We women of a certain age remember when Our Bodies Ourselves was written and published. It was revolutionary on many levels, primarily in leading women—not just here but worldwide, to take ownership of their health. Although its subject is limited to sexuality, the effects of the “movement” resound decades later, with consequences that are both positive and not just negative, but evil.
Like most revolutions.
On the positive side, the “Women’s Health Initiative” was one of the first organized efforts to regain control over health. The rise of the medical profession’s power began in the early twentieth century. Within the blink of an eye, collaboration between the American legal and medical professions medicalized birth and death and numerous other aspects of American life. For many of us, this culture of professionalization creates a sense of powerlessness over our bodies and health. One of the primary reasons for this results from erroneous beliefs. Like that the astounding drop in mortality from infectious diseases in the last century was due to antibiotics.
Wrong, it was improved hygiene and sanitation.
Many Americans believe that the more medicine, the better our health.
Wrong. There’s a dangerous disconnect between medicine and health.
A group of eleven Boston women began the Our Bodies Ourselves project in 1969. Their preface to the 1973 edition warrants a careful read.
For us, body education is core education. Our bodies are the physical bases from which we move out into the world; ignorance, uncertainty — even, at worst, shame — about our physical selves create in us an alienation from ourselves that keeps us from being the whole people that we could be….We are better prepared to evaluate the institutions that are supposed to meet our health needs-the hospitals, clinics, doctors, medical schools, nursing schools, public health departments, Medicaid bureaucracies and so on. For some of us it was the first time we had looked critically, and with strength, at the existing institutions serving us.Our Bodies, Our Selves
The more we learn and understand our indivdual bodies, the better we can make of them the vehicles for mission. But wait- our bodies ourselves or vehicles for mission: Must it be an either/or?
A brief cruise through the book, Our Bodies, Ourselves reveals the secular end point of the movement: We’re autonomous woman with the right to give life or discard it. The evil mantra that our sexual license is limitless but our choice of motherhood—or not, is paramount.
For much of my life, I agreed wholeheratedly, growing up in the heady days of equality for women. Extremely ambitous, I believed that the sole differences between women and men were anatomic and physiological. Since God didn’t exist for me, neither did His Law. Knowledge became my idol, true until I came face to face with the inanity of its pursuit. And hit the wall.
Upon my conversion to Christian Catholicism, the walls of my unbelief shattered and I began to study, in earnest, the ways of this mysterious God. And us, who were created in His image, male and female, created for one another and for a singular purpose: mission.
The phrase: our bodies as vehicles for mission isn’t mine. But is taken from Bishop Barron’s sermon for the Feast of Christ, the King of the Universe. His phrase stuck with me and prompted this piece because it so radically opposes the secular, wholly foolish and deadly narrative of Our Bodies, Ourselves. Foolish because of the obvious fact that all women are not meant to be mothers. Foolish because the effects of promiscuity on women and our psyches are deadly—for us and the babies we refuse to carry.
Instead, the notion of ‘our bodies as vehicles for mission’ opens up the astounding, jaw-dropping, adventure of entering into God’s will. And of learning who He intends us to be. About our intrinsic dignity and step by faltering step, becoming temples of the Holy Spirit.
That’s what He tells us at the end of the Good Samaritan parable. After all the life-saving ministrations of the beaten and dying stranger lying at the side of the road—you, me and each one of the almost 8 billion souls on this planet, He’s explicit about just who our neighbor is. None is excluded.
To those of us who shy away from the notion of mission:
“I’m too old!”
“I’m too young!”
“Missions are for Priests, Deacons, nuns not for an ordinary person like me,”
Janet Klasson’s ruminations on Words, Time and Food are cogent and practical. One of Janet’s locutions applies, comically, to keeping our vehicular bodies in shape for mission.
“For most of my life food was the guest of honor at every emotional banquet I hosted. It was my idol—thoughts of breakfast are what got me out of bed in the morning. It has taken years of prayer and the sacraments to smash that idol…Once, in prayer as an adult, I asked for the gift of temperance. Immediately I heard these words in my head, “I gave you that gift at your Confirmation.” Then he added wryly, “You haven’t opened it yet.” Mea maxima culpa!“
How many gifts of the Holy Spirit lay unopened for you and me?
Because we lacked the courage and/or the will to ask?
For some of us, there’s no joy excitement, life. We’ve lost too much health, financial security or trust in those we feel no longer warrant it. We can feel overwhelmed by what Fr. Derek Sakowski terms hopesickness:
“Many aspects of life went “back to normal” nine months ago. But no amount of socializing or traveling, getting or spending has restored joy or peace. Many of us feel depleted, burnt out, or discouraged. We struggle to remember how long ago things happened, and feel a great uncertainty and dis-ease about where things are headed. Even when we keep returning to our holy desires, we can sometimes feel stuck.
I have a word for this dis-ease: being HopeSick. I’m sure I’m not the first one to think it up. I sometimes feel sick amidst my hoping. And yes, like the prophet Jeremiah, sometimes I cry out to the Lord because I am feeling sick of hoping…Advent is a season of presence. Advent is a season of renewed Hope.”
These precious days of waiting are filled with grace if we but open our hearts and souls to His middle coming, that like a road, leads from the first to the last: