Our separate roles, our different relationships, do not disconnect us or divide who we are.
If all of life is the sphere of God’s glory, then all of life — even to our cooking pots (Zeph 14:20-1) — is holy. So each of the parts of our lives, including all the messy details, are the places where we learn, as we encounter God and the people within God’s world. Our lives as women – as followers of the Messiah, as people in communities, as bringers of good news (Ps 68:11), as learners, as lovers – are not lived in different partitions, but coalesce in who we are and the way we live out our relationships, in every aspect of our being. Threaded into the narrative of who we are and what we do, are the stories from our histories, the relationships, experiences and activities that have brought us to the place we are now, where and how we live. We are ‘situated, relational beings’, and when we talk of ‘kitchen-table’ learning and living we are saying that everything we do, our daily acts, ‘the many circumstances and challenges of the ordinary’ are spaces for relating, for praying and for inquiry and learning. Learning is not something we do only in our heads, but we also live it in our hearts and hands and senses.[i] It is in the tradition of Deborah the prophet and military leader, Esther the niece, queen and advocate, Rahab the believer and protector, Mary the mother and disciple, that we bring the multiple diverse aspects of our lives and learnings to the service of Christ, and seek to see Him redeeming and glorified across them all.
As women we inhabit where we are in our bodies, in the everyday reality of being, where housework has to be done, children are crying, in the mundaneness of our daily duties. We live even within the earthy messiness of our bodily cycles – where we and those around us have to deal with premenstrual tension or period pains or the erratic fluctuations of menopause, with their physical impact on our bodies, energy and interactions (and for our Muslim friends, on prayers and faith practice). This then must be where our knowledge of the world, of one another, begins. We don’t live our lives in compartments, one part at a time. Instead, we live, we breathe, we move, as multifaceted whole – we are not separate sections, but mind, body, soul, spirit – life! – elements of our being all integrated together.
When Women Speaks … invites women to be learners, listeners, observers, where they are, in the tradition of our Biblical foremothers. We are women in relationships – with our families, with women around us of different religious (Muslim) and ethnic backgrounds, with colleagues, with the family of the Master (both in local expressions and beyond), with both local and expatriate friends.[ii] As women who are embodied, in our senses, in everyday life, we bring all of that to who we are, our interactions. We are learners and the learning begins from where we are, in our bodies; it happens in our relationships, where we are embedded in our situations. Learning starts with the situations or issues around us in our own homes or communities, which perplex or discomfort or intrigue or challenge us.
Dorothy E. Smith recalls:
“… the dramatic moment when I discovered in my own life that there was a standpoint from which a woman might know the world very differently from the way knowledge had already claimed it. Of course, for centuries and still today, here and globally, women care for children, cook, do housework, and make other contributions to survival. It isn’t that we weren’t conscious or that we ceased to be subjects when we were at home doing the work of caring and cleaning. The extraordinary moment came when we saw that this was a place from which we could speak to and of the society at large, moving into a terrain of public discourse …”[iii]
We live out the multiple components of ourselves as part of communities with different cultures; of home, work, and worshipping communities. We are aware of our different responsibilities to those around us, to family, friends, to our neighbours. In many places, women are the ones who are spoken for and spoken about; so we are conscious of where through listening and learning we may be able to promote the words and experiences of women who could be silenced or marginalised.
To come as learners is to come using all our senses to see the many parts of the world in new ways, ways that take us outside the categories we may have grown up with. We also explore different metaphors to give voice to what we are discovering. We invite all our senses to be part of expressing what we are learning – in blogs or plays or poetry, through materials, music, or mime, using cooking or cameras to tell a story.
It is in these embodied lives that we live out the embodied, diverse, beautiful narrative of the church – that unified body and that bride of Christ. As women, whose lives are so often simultaneously about many diverse things, we play a role in calling the broader church to recognise the falsehoods of many ‘sacred-secular’ distinctions, and that starts with recognising that Christ wants to be and is working in and through every aspect of our lives.
[i] Neilsen, Lorri. “Remaking Sense, Reshaping Inquiry: Reimagining Metaphors for a Literacy of the Possible.” In Research on Teaching Literacy Through The Communicative And Visual Arts, 143–50. New York & London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: International Reading Association, 2008.
[ii] Clifford Geertz, anthropologist, put it poignantly: “There is a lot more than native life to plunge into if one is to attempt this total immersion approach to ethnography. … There is the isolation. There is the local European population. There is the memory of home and what one has left. There is the sense of vocation and where one is going. And, most shakingly, there is the capriciousness of one’s passions, the weakness of one’s constitution, and the vagrancies of one’s thoughts: that nigrescent thing, the self…. It is a question of living a multiplex life: sailing at once in several seas.” (Geertz, Clifford (1988) Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author. Stanford: Stanford University Press, p.77)
[iii] Smith, Dorothy E. The Conceptual Practices of Power. A Feminist Sociology of Knowledge. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1990, 199.
Image credits with thanks to: https://unsplash.com/@gemmachuatran; https://www.pexels.com/@shkrabaanthony?utm_content=attributionCopyText&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=pexels.
(c) When Women Speak… September 2020
Hannah Carmichael grew up in the Middle East and in the years since then has begun exploring what it means to live out her faith in the multiple aspects of her life, including the arts and cross-cultural studies.
Moyra Dale spent over two decades in the Middle East (particularly Egypt, Jordan, and Syria) with her family working in education, specializing in Adult Literacy (Arabic) and teacher training. She is an ethnographer whose research has included exploring adult literacy in Egypt and the women’s mosque movement in Syria through women’s accounts and understanding of their own lives and realities. Currently based in Melbourne, Australia, she writes, teaches, trains, and supervises students in Islam and cross-cultural understanding, with a focus on Muslim women.
Moyra holds a PhD in Education (La Trobe University) and DTh (Melbourne School of Theology).