Spider Theology

Today in my reading for my Spiritual Traditions and Practices course, the chapter on “Feminism and Spirituality” began with the image of “a spider spinning her web…she creates out of her own body a world that feeds and protects her, a world unique and adapted perfectly to its environment.”

Woah. What? This provocative imagery made me think about how many people—not just feminists—choose to create their theology, their thoughts about God, based on their own needs and preferences. I remembered a camp workshop I attended many summers ago where the speaker asked us to draw a picture of ourselves and hang it around our necks. Later, he asserted that the way we see ourselves is the way we see God.

It’s an age-old problem, isn’t it—one that does not limit itself to a demographic. And I call this a problem because it leaves us worshipping ourselves, which never leads to the meaning, joy, and love that we seek. In my reading it was pointed out that a common theme in feminist spirituality is sensitivity to one’s individuality. There is much celebration and sacralization of the woman’s self and body. Prayer to goddesses is common, for as feminist scholar and theologian Carol Christ argues, worship of a male God can never empower women.

Is that what we are looking for in our spiritual quest: empowerment?

A major problem for Christian feminists is the idea of Jesus Christ as a male savior, which “appears to deny women’s religious authority, autonomy, and moral agency…Models of submission to male will and authority are not emancipatory for women.” And this, I would say, is proof that if one subscribes to such a stream of Christian spirituality, one is entirely missing the point of the good news Jesus shared. Jesus was all about a new kingdom, where everything was different: where it doesn’t have to be scary to submit to a God, a Father, a “male savior” who loves you. Jesus modeled this himself, extending compassion, tender love, and grace upon grace to the women who crossed his path in ways that were not just radical in his cultural age, but are still radical today.

Personally, I know that fear of letting go, of submitting, of saying, “Hey, actually, I can’t do this on my own…I can’t pull myself up by my bootstraps no matter how beautiful and special and strong I am—I need a savior.” I also know that it is when I’ve let go that the most beautiful things have happened to me, when I’ve been able to open up and receive gifts I’ve always longed for like peace, hope, and security.

This fear of and resistance to submission to a God who is primarily spoken of in male terms is legitimate and grounded in circumstances ranging from heartbreaking to heinous. One needn’t be a history buff to know about the millenniums of oppression of women. However, it would be foolish to read about Jesus’ life in the Scriptures and assume that the women who loved, followed, served, and yes, submitted to him did not know what it was to be oppressed. The world of the Ancient Near East was a man’s world. I can’t imagine the abuse that some of these women suffered, yet they found acceptance, gentleness, respect, and freedom to be themselves in Jesus.

The chapter on feminism and spirituality closed with the spider image again, remarking, “The spider creates a world from her own body.” As women, we have often been used, abused, neglected, and left to fend for ourselves. We feel the need to create a God who will not also treat us like this. But we are not spiders. The world—true reality—has already been created, and we must gather the courage to crawl across our own webs, swing out on a silken thread, and be caught up in arms of Love.

***Sorry about the cheesy spider picture. I tried to put a real photo up, but they were just creeping out me out WAY too much. Hee.


3 thoughts on “Spider Theology

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  1. great post, joy.

    leaving aside the problematic implications of using a spider, with its symbolic connotations of entrapment, seduction, and so forth, to buttress a feminist argument (i’ll give the author the benefit of the doubt that she was doing it deliberately in an attempt to “reclaim” the image or whatever)…

    in c.s. lewis’ Screwtape Letters, he writes about directing our prayers, “Not to what I think Thou Art, but to what Thou knowest Thyself to be.” this one little phrase cuts through the clutter we create around the idea of God with all our philosophical critiques, whether feminist, socialist, communist, capitalist, everything. at least, it does for me, because it reminds me that God transcends them all.

    God is who and what God is, regardless of what we may feel, think, or perceive about God.

    i like your conclusion. indeed, we are not spiders. we do not create reality. we are born into it, and live in it; it is already here for better or worse, to be reckoned with (on its own terms, not ours), and to be redeemed (on God’s).


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