When We Were Eve: Uncovering the Woman God Created You to Be
A new title from Franciscan Media, When We Were Eve by Colleen C. Mitchell is a book that every single Catholic woman should read. I mean that, and I promise I wouldn’t say it lightly. Single, married, religious – everybody.
I am especially excited to share this one with you all, because this book is a WONDERFUL exploration of Catholic womanhood for those of us coming at this late as converts, with other backgrounds and old baggage from disordered ideas about how the physical connects with the spiritual, and about the place of women in the Church and in the world.
It’s a gentle, frank, and completely open discussion of what it means to be a woman: what we were created to be, how we’re affected by the fall, with a particular focus on the rocky relationship we all seem to have with our physical selves. From true self-care, to body image and sexuality, to coping with abuse, trauma, and suffering, on to finding joy and delight as daughters of the King, When We Were Eve explores all of these issues and more by drawing on both the creation story and on the personal stories of the author and others.
One of my favorite parts of When We Were Eve is Mitchell’s beautiful storytelling. From Eve to Bathsheba to Tobias and Sarah, figures in the Bible come alive. In the early chapters, Mitchell explores what it might have been like for Eve in the garden – a real woman, her heart and soul and body like ours. Mitchell skillfully traces our disordered relationship with our bodies back to the moment that Eve bit the apple:
In that heartbreaking moment, when Eve first looks down at her own body and sees it as bad, the flesh becomes, for the first time in human history, the object of a woman’s shame, something other than her apart from from who she was made to be, something that risks her goodness rather than houses it.
And, then leads us on in what is to me a completely new approach to dealing with this reality of female life:
In this book…we are walking back to the Garden of Eden together and trying to remember who we were when we were Eve, living naked and unashamed in the female form before God and man.
I have never really given any thought to trying to discover who we were in Eden – or at least, not enough thought to occupy more than a paragraph in a college theology text. In salvation history, as a people we are not traveling backward to Eden. We are traveling forward, to the great consummation of our redemption, when we will be glorified beyond what we were when we were Eve.
But, this book brought to mind the indisputable fact that what were we in Eden speaks mightily to what we were made to be. There is so much life to live here on earth before we are completed in glory. And these fallen, uncooperative bodies of ours make for a specially confusing home, don’t they?
What if we understood Eve better? What if we understood the mysteries of our physical and spiritual selves more completely? What if we were able to pick through the noise of judgment, puritanism, and licentiousness that is volleyed at us day by day, year after year, and discover who we were before it all? Would we find our crosses easier to bear? Would we know how to properly care for ourselves? Would our vocations call to us more clearly?
The great and grand mystery of who we are and what is required to care for us lies primarily in the process of self-discovery we can only embark upon if we follow our Eden instinct back to harmony with God and ourselves. It is a challenging journey, but one worth saying yes to, because knowing who we were when we lived naked and without shame is the way to know who we want to be when we are well cared for and whole again.
A Balanced View on Suffering
Each chapter in When We Were Eve is rich and deep, and at some point, you will come across at least one that touches you right where you are today. For me, this was the chapter on suffering. If you have been a reader of mine for very long, you already know that the past few years have been tough for me. Two moves, a miscarriage, job loss, health problems, and sensitive family matters have taken their toll on my heart which is still so new to understanding the place of suffering in the Catholic life. As someone who cries easily in private, but rarely in public, I was caught off guard by this chapter that left mascara tracks down my face right where I was, cozily settled in at my favorite coffee shop.
(Nobody saw me. I’m sure of it…)
Just like in the rest of the book, in this chapter Ms. Mitchell offers wise and inspiring counsel on enduring and growing through suffering. With a balanced approach that avoids the pitfalls of either running away from suffering, or pursuing it as a good in itself, When We Were Eve is not afraid to take your hand and help you walk forward through the rain:
We can, therefore, free ourselves from the notion that holiness is a competition to see who can be more broken and embrace the truth that our holiness lies not in how much or how well we suffer, but in our wholeness, in drawing meaning from our inevitable suffering that brings us deeper into the fullness of love, where we are embraced by our suffering savior and made spiritually well by his compassionate mercy.
Pick up a copy of this one, friends. And after you read it, pass it on to a friend. I’m giving mine to my daughter – I wish I had had this book years ago.