I remember being struck a few years ago when I first read these words from Mercy Amba Oduyoye, a Ghanaian theologian. She had written of the female as "the archetype of the human" for her status as the one whom human cultures expect to sacrifice self so that others might live (176-177). Oduyoye sees in the self-giving orientation the model of humanity, the meaning of what it means to be truly human. The problem, Oduyoye wrote, is that only half of the human race, namely the female, is commonly called upon to exercise self-giving. This results in a situation in which women are disproportionately crushed, for they continue to be who they are supposed to be in the context of men who live by a different cultural definition of humanity. Oduyoye's proposal, however, was not to discard the female's well-worn way of being human; it was to invite the male to understand his humanity also according to the pattern of self-giving, or, as Oduyoye calls it, the way of "mothering" (Oduyoye's essay Feminist Theology in an African Perspective can be found in Rosino Gibellini, ed., Paths of African Theology (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1994), 166-181.).
Last week, after Anna had preached the story of Ruth to illustrate how women could build up the church, the male pastor of the church confirmed the word for his mostly female congregation. "I also was absorbing this word. I also am a mother, you know."
As we made our way to leave that day, we noticed also another young couple who has recently joined the church and begun to exercise leadership. They are the third couple to attend the church, the other two being the pastor and his wife and Anna and I. The husband did a thing I had seen no other man do in our more than three years here: he tied their baby on his back. Mothering indeed.