In the same way that slavery was a moral challenge for the 19th c. & totalitarianism was a challenge for the 20th c., the challenge that women & girls face around the world is the moral challenge of our time.

~ Sheryl WuDunn & Nicholas Kristof

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Glimpsing Eve by Emily Nielsen Jones

Glimpsing Eve
But you have forgotten the Rock that begot you, the God who gave you birth
Deuteronomy 32:3,4,18.
Mother of the Living חַוָּה

In my work doing "gender-lens" philanthropy, I have traveled around the globe, and have traveled too within the female psyche, my own and others who have let me in.  The Imago Dei Fund, a relatively new foundation that exists to “protect and preserve the imago dei (Latin for "divine image") where it is most threatened and vulnerable.  A rather lofty vision, we have let our hearts take the lead in discerning macro-movements of God in our world and have found ourselves drawn to work toward the eradication of human trafficking and gender-based violence, both very entrenched yet often invisible problems wreaking havoc on the human family.

As my global gender awareness continues to expand and grow, what I see in the mirror of our world is a wounded but beautiful face looking back at me.  Her name is Eve.

Who is Eve?  Not the literal, historical character some of us learned about in Sunday school, but rather who She represents in a universal, archetypal human sense: the "Mother of the Living", the feminine face of God in our world, the collective embodiment of womankind as image-bearers of God.  Who is Eve?  I am Eve.  My daughter is Eve.  My sisters, my mother, aunts, girlfriends, female colleagues, sisters around the world, each a unique face of Eve in the world, each way more interesting than the "role" churches still teach us we should be and the body images sold to us by the media.

Eve... a female-shaped diamond with many facets... She that cannot be defined by anyone or anything externally... She knows her beauty & strength and offers it graciously to the world, even when it is undervalued & diminished...

God spoke: "Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature so they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, and, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth." God created human beings; God created them godlike, Reflecting God's nature. God created them male and female. Gen 1:26-28

As we have engaged in grant-making, we have decided to incorporate a "gender-lens" into all our philanthropy:  How can we do our part to continue the unfinished quest for human equality between the genders?  How can we help to create a world in which Adam and Eve--the Masculine and the Feminine--live, love and work side-by-side as full equals?   With this heightened gender awareness, I see two faces of Eve in the women today:

Eve diminished: "submissive", victimized, "lesser than", in her place at the margins of church and organizations, Eve hidden by a veil of shame and inferiority, Eve as scape goat and whipping girl at the hands of male pride and presumption.  I see this wounded face of Eve in the subtle wounds of women raised in the church, which continues to lag behind the rest of society in working toward gender equity, and in the more egregious wounds of girls and women around the world who are victims of gender-based violence. Women have come along way but still suffer a scale of the physical, sexual and psychological violence worldwide that is mind-numbing, a pandemic humanitarian crisis that crosses every social and economic class, every religion, race and ethnicity.
-                   In some countries, up to one third of adolescent girls report that their first sexual experience was forced. (World Health Organization)
-                     At least one out of every three women in the world has been raped, beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise violently abused in her lifetime. (UN Development Fund for Women)
-                     An estimated one in five women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. (UN. Millennium Project)

Whether subtle or extreme, when one's "presumption of equality" (Sue Monk Kidd in The Dance of the Dissident Daughter) is violated, particularly early in one's development, it can leave scars.  Words hurt.  Religious words and ideas carry particular ontological weight, i.e. they either elevate the human spirit and open it to greater creativity, wisdom and insight, or when they are used to assign differential degrees of value, worth, or place in society, they (religious ideas) can be dangerous and damaging to the soul/psyche which is wounded by any form of human diminishment. Whether from the culture or from religion, Eve carries painful wounds in her body and in her inner being, but she is resilient and strong.  The other face of Eve...

Eve rising up:  strong, empowered, self-actualized, very human and very female, in her full power and glory—God-like—a feminine face of God in our world, a passionate lover, a fierce protector, a compassionate pillar holding up more than "half the sky", inspiring leader, creator, a healing presence in our world.  Eve no longer accepting an inferior place in society, defined by men, Eve rising up to take her full place in creating a better world where all human beings can live and flourish side-by-side. In many ways, as Eve rises up, all of humanity is elevated to a more civil, higher way of being, one in which power is not power over another, but power with, power to give and receive and offer one’s gifts to the world.  Some of the most interesting, capable social activists that I have met this past year are women, women who are working in their sweet spot, living out their calling in the world, empowered by their imago dei to give power and dignity to others and to work toward the betterment of humanity, woman who mirror to me the feminine heart of God, the face of Eve, the Mother of the Living.

Today NGO's are increasingly looking to women around the globe to lead and strengthen their communities.  In development circles, female-focused philanthropy is in vogue.  Girls and women are increasingly being looked to as a lynchpin of social change to start businesses, promote public health, improve child welfare, foster community development, stop the spread of AIDS, and eradicate a whole host of social ills.  In 2001 the World Bank issued a study (Engendering Development Through Gender Equality In Rights, Resources, and Voice) of this recent trend of female-focused philanthropy that concluded that “Women’s empowerment helps raise economic productivity and reduce infant mortality.  It contributes to improved health and nutrition.  It increases the chances of education for the next generation.”    In the "female effect", as its been called, Eve is rising up out of dehumanizing conditions to restore and heal our world.  

 “Study after study has taught us that there is no tool more effective for development than the empowerment of women.”                                                                                                  
~ UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan

“Women are the key to ending hunger in Africa”  
~ the Hunger Project

 “Progress is achieved through women” 
~ Dr. Richard Heinzl, Founder of  Doctors without Borders

In my work walking beside & supporting female change agents around the world, I have felt my own Eve-like heart expanding in empathy and love for women around the globe who are no different than me or my mother or my daughter.  We all deep down want to know that we are God-like, that we have a unique purpose in this world, that we are free to chart our own course.  This is the essence of what it means to be human.  Belief systems which assign and limit women to "roles" create a gender-tiered society which aids and abets the violent, lower tendencies of men to seek domination over women rather than the partnership and mutuality for which we were created.  Regardless of what religious tradition it is, whether Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish or Christian, the language of religious-based gender hierarchy sounds pretty much the same:  women be “quiet” and “submissive” and accept limited roles within the family, the church, and in society.  When Christians export this mode of thinking around the world, it becomes one more rationale for keeping women in a subordinate role in society, doing most of the work but not ever “owning” their own work and finding their own path in life. 

Unresolved questions that linger in my mind in this work of creating a more gender-balanced world:  How can we promote change around the world not only to "rescue" and empower individual women one-by-one but also to change the thought patterns that have created such a violent world where girls and women are still so vulnerable to such pervasive, shocking abuse.  It is a sad reality that there continues to be a religious root to the subjugation of women around the world.  Adam and Eve were not meant to live like this. We can do better than this.  As a species, we are ready to move to the next level of our development and move beyond power-based hierarchies in all their forms.
(image of Adam & Eve & the Tree of Life from the door of a chapel at the Community of Jesus in Orleans, MA)

I am encouraged to see evangelical Christians working to promote gender equality within our tradition and in our world today, but am deeply saddened and troubled that many Christians today still seem beholden to hierarchical notions of gender so at odds with the human soul's wired-in desire for freedom and equality.  God is on the side of human equality. There is something intrinsically true about human equality that all of our highest ideals as human beings point to.  Both men and women carry a “lost Eden” in our hearts.  Regardless of her external conditions, whether she hails from a remote village in Africa or from New York City, deep down Eve knows and believes in her own dignity and equality.  Eve today is strong and resilient.  She is tired of patriarchy in all its forms, whether from a human trafficker, an abusive husband, or from a preacher or missionary carrying a big Bible.  Eve continues to love men.  She can't get around the fact that she carries his rib inside of her. She is looking for Adam not so much to rescue her, but rather to stand with her side-by-side in empathy and human solidarity to create a world more in keeping with Eden.  Eve is standing her ground, holding up way more than "half the sky" with dignity and grace, rising up to heal and restore our beautiful but hurting world.

As we seek together to create a better world, let us all draw strength and grace from Eve, the Mother of All Living, who gives birth to all things and gently restores creation, with our help, back to it's imago dei.

shalom, Emily


  1. This post is so beautiful it moved me to tears. Thank you for this brave, honest truth. Much love

  2. Reblogged this brave, beautiful post at