My friend Richard sent me a quote the other day that someone had sent him a while ago. The quote (by Farida Sharon) read: “Women are essentially receptive in nature. For the first 35-40 years we take the world into our being. Many women reach a saturation point around menopause when we cannot take in any more. We have to clear. We have to empty. We have to find our essence again.” As I always do with anything Richard sends me, I spent some time reflecting on the statement.
Although I’m always nervous about categorical statements, I think there is some truth to the first sentence of the quote. I do think (at least as a general matter) women tend to be more receptive than men (which I mean to include a whole constellation of things, including empathy).
However, the second part of the statement concerning saturation point just struck me as wrong. As I thought about it, I realized the best way to understand my reaction was to think of the channel image that comes from St. Francis’ prayer. (Although the line that often appears in versions of the spoken prayer is “make me an instrument of your peace,” the song version is “make me a channel of your peace.”)
I think the channel image is a wonderful one. When we are at our best in channeling God and God’s love, I don’t think there is a limit in either direction – either in what we give or what we can take. That is, if what I’m feeling is just (personal and finite) Susan love, then I would say I love my daughter Elena more than I love a friend or more than I love my next door neighbor or more than I love the man standing on the corner each afternoon. However, when I’m fully in the sea of God’s love (I say “sea” of God’s love because that is the way I experience it in those moments when I most fully open to God), then I have no more love for Elena than I do for the friend, the neighbor or the stranger on the street corner, because the love I experience for all four of them is just infinite love. What flows through me is God’s love, which can never be more for one person than another. Maybe this is no more than the distinction between fileo and agape, but I think what allows us to experience agapic love is, in a sense, being in…tapping into God’s love.
The same is true in the other direction. If (to finally get back to Sharon’s line) I’m holding all I take in just in me alone, then, of course there is a saturation point. I alone am finite and can hold only so much. But if I’m receiving as a channel of God, then there is no saturation point, because I’m acting as God’s instrument, taking in for God, and letting it flow through me to God.
Of course, the rub is that we don’t tend to operate most of the time as a fully open channel…in either direction. And so I say things like, I love my daughter more than I love anyone else in the world, or this particular friend is one of the people I most love, as though love were divisible and could be apportioned out in differing quantities.
And on the other side, we sometimes forget we are acting as God’s instrument, that we are working with God, not doing it all on our own. And when we forget that we get stuck…and feel tired and overwhelmed. There have certainly been times in my life where I’ve felt like I just can’t take in anything else without some “clearing.” But it doesn’t ring true to me to say well there is some fixed point (e.g., menopause) when it is time to empty the tank. Rather, the task is to work to keep the channel open…in both directions, so that we more fully love like God and receive like God.