Pauliina Kainulainen: Tenderness and Resistance – Women's Everyday Wisdom Theology


I start with a small poem by Anna-Maija Raittila, a wise Finnish poet and theologian, an important spiritual mother to me.

A short mass


as mushrooms and grass and ants

in the rain

were the heavens and earth full

of God's glory


Like Anna-Maija I draw in my everyday life strength and inspiration from the surrounding nature. I live in Northern Carelia, rather near of Koli, a special place that has been sacred for Finns since ancient times. In this picture you can see a Christian Temple of Silence at Koli hill protected by the age-old rock. This kind of nature churches, worshiping places in the forest or on the shore of a lake, tell me that my people feel whole when they realize that they can meet the same God in the forest and at the altar of a church, in the Holy Eucharist.


For me blueberry picking in the forest is a form of meditation. (An excellent blueberry year, this one! I think of the plenty of the Kingdom of God in the parables of Jesus!) Or only looking at the beautiful big lake near my home is contemplation, a form of prayer. This kind of contemplation combined with Bible meditation and the Holy Mass gives me power for my work as a researcher – I am currently writing a book about “Forest Theology” - and as an activist struggling for the most valuable things I know: the earth and justice between human beings.


Anna-Maija Raittila has often written and spoken about tenderness. With a poet's imagination she uses a rich variety of images of God. For her, God can be a sudden smile or dust of tenderness. And she has always combined silent prayer (contemplation) with a struggle for justice. These two dimensions of Christian faith require each other in order to stay alive and connected to the Christ of the Gospels.


Return of Wisdom Theology


Anna-Maija's poetical theology is not academic theology, it is something else, something that speaks to the whole of one's person, not just to the reason. We could call this kind of theology Wisdom Theology or sapiental theology. The other significant form could be called theology as Sure Knowledge, or sciential theology.


The distinction sapientia/scientia is very old. In the early Church these two dimension belonged together but later in Western theology they have been separated, with tragic consequences.


But first, what do they mean? Wisdom Theology shows a strong interest in integrating all parts of the cosmos into a single, meaningful whole. It aims at spiritual growth and uses metaphors such as path or way. Wisdom Theology also prefers poetic language that is seen as capable of respecting the divine mystery. Wisdom Theology comes close to mystical theology and it has flourished especially in monasteries. The Eastern Church has always valued this kind of theologizing. Right now we are in a spiritual center called Sofia, Wisdom. We also remember the female character of Wisdom in the Bible when we seek theology that can integrate the cosmic and the interior dimensions of faith and the experiences of God by men and women.


Theology as Sure Knowledge is interested in forming definitions and costructing systems to explain the world and faith. This kind of theology has been preferred in Western theology since the Middle Ages. Theology was understood more and more as a field of specialists in the academic world, with a specialized language of its own. This orientation has led to refined methods and clearly defined subdisciplines. This is the kind of theology I learned at the University and it has taken some time to realize that it is only one dimension of the totality of theologizing, and a form of theology that needs communication with other forms or otherwise it risks losing contact with the everyday life and its urgent questions.


So, in Western theology the time has come for the return of Wisdom Theology to the center of theologizing. We need to keep together in theology the dimensions of spirituality, ethics and doctrine. They can only be properly understood together, shedding light on each other.


The return of Wisdom Theology requires a turn to a more holistic, or integrating thinking. This is a point where women have very much to offer, both women theologians and and other women, bringing their everyday experiences to the core of God-talk.


Women keep things together


Women keep things together in the everyday life - of families, of parishes. There is a need to integrate things, to keep together things that belong together. Like mind and body or reason and feelings. In the academic world women have often been those who are against too strong dualistic or dichotomized thinking when trying to understand the world we live in. For example, many women have criticized the dominant Western ideal of science that wants to keep values out of scientific work and just deal with facts. In reality, values always affect the work by what is valued as worth researching and what kind of research gets money etc.


In order not to be too dualistic ourselves, we need to value the experiences of both men and women and try to keep in theology together reason and feeling, scientia and sapientia. But there is a need to emphasize those dimensions of Christian theology that belong to the whole but have been marginalized during our history. Those dimensions are for example Wisdom theology, the bodiliness of Christian faith, women's everyday experiences and the earth. We could also add the theme of tenderness, so important to Jesus in the Gospels.


I would like to introduce to you a theologian who has strived to find an integrating way to do theology. She is Ivone Gebara, a Brazilian Catholic nun, a philosopher and a theologian. She lives in Northeast Brazil, in a poor part of a big city, working with the poor women of her surroundings. Gebara listens carefully to the experiences of these women and does theology starting from those experiences. She has written about their suffering as experiences of the cross and also about their ways of understanding salvation as everyday resurrections. In her words:

Salvation is more than a promise ---. Salvation is a get-together, an event, a kiss, a piece of bread, a happy old woman. It is everything that nourishes love, our body, our life. It is more than happiness in the hereafter, even if we hang on to the right to dream of our eternal tomorrow.


Gebara's understanding of salvation is predominantly this-worldly. She does not deny the transcendent dimension of salvation but she is interested in the concrete expressions of it. Gebara wants to keep together the this-worldliness and the other-worldliness of Christian faith.


Towards holistic worldview and theology


Ivone Gebara is convinced that Christian theology needs to find again more holistic philosophical starting points. In the world of the Bible, in the semitic thinking, the world and human beings were understood as whole. For example, a person is an inseparable whole of body and soul.


Many women and men in theological research think that the dominant Western mechanistic worldview leads to a serious fragmentation of our minds, our human communities and the nature. You can see this fragmentation with your own eyes if you go to Finnish forests: the efficient technolocigal culture of ours has left its marks in the landscape. I think it has also left deep wounds in our souls.


Since the 17th century, Western thinking has been dominated by a mechanistic relationship with nature, in which reality is understood to resemble a machine. The world is a huge machine that obeys mathematical laws. The animals are just machines who do not feel pain – so you are free to do painful experiments with them. Even the human being is nothing but a complex machine. There is no need for the concept of soul. We still live in a culture where many people think like this.


Enlightenment philosophy emphasised reason, with which we can rise above nature and learn to utilise it – nature was no more understood to be the place of presence of God. Developing technology allowed explotation of natural resources. We can see the fruits of this ”development” for example in the frightening phenomenon of climate change.


The role of Christianity in all this is complex – but maybe a theme of another occasion. The so-called ecotheology has tried to awaken self-critical thinking inside Christianity and bring the positive  treasures of our tradition to the surface. Christianity is urgently needed in this great turn to holistic thinking and integrated knowing. The power of spirituality is something that touches the whole of human person, transforming our values, attitudes and ways of life.


So, there is an alternative to mechanistic thinking. We could call it holistic, or organic thinking. Its root metaphor is world as an organism, a living body. The world is construed of mutual relations and all parts are essentially interdependent. Holism means that the totality is more than the sum of its parts. A holistic concept of reality goes hand in hand with an integrating concept of knowing.


Ivone Gebara wants to integrate in her theology ecological awareness, a feminist view and a perspective of the poor. She also emphasizes the aspect of spirituality. According to her, an ecologically and socially relevant theology must return to value the mystical current of theology, i.e. Wisdom Theology. Mystical knowing appreciates experience, emotion and bodiliness as sources of knowing. Knowing is connected with loving, often with erotic passion. All senses have significance for theology. Surely also the mystical current of Christianity has sometimes been deeply affected by dualistic and exceedingly ascetic practices, but in its essence mysticism is something integrating.


Dorothee Sölle was a European theologian who has reflected on the relationship between mysticism and resistance. For Sölle, mysticism needs to be ”democratized”. Experiences of the sacred presence of God are not only for some few chosen people. Probably we all have had moments of heightened experiences, at least in our childhood. Contemplating a lake or the sea is everyday mysticism that helps to keep in mind the proportions of things in life. Going for a walk in the forest is something that calms a troubled mind. You can interpret that as grace, as the work of the Triune God in creation. And you can think about your own everyday life: what are the moments where you can ”eat the Bread of Presence”?


Sölle lists as privileged places of mystical experience the following: nature, eroticism, suffering, community and joy. Maybe you are surprised by the theme of eroticism that these women keep mentioning. Let us turn for a moment to the consequences of holistic thinking to Christian faith.


The bodiliness of Christianity


I claim that Christianity is a bodily faith, a faith that deeply appreciates the human body and the wholeness of human person.


The ground of this attitude is in the Old testament thinking and also in the very core of New testament. Think about the incarnation – God became human. Could there be a more powerful way to express the value of the human body? But that is not all, there are also the sacraments. Let us think about baptism and the Eucharist, how bodily functions they are: to wash, to eat and to drink. Moreover, the sacramental tradition has always, through the many philosophical winds of history, maintained alive the sense of the sacred in the material.


In the Gospels Jesus is portrayed as a Healer, who healed people's bodies and minds often through touching them. In Paul's letters the church is the body of Christ and our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.


With all this in mind, we ask: Why has our Christian faith not seemed to be a bodily faith but has devalued bodiliness and especially sexuality? I would add: especially women's sexuality.


There are historical explanations to this. Very early some dualistic ways of thinking influenced the jewish faith and therefore also the early Christian communities. But the real catastrophe came with the platonistic influences in the hellenistic world. Christian theologians had in mind the necessary goal of translating the Christian message to a form that could be understood in the new context of Greek philosophy. But judged from today, they went too far. The greek philosophies, especially those influenced by Plato's thinking, were deeply dualistic and hierarchical. For example, reason was more valuable than feeling, mind was to be freed from the prison (!) of the body, men were above women, humans were above nature. Our Western culture has been thorougly affected by these attitudes. And women and nature have suffered so much because of them. Christianity has suffered: it lost its integrity as a faith that values bodiliness and matter.


It is amazing that we Christians in the West have not even yet really understood the damage that was done to our faith when it was defined to be a matter of predominantly the mind and reason. We can learn a lot from sisters and brothers of the Eastern Church in this. Faith has to do with reason and feeling, body and mind, all senses and our interdependence with all nature.


But there is something valuable in the Western experience, too. Though Enlightenment thinking has been bad to our nature relationship, it has left us a precious heritage in its ideals of tolerance and equality. Feminist theology is a daughter of Enlightenment. It has opened our eyes too see that cruelty cannot be accepted in the name of Jesus Christ. Patriarchy, the power of father, or men over women has been for a long time a devastating source of violence. Jesus in the Gospels was always against human-made walls between people. He appreciated women, children, people of other faiths and ethnicities. If some part of the tradition had turned to a stiff and suffocating habit, Jesus attacked it. In Jesus came together properties that we are used to label as feminine or masculine: tenderness, strength, compassion, courage.


Feminist theology has given Christian theology a lot but it must also return to value the Wisdom dimension of theology to the full. I think that we must always start with appreciating the cumulated wisdom of tradition and liturgy. Only if they lead in new times and new contexts to cruel actions, we must stop and try to renew them. Or even dismiss those parts that prevent the life of women, men, children and the creation from flourishing.


Our theology of bodiliness and sexuality has been badly wounded. This helps us to understand, why the issues of sexuality cause so much trouble in today's churches. The renewal and healing start with a turn to holistic thinking that can do justice to the Bible and to the life of Jesus. We must become aware of the distortions of history, get rid of the elements that are foreign to our faith, and try to find again the beauty and goodness of our bodies. In our theology of sexuality we need to integrate the positive starting point with an emphasis on love, responsibility, faithfulness, joy and non-violence in human relationships. In one word, we need to find again the sacredness of human body, or the totality of our body and mind. I cannot stop me from mentioning that we Finns have a great resource for this re-thinking in our ancient and still living sauna culture.


Symbols Powerful Enough


Where to find the cultural power of change that we need in our relationships to our body and to nature etc.? I would look to the direction of Wisdom Theology, of spirituality. When we start to see the world as an interdependent whole, we can find again the lost sense of the sacredness of it. And this can be said as Christians, with no need to affirm pantheism (i.e. the idea that nature is god). An image of God that has been very dear to mystics and also to many feminist theologians is pan-en-theistic. It means that God is in everything  and everything is in God. This-worldly and other-worldly come together. God is intimately present in God's creation but at the same time infinitely beyond it and greater than it.


This kind of image of God should not be foreign to any of us. For the Orthodox tradition speaking of the sacred or sacramental presence of God in creation has never been problematic. Martin Luther spoke of our God present in “every tiny leaf of a tree”. In Finnish spirituality the presence of God in forests and all nature is important, and we are beginning to consciously integrate this dimension of spirituality to our Finnish Christianity.


It is important to speak of the Holy Mystery, of God in rich images. We need to use both personal and cosmic images to keep the balance. Why, then, is it necessary to find again the sacredness of body and nature? That is because what the humans consider sacred they approach with awe and wonder, with a healthy fear that grants the sacred thing certain inviolability. The sense of the sacredness of the earth limits our greed. The sense of the sacredness of men's and women's bodies could prevent violence like battering or rape or human trafficking or war.


We need symbols powerful enough to move our feelings and attitudes. One of them could be: The earth is sacred. We truly need a great change of thinking and living: a metanoia that Jesus proclaimed, repentance, change of our orientation. And the only source powerful enough for this metanoia is God, I believe, the holistic salvation that the Bible pictures and that God gives us as a gift.


Salvation in everyday life and beyond


We already heard some words from Ivone Gebara about salvation as everyday resurrections. A joyful meal with friends is an event of salvation. A hug or a kiss can be a small moment of resurrection. Does this sound strange? It should not, as Jesus himself compared the Kingdom of God with a wedding feast. Gebara wants to highlight the importance of everyday life, ”because we are going away”, because of the fragile and ephemeral character of our life.


If I would today ask any person on the street, what does salvation mean, maybe I would hear that it is about whether my soul will go to heaven after my death. Is this not a bit narrow concept of salvation? Anyway, it is a logical fruit of a long tradition of emphasising the mind, the soul, the transcendent world and death. But the Bible has a lot more to say.


True, in Jesus' proclamation in the center is the human person's relationship with God. God takes the initiative to approach the human, to heal the broken connection. This can help the human to find healing in her relationship with her own being, including her body. Salvation has always effects both in this life and in the life hereafter.


But to stay here would be a very selfish way of understanding salvation. In the Gospels it is told several times how the encounter with Jesus brings healing to our relationships in our families and other closest communities. For example, when Jesus decided to visit the home of Zacchaeus (Luke 19), everything changed in the life of that man. He wanted to repair the damage he had done to others. He and his family were again accepted as members of the community. Jesus comments: ”Salvation has come to this house today.”


The next level is salvation in our societies. Jesus' core message of the Kingdom of God is in line with the message of the prophets. It is good news to the poor and the oppressed. The Kingdom comes closer whe justice and peace grow in our communities. But this Kingdom cannot be perfected by human effort, it will be whole only in the world to come, in the new creation. But working with God towards justice, resisting violence and cruelty, is experiencing everyday salvation, too.


Finally, there is the cosmic dimension of salvation. It was clear to Paul: ”All of creation groans with pain --- the hope that creation itself would one day be set free” (Romans 8) and it was clear to the great Church Fathers in the early church. But for many reasons, we have gradually lost this beautiful, powerful, integrated picture of salvation. We simply need to take it back and apply it in our lives as Christians. It can mean for example the promotion of the Kingdom of Tenderness among us humans and among all creatures. It can mean seeing resistance/ activism/ ascesis as an expression of our spirituality.


The Kingdom of Tenderness and resistance


Our activism as followers of Christ could have as one name a quest for the Kingdom of Tenderness. It is pro the flourishing of life. It leads to theology where the central person is Jesus of Nazareth, the man whose life consisted of tender encounters and fearless struggles for justice. On the other hand, the tradition reminds us of the Resurrected Christ. We need to keep these two aspects together.


 At the same time following leads to resistance to something. I mention three things: violence, consumerism and the spreading technologization of our everyday life. As you notice I do not love power point -technology. I once heard a lecturer who did not use it either ask: ”Where's the power and what's the point?”  I am not against technology as such, I have enjoyed a lot the easiness of writing with computers and many other modern inventions. But I want to defend the human way of meeting us face-to-face, I want to defend children's right to play and not only with machines. I am appalled of the idea that in the future old people will be cared by robots...  I resist an uncritical admiration of machines in every area of life. That kind of admiration of ”development” is blindness and an expression of the mechanistic worldview that does not take into account the importance of the soul.


If we want to get rid of violence we need to go to the roots of the problem. One of them is our alienation from nature and the following ill-being – depression, addictions, using violence to solve problems. The venerable Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartolomeos II has said that climate change and other serious environmental problems are symptoms of a moral and spiritual crisis. This is why theology matters. Wisdom Theology can touch the roots of the problems in our souls. Women are needed in doing theology and in applying their wisdom in everyday life. What about the phenomenon that many of our children spend hours per day playing violent war games? How does it affect their souls? Should we do something as communities to this phenomenon that we all know?


Dorothee Sölle has written about the bottomless emptiness of consumerism. People are starving because of a lack of spirituality and they desperately seek something from shopping and new technological gadgets. What we as followers of Jesus could try to do is to clean the sources of spirituality and wisdom so that people find them and have the possibility to drink.


In my everyday life resistance has found new expressions as co-operation with very different people in defending our nature and our ground waters in Northern Carelia. A big threat is that international mining companies start to mine uranium there, near Koli and near my home. This threat has given birth to a civil movement against uranium mining here and anywhere on this globe. Some local congregations have also been active in this work.


Another important civil movement for me struggles to go to the roots: to change our consumerist way of living to a quest for moderate living. If we consume less, we need less energy – and energy producing always affects nature. Advertising creates useless needs and it should be restricted, especially advertising that is directed to children. And so on – we can also rely to the wisdom of our grandmothers who knew how to live in a moderate way. One image of this kind of life and theology could be the traditional Finnish  räsymatto, a carpet made of old clothes. You can make something beautiful and useful with your own hands from things that others judge as waste. It is all about attitude.


Conclusion: Women's Everyday Wisdom Theology


To summarize I want to emphasise that every woman is an expert of her own relationship with God. Every woman knows the importance of keeping things together. We women are needed in keeping our Christian tradition alive in everyday life, understanding that a living tradition is something that at the same time stays the same and changes.


We need God-talk that is relevant in our everyday and in facing the greatest global problems. It is time of the return of Wisdom Theology to the center of theologizing.


Wisdom Theology is Jesus-centered. It aims at creating symbols powerful enough to move us and to change our way of thinking and living our relationships with the world, our bodies etc.


We need to understand salvation in a Biblical and holistic way. We need to integrate silent prayer and resistance. The kingdom that Jesus proclaimed can be described as the Kingdom of Tenderness. Moments of tender encounters are small everyday resurrections.


Translated by Maria Immonen

Ivone Gebara, Out of the Depths. Women's Experiences of Evil and Salvation. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002, 125.

Dorothee Sölle, The Silent Cry. Mysticism and Resistance. Minneapolis: Fortress Press 2001.

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