Beauty & Terror


Beauty & Terror

Sharlet Panhalkar


The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

-Genesis 2:18-22 (NIV)

Welcome to the story of Eve. From the Genesis narrative, we find an extraordinary birth story of Eve. Eve means ‘’mother of life’’ or ‘’mother of all who have life.’’ She was indeed the mother of the human race, the first mother. I imagine that Eve must have been the most beautiful woman created in the image of God. Being handcrafted by God himself must have been such a holy moment.

However, despite God’s good and beautiful creation, I wonder how it is that only Eve becomes taboo in this perfect story—the taboo of “Fall” or “Original Sin” that crumbled the image and identity of women. It’s as though her very existence and creation was a big mistake. Why would God create Eve if she was going to be a source of evil? Or was it intended that everyone sees how a woman’s sexuality can become a major cause of sin and terror? This story challenges us to reflect on the enormous damage done by our Church traditions and societal norms that bind women to their bodies as objects.

For centuries, many Christian traditions have mis-told and mis-used Eve’s story to objectify women. Richard Rohr in his article Original Blessing wrote that “most Christian theology seems to start with Genesis 3—which features Adam and Eve—what Augustine would centuries later call ‘original sin.’ When you start with the negative or with a problem, it’s not surprising that you end with Armageddon and Apocalypse.” Humanity focuses too much on “Original Sin” instead of “Original Blessing.”

We remember Eve as the temptress or seductive woman who ate the forbidden fruit as an act of disobedience to God. This prevailing understanding of Eve throughout history has primarily characterized women as envious competitors, rather than potential companions for each other. Viewing Eve as handcrafted by Godself to fully embody the imago dei invites us to focus on Eve as God’s glorious and good creation.

Power, privilege, and position have been the dominant ways for creating terror out of innocent and holy beauty. In a patriarchal society, where women were mainly used for their bodies and not minds, a woman’s beauty and charm were perceived for procreation or exploitation for a personal, social, or political gain.

How then might we claim beauty without objectifying women? Beauty can be claimed by affirming a woman’s body/identity and beauty through her intellect, creativity, work and deed rather than the outer physical beauty. Women are exemplified for their outer beauty and not for their inward qualities of love, generosity, nurture, care, etc. By affirming women’s inward and outward beauty as a holistic and holy creation of God we will be able to claim beauty without objectifying women.

*How do we identify and challenge the dominant societal norms and authorities that deny women’s role in sacred and secular spaces?

What are some other ways we can claim beauty without objectifying women?*

Lord, help us to see the real beauty of our bodies and minds as your precious and holy creations. Amen.

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