On a recent trip to New York City I visited the JP Morgan Library, where I viewed the Crusader Bible. The Crusader Bible, reportedly created around 1250, is a spectacular piece of art work. As I wandered around the room looking at the beautifully illustrated pages that had familiar and unfamiliar Bible stories I paused at the page that depicted the Last Supper. There in stunning color I saw Jesus sitting at the head of the table, surrounded by his bearded disciples, and on his left sat a woman. I was shocked! I checked to see if I was seeing correctly, and yes I was. All the faces around the table had beards, except for the woman sitting to Jesus' left.
As I looked at the woman's face, who I assume was Mary Magdalene, the long-denied wife of Jesus, I saw how the church silenced her story and discredited her personal power and how the effects of this silencing ripples all the way through to mothers and daughters today. One of the main reasons mothers and daughters suffer from conflict today is because of women's multi-generational experience with sexism. And the sexism that is particularly harmful to mothers and daughters is the silencing of women's stories and experiences. The silencing of women's stories and experiences stops mothers and daughters from being known and heard, which is an essential ingredient for an emotionally connected mother-daughter relationship. It also stops mothers and daughters from recognizing the emotional harm restrictive gender roles and harmful cultural practices inflict on women.
The women in my family suffered from the same silencing Mary Magdalene suffered from. History has erased what Mary Magdalene thought and felt, and my family does the same. We don't talk about what my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother felt, thought, and dreamed about. This kind of emotional conversation doesn't have a voice in my family. We don't talk about how my grandmother felt about being a wife and how her husband treated her. We don't talk about how my great-grandmother felt about being a missionary's wife and the sacrifices the church expected her to make. We don't ask each other how we feel or what we need because the sexism my family exhibits doesn't allow us to ask these questions.
I believe that one of the biggest crimes patriarchy and the church has inflicted on women is the silencing of their stories and experiences. This crime has resulted in countless mothers and grandmothers dying unknown and unheard, and their dreams lying forgotten under the weight of being a good wife and mother. As I looked at Mary Magdalene's face looking back at me from the pages of history I wondered how different her life might've been had the church not been threatened by her femininity and her connection with Jesus. I wondered what path world history might have taken had Mary Magdalene been allowed to speak? How different would women's roles be today if history wasn't littered with invisible women, silenced women, denied female feelings and needs, and unrecognized female talent? And how different would my mother's, grandmothers', and great-grandmothers' lives have been had their feelings, needs, and stories been the topic of daily conversation?
Undoubtedly the world would be in a different place because past decisions would have included both male and female viewpoints and male and female needs. And my family would be in a different place had my grandmothers' and great-grandmothers' viewpoints and needs been part of the decision making. I would not have inherited the way my mother and grandmother silence themselves. Being emotionally silent would not have been a normal way of behaving in my family. And if speaking our emotional truth was common-place, I would not have had to fight to be heard and understood by my mother. And maybe I would not have had the calling to be a mother-daughter therapist twenty-plus years ago because mother-daughter relationship conflict would not have affected my life and other women's lives as much as it has.