Coming Home To Themselves: Women’s Spiritual Care
The following paragraphs suggest the thesis of the essay of the same name adapted and used by permission from Through the Eyes of Women, edited by Jeanne Stevenson Moessner copyright ©1996 Augsburg Fortress (www.augsburgfortress.org).
Spiritual care of women is at the heart of their pastoral care, building upon it, when appropriate, but explicitly including women’s relationship to God. Women’s spiritual care cannot be forced into molds made by and for men. Instead, a life-giving spiritual care for women must be created, perhaps painstakingly, by women as the carefully listen to their experience, do theology from that personal and communal experience in dialogue with the church’s often ambiguous theological heritage, create their own experiences and practices of prayer, ritual, and healing, and determine their own spiritual goals and evaluate their progress toward these goals.
Adequate spiritual care of women will include assisting women to become more deeply in touch with reality, however it is expressed in a given woman’s life situation. It will assist women in their moves toward self-transcendence and will help them come home to themselves as creative, autonomous and life-giving members of human communities. It will deal, at moments, with beliefs, convictions, and patterns of thought, with emotions, with desires, and with behavior, all in relationship to what the women themselves judge to be Ultimate.
Women’s spiritual care is at the heart of their pastoral care because of its focus on self-transcendence in light of the woman’s relationship to God. It is not sufficient simply to relieve an individual woman’s symptoms or even to work to change the structures that systematically oppress women, as valid and necessary as both of these may be. Spiritual care of women consists in creating or restoring the conditions in which a particular woman—and by extension, all women—may become more deeply in touch with and live out her deepest call as a human being before God. The goal in women’s spiritual care is their self-transformation based on a vision of the ream of God.
I propose a dynamic process for the spiritual care of women consisting in contemplative attending, mutual accompaniment, critical analysis and authentic action. These dynamics need not occur in a particular order; in “real life,” things are hardly ever so tidy. Nor may the process be treated as a recipe to be applied in some “add and stir” fashion, and it implicates the caregiver equally and simultaneously.
Since experience of the transcendent is the raw material of spirituality, the first and most basic moment of spiritual care happens in the act of attending to this experience. Each party in the spiritual care relationship must listen to her own experience in all its aspects. Next, she must name these experiences and give them life outside herself. Simultaneously, she must receive validation that her experiences are not idiosyncratic to herself alone but that she belongs to a community of shared experience, of which she articulates one unique aspect. Thus, the contemplation that grounds attentiveness to women’s experience is both an attitude of radical receptiveness to life as it is experienced and a spiritual practice of honoring this experience. Such contemplative attending literally “hears another into speech.”
Spiritual care flourishes in relational contexts. Even a community of two embodies the conviction the Christian community is the context for living out one’s baptism and growing on one’s relationship with God. Graced community fosters deeper interdependence. Effective accompaniment in women’s spiritual care relationships will be consistent, faithful, nonjudgmental, supportive, and challenging.
The feminist claim that “the personal is the political” underlines the simultaneity between the interpersonal and intrapersonal. Therefore, effective spiritual care includes critical analysis of the systems and structures in which women live: family life, economic arrangements, political structures, health care, arts, religion, international relations.
Action emerging from prayerful reflection completes the dynamic process of women’s spiritual care and prepares for its re-emergence. Response embodies one’s self-transformation; response actualizes the Spirit’s work in us. Responsive action bridges the inner moment of conversion to the outer moment of mission. Authentic action places one in solidarity with others in their attempts to life the transforming power of the Gospel. Ritual, prayer, discernment and action on behalf of justice are forms of authentic action particularly nourishing to women’s spirituality.