Blog Template Theology of the Body: Queen Susan's Bow

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Queen Susan's Bow

In the spirit of the past week's gleeful engagement with the Inclusive Worshipper, I am going to Broach an Issue.

I have heard various feminists cooing over one moment in particular in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe: Susan Pevensie fires a well-aimed shot from her bow and mortally wounds the wicked little dwarf who is about to kill her brother in the Great Battle. This theme is Notably Absent from The Book, wherein Lewis points out that he would rather not have his women fighting in battles, for the mere fact that they are women.

Now, I am a joyful gender essentialist. I think that there are intrinsic gifts, responsibilities, and vocations inherently connected with being Male or Female, and I love being the latter, because it means being a mother and a sister and a daughter to the rest of the world, in a variety of ways. I think that a good solid patriarchy can be wonderfully advantageous to ambitious young women. I trust my father and almost always defer to his wishes; I intend to obey my husband someday, with God's help. I don't think that women have a "right" to engage in combat; the just defense of one's polis is a duty wherein rights and personal privilege must defer to efficiency, and women in active combat can be detrimentally ineffecient. I think that men are naturally inclined to lead and protect women, and I think that women should let them do so. But I am not one to shrink from battles.

Queen Susan, the Gentle and Accurate, takes up her weapon and defeats a demon, and with that she joins the generals Deborah and St. Joan of Arc as women who I, submissive and non-feminist and gender essentialist, long to imitate. Why? Because we all know that Susan has fired her shot in a spiritual battle between the enslaving, death-dealing, demonic power of the White Witch (= "Satan" in the story), and it is on this sort of battlefield, truly we are all one, neither male nor female, in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3). Having delivered another traditonal household code, wherein women obey and men sacrifice in Ephesians 5, Paul turns immediately in Ephesians 6 to the weapons which all take up in order to deal out death blows to the Enemy of Souls. This warfare is the prerogative of every Christian Person. And the offensive is not optional. It is on the battlefield where the Church is attacked by a ruthless Enemy that gender is truly relativized in light of Christ's Kingdom, such that women too MUST take up arms to deal death blows to demons.

Now, I worry. The camps wherein I find much sympathy for my traditionalist leanings as a woman have introduced so much of civic virtue into the Church that they have transferred Pauline household codes to the structures for lay ministry in their churches. And I worry when education programs for Christian children, like one located recently, categorize the virtues of "vision, adventure and evangelism" for young men, and provide training in such for young men only, while young women are reserved for "contentment, home and friendship." Where was there ever a besieged army that cut its ranks in two at the height of a conflict? Why would the Church do such a thing? Why would the Church not promote her daughters in the gender-neutral Christian mandates to evangelize, to chatechize, to do systematic theology... in short, to do warfare?

Granted, Pauline household codes make a lot of sense when they serve the purposes for which they were delivered- to accomodate conventional morality because in contributing to the Pax Romana Christians will be good witnesses for Christ- and really, market economies do really well when every working man has a wife making a home, preparing food, and producing well-mannered children. This kind of structure makes a lot of sense for a civic community, and Paul knew it and urged Christians to accomodate it. But the Church is no civic community. The Church is, in many ways, an Army that needs every capable Person to bear arms in the context of its critical, eschataological Battle.

No, I dont think that the Church has the option of counting women in that apostolic succession which adminsters the Sacraments and formulates doctrine. But neither do I think that the Church has the option of preventing women from passing on the Faith once delivered through preaching, or from engaging in pastoral ministry, or from prophecying, or from leading and initiating in the Church, in as much as the Church needs. We are an Army under attack, and we need all hands on deck.

And if a woman finds herself submitting in love to a tradition which requires her to remain silent or speak softly in the Church, let her do so wholeheartedly; but let her carry a very big stick.

... "Women will be the most fruitful element in the Apostolate..."
Pope John Paul II

Onward, Christian Soldier-Persons.