This article, entitled "Our culture of purity celebrates the Virgin Mary. As a rape victim, that hurts me," was quite a read. What I find as so odd is how she takes her own pain about rape and accuses the historical and theological values placed on virginity as being at fault for a lot of it. It's also odd for her to reference the Church's (and the Orthodox explicitly at one point) position to say that it has "overfocused on virginity and made it into an idol of sexual purity." To put forth such an opinion I think she must have failed to read the works that underpin the importance placed on virginity. She fails to grasp the value of chastity seen from the apostolic homes, to the desert sketes, to the snowy monasteries, to the chastely unwed of today, and to all so dedicating themselves to Christ throughout the ages. She conflates the offering made by the virgin with the shame of the victim of sexual abuse and comes to the lamentable conclusion that our Lord would find her oblation wanting.
But it's not just that. She goes on to say, "For starters, I believe it’s impossible to be a good girl — meaning unblemished and pure — and also inhabit a body." How far from the mind of the Church is such a thought? It's not even a new argument, stretching back as it does to the gnostics, the Greek philosophers, and into prehistoric times. The cleanliness that God concerns himself with is not resolved by Irish Spring soap, or Kleenex, or a sterile work environment. And to apply such a litmus test to the Theotokos's own purity is a perilous thing.
I'm tempted to throw out a reading list to bring my point home, but this isn't a logical argument that will be won out with words for Ms. Everhart. This is a point of emotional pain and grieving that needs something different. Our view of holiness and virginity and the special place we have for them can only be understood from within. So maybe she'll experience what the Orthodox communities dotting this country have to say on the matter. It's hard not to hear what we think about virginity in every service. I often think of liturgical hymnody as the loose threads that can be pulled on for those that want to know more. A hymn can lead to a saint which can lead to a treatise or a poem which can lead to still more. You simply can't take hold of the tapestry from the other side of the church doors. You'll have the thread in your hand and no more. The fabric of our image of purity can only be seen fully from within.
So, yes, we do place a high value on virginity; not as a mark of Cain for those who cannot boast of it, but as a beautiful gift to God for those who present it at God's altar.
(Washington Post) - This opinion piece is by the Rev. Ruth Everhart, a pastor and the author of two spiritual memoirs.Complete article here.
Church culture tends to be fixated on sexual purity year-round, but during Advent, I’m tempted to blame it on the Virgin Mary. After all, she set an impossibly high bar. Now the rest of us are stuck trying to be both a virgin and a mother at the same time. It does not seem to matter that this is biologically impossible. Can you at least try?
I’ll speak for myself. I was raised in the church and taught to be a good girl, by which I mean obedient, quiet and sexually pure. That worked reasonably well until I was 20. During my senior year of college, my housemates and I were the victims of a home invasion. The intruders held us for hours and took turns raping us at gunpoint. The next year of our lives revolved around the criminal-justice system.
Of course, I was traumatized. But what was harder to describe — and more long-lasting — was how the crime became bound up in a sense of sexual shame. I wondered constantly: Did I somehow deserve to be raped? Had the rape ruined me irreparably? Both questions seemed inevitable. After all, what is the opposite of being sexually pure? Sustaining irremediable damage. Being ruined.
I’m not blaming my sense of ruin on the Virgin Mary, not entirely. Protestants do not claim Mary in the way Catholics do, but every Advent I feel a sense of kinship. I know what it’s like to be a good girl whose life got upended by what someone did to her body. Of course, her story plot was good and mine was bad. Plus she was, well, a saint. And I’m not.
Still, I study her this time of the year — always dressed in blue with downcast eyes — and want to ask: “How was it really? And how do you feel about what the patriarchy has done with you?”
I’m convinced of this: Mary is not responsible for what we’ve done to her story. Church culture has overfocused on virginity and made it into an idol of sexual purity. When it comes to female experience, the church seems compelled to shrink and distort and manipulate...