Omaha, Nebraska
Spring 1996
Volume 7, Number 2

Feminist Symposium Examines Positive Frameworks

Maryanne Stevens, RSM
Associate Professor of Theology

In the Christian tradition, woman, nature and body have been considered material to dominate, objects to be tamed. The goal of Eden's Promise: The Retrieval of Woman, Nature and Body in the Christian Theological Tradition, the feminist theology symposium held at Creighton University November 3-4, 1994, was to explore more positive considerations of woman, nature and body and to ask how such reconsiderations might affect the developing Christian tradition.

As the person charged with introducing the conference, this writer reminded participants of the dynamism of the Christian tradition:

    "Precisely because of the presence of God's Spirit within the church, the Christian tradition is oriented to the future, and for the sake of the future we must always be examining our understandings and allowing them to grow and take new form so that the Spirit might continue to work pushing us towards God's future and ours. If the Spirit breeds life, we must find other ways of thinking about, interpreting, and acting toward woman, nature and body, since our tradition's ways have wrecked death and destruction on all three."

Five theologians spoke to the conference theme. Sallie McFague, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Theology at Vanderbilt University, keynoted with "Living As If Bodies Matter: Christians and Nature." Dr. McFague argued that love of nature depended upon paying attention. She contrasted the arrogant eye, the acquisitive eye which sees everything in relation to the self as either "for" or "against" the self, with the loving eye, the eye that sees the other as a multitude, a myriad of subjects and acknowledges complexity, mystery and difference. The latter model is not merely the reverse of the subject/object model; it is a different model. The subject/subjects model suggests a different basic sensibility for all our knowing and doing and a different kind of knowing and doing. It is a different posture and presence in the world. It says, "I am a subject and live in a world of many other different subjects." McFague views this model for knowing as a clue to both an ethic of care and to Christianity. An ethic of care is different from the rights ethic basic to U.S. culture, an ethic which functions on the model of the solitary human individual and what he/she owes to another similar individual. An ethic of care would ask us to pay attention to that which constitutes the other and then provide the conditions to allow that other to flourish.

In "Sisters of Dust, Sisters of Spirit," Karen Baker-Fletcher, Associate Professor of Theology at The School of Theology at Claremont, California, presented the womanist perspective on nature by using her native urban neighborhood as a lens through which to view ecological abuse. Dr. Baker-Fletcher advocated our embrace of both dust and spirit as a means of embodying the presence of Jesus the Christ. Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics from Drew University, spoke of "Our Latina Bodies, Our Latina Selves: Image of God" in which she considered the body from a social, political and economic perspective. Dr. Isasi-Diaz argued that in order to overcome the dualism that has separated the body from the spirit we must do theology from lo cotidiano, the everyday reality, everyday life. Only in this way will we appropriate a sense of body as vivencia, as life, as a body socially located.

Mary Aquin O'Neill, RSM, Director of Mount Saint Agnes Theological Center for Women in Baltimore, Maryland, used "The Body of Women" as a purposefully ambiguous title to reflect various means of recreating theology. The body of woman might be viewed biologically; it might also be viewed as women together, acting in concert, bonding, or the body of woman could signify taking a break from worn out forms, learning to play a bit, to relax with what has become a fairly agonistic enterprise. Taking each of these three ideas in turn, Dr. O'Neill argued for change in the theological tradition. The biological bodies of women are gift, not curse. Women together signal promise, not threat. And, doing theological work must be more characterized by conversion, empathy and compassion rather than by contest and combat. Finally, Catherine Keller, Associate Professor of Constructive Theology from Drew University in "'But the Earth Helped the Woman'--on Transapocalyptic Bodies" argued against an otherworldly eschatology. She outlined the damaging effects on our work of not viewing this world as our true home. Dr. Keller argued for a resurrection here and now, a focus on the earth and our earthbodies, that, as a matter of life and death, cannot wait until death.