Recently, my mother and I had a conversation about religious doctrine. This is not an unusual occurrence. My mother still considers herself Christian. And while she fully supports my right to choose and follow my own spiritual path, she doesn’t always understand it. So, we talk about it…and how my beliefs differ from hers and the doctrine I grew up with.
In this particular conversation, we addressed the issue of jewelry. For most Christian denominations, jewelry is not an issue. In fact, it is so far from being an issue that most Christians don’t even realize that it could even be an issue. For my mother’s denomination, it still is an issue…particularly in Middle America and The South. In fact, it is a doctrinal tenant to abstain from wearing jewelry or adorning one’s self and the passage that is most frequently cited in support of this doctrine is found in 1 Peter 3:3. So, out came the many translations of the Christian Bible and we read the passage in each one.
As I read the passage in the New English Translation, I began to chuckle to myself, then gradually began to laugh out loud in delight. It has been years since I have read this passage and as I read, a gob of memories came along with it…memories of memorizing and reciting arguments as to why this text supports several doctrines. Even after I left Christianity, I couldn’t read this text with any clarity for there were too many emotions and teachings around it to see it with fresh eyes. And yet, now I could…and it was simultaneously hysterical and delightful.
My mother, who was in the middle of a rant about how this-text-is-pulled-out-of-context-to-support-an-anti-jewelry-stance-when-it-really-has-nothing-at-all-to-do-with-jewelry, stopped mid-sentence to ask me why I was laughing. I told her that I agreed with her…it has absolutely nothing to do with jewelry as a doctrine. She asked me how I saw the verse and this is what I told her.
The premise of Peter and his writings must first be examined. Just because this letter was canonized doesn’t necessarily mean that it has any higher value or sacredness above another letter that wasn’t canonized. Because the canonization of the Christian Bible (New Testament) happened over a period of 300 years and wasn’t finalized for nearly 600 years, it’s pretty unreasonable to assume that everything Peter wrote in this letter was intended to be scripture for later generations. This is just a letter…from one human to a group of people in a very specific circumstance. So, start with that.
Among this specific group of people Peter is writing to are women…wives many of them…some of them wives to men who were “non-believers.” Most women in that time did not have a say in their choice of husband, nor did they have the option to leave their husbands except under extreme circumstances. Additionally, a woman who left her husband would most likely be destitute, as very few women learned a trade or had a career that didn’t involve prostitution, so even if they could leave, it would be unwise to do so. So, it’s important to read the entire passage, verses 3-7 with that cultural understanding.
It is also vitally important to realize that Peter was also speaking from this cultural understanding. Somewhere, he learned that women were supposed to be “gentle and tranquil.” And yet, I am fairly certain that not all Jewish women at that time were gentle and tranquil. So clearly there is some bias here in his writing.
But here’s the thing that struck me with delight: Peter is trying to explain what a spiritual woman is but he doesn’t really know how to describe it…because he hasn’t fully comprehended it. He’s seen it and observed it, but he can’t teach it without offense due to his biases. What he’s really trying to communicate to the women and wives is how to embody the Sacred Feminine.
There is increasing evidence that not only was Jesus married and that the wedding at Cana was his wedding, but that his wife was Mary Magdalene…not a prostitute, but a very wealthy woman from a noble family. There is also evidence suggesting that she supported Jesus in his ministry and many of the Gnostic gospels mention their relationship. Jesus routinely taught about the Sacred Feminine…not directly, but in code (let him who has ears hear). And it would make sense that his marriage would be an illustration of a balanced relationship between the Sacred Masculine and the Sacred Feminine…the topic of the Gnostic gospels and the reason for their exclusion from the canon (I realize I am not citing these evidences here mostly because this post isn’t about this topic. I include this background only because it is needed to understand my thought process based on the information I’ve gleaned since the last time I read this text.).
So, Peter experienced the Sacred Feminine…he saw it embodied in at least one woman, and he was attracted to it. But he hadn’t experienced it for himself…either in a relationship with a woman who embodied the Sacred Feminine or with the Deity Herself…so he had no idea how to communicate this to others…much less women. And this is where we can really relate to this situation.
Peter is a man…an uneducated fisherman…writing. Now, there are men who are gifted with words and excel in communication and we love and adore them. But the vast majority fumble in this area…even at a young age. When I asked my third graders to write a story (eventually I learned to provide a topic sentence or opening line), the girls would write pages and the boys would write a paragraph. Just the essentials. So, I can’t imagine that Peter would have been much different…struggling to communicate in words and then having to put them to paper would have been difficult if not tedious. It is hardly surprising that his letters are some of the shortest in the canon.
So what was he trying to communicate?
That a woman’s attraction to her husband or other men is not solely in her physical appearance (I recognize that a woman can also be attractive to another woman and I fully support this situation as well…that’s just not the situation being addressed by Peter in this passage, hence my choice of words “husband” and “men.”). Physical attractiveness is important to men and will inspire them to spend time with a woman, but that’s not what keeps him with her. What keeps him with her is his ability to connect with Divinity through her. As a male friend told me this week, “…she drew me in with her attractiveness, but it didn’t take me long to realize that she was spiritually vapid. I was disappointed because without that spiritual element we couldn’t have the deep emotional connection that I’m craving.”
So many women think that what makes us attractive to our partners (male or female) is our physical attributes or appearance of youth. So thousands of dollars are spent on maintaining that illusion of youth through plastic surgery, botox, hair dye, weight loss “programs”, slimming underwear, trendy clothing, make-up, Photoshop, revealing hems or necklines or tight-fitting clothing. Apparently, according to this verse, not a whole lot has changed in the last 2000 years.
Now, let me go on the record by saying I think a woman should take care of herself physically and do all that she can to be the most attractive she can be in a healthy way. We live in a physical dimension and are capable of experiencing pleasure for a reason. I fully support experiencing that, expressing that, and embracing one’s sensuality and sexuality in a healthy way.
However, I think Peter and my friend, centuries apart, realized the same thing…that we women have learned to manipulate others with our physical appearances in order to compensate for the lack of inner light and radiance that is so apparent and natural in younger women. Of course men do too, but this is not the topic at hand. But is this manipulation really the best way to go about attracting someone? To really be attractive to your desired person, there has to be something of substance behind our physical advertisement…otherwise it’s just manipulation and false advertising.
So, what are you embodying as a woman? Yes, a gentleness exists in the Sacred Feminine, but so does destruction. Yes, nurturing is an attribute of the Sacred Feminine, but so is passion and ecstasy Yes, sensuality is a physical expression of the Sacred Feminine, but so is the dark, mysterious, wet, and entangledness of her body and of life. Collaboration is an attribute, but so are personal power and boundaries. Femininity is wise and able to access wisdom, but it’s also vibrant and energetic. Find these pieces within you again and develop a comfort with these aspects of your femininity, aligning with your spiritual truth. Then you will radiate the inner light that both Peter and my friend found attractive…more attractive than the most exquisite piece of jewelry. Peter just didn’t know how to write it down.