When I’m closest and most intimate with my husband, my mind ponders the nature and essence of woman as woman and of man as man. I believe that our bodies and our souls were both designed by God for function and beauty, and that as a result our bodies reflect truth about the nature of our being. Put another way, our bodies are gendered, so some aspect at least of our being is gendered, and understanding our femininity or masculinity is necessary to understanding the fullness of our being. Our bodies of course are broken and subject to sin, and the image of ourselves and of God that we see in them is faulty and incomplete. But even in the beginning, when the world was unstained, “God made them male and female.”
I’ve never come across another definition of the essence of masculinity and femininity (and the difference between them) quite as beautiful and succinct as Leila Lawler’s over at Like Mother, Like Daughter, where she describes the man as the one whose vocation is to give and the woman as the one whose vocation is to receive that she might give in return. So in marriage the man gives his love and the woman receives it, and in the receiving gives back the love in the creation of the child. (Read her post for more depth – I don’t want to take her ideas and anyway, she expresses them more beautifully and clearly than I ever could).
This understanding of man and woman then becomes my springboard for understanding the church. For the church is the bride of Christ. We are all, in the cosmic sense, in our relation to God, feminine. A church that relies solely on the masculine image of God, that sees the good only in the initiating, powerful, authoritative things, will fail to understand who God is (God in whose image both male and female were created) but will even more completely fail to understand its own nature and purpose as the Bride. We, the church, are intended like the woman to receive love that we might pour it back out in return. God bestows, we receive; and our reception is not the end of our love and vocation, but the beginning. The church gestates within herself the new life that God is preparing for His children and for all creation, and it is through the church – through our labor of love, through our suffering in childbirth, that the new life will finally come into its own. It is of course His life in us, His love in us, that is making it all happen. But He has chosen to make it happen in us and through us, just as He chose the new life of the baby to come about in the woman and through the woman, though without the life-giving seed of the man it could never have come to be at all.