Virtues of the Vagina: The Monologues as Ministry

2 Jan

For a Christian lady reared in a conservative, small Pennsylvanian town, I’d seen my share of, ahem, vaginas.  Not real ones, but large puppet vaginas affectionately called Wondrous Vulvas.

And wondrous they were. Comparable in size to a ginormous summer watermelon, my puppet was thoughtfully crafted with plush purple velvet and layers of pink satin.

Many years ago I animated this puppet as a means of education and outreach to women trapped in the sex industry in Hawaii.  On the “track” in Waikiki, I met countless young girls whose bodies were trafficked and vaginas were exposed and violated.  Repeatedly.  Every night.  To fulfill a cash quota set by their pimp.

Countless strangers purchased access to, and familiarity with, young women’s vagina’s.  But the women themselves expressed estrangement from, and unfamiliarity with, their own bodies.  Especially their vagina’s.  Few seemed to know what their vaginas looked like, what they were capable of, or how to protect them from disease.  And so this small town Christian girl in her denim overalls naively took to the streets, Wondrous Vulva in hand, to share the wonders of our bodies and how to best keep them healthy.

But that was almost two decades ago.  Time and life created distance between all that vagina talk, and me.

In addition to a wife and mother, I became an ordained minister.  I worked with college students and young adults at colleges and universities. And despite the youth and liberalism of my flock, many female students expressed anxiety about referring to anything vagina-related with a minister.  Even a “lady” minister.   This came into sharp focus when a student explained, “I just assumed the church hates vaginas.”

The church is guilty of many things.  Absolutely.  We’re plagued with patriarchal systems and structures, responsible for subtle and overt acts of sexism, & replete with examples of misogyny.  I’m keenly aware of, and profoundly grieved by, all of the above. But hating vaginas?

I never heard it put that way before.

By the grace of God, I resisted my first impulse: to explain and defend.   And instead of providing an eloquent theological treatise in defense of the church; instead of recounting the innumerable positive contributions the Christian tradition has made to women’s rights; instead of inviting students to a bible study employing feminist hermeneutics, I did something else.

I pledged to make a yearly pilgrimage to student directed productions of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues.

It’s been 8 years since I made that resolution.

I’ve missed a couple performances due to other events like childbirth, but I figure those were vagina-related pilgrimages in their own right.  Other than that, I’ve been in attendance.  Often in the front row.  Listening.

And every year I’m struck by the way young female performers seem to inhabit their own body, through embodying the stories of others. I’m moved by the way another young woman finds her own voice, as she gives voice to another woman’s story.

It’s then I’m reminded of my Wondrous Vulva nights, and the young women in Waikiki.  And convinced that at least part of the Good News I’m called to share, is that despite what we may think, the Church does not hate vaginas.

Even better, God certainly doesn’t.  Of that I’m certain.

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Tara HeadshotTara Woodard-Lehman is an ordained PC USA minister. Since 1998 she has ministered to and with university students. Prior to coming to Princeton, Tara served as the William C. Bennett Chaplain and Assistant Professor of Religion at Peace College in Raleigh, North Carolina. Over the past four years Tara has served as the Executive Director of Westminster Foundation and Presbyterian Chaplain at Princeton University.  Tara also serves on the pastoral staff of Nassau Presbyterian Church.

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