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The spiritual power of women

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, October 26, 2005

I can still remember very clearly the day when I first became aware of the untapped spiritual power of women.

I was browsing through a local bookstore and came across a collection of black and white photographs. They were pictures of women, naked and aged all of them, with faced lined by troubles and breasts sagging with time. There was nothing in any of them like that which most (young) men or (old) poets are inclined to call beauty. No face would have launched a single ship, or sold even the smallest amount of beer. Indeed, their sensuality would have driven many away in disgust.

But in defiance of every standard that stood against them, there was holistic clarity and strength in these women that seemed to me an ocean against which time and eternity, gods and demons, men and wars could only bluster in vain. It is a spirituality of great potential.

I will not try to describe it further. For one thing, I could never possibly do it justice, and if you need convincing that such a spiritual depth exists in women, then this is not the column for you. Instead, I ask this question: Why do we pretend it does not exist?

In our Western world, not that long ago the majority saw women as flowers – beautiful, fragile and even collectable, but ultimately fleeting and unsuited for the exploration of time and eternity. Even today our theologians, philosophers and physicists are largely men. Notre Dame itself possesses a mission that is ostensibly a fusion of mind and soul, yet it is governed almost exclusively by men, and those few women who do reach positions of power are paraded out on special occasions like hunting trophies.

Sometimes it seems like the 19th century never left.

Nor does the student culture provide stable ground from which the inner spirituality of women can gain widespread acceptance. A few months into my freshman year I had been taught that a) Notre Dame girls (not women) are ugly, b) Saint Mary’s chicks (again, not women) have their own stereotype and c) Notre Dame men (not boys) are hot and all of the above desire them constantly. In hall councils I learned that women’s dorms are politically inept and their governance idiotic -things to be manipulated, not respected. I also learned that the deciding factor in the theme of any dance sponsored by a men’s dorm is how little clothing the visiting women can be compelled to wear.

Obviously Notre Dame is an environment that is firmly committed to advancing the status of women in the social consciousness and to kindling the true depths of their spiritual nature.

And then there is the Catholic Church itself. What has been lost because one half of the human experience has been eviscerated from the enclave of spiritual power and influence? The Church rejects absolutely the ordination of women, though in all of my time as a student of theology, I have never once been given an acceptable justification for this ban, one based on sound logic or valid scriptural evidence. This shortage of solid grounding, in an otherwise logical faith, is generally the hallmark of shortsighted and foolish errors, such that later generations will come to lament.

But even if the Church has a fine reason for denying the ordination of women, what reason does it have for denying the deaconate to women (there are deaconesses in the New Testament), or for our present pontiff’s distaste for female altar severs? Why, when there is so much drawn from the male persona of Christ portrayed in the Gospel is there next to nothing said of the female persona of Christ portrayed in the Book of Wisdom? When there is such self-evident and unique grace found in the souls of women, why are they barred from even proximity to the central power structure of the Church, for certainly the Church would only benefit from the unique grace of such a union.

These questions are unsettling. However, our Western world has come a long way since the 19th century. We now acknowledge the sensuality and sexuality of women though it was once a grievous insult to suggest that a woman was even physically capable of sexual pleasure. There are women in our armed forces and government, though once John Knox famously decried the abomination that “the weak, the sick and impotent persons” should be the leaders of “the whole and strong.” Accepting and embracing the spirituality of women in a formal context is simply the next logical step, and a great social benefit that has been long in coming.

Lance Gallop is a 2005 graduate of Notre Dame. His column appears every other Wednesday. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.