According to Teresa, “God gives these souls [in the Sixth Mansions] the strongest desire not to displease him in anything, however small, and the desire to avoid if possible every imperfection.” But this passion for holiness leaves these individuals conflicted. Teresa says, on one hand the soul “wants to flee people and it has great envy of those who have lived in deserts. On the other hand, it would want to enter into the midst of the world to try to play a part in getting even one more soul to praise God more.”
Then Teresa says, “A woman in this stage of prayer is distressed by the natural hindrance there is to her entering the world, and she has great envy of those who have the freedom to cry out and spread the news abroad about who this great God of hosts is.”
We marvel at the great wisdom and accomplishments of Teresa of Avila. We also know Teresa was careful about what she wrote, what she said, and how she led. Although she doesn’t specifically identify herself in the above passage, she notes a woman’s lack of “freedom to cry out”. Commenting on this passage, Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez say, “Teresa . . . is actually telling of her own suffering, doubts and trials with her confessors because of her extraordinary experiences in prayer. One cause of distress for her was the contemporary view of appropriate roles for women, which prevented her from being able to speak in public about the greatness of God.”
While we’ve seen some progress in some parts of the world, leadership opportunities for women are still met with opposition and complacency. Sheryl Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and author of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. She says:
“The blunt truth is that men still run the world. Of the 195 independent countries in the world, only 17 are led by women. Women hold just 20 percent of the seats in parliaments globally. In the United States, where we pride ourselves on liberty and justice for all, the gender division of leadership roles is not much better. Women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States in the early 1980s. Since then, women have slowly and steadily advanced, earning more and more of the college degrees, taking more of the entry-level jobs, and entering more fields previously dominated by men. Despite these gains, the percentage of women at the top of corporate America has barely budged over the past decade. A meager twenty-one of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Women hold about 14 percent of the executive officer positions, 17 percent of board seats, and constitute 18 percent of our elected congressional officials. The gap is even worse for women of color, who hold just 4 percent of top corporate jobs, 3 percent of board seats, and 5 percent of congressional seats. While women continue to outpace men in educational achievement, we have ceased making real progress at the top of any industry. This means that when it comes to making the decisions that most affect our world, women’s voices are not heard equally.” (Sheryl Sandberg: Lean In)*
According to the Hartford Institute of Religion Research “The Faith Communities Today 2010 national survey of a fully representative, multi-faith sample of 11,000 American congregations found that 12% of all congregations in the United States had a female as their senior or sole ordained leader. For Oldline Protestant congregations this jumps to 24%, and for Evangelical congregations it drops to 9%.”
Gender should never be an obstacle to leadership positions. We should continue our work to remove these barriers inside and outside the church. Not only are these barriers discriminatory and oppressive, they’re counter-productive to the well-being of our churches and the world. As Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said: “It’s not women’s liberation, it’s women and men’s liberation.” She’s correct. If we want a better world and better churches — have more women in leadership.
of the gardens,
of the voice
friends listen for,
will you let me hear you? (Song of Songs**)
For this post I used a translation of The Interior Castle by Kieran Kavanaugh O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies: Washington D.C.
*Lean In. Sheryl Sandberg. © 2013 Lean In Foundation Alfred A. Knopf, A Division of Random House, Inc., New York and Toronto.
** The Song of Songs. Marcia Falk. © 1990 Marcia Lee Falk. HarperCollins.