The world is composed of many cultures, each containing colorful and delightful aspects. But sometimes facets of a culture have evolved from fear or even a misunderstanding of how the world or the human body works. These practices can lead to fear and suffering.
Both Jesus and his apostles did all they could to eliminate fear and suffering in the people they met, and the spiritual force that empowered their healing work liberated individuals from prejudice and superstitious beliefs.
That power is still present, making itself felt as customs once thought normal, even routine, come into question. One of these customs is the practice of such rites as female circumcision. While this is a topic many won't even want to think about, more than 3 million girls between 5 and 8 years old undergo this grim practice each year. Every one of them deserves your prayers, prayers that can free them from harm.
Although efforts have been made to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM), or circumcision, for more than 25 years, it is still practiced in some 28 African and several Middle Eastern and Asian nations. Roughly 130 million girls and women are already affected.
Often performed under unsanitary conditions and without an anesthetic, FGM can cause serious aftereffects and even fatalities. The act isn't driven by religion – although Islam is often accused of encouraging it – but by cultural taboos that affect a woman's prospects for marriage and her role in the community. A woman who is not circumcised is considered a social outcast, and her prospects for marriage are poor. Besides helping to preserve the girl's virginity and to contribute to her cleanliness and beauty, FGM is supposed to reduce her sexual desire and thus keep her faithful to her husband.
One hopeful sign was reported in a recent Monitor article on a rescue center in Kenya where girls can take part in an alternative rite of passage to adulthood. The article also noted the challenges to progress: "Changing an entire culture ... can be a difficult process even in a fairly well-off and well-educated country like Kenya. The key ingredient, activists say, is the consent of the people who find meaning from that culture."
To help free those who practice or encourage FGM, it's important not to condemn, but to see them from a spiritual standpoint, as God's children. God, who is Love, never sends suffering to any of His offspring, and our knowledge of this spiritual fact can help free them from the collective fears that keep FGM going.
Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Monitor, understood that true equality would come when men and women better understood God as Spirit and themselves as made in God's likeness. The purity we each have as Spirit's likeness is natural and indestructible; it's not dependent on a material body. It rests on our expression of spiritual qualities such as intelligence, goodness, love, and peace. Spirituality, not the pain and anguish of FGM, measures our purity and faithfulness.
In "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," Mrs. Eddy wrote, "The good in human affections must have ascendency over the evil and the spiritual over the animal, or happiness will never be won. The attainment of this celestial condition would improve our progeny, diminish crime, and give higher aims to ambition" (p. 61). Jesus expressed those higher aims. His purpose was to open our eyes to God as our Father and Mother, and to the fact that we are perfect and pure, because God is perfect and pure.
Jesus was so pure that a woman who'd been bleeding for years was healed when she touched the border of his garment. According to Jewish law, it wasn't proper for a woman in that condition to touch even the clothes of a man. But Jesus' healing love discredited that belief and wiped out the physical condition (see Matt. 9:20-22).
This can be a metaphor for our prayers about the practice of FGM. The Christ-spirit that Jesus embodied expresses God's love for all of us, men and women alike. We can expect Love to reveal solutions to FGM that help people to see the inherent purity in each individual and to recognize that this quality isn't based in matter. Rather, its foundation is in the goodness of God, the Creator of men and women, with equal love toward all. Prayer that affirms these spiritual truths will move people beyond fear, ignorance, or rigidity. It can awaken even those who believe strongly in FGM to their true spiritual nature, and enable them to see their daughters in spiritual terms, as pure and free children of God.
For an expanded exploration, see "In the news" in the April 7 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.