I remember it like yesterday, it was the last blazing hot weekend in the Pacific Northwest, and our annual church camping trip is nestled in a large campground between the beautiful mountain ranges just North of Seattle.
My family of four is unloading our camping gear on our chosen campsite. The kids are playing around the campground while my husband and I are putting up the new tent, miraculously without a bickering word.
Our pastor’s wife and decade-old friend Cherie walks over to me and whispers in my ear, “Do you have any tampons? I just started my period.” I walk to the car and rummage through the glove compartment. I am still breastfeeding, but my period came back about a month ago, so I am pretty sure I have something stashed away.
Hidden by the covering palm of my hand, I carry and pass the tampons off like a drug exchange. She has no pockets in her running clothes, so she slides them into her sports bra. We smile knowingly and continue talking about other things.
My husband comments from behind an almost assembled tent, “What are you both doing?” His inquiry is playful, but forthright. I am well aware he is awaiting my return and needs my help.
Cherie and I giggle, and he smirks with a ridiculous comment, “Oh, well the secret is out, I am telling all the guys that Cherie is on her period.” We all laugh and begin a conversation about how women have silenced and hidden their menstrual cycles for decades. The conversation becomes insatiable as we exchange countless stories back and forth about embarrassing moments around our bleeding that we have carried silently for years.
As thirty-seven-year-old women, we have each birthed three babies, yet the conversation of our period is still so quieted. We tiptoe around the subject as if it will infringe upon others to know that we are on our periods.
I consider this silence throughout the weekend, I wonder why I feel so embarrassed about something so natural and normal. Even at a church function, with my closest friends and women I have walked alongside through pregnancies, how is it there isn’t much of a theology tied to our bodies? In particular, our wombs actually invite us to know God as creator in a way no other human is invited to know God.
When I push past the embarrassment, I am in awe of how God is telling a story through the body of a woman and the womb which brings a soul into this world.
How tragic that we have turned away from our bodies in embarrassment and hid this expression of the gospel. What we desperately need is to turn toward our bleeding and bearing bodies with kindness and curiosity and bless them. We need to study the theology that is being displayed in a woman’s womb, a theology of the womb.
Twenty-two years after my first period, I am only now beginning to have open conversations about menstrual cycles. Although Cherie and I are no longer embarrassed about carrying tampons and scrounging for feminine products from each other, we are still careful to hide and keep our bleeding a secret from men and from the world.
In the Bible, many of the images presented of women, measure her beauty and value in terms of reproductivity, specifically as it applies to bearing males.
I have yet to read a Bible passage on lineage that has more than one woman’s name in it, even though it is a woman’s body that is the carrier of a new life.
My 6 year old son Wilder and 4 year old daughter Selah have had many questions throughout their childhood.
Often male competitors were more prominent in sports, and their wins would leave my daughter in tears. Selah would often ask me, “Mom, where are all the girls?” I have often asked myself the same questions, usually when reading the Bible.
Historically, Biblical women prided themselves on birthing males for their husband, even though, physiologically, it is the man’s sperm which determines the sex of the child.
The patriarchal era of men being better than women is slowly fading, allowing for some advocacy for equal worth amongst all humankind, regardless of gender or skin color.
We can still see this mindset lingering globally, as China’s one-child policy has only recently changed to a two-child policy; civil right laws are only decades old; and refugee and gender laws are still controversial.
A Biblical woman’s reproductivity is often seen as their dominant career or calling, and their menstrual cycles as something to be avoided.
In the Old Testament, scripture required that a menstruating woman must ‘go outside of the city’ and live in the ‘unclean tent’.
That’s not exactly the type of body-positive message I had hoped to receive from my Creator, nor do I know how to explain this to my daughter.
The text of Leviticus 15, for example, reads with terminology such as, “When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge in her body is blood, she shall be in her menstrual impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. And everything on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean. Everything also on which she sits shall be unclean. And whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening.”
Go ahead and try to feel good about yourself and your period after reading that verse!
No wonder Cherie and I are still asking for tampons in secret at the age of thirty-seven! We have been conditioned to feel shame and embarrassment around the most common and normal act of our uteruses…Menstruation.
While the Old Testament serves an important purpose in telling the story of God’s creation and care for His people, I find many of the specific commands in books like Leviticus to be outdated and difficult to apply to my own life.
When we as Christian women look to the Bible for understanding and insight around our bodies, we are met with limited and confusing ideas.
We have not been encouraged as the body of Christ to foster creativity and imagination around our sexuality or re-productivity. In our exploration of our body theology, I like to begin with the uterus: Why did God give me a uterus? Furthermore, why did He create my clitoris, vulva, menstrual cycle, vagina, and breasts? Inevitably, when answering these questions, you come to face many more questions. but we will focus on this one, for this article: why did God create women to bleed, and bleed monthly at that?
The word "menstruation" translates in Greek to mene or moon and in Latin as mensis or month. The menstrual cycle quite closely approximates the month and the moon’s 29.5-day synodic cycle. There are 3.8 billion women in the world, the vast majority of which will experience menstrual bleeding throughout their lives. Of those billions of women, we ALL remember the story of the very first time we started to bleed.
As a therapist, my clients have gotten so much insight into their femininity and relationships with God by writing a 500-800 story about their first period. I invite you to write your story. If you are interested in more of this conversation, my book “Theology of the Womb: Knowing God through the Body of a Woman” will take you deeper into your own work and calling with God.
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