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Alice Walker has become famous for her writing, especially for The Color Purple, a novel which tells of the difficult early life of a woman of colour. She was married to civil rights lawyer, Mel Leventhal, for ten years and a daughter, Rebecca, was born of that union. Mother and daughter are now estranged.

Rebecca Walker, the daughter, became a mother when she gave birth to her first child, Tenzin, a boy, in December 2004.  She has published a diary of her pregnancy, which is also an account of her attempt to come to terms with the maternal and paternal ambivalence she experienced as a child, an ambivalence which infused her beliefs until she decided to move from a scarcity model of love to a model of love which presupposes love being present in abundance.

Baby Love, the title of the book, grated, until I realised that this short phrase encompasses her own experience as the child of her mother, as well as her experience of having a child of her own. The book is both about being the baby, and having the baby.

Rebecca Walker’s estrangement from her mother begins towards the end of her pregnancy, at the point where she decides that if her mother is unable to apologise for her maternal neglect then she is “too emotionally dangerous to me and my unborn son”. Alice Walker doesn’t say sorry. Instead she writes that she won’t miss what she doesn’t have , that their relationship has been inconsequential for years, that she is no longer interested in the job of being a mother, and she ends her letter with her name, not her role-title, mother.

Despite the absence of the mother, the mother is everywhere in the pregnancy:

“because mothers make us, map our emotional terrain before we even know we are capable of having an emotional terrain, they know just where to stick the dynamite. Decades of subtle undermining can stunt a daughter, or so monopolize her energy that she in effect stunts herself. Muted, fearful, riddled with self-doubt, she can remain trapped in daughterhood forever, the one place she feels confident she knows the rules”.

In Rebecca’s case, the ambivalence of her mother toward childbearing was sufficiently chronicled in her mother’s writing – specifically in a poem and an essay written around the same time, the former of which compares a child to the calamaties that befell other women writers and impeded their writing.

It appears to have been an ambivalence that Alice Walker was unable to resolve, and which fed through to Rebecca’s sense of who she was:

“Ambivalence itself is rarely positive. Ambivalence about one’s offspring is a horrific kind of torture for all involved. It affects me to this day, stealing my certitude at critical moments. I have sat with others and said, Well, of course my mother loves me. But in the very next moment I will purse my lips and squint my eyes and tilt my head back and remember all of the indices of ambivalence, and the thought will arise with an even greater clarity: or maybe she does not.”

What hope then, that a woman afflicted by such ambivalence could master the role of mother herself? The ambivalence described runs deep and has consequences that spread not in ripples, but like a tidal wave, for it is accompanied by a misguided insistence on independence. The feminist, the womanist, cannot allow herself to depend in her maternity on her male partner with the result that she cannot afford to be a mother at all. For being a mother involves spending time with your child, being invested in your child’s welfare, being dependent for your happiness on your child’s happiness, allowing your partner to play a role in the child-rearing, sharing the parental role. Losing the ambivalence involves abandoning self-sufficiency as a goal. Mothers are not meant to be mothers alone, but alongside fathers.

Rebecca experiences “a letting go into inseparability”, a realisation that “I was not autonomous and never would be”, and she reflects on the self-sufficient career women that she sees around her and how they radiate to their menfolk an emasculating lack of need, as if men can be rendered obsolete by having enough money and a few good girl friends. And she reflects how utterly devastating it would be to be told by the person you love that you are not necessary to them:

“Because the fact is that we do need each other, and we are locked into this dance with the whole frickin’ world whether we like it or not. This lack of separateness is awful and terrifying, amazing and exhilarating, and just plain true. It seems to me that men and women both need to come up to speed on this, instead of competing for the prize of who can do without whom, for longer. There is power in partnership…”

And how she has never felt so dependent as during her pregnancy. She knows that she needs “someone who will show up”, but at the same time she needs to be someone who will open up, and she is worried that the inherited ambivalence will mean that she cannot sustain it forever, which is how long she wants the partnership to endure, but she has never felt so motivated to try.

Except, when it comes to it, it doesn’t need any effort. It just happens. Rebecca’s mother told her that she chose to love her, that the decision could have gone either way. Looking at her baby, Rebecca writes “There is no choice in my love for Tensin, and if there were some secret place where I wondered, and there isn’t, I would never tell him about it.”

The ambivalence is gone, and with it the scarcity model that had governed her relationships. A few days before the expected date of birth she muses on these two sides of the coin – scarcity and abundance:

“For my whole life I have operated as through there isn’t enough love to go around, that love is something that must be stockpiled, hoarded, guarded for fear of losing a few precious drops. But lately, maybe because I’ve been contemplating what life would be like if I had, gasp, two or even three children, I have been thinking about how, while there may never be enough time or money, there will always be enough love. What if everyone could let go of the fear and territoriality that comes from trying to control the love supply? What if everyone realised that love is about giving, not getting? What if everyone realised all of these things before it was too late? What if it is true that when you believe in abundance, what you have multiplies magically?”

The move from the scarcity model to abundance is not one Rebecca could have ever made alone. Glen, her Buddhist rock of a partner, is the foundation of the new model, upon which everything else is built.   Or perhaps their faith underpins it all. 

The book is a celebration of unambivalent maternity, but it is equally a celebration of fathers, of how they are essential, and how the success of the two parents is contigent upon their mutual dependence and, ultimately, their love for each other and their lack of ambivalence about what matters most. The baby, not the career.

lake

[Thanks to C Jones of Malepositive whose comment on this blog a while ago pointed me in the direction of this book.]

Baby Love: Rebecca Walker

Wow, Alexandra!

[I found the Jeff Buckley version on Friday, and played it over and over and over again, and then put it in a post-dated post for Sunday.  Little did I know that the winner of the X-factor was going to cover the same song for her finale, and that it was her new single.  I like it when things like that happen …]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AratTMGrHaQ

As for the Wisdom who is called “the barren,” she is the mother of the angels. And the companion of the […] Mary Magdalene. […] loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth. The rest of the disciples […]. They said to him “Why do you love her more than all of us?” The Savior answered and said to them,”Why do I not love you like her? When a blind man and one who sees are both together in darkness, they are no different from one another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in darkness.”

My husband brought home for me Joan Baez’s new Day After Tomorrow, knowing that I love her music.  This is a quiet, contemplative, folksy, deeply religious collection of tracks that does not leave me feeling happy.  Sad is good sometimes, otherwise you don’t notice happiness when it creeps up on you. 

I like the compelling title song “The Day After Tomorrow” that looks forward to the day after tomorrow when the soldier will be home with loved ones, no longer fighting for life in a war where both sides cry to God to save them.  Now it doesn’t seem surprising that the song hits home since it was written by Tom Waits who has accompanied me many a late evening since I was sixteen or so.  Here you can choose between Joan Baez’s voice and that of Tom Waits, but the lyrics are the same affecting stuff whichever.

I got your letter today
And I miss you all so much, here
I can’t wait to see you all
And I’m counting the days, dear
I still believe that there’s gold
At the end of the world
And I’ll come home
To Illinois
On the day after tomorrow

It is so hard
And it’s cold here
And I’m tired of taking orders
And I miss old Rockford town
Up by the Wisconsin border
But I miss you won’t believe
Shoveling snow and raking leaves
And my plane will touch tomorrow
On the day after tomorrow

I close my eyes
Every night
And I dream that I can hold you
They fill us full of lies
Everyone buys
About what it means to be a soldier
I still don’t know how I’m supposed to feel
About all the blood that’s been spilled
Look out on the street
Get me back home
On the day after tomorrow

You can’t deny
The other side
Don’t want to die
Any more than we do
What I’m trying to say,
Is don’t they pray
To the same God that we do?
Tell me, how does God choose?
Whose prayers does he refuse?
Who turns the wheel?
And who throws the dice
On the day after tomorrow?

Mmmmmmm…
I’m not fighting
For justice
I am not fighting
For freedom
I am fighting
For my life
And another day
In the world here
I just do what I’ve been told
You’re just the gravel on the road
And the one’s that are lucky
One’s come home
On the day after tomorrow

And the summer
It too will fade
And with it comes the winter’s frost, dear
And I know we too are made
Of all the things that we have lost here
I’ll be twenty-one today
I’ve been saving all my pay
And my plane will touch down
On the day after tomorrow
And my plane it will touch down
On the day after tomorrow

 

The pattern that women are presented with in the Christian church, and which they are encouraged to follow, is of a woman – Mary, the Mother of Jesus – who is relentlessly kind, understanding, empathetic, good at listening, forgiving, sacrificing, protecting. She turns the other cheek, remains calm in the face of provocation, never loses her temper, is never unfair. She is content to be overlooked, to take second place, to meet aggression passively.

“… she has become a stereotype of passivity in the face of challenge, of self-sacrifice at the expense of one’s soul care, and of quietude to the point of hiding in the shadow of others.”

The Real Mary, Scot McKnight

I struggle with this vision of what a woman should aspire to be. In the past a desire to live up to these standards has made me feel I have no option but to keep quiet, forgive without an apology, smooth over other people’s angry outbursts, put up with damaging and abusive situations and take the fault on myself, absorb my own anger and turn it inwards on myself.

We do not live in a ideal world, and in our real, fallen, world we have to deal with people who do not wish us well. We have to deal with people who would love to see us trip up and fall, who would delight in our mistakes, who would rather we disappeared, for whom we are the impediment that prevents them from achieving a relationship they desire or a position they covet.

I used to believe that, if I was relentlessly nice and kind, everything would turn out alright in the end. But I no longer believe that. No amount of love will necessarily change a person bent on someone else’s destruction. In fact, their destruction is often so essential to the psychic survival of the other person, that the perpetrator is unlikely to be aware that they even have a choice of how to behave. The nicer I am, the more irritating I am to my foe, and the more they want to destroy me. So they turn the aggression up. The hotter it becomes, the harder I try to absorb it all, until finally I give up. Rather than fight back (which I see as a victory for them) I turn my back and walk away. I cannot see that fighting back is going to solve anything except to increase the aggression. Besides, I will feel bad about my behaviour judged against my perfect pattern.

There have been many occasions in the past and recently when every fibre of my being was screaming “F**K OFF!”. But I didn’t, because my moral code told me that it was neither good nor Christian to do so.

I do not have an answer. I wish I did.

Assert Yourself!
by Lynette J. Hoy, NCC, LCPC as published in The Godly Business Woman magazine’s November/December, 2000 issue.

As a Christian it’s difficult to decide when to stand up for your “reasonable rights” and state your opinion, or when to go the extra mile considering others’ interests. You may end up apologizing for someone else’s mistakes. When someone spills their coffee on you- do you say you’re sorry for being in the wrong place? When someone puts you down- do you pretend you’re deaf? When others openly state their values and beliefs- you keep quiet rationalizing that “the Holy spirit didn’t lead you to say anything”?

If you’re lucky and happen to have a very attentive listener, he or she may understand your thoughts and feelings and draw them out of you. If you’re not lucky, you and your opinion will be overlooked because you kept quiet. Whether you tend to be indirect, aggressive or passive your relationships aren’t satisfying and issues aren’t resolved. Assertiveness doesn’t leave communication or issues in relationships up to chance.

What is assertiveness?

Assertiveness is a way of confronting the unpleasant or difficult without getting squashed or squashing others in the process. When you use assertiveness you can negotiate reasonable changes by stating directly what you think, feel and want. Assertiveness builds intimacy, solves interpersonal problems and increases honesty, requests and refusals in your relationships.

Assertiveness is biblical! Paul writes about the importance of “speaking the truth in love” and “speaking truthfully to your neighbor” in Ephesians 4, verses15 and 29. In John 4:17-18 Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband”. (NIV) Pretty direct, huh?

Of course, you can choose any number of alternatives to assertiveness. You can fake your feelings, suffer silently, retreat from others, manipulate them or demand your way. Ultimately these options are self-defeating and harmful to relationships.

Paraphrasing

One of the keys to making assertiveness work for you while making it palatable for others is to combine it with active listening. Active listening involves hearing and paraphrasing back what someone says to you. Make certain that your paraphrase is brief and includes the facts and feelings the person is expressing. It gives you the opportunity to pick up on their viewpoints and continue the dialogue. You don’t have to agree with their opinions, but active listening will show that you value and respect them. This will increase the odds that others will take time to listen to you.

Begin summarizing what people say to you with these phrases:

“In other words”
“Let me get this straight”
“So you felt that”
“What I hear you saying is”
“If I understand you correctly”
“Would you say that?”
“Do I understand you to mean?”

Assertiveness Skills

The most difficult aspect of communication comes when you take the risk to talk about your opinions, feelings and needs. Don’t let fear hold you back! Pray and ask the Lord to give you the courage to “speak the truth in love.” St. Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him (Christ) Who strengthens me”. (NIV) As a Christian, you have the greatest spiritual power in the world residing within you to help you speak up within the bounds of love.

Learning assertive communication skills is the next step. Here are some examples of assertiveness which will help you express your opinions, confront others, state your feelings or make requests:

Stating your preference or opinion; “My preference is______.””What I’d like is______”
Expressing you feelings; “I feel_______when ______________”
Making requests: “This movie is not what I hoped it would be. I would like to leave.”
Disagreeing with someone; “I disagree with you when you say _____________.”
Saying yes or no without making excuses; “I am unable to come to lunch (or that church function).”
“I” statements for confronting: “I feel______when you_______ because__________.”

The A-S-E-R-T model

Ask for God’s Help: Pray for God to guide you through scripture and His Spirit.
State the Problem: Think over and state the facts of the problem. .
Express yourself: State your feelings. Do not judge.
Request change & feedback: Specify one behavior change. Then listen to the other person’s thoughts and opinions.
Talk-it- out: Paraphrase their ideas. Discuss the consequences, considerations & options.

Write out recent interactions you have had with people in which you could have been less demanding or passive. Then, using the ASERT model, rewrite the scenario using the paraphrasing and assertiveness skills. Resolve to start trying your newly acquired skills this week.

Assertiveness need not be a painful exercise of skills.

You can get something out of communicating more directly. Aristotle wrote, “many a friendship is lost for lack of speaking.” Speaking up will help you build closer relationships with others and gain more confidence in yourself! Just think, no more hinting, raging, manipulating or demanding your way! Instead, you can state your ideas, thoughts and feelings confidently, not leaving communication up to chance!

© copyright 2000 by Lynette J. Hoy, NCC, LCPC

~ Lynette J. Hoy , NCC, LCPC, is a Marriage and Family Counselor and National Certified Counselor, author and speaker. She is the Executive Chair of the Chicagoland CBWC: Connecting Business Women to Christ organization. Lynette is co-founder of CounselCare Connection, P.C. providing online & office counseling for individuals, couples and families. Lynette regularly presents marriage, assertiveness, grief and divorce recovery, anger and stress management seminars.

©2004 by Lynette J. Hoy, NCC, LCPC

 Twenty years ago today I was standing on the football pitch at Wembley making history -just one insignificant person amongst more than 72, ooo young people.  600 million more people watched on television.  We heard Tracy Chapman sing for the first time in the United Kingdom, a small figure with a guitar, filling us all with her words. 

Then, in the dark, the stadium was filled with small flames as Dire Straits sang Brothers in Arms.  That feeling, of being there, of having been there together with all those quiet people listening in togetherness, is still ineffable after all those years.

This concert marked a turning point for South Africa.  The previous year had seen the extension of the State of Emergency, originally imposed in 1985 and intent on ensuring the survival of the apartheid regime.  By 1988 30,000 people had been detained.

The influence of the world was too much for the government to ignore.  F W de Clerk became the President of South Africa in 1989 and began freeing many black political prisoners.  On 2nd February 1990 he delivered his famous “unbanning” speech.  Nelson Mandela was released on 11th February 1990.   The first nonracial democratic elections were held on 27th April 1994 and Nelson Mandela became the President of South Africa.

I had a few peaceful moments yesterday in a Christian bookshop in the Strand.  I bought a couple of books, one of which pointed to this passage in Matthew Henry’s Commentary of the Bible, first published in 1708.  Matthew Henry was the son of the dissenting Scottish clergyman who refused to agree to the Act of Uniformity acknowledging the supremacy of the (then) corrupt Catholic church.   Matthew was sent to finish his education not at Oxford or Cambridge, but at one of the Dissenting academies set up in Islington, London.   The Academy was forced by persecution to move five times in the time that he was studying there, and eventually he returned home.  Later he studied law before becoming a Presbyterian minister.  His sermons were “expository but never political” and he taught catechism classes for children and visited all those who were in need irrespective of their faith.  He was constantly troubled by the poor quality of religious life in England, and died when he was only 52.  The passage relates to the creation story in Genesis Chapter 2, and to verses 21-25.

That the woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.

Adam lost a rib, and without any diminution to his strength or comeliness (for, doubtless, the flesh was closed without a scar); but in lieu thereof he had a help meet for him, which abundantly made up his loss: what God takes away from his people he will, one way or other, restore with advantage. In this (as in many other things) Adam was a figure of him that was to come; for out of the side of Christ, the second Adam, his spouse the church was formed, when he slept the sleep, the deep sleep, of death upon the cross, in order to which his side was opened, and there came out blood and water, blood to purchase his church and water to purify it to himself. See Eph. v. 25, 26.

II. The marriage of the woman to Adam. Marriage is honourable, but this surely was the most honourable marriage that ever was, in which God himself had all along an immediate hand. Marriages (they say) are made in heaven: we are sure this was, for the man, the woman, the match, were all God’s own work; he, by his power, made them both, and now, by his ordinance, made them one. This was a marriage made in perfect innocency, and so was never any marriage since, 1. God, as her Father, brought the woman to the man, as his second self, and a help-meet for him. When he had made her, he did not leave her to her own disposal; no, she was his child, and she must not marry without his consent. Those are likely to settle to their comfort who by faith and prayer, and a humble dependence upon providence, put themselves under a divine conduct. That wife that is of God’s making by special grace, and of God’s bringing by special providence, is likely to prove a help-meet for a man. 2. From God, as his Father, Adam received her (v. 23): “This is now bone of my bone. Now I have what I wanted, and which all the creatures could not furnish me with, a help meet for me.” God’s gifts to us are to be received with a humble thankful acknowledgment of his wisdom in suiting them to us, and his favour in bestowing them on us. Probably it was revealed to Adam in a vision, when he was asleep, that this lovely creature, now presented to him, was a piece of himself, and was to be his companion and the wife of his covenant. Hence some have fetched an argument to prove that glorified saints in the heavenly paradise shall know one another. Further, in token of his acceptance of her, he gave her a name, not peculiar to her, but common to her sex: She shall be called woman, Isha, a she-man, differing from man in sex only, not in nature—made of man, and joined to man.

III. The institution of the ordinance of marriage, and the settling of the law of it, v. 24. The sabbath and marriage were two ordinances instituted in innocency, the former for the preservation of the church, the latter for the preservation of the world of mankind. It appears (by Matt. xix. 4, 5) that it was God himself who said here, “A man must leave all his relations, to cleave to his wife;” but whether he spoke it by Moses, the penman, or by Adam (who spoke, v. 23), is uncertain. It should seem, they are the words of Adam, in God’s name, laying down this law to all his posterity. 1. See here how great the virtue of a divine ordinance is; the bonds of it are stronger even than those of nature. To whom can we be more firmly bound than the fathers that begat us and the mothers that bore us? Yet the son must quit them, to be joined to his wife, and the daughter forget them, to cleave to her husband, Ps. xlv. 10, 11. 2. See how necessary it is that children should take their parents’ consent along with them in their marriage, and how unjust those are to their parents, as well as undutiful, who marry without it; for they rob them of their right to them, and interest in them, and alienate it to another, fraudulently and unnaturally. 3. See what need there is both of prudence and prayer in the choice of this relation, which is so near and so lasting. That had need be well done which is to be done for life. 4. See how firm the bond of marriage is, not to be divided and weakened by having many wives (Mal. ii. 15) nor to be broken or cut off by divorce, for any cause but fornication, or voluntary desertion. 5. See how dear the affection ought to be between husband and wife, such as there is to our own bodies, Eph. v. 28. These two are one flesh; let them then be one soul.

IV. An evidence of the purity and innocency of that state wherein our first parents 21 were created, v. 25. They were both naked. They needed no clothes for defense against cold nor heat, for neither could be injurious to them. They needed none for ornament. Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Nay, they needed none for decency; they were naked, and had no reason to be ashamed. They knew not what shame was, so the Chaldee reads it. Blushing is now the colour of virtue, but it was not then the colour of innocency. Those that had no sin in their conscience might well have no shame in their faces, though they had no clothes to their backs.

I have another commentary as well, first published a hundred years later in 1810, and written by Anglo-Irish Methodist, Adam Clarke.  He caught the attention of John Wesley who ensured he was brought to Kingswood School near Bath to finish his education, and he was appointed a Methodist minister when he was only 20.  This is his commentary on the same passage:

And he took one of his ribs.  It is immaterial whether we render tsela a rib or part of his side, for it may mean either: some part of man was to be used on the occasion, whether bone or flesh it matters not, though it is likely, from v23 that a part of both was taken; for Adam, knowing how woman was formed, said “This is flesh of my flesh, and bone of my bones.”  As God formed her out of part of the man himself, he saw she was of the same nature, the same identical flesh and blood, and of the same constitution in all respects, and consequently having equal powers, faculties, and rights.  This at once ensured his affection, and excited his esteem.”

Amen.

Getting married in this recent French wedding was a long affair.  The service included Holy Communion and was conducted almost entirely in Latin, save for the vows exchanged by the bride and groom.  Four priests officiated.  Mass lasted over two and a half hours and included the Litany of the Saints, a long exchange between priest and congregation when a seemingly endless list of saints were named and prayed to.  The ancient church, dedicated to St Bernard, dominated the city, crowning a hill on the outskirts.  To hear the whole building swell with the voices of the hundreds in the congregation who had sung these verses all their lives was to want to kneel and pray.  I reflected that we had spent part of the previous weekend with our friends celebrating Holy Communion in Greek.  The beauty and universality of these ancient languages took us away from the here and now, stripped away our everyday concerns and left us with only wonder and awe.  Charpentier’s Veni Creator was God’s introduction.

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