24 October 2014

Submission, mutuality and vulnerability (Awakening :: Week 7)

In stark contrast to patriarchal submission, on the Camino I grew aware of a different kind of submission. Chris and I each encountered physical, mental and emotional obstacles that we had never experienced before. At times, I needed Chris to support me and keep me going. At other times Chris needed me to support and encourage him. Mutuality. The presumption I had grown up under—that the woman submits to the man as part of the natural order of things, that to submit means to suppress myself and elevate someone else, not as an act of mercy but as an act of penance for my gender—was being subverted and reshaped as we made our way together along the Camino. We needed one another, and we needed to trust one another. Mutuality is beautifully expressed in John 13. In this passage we learn of the last supper—Jesus’ last Passover meal with his disciples before he was crucified. With a totally countercultural gesture Jesus insisted on washing his friends’ feet. Here the teacher stooped down to do the job of a slave. One of the disciples, Peter, was indignant and initially refused to let Jesus touch his grimy, first-century feet. But Jesus told Peter that unless he allowed Jesus to do this, Peter would have no part in him. Peter’s response was then one of total submission. He asked Jesus to not stop with his feet but to wash his hands and head as well. Peter’s initial reaction to Jesus is similar to our gut reaction. We don’t want Jesus to “go there”—to those vulnerable, needy places in us. We want to pretend that we are self-sufficient, capable people who don’t need anything from anyone. Peter’s submission to Jesus required Peter’s own admittance of his weakness, his need. The act of Jesus washing his feet would expose Peter’s vulnerability. Submission is about receiving, but sadly society and culture have made it about subjugation. And so a power paradigm is created in which often women are expected to “submit” (subjugate themselves) and men don’t posture themselves to receive (submit). Reflection

  • Can you think of a time when you experienced mutuality? Describe the players, what happened and how it affected you.
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being very easy and 10 being excruciatingly difficult, how easy is it for you to be vulnerable, own your weakness, and receive from another?
  • Given your comfortability with vulnerability, how does this impact your relationships?

2 Responses

  1. Nick M

    Mutuality! So beautifully expressed and illustrated. Phileena you say “submission is about receiving” this resonates as so true to me. Being able to receive in those vulnerable places is so important to our growing and healing. The element of trust that you mention is so important, Thank you for opening this up to us.

  2. I am learning that complete vulnerability is the heart of the gospel. I cannot embody love, humility, compassion or gentleness without being rooted in vulnerability. This is shaping me a lot. I would say I am at a 5 level on a scale of 1 to 10 about my own practice of vulnerability. As a man, vulnerability has not been taught to me by my family, my schooling, or church experiences. So I have come to learn it slowly and imperfectly. Thanks for your thoughts Phileena! They are always enlightening and hopeful!