Matrescence is a term that was coined by anthropologist Dana Raphael in the early 1970s1 to describe the process of becoming a mother. Her consideration of this rite of passage, in which one life is created and another transformed, influenced research into motherhood as spiritual formation. Thomas (2001, 90) describes how, 'matrescence is a time of power, a time when a woman encounters new dimensions of self, relation, and God.' However, in a multi-million pound industry of books, programs and self-help guides for the new mother, the Church of England has done little to specifically facilitate a new mother's spiritual reorientation. Thomas (2001, 91) describes how 'the rite associated with birth is infant baptism or blessing, where the focus is upon infant, not the mother.' The Book of Common Prayer is perhaps fruitful where it offers a liturgical response of 'Thanksgiving of Women after Child-birth , commonly called Churching of Women'.2 However, whilst it seeks to affirm a woman for having 'putteth her trust in thee (God)' and recognises her need, with the plea, 'Be thou to her a strong tower,' it does little to nurture specifically her spiritual development after such a profound life-changing experience. The 5 week course 'Fuel' was written in response to this need.
Women's faith development
Human development theorists seek to grapple with our rites of passage and our discoveries and resistance to change. Piaget and Fowler articulate stages of development. Change is often linear and progress is to spiritual maturity. There is often a sense of evolution rather than progress and its arrest. From the outset, FUEL's investigating group, in their quest to facilitate the change that occurs in new mothers, sought out theories that considered the fluid and the transitional, the place 'between'. It was decided that stages are better plotted on a spiral because people will move in and out of stages. The place of liminality is the most rich for its growth and the questions it raises. Streib (2003, 27) explains how researchers into women's faith formation discover that women experience 'a whirlpool experience of faith.'
Rationale for the course's approach
Baumohl describes the need 'to help adults to see that discipleship is not just about understanding the faith but about learning how to live it...' (my italics). He describes how this 'learning is concerned with change,'(1986:10). Facilitating response to times of change in the human life cycle is a responsibility of the church if we are serious about the Missio Dei and our own story as the people of God to which the biblical narrative bears witness. Brueggemann's articulation of disorientation and reorientation helps women understand their feelings against the biblical backdrop:
The faith of Israel, like all human experience, moved back and forth between the polar moods of... deep anguish and misery and...profound joy and celebration. In this back and forth movement the people of Israel worked out the power and limits of their faith... and brought it to expression (Brueggemann and Miller, 1995, 67).
The 'Fuel' course assumes that each woman is seeking reorientation and has already developed a spiritual discipline prior to becoming a mother. Encountering a kind of dissonance now that life has changed, previous rules of life for quiet time or a sacred space need to be reformulated around the demands of motherhood. It was decided that this dissonance should be explored together so that collectively and individually, women might bring 'to expression' their faith as it is now. Baumohl (1986, 90) describes how,
The strength of the small group is that everybody can be involved. Each person’s experience and resources can be at the disposal of others in the group, and the ‘intimacy’ generated can encourage honest exchange.
Over five weeks women are supported as they revisit scripture from their new point of view, engage in creative prayer and discuss their experiences together.3 Fowler identifies this need for community with the third stage of faith development: Synthetic-conventional faith, but where for many people honest communication is restrained by a desire for conformity and difference is often silenced, FUEL anticipates that matrescent women might be more naturally open. Nicola Slee (2004, 32) describes how 'women's distinctive patterns of faith may not adequately be accounted for by [Fowler's] stages' and FUEL acknowledges with Streib (2003, 26) that 'studies in faith development in women present a strong proposal for revising the definition of faith to include a relational perspective....' This relational orientation is promoted by the course's preference for a kind of heuristic exploration over didactic teaching so that women wrestling with issues of power and self-reformulation can be given opportunities to discover their voice and 'make meaning' together. The name of the course corroborates this. Fuel is an acronym for 'Fellowship and Understanding as we Engage with Life as it is now.' The idea of the present moment and the very 'nowness' of life, as it is experienced with children, is emphasised so that whilst the course facilitates space to lament what once was, and is now lost, it might also engage practically with spiritual needs arising out of the new situation and be a place where women can forge out new spiritual disciplines. These disciplines might include means for resourcing each other through group get-togethers once the course has finished. Creating sustaining fellowship is one of the course's core aims.
Choosing activities for the course
In formulating activities, Fowler's categories of faith development proved interesting. It was decided that matrescent women might tend towards exhibiting Fowler's stage 4 and stage 5 tendencies both because of the actual changes they are experiencing and because the course itself facilitates a level of self-consciousness through reflection and open questions. Fowler explores transition from Stage 4 and individuative-reflective faith to Stage 5's Conjunctive faith and the course seeks to accompany women as they demythologise societal, traditional, religious and historical myths which construct the symbol of ideal mother. Women will have already begun to do this as they have explored a dissonance between the image of motherhood they carried during pregnancy and the reality of mothering in practice. Fowler explains how:
The person of Stage 5 makes her or his own experience of truth the principle by which other claims to truth are tested. But he or she assumes that each genuine perspective will augment and correct aspects of the other, in a mutual movement toward the real and the true. (Fowler J 1981:185).
FUEL aims to facilitate women in a journey towards self-acceptance where identity is understood in terms of its value in God rather than against any system of artificial ideal. Booklets take the women through each week of the course and include space for their own commentary and journalling to reinforce their sense of their ownership of the course.4
Facilitators of the course
Laurie Green calls us to act, reflect and act again so that 'through analysis' an assessment can be made about 'how the Christian faith relates' to experience. The spiral begins again on the implementation of new ways of thinking. (Green, 1990, 24-32) The approach taken by the facilitators of the course must be dialogical, conversational and creative.
Arbuckle (1996, 199) describes how the task of a formator is to lead others on a journey. Formators are to learn from Moses, who allowed people to express their loss and re-articulate a vision, which was for Moses of the promised land, but for new mothers might be transformed relationship with God. FUEL's aim is never to provide answers or create dependency. FUEL's aim is to model ways in which intimacy with God might be rediscovered so that practises might be taken into life beyond the course. Women are encouraged by any participating church to recall original attendees to future planning meetings. In this way as Arbuckle (1996, 199) advocates, 'initiates...train to become refounders'.5 Women can reshape future courses evolving out of their experiences and are encouraged to share with new participants ways in which they benefited from the course. There is also a way to keep constantly in communication with others facilitating and participating in the course, through a blog that should become a community forum as the course grows.6
During FUEL's development, important insights were gained into women's faith development so that the creation of the course itself facilitated my own growth. During the module, I had sensed my own dis-ease with some of Fowler's faith stages. Whilst many of his ideas seemed reasonable, his proposal that with faith development there is also a rise in independence and autonomy did not accord with my experience of the interdependent relationships I share with children and husband. In constructing the course, my colleagues and I came to affirm God's multiple callings on our lives as wives, mothers, priests and friends and appreciate our relational orientation. As we discussed the course together, we discovered how similar our journeys were: three young women, mothers and future priests. We found times together life-giving and painful as we shared openly our struggles and joys. We were amused by Maslow's hierarchy of need and reflected on how motherhood can place you right back at the bottom of the triangle again.7 We were spurred on to respond to experiences like Thomas' who describes how as a new mother she 'stopped attending church services for three years...my church had no "cry room,"(2001, 96).Where Thomas uses “cry-room” to communicate the cries of her off-spring, we envisaged a time in church for the release of our own tears! FUEL suggests the course runs parallel with the main worship service for five weeks with attendees rejoining the church family for refreshments afterwards. In turn, FUEL returns refreshed (refuelled!) and reorientated women to a church that might have started to grow pastorally through its attention to her needs. The church itself can gain from the ways in which women experiencing such transition can teach it about how to journey together to the heart of God.
List of References
Arbuckle, G.A., (1996) From chaos to mission: refounding religious life formation. London: Redwood Books
Baumohl, A., (1986). Making Adult Disciples: Learning and teaching in the local church. London: Scripture Union.
Brueggemann, W. and Miller, P.D. (ed.) (1995). The Psalms and the life of faith, Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Fowler, J.W. (1981). Stages of faith : the psychology of human development and the quest for meaning. San Francisco: Harper & Row.
Green, L., (1990). Let’s Do Theology: A Pastoral Cycle Resource Book, England: Mowbray.
Raphael, D., (1976), The Tender Gift, USA:Schocken Books.
Slee, N. (2004). Women's faith development : patterns and processes. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing.
Streib, H., (2003). 'Faith development research at twenty years'. Developing a public faith: New directions in practical theology, essays in honour of James. W. Fowler, ed. R. R. Osmer, St. Louis: Chalice Press, pp. 15-42
Thomas T., 'Becoming a Mother: Matrescence as Spiritual Formation' Religious Education, Volume 96, Number 1, 1 January 2001 , pp. 88-105(18)
1D., Raphael, (1976), The Tender Gift, USA:Schocken Books. Raphael considers post-partum care from the perspective of various cultures. British individualism does little to embrace the idea that it takes an entire village to raise a child.
2See Book of Common Prayer and 'THE THANKSGIVING OF WOMEN AFTER CHILD-BIRTH COMMONLY CALLED CHURCHING OF WOMEN. ' Available online at http://www.vulcanhammer.org/anglican/bcp-1662.pdf
3A description of the course's aims and the program of sessions with one presented in full is included in the Appendix, section A.
4Booklets for each week are included in the Appendix, section B
5Arbuckle's chapter 8 'Formators: Ritual elders of a rite of passage' has been useful background reading supporting our aim to explore rather than teach.
7We discovered that whilst we were functioning near to the bottom in terms of our basic needs, our quest for meaning and relationship with God meant that according to Maslow, we were operating at the top of the triangle.