‘And Many Other Women’ Part VI

November 23, 2004 | 8 comments
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I’m not usually this speculative in my interpretation of scripture, but I thought I’d send this out as something of a trial balloon. I am intrigued by this idea but not necessarily convinced by it.

(1) Matthew 9:14-15 reads:

Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not? And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.

I interpret this to mean that, in some way, the presence of the Savior creates a special circumstance under which fasting is not appropriate because it is a celebratory time.

(2) Today, pregnant women and nursing mothers do not fast. Is this merely an accomodation to a temporal condition? Possibly. But consider:

D & C 29:35:

Behold, I gave unto him that he should be an agent unto himself; and I gave unto him commandment, but no temporal commandment gave I unto him, for my commandments are spiritual; they are not natural nor temporal, neither carnal nor sensual.

One might conclude that pregnant women and nursing mothers don’t fast because the Savior is present with them in a way similar to that described in Matthew 9:15. In what ways might this be true?

(3) I like this idea, and I think that, combined with some of Ebenezer Orthodoxy’s thoughts (standard disclaimer: there’s a lot in this essay that I didn’t agree with) about the atonement and childbirth, we might be on to something here.

My hesitation is this: I don’t like giving any theological significance to childbirth or other biological processes (see Luke 11:28-29). I think it leads to the worst kind of gender essentialism (not that there is any good kind).

Thoughts?

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8 Responses to ‘And Many Other Women’ Part VI

  1. Adam Greenwood on November 24, 2004 at 1:05 am

    Well, Julie in A., since I am in favor of the worst kind of gender essentialism, I’ll have to think over your suggestion here. I’ll also pass it on to my wife, who really loves this sort of thing (Ebenezer O. was a big hit with her).

    Now, for me fasting clearly is a temporal accommodation. I don’t think the scripture you cite from D&C can mean what you suggest it does. I think ‘temporal’ in that scripture means something like ‘wordly’ or ‘telestial,’ not ‘corporeal’ or ‘physical.’ Telling pregnant women not to fast because it’s bad for them *is* a spiritual commandment as far as I’m concerned. So for me the question’s whether the celebratory-feasting rationale is present along side the mundane temporal one.

    Ebenezer O.’s ideas about pregnancy and childbirth as a temple experience make a lot of sense to me. That Christ would be present during pregnancy in a special way doesn’t make as much sense. I know he has a special concern for women with child–Isaiah promises that he will ‘gently lead those that are with young’–but I don’t see that the special concern implies a special presence. True, Ebenezer O.’s idea implies that the woman’s body is a temple of sorts, and of course the actual temples are the Houses of the Lord, but i don’t think the metaphor extends that far. It kinda creeps me out, frankly.

    So for me it boils down to whether a special concern for pregnant women is tantamount to a special presence.

  2. Ana on November 24, 2004 at 12:23 pm

    Here’s why I don’t like that. Not all women get a chance to have that particular experience. It’s one I will probably never have. And I bristle when people talk about how much they have learned about this or that gospel principle through pregnancy and childbirth.

    We can learn a lot about gospel principles through virtually every experience in life. We all get different experiences but learn about the same gospel through them. I don’t think one learning experience should be exalted above others.

    Still, though, what Ebenezer says about it being a temple experience is interesting. I have often expressed to others my feeling that my time with my children in the sealing room of the temple was the Lord’s way of making it up to me that I did not get to bear them myself. I’ve felt that to be a true statement as I’ve said it in the past.

    Yep, I’m an adoptive mom. Grateful beyond belief for the opportunity, but of course I sometimes still feel a bit left-out when the conversation turns to pregnancy, childbirth and nursing.

  3. Adam Greenwood on November 24, 2004 at 2:10 pm

    Most of us didn’t have the chance to feast with Jesus either. I don’t feel hurt about it only because there’s so many, so I can mostly avoid thinking about it or else think of the apostles as somehow special or different. If most people I knew had a chance to dine with Him and I didn’t, I think I’d hurt a lot.

  4. Ana on November 24, 2004 at 3:32 pm

    Adam, I want to make sure I don’t misunderstand you. The first sentence seems to suggest it might be silly to feel hurt about not being part of a particular experience, which is puzzling. Especially because then you go on to point out an important way in which pregnancy and childbirth are different from the Last Supper as opportunities to learn about the Savior. You’re right on in saying that most women do have a chance to participate in the pregnancy and childbirth experience, and to be in the minority there can hurt a lot.

    Of course when you talk about thinking of the apostles as special you cannot possibly mean that women who bear children are more special than women who do not. And of course you must understand that for an infertile woman (maybe for an infertile man, too, I couldn’t say) it’s virtually impossible to “avoid thinking about it,” even when the wound is mostly healed.

    So maybe you do understand where discomfort sometimes arises for me and for other women who don’t bear. Am I interpreting your statements accurately?

  5. Peggy Snow Cahill on November 25, 2004 at 3:32 am

    I must say I am all for gender essentialism, too. I couldn’t quite put the two thoughts together, but they are certainly worth musing upon…. Pregnancy is certainly a very special time. And Ana, one of the reasons that I love gender essentialism is that as women, we know that we will continue, throughout the eternities to come, to be mothers. I see the young mothers (vast hordes) in our ward, and I ache to have another child, but probably can’t…. But I think, or at least hope, that motherhood is an eternal principle, and that in the millenium, or the Celestial sphere, somewhere, that I will be able to have more children. Don’t know exactly how doctrinal that is, but my heart feels it to be true….

  6. Janey on November 29, 2004 at 2:21 pm

    I’ve been wondering whether or not motherhood is an eternal principle too. Certainly we are not given a very good example of eternal motherhood in the current arrangement, in which Mother in Heaven is absent, and Father in Heaven functions as a single parent. Perhaps women get to mother and nurture spirits that have not yet entered mortality?

    And pardon my ignorance, but could someone define “gender essentialism” for me? I have an idea what it means, but I’m not completely sure.

  7. Rosalynde Welch on November 29, 2004 at 11:05 pm

    Well, I’ve already expressed myself far too fully on this topic, so I’ll restrain myself. I do think you pull the scriptures together in an interesting context, Julie, but I guess I see your statement (2) in a different category that statement (1). The fact is, some pregnant and nursing mothers *do* fast–my mother fasted every week for months while she was pregnant and nursing an infant during the time that my little brother was ill. And I fast now, even though I still nurse my son. I think that pregnant/lactating mothers are excepted from the commandment to fast if it causes physiological hardship, but there’s no spiritual or practical reason why they *can’t* fast, or why their fasts would be of different significance.

    And Peggy, you write, “one of the reasons that I love gender essentialism is that as women, we know that we will continue, throughout the eternities to come, to be mothers.” But a model that limits biological gender essentialism would in no way change a mother’s eternal status, a status which at that point will be *relational* , not biological. I know of absolutely no scriptural or doctrinal basis for the belief that women will continue to biologically bear children in the eternities (there has been a long and interesting discussion of this on the thread entitled “On Our Ambiguous Origins.”)

  8. Adam Greenwood on November 30, 2004 at 8:52 am

    Ana,
    I know where the discomfort comes from but I don’t think that should stop us from celebrating marriage, childbirth, and childrearing. God has given many of us a hard life and pretending otherwise won’t make it so.