A Most Complicated Creature
A young man is walking along one of Southern California’s sandy beaches with his surfboard. He suddenly spots a bottle that has recently washed up on the beach. It’s obvious it’s been tossed around for a long time. He picks it up and notices that it still has the cork intact. So, being curious about what may be inside, he manages to get the cork out and out pops a Genie. After expressing profound appreciation for having been let out of the bottle, the Genie grants his benefactor the classic “one wish.” Being an avid surfer, it doesn’t take him long to say, “I’ve always wanted to surf Hawaii, but I get seasick on ships and I’m afraid to fly. Would you build me a bridge to Hawaii?” The Genie replies, “Do you know what you are asking for? Do you know how long the bridge would have to be? Think of the enormous challenges of that kind of undertaking. The supports required to reach the bottom of the Pacific! The concrete and steel it would take! It will nearly exhaust several natural resources. And the maintenance of that bridge! No, think of another wish.” The man says okay and tries to think of a really good wish. Finally, he says, “I’ve been married and divorced four times. My wives always said that I don’t care and that I’m insensitive. So, I wish that I could understand women … know how they feel inside and what they’re thinking when they give me the silent treatment … know why they’re crying, know what they really want when they say nothing … know how to make them truly happy…. I really want to understand women and how they think!” After a long sigh, the Genie responds, “Would you like that bridge with two lanes or four?”
There is no doubt that women are complicated creatures. And yet, there is something about woman that is alarmingly, attractive. She has a natural, innate power that allures, thrills, and draws a man out of himself. But she also has a power that intimidates, makes him self-conscious and aware of his insecurities, and can be a cause of severe torment and ache of the soul. In the beginning, in the moment when God brings woman to man, he is overwhelmed with delight, attraction, and satisfaction: “Whoa! Are you serious God! She is amazing—bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” What is it about woman that causes man’s soul to come alive? What is it about her that draws man out of himself, and magnetically to her? What is it about woman that can cause man so much torment and grief? As my spiritual director noted: Imagine if God did not create woman. Ninety percent of our problems would cease to exist. Not that woman is the problem—but rather, how we as men relate to and understand her. Perhaps without woman, the problems would diminish, but so also would our delight. In Hebrew literature, the word “garden” often signified the inner mystery, dignity, and person of woman. For example, the author of the Song of Songs described his female lover as “ a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed, my sister, my bride.” Eve was created in a garden, the garden of Eden. Eden literally means “delight.” Eve’s context, her home, her very nature is to be a delight to God and to man. Adam was placed by God in the garden, to defend the garden, and it is in the garden that he discovers unimaginable delight— but also tremendous sorrow. Our understanding of woman, who she is and our relationship to her, to a great degree determines whether we will experience delight or sorrow. Therefore, it is essential that we attempt to do the impossible—that is, understand the complicated creature of woman. Today, it is my hope that we discover three things about woman: first, that she is essential to God’s plan; second, several reasons why she is essential to us; and third, what woman essentially is and why she should be cherished. Before beginning, I must admit that I am woefully inadequate and do not have the skill set to fulfill this task. Considering this, I have leaned heavily on the wisdom and insights of a female sage who I will refer to as Professor S. She has supplied a substantial amount of the content contained in this talk.
She Is Essential to God’s Plan
Woman is essential. There are no two ways around it. This essential nature cannot be reduced to simply her being a manufacturer of children who enables the human race to sustain itself. She is so much more. Although it is true that from a biological point of view woman is essential, she is also spiritually and emotionally essential to man. She sustains not only human life, but by means of her nature, her beauty, her intellect, she sustains man’s life. Consider that after creating Adam, God said, “‘It is not good for man to be alone: let us make a helper fit for him.’” The Hebrew word for alone, badad, literally means “bad.” From the divine perspective, it is bad that man is alone. If we are to have the mind of God, we too, as men, must believe that it is bad for us to live without woman. As Professor S. states, “By creating the man before woman, and without the woman, God allows man to undergo the profound experience of feeling the depth of his loneliness, the weight of his solitude.” This ache, this loneliness, demonstrates that woman is essential to delivering man from the ache of solitude. Men, regardless of how independent, bulletproof, and self-reliant we believe ourselves to be, we need woman. God continues, “therefore, let us make him a helper fit unto himself.” Notice that God speaks in plural, “us” indicating a divine “We”—a divine communion of Persons. God used the word “us” precisely at the moment when he voiced His desire to create a “helper” for Adam. In other words, God is indicating that the creation of man and woman, their sexual difference as expressed in and through their bodies, and their inherent desire to give themselves to the other, particularly in the one-flesh union, is a human sign of a heavenly reality—of God Himself. The one-flesh union is a sign of the exchange of Persons in the Godhead, but also, a reliving of this love on earth. As Pope St. John Paul II says, “Not so much in the moment of solitude does man image God as much as in the moment of communion.” Woman is essential in that both woman and man, living in union with one another, image something of God’s love. Gentlemen, our children experience God’s self-giving love primarily, and initially, from us loving our wives and our wives loving us. We, as the Catholic Catechism says, are the first teachers of faith to our children. We have the most influence in teaching our children about God’s love because they are called to witness God’s self-giving love in us more than in anyone else. Woman has been created by God to be man’s helper, but it is vital that we understand this term “helper” correctly. As Professor S. says, “Helper is a very weak translation and does not convey the full meaning and richness of the Hebrew text. Helper has, in fact, taken on a negative, weak connotation, demonstrating a type of feminine inferiority. Understood in this way, helper sounds as though woman was created to be man’s assistant. Far from it, the word helper, or help-mate, is comprised of the two Hebrew words ezer and chenegdo. Ezer can be interpreted as “essential help,” the kind of saving help that is the difference between life and death. The term is often used in the scriptures to describe the help that God provides mankind—essential life-giving assistance. Chenegdo can be interpreted as a counterpart, an other self, that is perfectly suited for and exactly fits man. Considering this we can conclude that woman was created to be an essential partner that fits his nature perfectly.” In other words, woman completes man as an image of God’s love.
She Is Essential for Man
Woman in God’s plan is essential, but she is also essential for man. Recall that the scriptures state that God “cast a deep sleep upon Adam.” The Hebrew word used for sleep is tardemah, which signifies a “mysterious, heavy sleep sent by God, a supernatural slumber—an ecstasy. The word “ecstasy,” the Greek ekstasis, literally means “to stand outside oneself.” It is while Adam undergoes a deep sleep that God removes one of his ribs and forms woman from it. Upon waking and seeing the woman, Adam exclaims, “This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Adam’s ecstasy while sleeping carries over into waking reality, as he sees the completion of himself in Eve. As Professor S. says, “The sight of the woman has the effect of drawing man out from himself.” From this moment onward, woman, by means of her very presence, is a perpetual reminder to man of his mission. Her spiritual, emotional, physical, and intellectual beauty summons man to move beyond himself, beyond his self-absorbed microcosm, that he may become a warrior of self-giving love—a man who enters the cosmic battle for the woman in whom he delights and also for the child that she bears. The ekstasis of Adam as signified by the rib, indicates that woman, being initially drawn from the man, is hardwired to discover and rediscover her essence and mission in relationship to him, and ultimately discover her essence and mission in the True Man, Jesus Christ. Woman, as long as she exists on earth, will have an intrinsic desire to return to man and discover who she truly is by means of becoming his essential counterpart—the completion of him. The rib also indicates that Adam, and all men, can only find the completion of themselves in relationship to woman. As Professor S. says, “It is also significant that the ribs provide protection to the heart and lungs. Symbolically, the heart and lungs represent love and life. Woman was created by God to protect the love and life of man by means of her spiritual, emotional, physical, and intellectual beauty. Eve was not created from Adam’s head, as to rule over him, or from his foot, to be ruled over, but from his side—to be his essential counterpart who shares in an abundance of love and life.” May I also add that woman was not created from the man’s loins.
Before proceeding, it may be important to state a couple of basic principles. “The body, and it alone,” John Paul II says, “is capable of making visible what is invisible, the spiritual and divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world, the invisible mystery hidden in God from time immemorial, and thus to be a sign of it” (February 20, 1980). The body has been created by God to express something of the mystery of God, while also signifying the human being’s innermost essence. What does the body reveal? That the essence of man and woman is the vocation to love. What does woman’s body reveal? Her body reveals receptivity and invitation. A woman’s body indicates that by her very nature, her beauty, she calls out to man, invites man to delight in her (properly speaking). Her body indicates that she is receptive to authentic self-giving love of a man. But why? Woman’s receptivity and invitation as inscribed in her body, leads to her becoming capable of being who she is ultimately is called to be: life-bearer. The first woman’s name, Eve, in Hebrew is Chavvah, and comes from the root word Chayah, which means “to have life, to give life, to refresh, revive, restore”—particularly from discouragement. Woman has been created to be the bearer of both spiritual and physical life. Woman is ordained by God to give man life by sustaining him, refreshing him, protecting him from discouragement, but most of all by conceiving and bearing the life of the child. However, Eve, by taking the fruit from the tree, and manipulating Adam into eating of it, became the mother of death and of those who die. Juxtapose this with Mary, whose perfect receptivity and God-given natural spiritual beauty invited God to live in her. Mary, by means of her invitation and receptivity, became Theotokos, God-bearer. Mary gave the fruit that she received back to the tree, the cross, and from that Fruit of her womb, we eat and derive eternal life. Every woman is called to imitate the real woman, Mary. Every woman is called, in a sense, to be a “God-bearer” by providing the world with children who bear the divine image.
Bride to Mother
Mary, as the Bride of the Holy Spirit, exemplifies femininity with her response, “Let it be done unto me.” Men are attracted to the invitation of the bride. The difficulty for us is that we initially discover woman at a young age, when she is vibrant with sexual attraction, radiant with physical beauty, and when her nature invites us to embrace her as bride. However, the trajectory of woman’s spiritual path doesn’t end in being a receptive, inviting bride. Mary progressed from being the Bride of God (and remaining so), to being the Mother of God—the mother of life. Every woman discovers her ultimate fulfillment and glory in motherhood, in giving, sustaining, refreshing, reviving, and restoring life. This is her very essence. This determines the true woman. As St. Edith Stein says, “The intrinsic value of woman consists essentially in exceptional receptivity for God’s work in the soul. For an understanding of our unique feminine nature, let us look to the pure love and spiritual maternity of Mary. This spiritual maternity is the core of a woman’s soul. Wherever a woman functions authentically in this spirit of maternal pure love, Mary collaborates with her. This holds true whether the woman is married or single, professional or domestic or both, a Religious in the world or in the convent. Through this love, a woman is God’s special weapon in His fight against evil. Her intrinsic value is that she is able to do so because she has a special susceptibility for the works of God in souls—her own and others. She relates to others in His spirit of love” (St. Edith Stein, Essays on Woman).
Smother or Mother?
The dilemma for us men, however, is that we already have a mother and we do not desire another. Mothering is innate to every woman, and often when a woman falls in love with a man she begins to mother him to the point of smothering him. A man once confided that his wife became his second mother. She dictated how he dressed, what he ate, who he was to be friends with. She sent him off to work with the same breakfast smoothie and lunches every day. He admitted that often during his commute to work he would roll down the window an chuck the smoothie and lunch and stop by the convenient store to purchase something else. All was fine, until his wife discovered the receipts. He said that he would be lying if he didn’t admit that he desired to leave her. Why? Because she suffocated his masculinity by mothering him too much. The other dilemma that men typically encounter is that we are more attracted to the bride than the mother. When men don’t embrace the mother (who is their bride), they eventually leave them in their hearts, find satisfaction in pornography, or worse, affairs. We must embrace the mother in our brides without enabling the mother in her to suffocate our manhood.
Admiring Her Beauty
There were two pivotal moments when I received snapshots of my wife that are permanently etched in my mind. The first was the first time that I saw her completely naked. Her striking, awe-inspiring, magnetic beauty, her invitation, her receptivity, the image of the beautiful bride remains with me to this day. The second visual is when she gave birth to our third daughter-, Anna Marie, by means of a c-section. The nurses tied her to a gurney, strapped down her arms and legs in cruciform position, and cut her belly wide open, extracting our precious baby from her. The image of the life-bearer, the mother, is permanently etched in my soul. I love and admire both. I must love both. I must see beauty in both, because she is both bride and mother. Even if the attributes of the bride sag, wrinkle, scar, and age, I am to embrace that sacrificial beauty, because that beauty invites me, summons me to step outside of myself and become a real, sacrificial man.
Entering the Garden of Woman
As Professor S, notes, “Fyodor Dostoyevsky said, ‘the awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of men.’ In this fallen world, beauty is used and abused … by man and woman. But beauty is dangerous precisely because it does matter. Woman was created to be loved, man was created to love.”
Recall that in Hebrew literature, the word “garden” can symbolize woman’s mystery. On the night of Jesus’ passion, He entered a garden, and as he prostrated Himself and as He prayed, His sweat became as drops of blood falling to the ground. Jesus spilled the seed of self-sacrificial love in the garden, granting the Bride the ability to conceive divine life. We also, as husbands, are called to protect the bride, the mother, by entering her garden—only with sacrificial love. This does not mean that we are not to derive pleasure or gratification from her. No. We are called to delight in her, but never at her expense. We spill the seed of sacrificial love by means of loving her rightly without using her as an object, and doing so, we help her become who she is destined to be: life-bearer.