“He will give to all the faithful, his own self for heavenly food”Hymn #5 Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
Catherine of Siena used metaphors when describing prayer. Catherine sometimes uses female imagery for God and for Jesus. Prayer is like a mother giving birth and renewing us or feeding the baby. What is prayer giving birth to? The virtues of the soul; compassion, seeking truth, honest, respect, etc. In Catherine’s time, it was believed that breast feeding gave the baby more than milk, breast feeding gave the baby blood (life force). Breast feeding was like drinking the blood of Jesus (it is a strange image but isn’t that what communion is too?). When we nurse at God’s breast, we get what we need to live a good life. Breast feeding moms notice that their bodies respond to a baby’s hungry cries. It is in her nature to respond to her child and it is in God’s nature to respond to us. While breast feeding (and praying) a loving bond is formed; it is wordless, snuggling, connected with love.
I’ve been learning about Catherine and the other Women Doctors of the Church in a continuing education class offered by Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. In our class discussion we talked about vividness of Catherine’s metaphors. She had the opportunity to witness mothers breastfeed, so has Sr. Kathleen, our instructor for this class. In fact, it seemed that all of us women have seen other women breast feed and a few have witnessed birth. It seems that throughout their lives, women break their bodies in order to give life. Child birth, breastfeeding, and even menstruation, are (painful) changes to women’s bodies in order to bring life.
The class is all women, so we were having a women centered conversation, menstruator or Menstruant would be a more gender neutral inclusive word to use, but in this case I’m choosing not to in order to reflect my notes and recollection of the experience.
Catherine didn’t use menstruation as a metaphor. We wondered if maybe she didn’t menstruate given her extreme asceticism. She hardly ate because she thought this would make her more holy (a common thought during the time she lived) but later regretted the extremity she took (causing health and eating issues) and advised others to be more moderate. It may have been possible that menstruation was seen as dirty or not something that should be spoken about. We really have no way of knowing for sure why she didn’t also talk about menstruation when she talked about women’s bodies.
Since Catherine didn’t take about menstruation, I guess I will.
Menstruation is a little more than blood, it is the break down of the lining from the uterus that was built up in order to prepare for a fertilized egg. It is life giving stuff a (potential) baby would need. A period is only part of the menstrual cycle, women’s bodies are moving through this life giving cycle constantly. When there is no new life (no baby) the cycle starts again with a period (Menstruation is typically charted as day one of the cycle). Women are always renewing, refreshing, and making room for new life. Perhaps God is making room for new life too, preparing a womb for those who become children of God. A place to be formed and transformed. God’s body responds to the fertilized egg to support life and responds to the unfertilized egg by breaking down what wasn’t life sustaining and constructing a place for new life. God is still preparing for us to be born anew. Menstrual blood is not dirty or gross; it is a beautiful sign that the body is ready to start the process over to give life another chance. I’ve only read part of a book by a period coach about living in sync with your cycle… perhaps I’ll circle back to this idea later with ideas about each phase of the cycle.
Maybe I’ve taken this too far… maybe since I’ve gone this far I might as well go to reusable menstrual products.
Menstrual blood is a natural part of life. When it lands on our clothing, it can feel dirty or unclean, but that icky feeling is temporary. In the case of washable pads or reusable cups, everything can be made clean again. There is hope that no matter what we can be made clean again. Reusable menstrual products have a cycle and a purpose too. They are tools that allow women to be connected to their community, perhaps for worship and service. They are empowering and life giving. Reusable menstrual products allow women to leave places of shame and solitude and be connected to God and community and to the fullness of life. Prayer and contemplation (pads and cups) can connect us to the divine in a cycle of love and life. Reusable menstrual products provide the security of knowing that a period doesn’t mean interruption of life, but that we can remain connected to our community no matter which day of the cycle of our lives.