THE WEEPING WOMAN. Whether portrayed as Michelangelo's "Pieta," Picasso's portrait of Dora Maar, or Eurpides' Trojan Women, the image is iconic. But it's also obsolete. And has been from the very beginning.

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Woman was not created to suffer, but to celebrate.

Many may find this spiritual fact hard to believe. They'll talk of the impoverished alley or sweatshop or war zone, where terrible injustices against women are marked only by a stream of silent tears and wordless grief.

But that's not the full story, not by a long shot.

In country after country, women are making headlines with forward strides in political, social, and economic justice. They have broken down barriers to highest offices in government as well as launched innovative businesses and cooperatives to tackle intransigent poverty at the local level.

And this is just the latest record of those who, through the centuries and even in patriarchal cultures, have failed to conform to those conventional expectations of longsuffering. Their courageous lives of love have benefited not only those around them, but the larger society as well.

In Biblical times, Deborah exercised authority as a renowned judge and leader of her people. Abigail intervened in a dispute between her husband and David, deftly averting a vengeful massacre. Phoebe served as an emissary for the early Christian church, bringing St. Paul's historic letter to the Jews at Rome. In more recent times, Susan B. Anthony championed the right to vote for women in the United States, and Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in the segregated American South of 1955.

These women didn't wait for society or popular opinion to give them a green light to act. They seized the initiative in response to the needs of their day.

Something within these women resonated with a spiritual mandate, one firmly embedded in the first pages of the Bible. There, in the opening chapter of Genesis, God creates all there is, and it is completely good. Creation is an orderly progression of ideas from the simplest to the most complex. And the children of Spirit represent the sublime summit of creation: "God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (Gen. 1:27).

From the wording alone, it is clear that man—both male and female—reflects the undivided, divine essence of Spirit. Spiritual qualities are not parceled out by gender. Strength, wisdom, gentleness, compassion, conscience belong equally to men and women. All of us, without exception, reflect the immense resources, abilities, and faculties of God as Spirit. We are never deprived of the fullness of our spiritual heritage.

Sometimes, though, we can be convinced otherwise. The Adam and Eve allegory in the subsequent chapters of Genesis may have us—both men and women—buying into the "Eve curse" and punitive Deity of old theology. That fabled punishment would continue to justify women suffering everything from childbearing to reproductive cycles involving pain and disease, vulnerability to violence, and status as second-class citizens.

It takes the Christ to restore whatever we thought we lost or lacked.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than in an incident from Jesus' ministry in Galilee. On one particular Sabbath, a crowd had assembled in a local synagogue to hear this remarkable preacher. Among them was a woman afflicted with a condition that had kept her bent her over for 18 years.

Bible commentators offer various explanations of the woman's malady. Some suggest that she had severe arthritis—a physical debility; others that her body evidenced prolonged discouragement and depression—a mental affliction; and others that she represented the plight of women in that society, bowed over with burdens, neglect, and abuse—a cultural constraint. Perhaps it was something of all three.

Her situation did not escape Jesus' compassionate attention. He called the woman forward and, with a comforting hand, helped her stand up straight (see Luke 13:11–17).


What a marvelous example of spiritual restoration! After years of stooping down, she was upright at last. And she praised God, a celebration of heart and soul for the presence of divine Love she felt so tangibly at that moment.

You'd think everyone would have rejoiced with her. Instead, the ruler of the synagogue—the voice of male authority in that society—objected to this healing activity. It hadn't happened on the right day or in the right place or in the right way. There were restrictions, caveats, excuses that would keep this woman burdened and suffering.

But the redemptive message of the eternal Christ breaks through whatever would restrict men and women from the fullest expression of life in and of God. Paul reminded his fellow Christians that "there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28, New American Standard Bible). The Christ defines our relationship with God irrespective of gender, sets us on a spiritual foundation of completeness, and opens up for all of us possibilities that a solely human view of identity would preclude.

Jesus fully demonstrated the healing power of the Word to those gathered that day. The woman stood before them as indisputable proof of it. Then he pressed all of them to think through the wonderful ramifications of God's love: "Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?" (Luke 13:16, English Standard Version).

She was a daughter of Abraham, a daughter of God's covenanted promise. That promise had been restricted, not by her innate nature nor by a well-deserved curse, but by something entirely foreign to who she really was.

To grasp the full implications of Jesus' explanation, we need to understand that Satan is simply the Hebrew word for "adversary" or "accuser." The founder of this magazine, Mary Baker Eddy, defined this negative influence on human thought more broadly as whatever "opposes, denies, disputes" (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 580).

Since God is infinite and omnipotent, this negativity has no real personality or power. It's simply a deceptive way of thinking that would bind us to limitations of all kinds—physical, mental, and cultural. The corrective is found in the Christ, which unites, affirms, and resolves, completely eliminating every adverse situation and condition.

Mary Baker Eddy was another woman thinking, writing, and acting outside the conventions of her times. While sympathetic to various movements and organizations dedicated to improving the human condition, she realized in her own life and ministry that Jesus had presented to humanity the eternal Christ. And this was the great guarantor of enduring, irreversible rights for everyone.

The Christ does not rely on the fragility of political or legal institutions, or on the favor of particular leaders or mediators. It rests on divine law that cannot be overturned. More than simply adjusting the disparity of gender roles around the world, the Christ restores in human consciousness the perfect balance of male and female, which uplifts all men and all women in every country and culture.

Where does that balance originate? In God, who is simultaneously infinite Mind and eternal Love, comprehensive Truth and unwavering Principle. In her textbook on spiritual healing, Mrs. Eddy defined God in terms of this eternal balance. She wrote of "God the Father-Mother; ..." (Science and Health, p. 331). Father-hyphen-Mother. The grammatical role of that simple hyphen is essential. It means each is equal in nature and that both are bound together; the fatherhood of God is equal to the motherhood of God, and they are inextricable from each other. In Christian Science, the motherhood of God does not weaken our understanding of the Divine. It completes it.

Women everywhere are able to experience this spiritual balance in practical ways. Those who live alone find it bestows a full measure of contentment, safety, and purpose. Those raising children on their own are able to draw on those Father-Mother qualities to provide a complete sense of home and parenting. And those in marriages bring to light the mutual blessing in a partnership of equals.

The lifting up of woman is not at the expense of man. Both are redeemed in the Christ. The disparities that burden either gender or set them at odds with each other are erased. Reflecting Father-Mother God, male and female work together seamlessly as one.

In the early Christian church, Aquila and Prisca (Priscilla) were a husband-and-wife team who supported Paul in his ministry, converted Apollos to Christianity, and even relocated several times to strengthen young churches. They're mentioned five times in the Bible—sometimes as Aquila and Priscilla, sometimes as Priscilla and Aquila. But they are always together, a partnership of qualities that uplifted the role of woman, strengthened the role of man, and subsequently blessed their communities. Their example stands as a time-tested model for male-female relationships today.

Several years ago, when speaking in Africa with a group made up mostly of men about my experience as a full-time practitioner of Christian Science, I was asked how I was able to pursue a career while also being a wife and mother of young children. In responding, I was able to cite my husband's experience growing up with a grandmother who was a full-time practitioner and a mother who was as well. I said he knew how this spiritual and professional commitment had blessed his home. So even with his own career in full tilt, he was quite willing to participate in traditionally female roles to balance my workload, as increasingly is the case in many households today. He helped with the groceries, cooking, and carpooling. He was there for the kids. He was there for me.

Our children were used to having either parent meet their needs, whether it was help with homework, a creative idea for a costume in a school play, or the answer to what was for dinner. If our son wanted something, he would call out in one breath, "Mom? Dad?" It soon evolved into one word. And for years, either my husband or I would answer to the singular, gender-neutral title: "Mom-Dad." It made us laugh every time we heard it, but we loved the intuitive spiritual truth it conveyed.

"Male and female created [God] them." That's the eternal standard. It's only as we acknowledge both the balance and unity of these qualities that we'll find the essence of what God is and what we are as that divine image and likeness. This advancement in the understanding of our spiritual nature paves the way for worldwide adjustment in justice, equality, and stature not just for women, but for humanity.

Casting off suffering, we rise up together in celebration. If we weep, let it be with tears of joy. CSS

February 2, 2009

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