work life was much simpler. I was not as acutely manic but still thoroughly depressed. I couldn’t shake this exhaustion that overtook my body every time I thought about going into this new town and building a new life of friendships and community. Even now, as I type the words, disdain and heartache rush through my veins.

We began visiting churches and I was almost shocked to see pastors not even acknowledge me but speak solely to my husband. I had forgotten that the South holds deep in its soil the sin of misogyny. Misogyny is ingrained dislike or contempt for women. My husband was at the top of the caste system, and bar being a woman of color, being a woman was further down on the Totem Pole than it had been in the Pacific Northwest. 

My body struggled to articulate the feelings I was experiencing without letting my trauma hijack the conversation. It was this invisible energy that weighed on me when I walked in stores, engaged other women in town, and talked with Christian men who grew up dismissing women for their gender. This move for us was a very good move for my husband and a very bad move for me. My husband is a white, Christian male from this state. He could be a progressive liberator in the Northwest and could be assumed as a good ole boy in the South. Whether or not he chose to be, he knew a language that I had only learned a few phrases of.

In 2021, a census was conducted over the 50 states showing the top states to live in for women’s economic and social well-being and women’s health and safety. The top 30 states are in the North, and the top 10 are in the Northeast. While the most unhealthy, underpaid, and at-risk states for women to live in were all in the South, the lowest being Mississippi, Texas, South Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Alabama. These statistics showed women were paid less, endured higher accounts of being raped or murdered, and were undereducated in the South. Sadly, for me, I moved from #7 in Washington to #35 in North Carolina.

My husband is a good guy, and I believe he wants me to succeed but my past trauma from men triggers me to question all men’s intent. I knew it was my trauma that made me question my husband’s goodness but it still felt paralyzing. Even for the liberated female, she must still be in a relationship with a male-dominant world. I have a list of good men I keep tucked in my top dresser drawer who I know I can trust but I am also bound to those men to ameliorate me when my trauma sends me to a place of regression.

My husband and I agree, I should call Dan.

Days before the session, I realize that I want to ask Dan if my husband Andrew is a good man. Immediately after I conjure the thought, I know I can not give Dan that much power. Here I am a woman, looking for a man to tell me what I need to know within myself. “You must answer that question yourself.” It is almost as if God’s audible voice beckons me. Without hesitancy, I whisper aloud, “yes, my husband is a good man but he hasn’t been gentle with my wounded places”.

As quickly as I am aware of my trauma from misogyny and patriarchy, I feel a rush of sadness wash over me. I return to what I have come to know is most true, I don’t have control and I must grieve what I can not change. It isn’t but seconds when Dan’s beautiful, Jewish face fills the desktop screen that I relax. A man I trust. We smile and take each other in, I know he sees me.

“Dan, will I ever be free from men’s reign on this earth in my lifetime?”

Dan smiles tenderly and doesn’t waste time, “We both know the answer is no.” For some reason, tears don’t come like I imagined they would. It was all I needed to be seen and understood. He was right.

 

I, a woman, will never be free of a man’s world.

 

“Christy, you have moved to the South, slavery is in soil and even deeper, the ancient sin of misogyny. You have returned to your father’s house.” Finally, his words were making all my invisible angst visible. It wasn’t only my trauma that had me spinning, I had moved back to the South, the very birthplace of misogyny in the United States. If slavery is the reduction of humanity based on skin color, misogyny is a reduction of humanity based on gender.

All women engage in the rite of passage to leave their father’s house. My father’s house is the symbol of a girl’s journey into womanhood, she must leave her father’s reign and become her own. Yet, the patriarch is such a historical filter the woman can never truly become her own without being marked by male impact. Eve came from Adam, a woman came from a man. The very act of taking my father’s name and then changing it to take on my husband’s name is a symbol of that continued oppression.

Even if I could somehow free myself in surname, in financial inequities, or in sexual relationships, the male dominance is still pulsing through our media, our presidencies, an umbrella of power and control. In the United States, women have yet to break the glass ceiling in politics, we represent less than a quarter of the Senate and House of Representatives. Women have yet to take the title of Madame President. 

Looking at Dan, I feel hope. The answer is not to unleash my wrath on men, it also would not alleviate the issue if I run from men and refuse relationships with them. Sure, I can change my name, own my own land, get my own education, but all those decisions would not change the fact that I can not break the ingrained misogyny that prevails.

Ugh.

Only men can do that.

I am at the mercy of men recognizing their sin and changing their hearts to people under their regime.

Dan says quietly, “your only hope is to have a husband who sees your grief and grieves alongside you.” Even in my marriage, I need my husband to see me. In a sense, he holds the power that I wish could be eradicated from the female world. As we say goodbye, I resolve in my heart that I will live my life in a relationship with men using my liberated female voice - one which sounds like a tender revolution of honesty, strength, and love.


Navigating Healthy Conflict with Parents and their Adult Kids

Adult Parenting

 

If 70% of conflict is unresolvable, our goal is no longer resolution, but rather an experience.

I am sitting in my favorite Seattle coffee shop, one where there are only three types of coffee offered because the snobby-ness is 'mucho' high here in the Seattle coffee world. I have decided that I will need to revisit my favorite alternative milk due to feeling bloated all the time. So I am on my third 8oz, decaf latte...the winner being oat milk over soy and almond. I am typing away frivolously when a father and son sit down next to me and their conversation takes over my workspace. The father is obviously broaching a hard conversation and I can’t help but continue to listen after I hear the nature of their conversation.

Dad: “Do you think mom and I shouldn’t come out anymore to visit you?” 

Son: “I think it is just easier for our family to visit you in L.A. because it is stressful to have you visit us.” 

Dad: “I think we could just stay somewhere else when we come to visit and it will be better, I mean, you didn’t clean your house at all, so obviously you weren’t able to prepare for us. Don’t you still have that house cleaner? Maybe they can come the week before we visit?” 

Son: “Dad, it is easier if I just come visit you and we can avoid conflict.” 

Dad: “Or we could talk through it and get past these conflicts so that we can visit more often.” 

Son: “The conflict hasn’t changed in 17 years, so we should just do what is easiest.” 

Dad: “We also wanted to talk about the weight you have been gaining. Your mom and I are worried and I just want to tell you what I did to lose weight.” 

At this point, as a therapist who has done more family therapy sessions than I care to talk about, I have stopped working and I am actively listening to this father as he broaches these hard conversations with his disinterested son. 

Being the parent of young children, I have a healthy fear for what the future holds when we have adult kids. Who will they marry? How will we get along with their new family dynamics? I just hold my breath listening to this father talking with his son. It is actually impressive to have a father so forthright and willing to be in awkward conversations even if they lean toward helicopter parenting. The father and son transition through the hard topics and laugh as they move into a more enjoyable conversation about societal popstars. I pack up my things and feel thankful for this interruption. It is really sweet to see that parents still care so much for their kids. They are willing to take on the hard topics even if they don’t tactfully know-how.

 

There are a few ways I have seen parents and adult children have good, hard, constructive conversations:

1. Schedule a specific time where both parties aren't going to be interrupted.

2. Begin the conversation slowly with each person taking a turn to say what they appreciate about the other.

3. Allow the person with the longest holding complaint or concern to go first. When the person sharing the complaint or concern is finished, have the other reflect back on what they heard and ask if they feel heard.

4. After the first to share feels heard, allow the other to take a similar turn.

5. End the time by looking into each other's eyes and thanking them for sharing in this hard conversation with them.

 

If 70% of conflict is unresolvable, our goal is no longer resolution, but rather an experience. The goal of the conversation is to experience intimacy and respect with each other rather than agreement.  We must stretch ourselves to hear the other and get to know them in what they are sharing rather than convincing them. The parent-child relationship must grow and mature just like any other relationship if it wants to stay healthy.

 

More information at christiancc.org

Dr. Christy Bauman, Ph.D., MDFT, & LMHC is committed to helping women come into their true voice. She has a podcast entitled Womaneering and she offers story-work consulting and marriage intensives with her husband Andrew Bauman through their organization, Christian Counseling Center for Sexual Health and Trauma. 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


The Silenced Voice: The Godly Female Voice Has Been Under Attack

Reposted from Red Tent Living 

 

“I hate being a pastor’s wife. My experience from the church has been a re-enactment of my own past trauma,” she says with a trembling voice.

 

I remain quiet, holding the tension for a bit longer. 

“How will you take your power back from this re-enactment?” I ask with curiosity. 

 

This client is one of twelve pastor’s wives that I work with within my practice. Their stories are all different, but their experience in the church is hauntingly similar. This pastor’s wife has just completed her Master's of Psychology and two years of her own therapy. She is weeping that she may have to leave the church altogether. My heart hopes to help salvage her relationship with herself and God. I long to invite her to bring her voice to her role as a pastor’s wife. 

 

“Why don’t you ask your husband if you can teach a series on psychology and the church?” I ask.

 

My question is met with a heavy silence. She looks up at me, her eyes wide with bewilderment. She has never thought of teaching at her own church. I have to restrain my frustration at another brilliant and highly-educated woman who has remained silent in the Western church culture. Sadly, we both know the answer. Although her husband would welcome her voice and expertise, her gender would never be invited by their congregation to the pulpit.  

 

The most common complaint of middle-aged women in my practice is a lack of knowing their life’s calling and using their voice in this world. Research shows us that a woman who has not established a strong self-identity will struggle to feel self-worth and fulfillment. The number one indicator of a woman's well-being is her level of self-identity, and the second indicator is the community that bears witness to her life. In short, self-awareness and friendships are vital to wellness. 

 

Many women have been raised in an objectifying society, and most Christian women have been groomed to be subordinate by Western patriarchal culture. The female has been unconsciously named through a patriarchal reading of Scripture as the “weaker vessel”, “taken from the rib of a man”, or taught that she is to not speak, teach, or preach in church. This narrative, coupled with objectifying media that reduces women down to their body image as a measure of worth, has left many women without the most important tool for success-- self-identity. The godly female voice has been under attack as the pyramid of power often looks like God, male pastor, husband, wife, and children. Regardless of whether you hold complementarian or egalitarian beliefs, the psyche of the woman is not well in our Christian society. 

 

The Western Christian church has a history of male dominance. As Mike Cosper states in his podcast The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, “The church seemingly is more comfortable to be led by misogynistic leaders.” Spiritual trauma shows up deeply ingrained in women who believe they must serve the male voice in their life rather than show up individuated and require from it. In the Creation story, the female has deemed the “helpmate” to men, which translates in Hebrew as “savior” to men. The objectifying lens on our Christian narrative implies to both males and females that women are subordinate to men. This ingrained belief keeps women from naturally seeking their own self-identity and ultimately keeps them from knowing their voice in the Christian world. 

 

My client is looking at me in silence, but her eyes have shifted from sadness to disbelief.

“Have I really been serving a church for 24 years that doesn’t believe in my voice?” she asks. 

 

Internalized sexism is one of the women’s greatest betrayals. Women find that they have come to participate in the misogyny that has spiritually traumatized them. While the lack of female voices in the church is tragic, it doesn’t break my heart as much as the disconnect that happens in women’s spiritual relationships with God. 

 

When we illuminate the spiritual abuse that has been perpetuated onto women in the Western church, we begin to see the Christian female name her own distance with a male-dominant God. I have found the plight of a woman is untangling and individuating herself from men. First, she must do the work to leave her father’s house, such as a daughter finding freedom from her father’s ownership of her. Second, she must engage Genesis 3:16 that “she will long for her husband and he will rule over her.” Spiritual trauma shows up deeply ingrained in women who believe they must serve the male voice in their life rather than show up differentiated and bring their whole self to the relationship. 

 

At the end of our session, my client thanks me for our time. As she opens the door to leave, she turns and looks at me,

“I know what I must do now. I must use my voice.”

 

Dr. 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, and adjunct professor who focuses on the female body, sexuality, and theology. Christy is co-director of the Christian Counseling Center for Sexual Health and Trauma with her husband Andrew. They live in Seattle with their three kids: Wilder, Selah, and River.


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.

The Beginning of the End

This is reposted from Red Tent Living, the original publication can be found here.

I am sitting in my car outside a speak-easy bar in downtown Fort Worth, I am mesmerized by the sound of rain falling methodically on my windshield. Because I am twenty minutes early and nervous, I pull out my poem and scan the words, trying to memorize any phrases I have forgotten. As a young woman denied the opportunity to teach at church or in seminary classes because of my gender, I often go to spoken-word events on weekends to practice “preaching.” The spoken word community is very different from the run-of-the-mill church crowd. People of all color, gender, culture, sexuality, and spiritualities congregate to lay down a spoken word. I walk into the low-lit bar and find a table. Although I recognize a few people from the spoken word community, I don’t know anyone enough to say hello. 

The night is nerve-racking for me, as poets get up and share, I continue to sit in my seat, holding the wrinkled paper in my hands, my heart-penned words waiting to be heard in an attempt to be understood. A beautiful, large Black woman gets up, and her voice echoes through the still room like a cacophony of emotions. She moves her body and her hands in a rocking sway as she

recites a story of gang rape. Her words are enrapturing and make me cringe, yet I choose to hold what she is offering, a part of her story for us. The crowd is in awe; tears fall and praise goes up until the room is once again quiet and the stage empty. The lonely microphone beckons me. I stand up, walk to the stage, voice shaking, and begin...

“My family owns slaves. I am a slave owner, and I am not sure what to do with the racism I have inherited...”

The Black woman who spoke before me looks up from her phone, her ebony eyes are patient with my white fragility. My voice cracks and I continue, pressing in harder, past my shame. I want to free my soul until I find my full voice. I continued...

“Her name was Yola, she cared for me from birth through college, I was closer to her than my own grandmother.”

Growing up in a small town in Southern Louisiana, I was lumped into the “ignorant” culture as I was of Cajun descent; however, even my low-class status yielded me, slaves. My great-grandmother, grandmother, and my own mother all had black women in their homes to care for their house and kids. These black women mothered me. It wasn’t until I received an email during my college years that told me of my dear Yola’s death that I realized I was her slave owner.

There is something terrible about the fear of being misunderstood. At our core, we want to be known.

My uncle had sent word that she had died, and our family had sent flowers as an act of condolence. I did not attend her funeral. Although I would have been allowed, I was not invited.

After Yola died, I discovered that I did not really know her. In fact, I did not actually know her full name—Leola; she had always gone by a family nickname. I also did not know that she had thirteen children, for I had never met any of them. These brutal realizations made me realize I was not her beloved, but rather, I was her work. My relationship with Leola was situated in a hierarchy—my family paid her less than $3 an hour to take care of everything in my grandmother’s home, including me. The death of Leola was the beginning of the unveiling of my inherited racism. It would take a year after her death, but I would make my way—alone—to her grave. I wept, apologized, and sang the song she always sang to me when she rocked me in her arms. 

 

“Oh freedom, ooooh freedom, oh freedom over me. And before I’ll be a slave, I will be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord and be free.”

 

White fragility is defined as the discomfort and defensiveness on the part of a white person when confronted with information about racial inequality and injustice. Racism is not disproved by niceness. Austin Channing Brown, author of I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, explains,

“When you believe niceness disproves the presence of racism, it’s easy to start believing bigotry is rare, and that the label racist should be applied only to mean-spirited, intentional acts of discrimination. The problem with this framework—besides being a gross misunderstanding of how racism operates in systems and structures enabled by nice people—is that it obligates me to be nice in return, rather than truthful.”

My love and close proximity with Leola do not discredit my racism. I inherited my family’s systemic structure of racism and slavery. I no longer want Black people to coddle me; I want to build a stronger muscle than white fragility. I want to build a stronger faith than the limited one I have inherited of oppression. Standing in the dimly lit bar in downtown Ft. Worth, I muster all the courage I have to finish that poem.

“Thank you, Black grandmothers, thank you, Black mothers, thank you, Black women, for seeing me and mothering me, a slave owner.”

I finish the poem; there is no roar from the crowd, just a few snapping fingers can be heard. There are nods of acknowledgment at my courage as a few other white people stand up from their seats and bow their heads with ownership of their own racism. When the night ended, I stood outside putting my rain jacket on before running to my car, the Black female poet was standing there smoking a cigarette. “Thank you for your poem,” I said, “truly, your words will stay with me for many years.” She smiled, blew out her smoke, and paused before saying, “your courage will stay with me as well.”

 

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 in Seattle with their three kids: Wilder, Selah, and River.


Self-Care During the Pandemic: A Budget-Friendly Guide for Women

The pandemic has changed the lives of countless women around the world. Before the pandemic, women held the majority of the jobs in the food, hospitality, and tourism industries — all of which were hard hit by the pandemic. Beyond grappling with the economic effects of the pandemic, women have also had to take on new roles at home. Given the increased demand for your time and mental energy, practicing self-care is more important than ever right now.

 

One great way to care for yourself is by working with a therapist who specializes in women’s health and well-being, like Christy Bauman. Keep reading to learn what else you can do to feel your best during the pandemic — without blowing your budget!

 

Get Active

 

As Verywell Mind explains, exercise is an effective form of stress relief that can have a very positive impact on your mood. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the pandemic, bumping up your activity levels could be a great way to cope. Pick up running, hiking, or cycling. Getting outdoors is always best, but if you feel safer staying close to home, try following some at-home workout videos in your living room — there are plenty of free routines you can find on YouTube, as well as fitness apps that cost little to nothing.

 

Treating yourself to new athletic apparel can help you get motivated for your new exercise routine. For example, a new pair of leggings or a workout tank from Lululemon will make you feel beautiful and confident as you venture outside for an exercise session. Search online for Lululemon coupons before shopping so you can save money and stick to your budget.

 

Eat Well

 

Eating well goes hand in hand with regular exercise. Eating healthy, nutrient-packed foods will keep your blood sugar stable so you can enjoy consistent energy and emotional stability throughout the day. This will make it much easier to stay calm when your spouse or children leave unwashed dishes in the sink. Good nutrition will also improve your mental focus so you can plug away at your remote job, despite all of the distracting things going on around you. 

 

Eating healthy can even help you save money. Steer clear of pre-packaged products and stick with fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. You’ll be surprised how affordable healthy eating really is when you shop smart and cook everything from scratch.

 

Go to Bed Early

 

Alongside healthy eating and exercise, sleep makes up the third pillar of health. It’s also one of the most overlooked elements of a healthy lifestyle. If you’ve been taking on additional roles around the house during the pandemic, there’s a good chance your sleep is suffering. But getting enough sleep every night is vital to stress management, emotional coping, mental focus, and more. 

 

Thankfully, you don’t have to splurge on expensive sleep gadgets or a fancy mattress to improve your sleep. Sticking to a regular sleep schedule — even on weekends — is the best way to fall asleep quickly and wake up more easily in the morning. Better yet, get outside in the sunlight immediately after waking to reset your body’s internal clock.

 

Spend Some Time Alone

 

With everyone stuck at home, it’s hard to find time for ourselves. But a little alone time here and there can do your mental health a lot of good. Women are all too familiar with the feeling of being needed, and while this is often a wonderful thing, it can get old after a while. Running around, tending to everyone can cause you to lose sight of your own needs. Carve out some time for yourself to take a solo walk, go for a drive, relax in a hot bath, or lock yourself in the bedroom with a book. You don’t have to spend a dime to give yourself some much-needed attention.

 

Pick Up a New Hobby

 

Making time for a personal hobby is a fantastic way to disconnect from the demands of life and practice self-care. Fortunately, the pandemic is a great opportunity to pick up affordable hobbies you can do from home. Find a used guitar and learn how to play, try soap making, rehab your furniture, or start an indoor herb garden — your options are nearly endless! Pouring your heart into something you’re excited about can be a breath of fresh air during the monotonous days of the pandemic.

 

The importance of self-care during COVID-19 cannot be overstated. Exercise, eat healthy foods, get enough sleep, and make time for things that matter to you. Whether you’re caring for a household full of kids or you’re still getting the hang of remote work, finding ways to care for your mental well-being will help you cope as we ride out the rest of the pandemic.

 

Do you need to talk to someone? Christy Bauman can help you identify your needs and learn how to live more fully. Check out the website to learn more!

 

For more information about Cheryl and Wellness Central, click here.