Elizabeth Moltmann-Wendel, I Am My Body: A Theology of Embodiment. Continuum, 1995, ch. 1, pp. 1-34.

Our Body - Our Self

Continence heals the sinful body.
(Trithenius von Sponheim)

Our body loves us, and even while the spirit is dreaming away, it is working to remedy the damage that we do it.  (John Updike)

Having a body - being a body

Our predominant experience is that we have a body. We have a body for working, for running, for carrying, for loving, for eating, for dancing, in short for doing all the things that we have to do and like to do. Our predominant experience is also that the body functions, that it does what we want it to. When it no longer does so, we become insecure. We lose the rhythm and the framework of our everyday life. If the body no longer functions, we no longer function. We go to the doctor and take along our body for repairs. Perhaps we have a guilty conscience that we've neglected to have an annual check-up and are relieved when the body gets going again, just as we do when the car has survived its annual test. After such experiences we determine to treat this precious and dear instrument of our life more carefully.

If the body begins to stop functioning, we make those around us insecure. And in such crises we have another experience, namely that we are bodies. The instrument which copes with life and gives pleasure in life gives us another experience: that it is our prison. If we are sick, unwell, tired, have a pain - we get blocked. The body takes over our will, our understanding. Now it no longer begins below the head, but is the whole of us. We are bodies.

This experience is important. Unhappy though it makes us at first, it is central to a happy and successful life which does not suppress the dark side of life and escape into a disembodied world of concepts and the spirit. "Without this body I do not exist, and I am myself as my body," remarked the Russian philosopher Vladimir Iljine. However, this experience of being a body cannot be taken for granted in a competitive and consumer culture in which people think that they can have all the achievements and pleasures they want. Unfortunately we only learn that we are bodies—painfully and in a limiting way—in boundary situations: in chronic illnesses, in handicaps which seem final, in old age, when there are no longer any fountains of youth to promise eternal youth. The journalist Vilma Sturm anxiously noted in her diaries: "The body, this head-trunk-two arms-two legs-body—what a reliable companion it had been! It moved and stood up and ran, it carried and hauled, it jumped and turned in the dance, it swung over parallel bars, head up, head down. It swam and rowed. It threw and hit the ball, had the strength to dig the earth. It could not do everything, but at least it did most of what one expected of it; it was at one's service, did not have to be asked for long. She has already almost forgotten how it was when it simply obeyed her, when she could be sure of herself. Now insecurity, total unreliability, prevails. . ." (Sturm, 48).

The threatening feeling develops that the body is now directing instead of reacting, as it used to. The experience of being a body can be threatening for many people.

However, had we not been brought up to make our bodies instruments, being a body could be a happy experience. Being a body can also be the experience of well-being, of being alive, a conscious experience of the rhythms of the body, the happy feeling of being one with nature, with trees, grass, cats. It can also arise from pleasure and not just from pain. But the church and culture have made pleasure suspect to us. A child has this sense of the body, and it is the upbringing and culture of our society which distances us from our bodies and teaches us to control our bodies. Many adults have to rediscover that they are bodies through forms of therapy. The question is how far this is successful, and whether it does not remain a bit of cosmetics for a disembodied society. We have lost more than we imagine.

So at the same time the question arises: are we really so disembodied or even hostile to the body? Offers of therapy come pouring in. The cosmetics industry is booming. The beautiful man has been discovered. Clothing remains loose and no longer constricts us. Children enjoy a freedom unprecedented in our history. Sexual restraint is no longer asked of young people. Almost everyone loves their body, and does it good through vitamins or fasting. Almost everyone is concerned no longer to look like a roughneck or a wood sprite. Weight and cholesterol levels are constant, fashionable topics of conversation. No one wants either to be too low or too high. Our bodies have now become transparent. Many areas of them can be understood, illuminated and measured, and when the information is right it gives us an apparently good physical feeling. We have achieved a measure of outward beauty and visible health which can hardly be surpassed.

But do these bodies which we love, look after, starve, control, trim, toughen by jogging and yogurt, express our being? Aren't they part of our having? We want a beautiful, young, competitive, attractive, dynamic body, but is that what our body also wants? Isn't there sometimes pressure on the weight that it needs? And that it often takes back again very quickly? Isn't it forced to have a form of beauty which it doesn't express? Isn't it asked to achieve things which are beyond it? Isn't its well-earned and beautiful old age often over-adorned?

We manipulate the body, but what does the body itself want? Are we ourselves in such a body? Insights and experiences are now emerging which dissociate themselves from a purely biological understanding of the body and discover that the body—like nature and the earth—has a dynamic of its own.

Today we need once again to bring together this "head-trunk-two arms-and-two legs-body", to experience it anew, to heed its voice, which has hardly been heard, and to see it—and in it ourselves—as part of this cosmos. But the cosmos is not just the tree in blossom; it is also the dying tree. It is nature, and it is our society, which we are and which we shape. So when our body is perceived sensitively, it has a voice of its own which cannot be ignored. This voice does not just tell us something about ourselves. It is not just our voice as an individual, as individuals. No, it can become our voice as part of this society. The writer Helga Königsdorf, who worked as a physicist and mathematician in an East Berlin institute, illustrates this. After the revolution she wrote:

My understanding had been asleep. When I rose in the hierarchy of power, not very high, but at least to levels at which the scenery became clear, at which I could only speak my lines—how could I bear this humiliation?—to levels at which people were talked about in a functional language, one day my hand failed serve me, so that I no longer wrote anything down in sessions. My body was more alert than my understanding. It simply refused (Wochenpost 46, 17 November 1989, 1 6).

But when do people who experience themselves through will and understanding hear such a voice? Usually we detect the wisdom of the body too late. We are not yet used to shaping our lives with it. The American writer Gloria Steinem thinks that it is perhaps also a process of growth and maturity that we do not see the warnings of our bodies as betrayal of ourselves and our plans, but better as wisdom. Steinem sees such wisdom like this: "If we bless our bodies, they will bless us" (Steinem, 248). We know the word "bless" from the church, and many people have seldom felt their bodies as they are to be blessed. Can people bless themselves? In other words, can they give themselves riches, fertility, growth and influence? Today we are at a turning point at which we are learning to treat ourselves in another way. In many public spheres we are learning to be no longer just objects, but active, formative subjects. Yet at the same time we are experiencing that our subjectivity no longer means making others objects, whether these others are nature, our neighbors, minorities, or even the body: the network, interrelatedness—those are the magic words which promise us our power and our helplessness, our interdependence and our autonomy. That is how blessing can come and develop.

But so far we have little practice or tradition here.

Society and the body

We are ill-prepared to perceive our bodies and our cosmos together and in a new way. Three movements which have occupied us in the past—and perhaps repelled some people—have at least provided us with some patterns of life and thought that we can no longer lose very quickly. Here I am thinking of the 1968 student movement, the feminist movement, and the New Age movement. At first sight they all seem to have been related to the body, but at the same time they also denied real human bodies for the sake of loftier aims. What have they handed down to us?

The 1968 revolution broke with the idea of men of steel and women who are there to give birth. The ideals of 1968 included the vision that human beings should not prey on one another like wolves. Social conditions worthy of human beings and thus of the body seemed to be envisaged for real human beings in specific situations. "There is a life before death." This slogan of French students was the creed of an immediate change to existing injustice.

Beyond Marx's critique of capitalism people again reflected on his notion that "the abolition of private property" means "the complete emancipation of all human senses and properties." Sexual oppression, which encourages the development of neuroses, was attacked. For some groups, pleasure and sexuality became symbols of freedom from capitalism. The sexual revolution which was to extend to the dissolution of civil forms of marriage, and which had hitherto remained unfulfilled in socialism, was overtaken.

But when we look back on this today, we can see that the real person as man and woman was soon lost sight of; perhaps it never came into view. Women soon protested that while they were serving as the goal of social change, personally they were continuing to do slaves' work. They also saw that the sexual revolution did not correspond to their ideas. They began to develop their own ideas of sexuality, and cut the links with their big brothers. The feminist movement was already in the making.

The deformation of the human body as a result of economic humiliation was only a secondary objection to the main objection against the capitalist exploitation of society. The 1968 revolution failed to take account of the fact that the whole of humankind consists of both men and women. Despite some invasions for the benefit of humanity, the socialist body remained the body to be controlled, even if in some excesses it abandoned this role.

The feminist movement which emerged from the student movement at the beginning of the 1970s began in what was then West Germany with a highly explosive topic, the requirement for the repeal of paragraph a 218 of the Basic Law, relating to abortion. But over large areas it remained bound up with the old suppression of the body. In the early years it was stamped by Simone de Beauvoir's school: following Sartre, this school always saw the human body as an obstacle to freedom. In all the striving for masculinity, here the woman remained something like an unsuccessful man, imprisoned in the remnants of her original bodily nature. Accordingly, women could be emancipated only by emancipating themselves from their female bodies. The consequence of this was artificial fertilization, which was also advocated by Shulamith Firestone in the early years of the feminist movement.

Such radical theories got lost later, but the feminist movement continued and continues to be anxious about a lapse into the biological determination of women. Many people feel that the body can imperceptibly snap shut over women again and banish them to home, child-bearing and cooking. Moreover, it is women's bodies that make them prone to becoming victims: at home, in the marital bed, on the streets, and recently once again in war. As a majority of women in society feel that their bodies are humiliated and humiliating, this is no happy beginning for a women's movement. Society must be liberated and changed so that women's bodies can also be free—that is the demand which recurs in many feminist schemes. In the German-speaking world, Frigga Haug has been foremost in her concern with the relationship between women and the body. Her starting point is the sexualizing of the body, which is socially conditioned. In a "remembering program" with other women she investigates various parts of the body, for example the legs, to show how women had to display "style" with their legs; or the hair, the form and color of which were seen as an expression of sexuality. For her, sexualizing means the subjection of the female body "to a constant demand to arouse desire" (Haug, 198).

Frigga Haug also criticizes excessively simple schemes relating to women's bodies, for example the famous women's handbook Our Bodies—Ourselves, which do not express any consistent insight into the way in which the sexualization of our bodies is socially conditioned. She also rejects all women's notions of the body which could give the illusion of an all too beautiful harmony with nature. For Haug, the only way back to the body is through the fundamental recognition of the way we are determined from outside, by society. For her, a revolution in social conditions is the presupposition for women's self-determination and for the independence of the body within this world. So women's collectives are necessary for any attempt at an upright stance.

This skepticism about the body from the left wing of the feminist critique of domination does not apply to all feminist attempts. But it is characteristic of broad areas of the feminist movement, and it shows that here, too, the body is a sign of a secondary contradiction within the main contradiction: sexism, the oppression of one sex by the other. Women, moved by feminism, fluctuate between skepticism about the body and hope for the body. The predominant feminist theory forbids hope, but the need to live in today's world creates islands of dance, physical work, experience of the body, which explode theory.

The third great movement of our time which is again bringing the human body into view is the New Age movement. It emerged from the ecological crisis and a fundamental criticism and change in the pattern of scientific thought, and brought about a philosophical, anthropological and religious reorientation. New Age thought is no longer shaped by the mechanistic view of the world, according to which nature is dominated by power and knowledge, but by the idea of the universe as a dynamic network of interconnected processes. Its pioneer thinker, Fritjof Capra, understands the world as a total system in which spirit and matter occupy an equal place. Whereas according to the mechanistic and Cartesian view of the world human beings were understood as machines—in parallel to nature—now they are seen as part of the whole, woven into it and bound up with it. There are no solitary beings. Every creature is in some way bound up with all other creatures and is dependent on them. In such communion with the cosmos the human body, too, is no longer just the object of bio-medical techniques. It is seen as a whole. Factors conditioned by a person's environment, psyche, biography, lead to sickness and health. Powers of self-healing are rediscovered. It is not the small cell which is the cause of discomfort or health; rather, these total influences determine our life, our well-being and our sickness. Energies are again noticed which are to be imagined in the imagery of flow, vibrations and rhythms, and which make up the dynamic structures of the human organism.

The question is whether in the new "Age of Aquarius", as it is called, social conflicts which still make a painful mark on our present are not being swept under the carpet: the economic exploitation of the weaker, racism and sexism. Thus Capra attaches tremendous importance, for example, to women and the feminist movement, but we find nothing in his work about the social conflicts which are manifested in women's bodies, like violence, rape and incest. Gently and in an old-fashioned way he again brings women closer to nature (the age-old "identification of woman and nature") and thus leaves open the question of what this totality would look like in men and women. But we may ask why here the Chinese Yin-Yang symbol, which sees male and female as harmony, stands at the place where one would expect conflicts and proposals for a resolution of the relationship between the sexes. Have Yin and Yang liberated women in China? Hasn't brutal physical oppression of women taken place under this old symbol? Here we have open questions to a world-view which hardly touches on reality and real bodies and yet inspires many people.

The three great movements of recent decades have not left us untouched. They have shown us the economic exploitation of human beings, exploitation which they suffer through their bodies. They have inscribed on our consciences the bodies of women as the last whom the dogs bite. They have, finally, once again directed our gaze to the cosmos and from the cosmos back to the body, in order to see it as a living organism, free from fatalistic determinants and developing its own energies. These have become turning points which are making people more critical, more involved and also more liberated.

At the same time, however, under the surface our still-suppressed culture of the body has developed a kind of counter-culture which has celebrated a liberation of its own. It loves and cultivates the aesthetic, sensual and sexual body for which there are no longer any taboos. But how important are taboos, and what laws are needed by a society to protect it instead of to harm it? The pornography laws, which have been liberalized since 1975, are proving quite helpless; now young people can get without much difficulty what used to be allowed to adults. But the debate on pornography among the women of the 1980s also challenged the public to reflect on its extremely ambivalent pleasure. The consequence was that pleasure cannot be abolished by censorship, even for women, and that in particular women with a lively awareness have their own access to sexual accounts, though these are beyond the violence of pornography. The book by the feminist Benoîte Groult, daughter of Simone de Beauvoir, Salt on our Skin, which she wrote at the age of sixty-eight and which expressed the feelings of at least two generations, conveyed this freedom from the limitations of class, age and marriage. The simple love story of a woman professor and a sailor is beautifully written pornography—a sign that there is also another way.

In what follows we shall encounter this social and anti-social aspect time and again.

Women's bodies

If we turn from theories and utopias back to reality, it becomes evident that medical practices and therapies are resorted to predominantly by women. An adviser on questions of marriage and family life reports:

Time and again it is predominantly women who go to counseling centers, also with their psychosomatic illnesses, although statistically men suffer from these just as much. Now women were always the weaker sex and might complain. Can't they also accuse? . . . Probably no one will claim that they are hysterical. Among many of those who seek counsel I can hear in the background the cries of Cassandra, and many bodies are still haunted by Descartes' remark, "I think, therefore I am," or Schopenhauer's "The world as will and idea." Are we not now to develop here as fellow creatures a more comprehensive kind of person and perception through more experiences of the senses?

Women are seismographs for changes in culture, and their bodies are the places where conflicts become unmistakably evident. According to the statistics, on average men die six years earlier than women. This can be related to the pride men take in suffering as opposed to women and their `instability'. But it is better seen as a threatening lack of sensitivity to one's own body.

"Women pay more attention to their bodies," says Horst Eberhard Richter. "They also notice symptoms more clearly than men. In surveys women always have more complaints than men, though men are often ill and also die considerably earlier" (Richter, 14).

For many, a woman's body is the embodiment of beauty. But if we look closer this notion is deceptive, since women's bodies differ widely. There is the elegant body of the small gymnast, the heavy body of the pregnant woman and the bowed body of the old woman. Moreover at all times people have had different dreams about the body: at one time it was the baroque, plump, woman's body, today people look for sporting, dynamic figures. At all events, beauty is a diffuse notion, and it arises among those who look at women and is fed by their fantasies. It cannot be assumed that women want to and are able to free themselves from these dreams and their fantasies. But it is to be expected that new attention to their body will also makes them freer in their perception of themselves and more independent from compulsions to beauty. Their dignity does not lie in the imitation of models but in the development of their person. But precisely here there are difficulties today.

Many women feel that they are being torn apart. The chance of entering many spheres of work previously reserved for men, and in addition the need to maintain their traditional responsibility for housekeeping and children, creates burdens which set off alarm signals in the body. The typical modern illnesses of anorexia and bulimia appearing in the industrial nations, which occur almost only among women and girls, are signs that the female body does not fit into this culture stamped by male competitiveness and is rejecting maturity and growth, while on the other hand it is again tormented by hunger and a desire for life.

Perhaps the failure to relate to the body begins very early with girls, so that they either do not want to perceive their bodies and despise them, or experience them as a constant source of discontent instead of pleasure and well-being.

In her book Jocasta's Children, the French psychoanalyst Christiane Olivier describes the development of boys and girls, and in so doing comes up against the phenomenon of a deep feminine physical sense of inferiority. Whereas boys with their bodies are desired and loved by their mothers, who are of the other sex, girls, who are of the same sex as their mothers, begin their lives with a split between body and spirit: the girl is loved as a child, but not desired as a male body (Olivier, 45). Sexually, she is not a satisfying object for her mother. She could be for her father, but the modern father is often away from home. Whereas the glint in the mother's eye falls on her small son, according to these investigations small daughters usually miss the glint and the eroticism as a result of which they would regard their bodies as beautiful and desirable. From then on too much emptiness and a longing for fullness dog girls' lives, and that can become the drama of their lives. The dissatisfaction stemming from the beginning of their lives can also reappear in their love affairs. Women often find it difficult to see themselves as good objects of love, even when their partners tell them that they are.

For some women this early alienation from their bodies, which makes them set out empty and hungry on the quest for wholeness, is then combined later with specific social experiences of being torn between unpaid housework involving the body and professional work involving the head, and intensifies their first negative experiences of the body.

Where a "glint" is provoked—by men or women—security grows. Where insecurity prevails, women allow judgments to be foisted on them which are not their own. Ingrid Olbricht, who is a physician, draws attention to this in an analysis of medical views about women, their bodies, ailments and organs. Women are told that their bodies are unstable, that menstruation is still a dirty and debilitating affair, that their breasts belong to their husbands and children, and so on.

Women who are unsure of their bodies have forced upon them what from a lofty authoritative standpoint is perceived as the right explanation, even if they do not feel that it is the right experience. For many of them, there is an irremediable gulf between the "right" explanation and the right experience. But women have also already begun to make their own discoveries about their bodies on the basis of their own experiences. These experiences indicate that the woman's body which is always described as weak and delicate is extremely flexible. In a marvelous way it is capable of change and adaptation, compared with the male body, which changes much less. The development of the breasts, menstruation, pregnancy, the menopause, are stages in a woman's life which the body must cope with or, better, in which it has to change and can produce new energies. Women have meanwhile described the creative forces which are set free in the individual phases. The "wise wound of menstruation" is for many women a time of creative capacities. By contrast—as above all women from other cultures teach us—the menopause can bring a new feeling of freedom from the taboo of menstruation.

Ingrid Olbricht describes the breast as an active and not just a functional organ—like the phallus; it embodies a decisive, important female potency: the capacity to nourish. One difference from male potency is that the breast gives continuously, and not in a jerky outpouring (Olbricht, 148). Nor is anything wasted, as with the emission of semen. Female potency displays a harmonious picture of giving and taking.

But the society which is orientated on competition and consumption also prescribes bodies in which, for example, pregnancy is an unwelcome exception. The numerous sterilizations which women in the former East German states felt they had to undergo to make them available for the workplace are an example of the unwritten power of society and the helplessness of women to preserve their own bodies.

But alongside this, insights are growing which see pregnancy not just as the phase of the fat stomach, which can be hidden by fashion, but also as an important experience of the body. Pregnancy is not just a time of passive suffering, but can also become the "lived-out criticism of the ideal of an individual who is identical with herself" (Hardach-Pinke, in Kamper and Wulf 1982, 206).

The prescriptions of how women's bodies have to be in the sphere of love, intimacy and partnership, are perhaps the most difficult to change. For many women it is still always the man who determines what and how sexuality should be. But for many women it has proved that sex is only one expression of intimacy and love, and that love includes the whole person. It can relate both to a woman and to a man. It can represent both lesbian love and a heterosexual relationship. This also puts in question the orgasm, which is constantly in the foreground of public interest. In conversations with women the psychologist Anne Wilson Schaef has discovered that sexual intercourse and orgasm are much less important to them than caressing, touching, embracing. For women, sexual intercourse is often not the only aim. It is a means of getting close to the other person. What they enjoy above all is tenderness. Without this, for most of them sex is difficult and joyless. But only women who are sure of themselves and think that their needs are right can make changes here. Where anxiety and uncertainty about their own bodily needs prevail, he will continue to set the style. The sexual revolution which filled the media in the 1960s and which was his revolution must be revolutionized once again.

Independence in dealing with one's body also includes responsibility in questions of pregnancy. In the end the woman must decide whether a life coming into being can be accepted or a pregnancy has to be aborted. For it is her body which bears and has to give birth to the child. It is her body through which she gives it care and security. It is her dedication through which a human being becomes a human being. Help from outside is wanted, but remains unreliable. The Joint Declaration of the Council of the Evangelical Church of Germany and the German Conference of Bishops, God is a Friend of Life, has failed to recognize these connections between the personal dignity of the woman, her body and the child in putting the emphasis firmly on the unborn life and giving the woman above all the function of enduring. Here once again the defectiveness of the Christian tradition over embodiment and the woman is clear. As we shall see again below, life is only life in relationship. There is no abstract life.

If on the one hand we are already experiencing a change in the physical self-awareness and self-understanding of women, there are spheres in which the appropriation of the woman's body has taken on violent and technological dimensions which can only be countered by a change in the political situation. Here are three important spheres:

1. The appropriation: of women's bodies by physical violence. In the industrial nations this is increasing to a terrifying degree at home and outside the home. Rape in marriage is still not a penal offence in some countries. Incest is another crime which is being made public by the women's movement, usually against girls, and perhaps even affecting one girl in four. Though it was discovered by Sigmund Freud as early as the 1920s it was rapidly covered up once again with the cloak of bourgeois modesty so as not to endanger the family!

2. The appropriation of women's bodies by scientific curiosity. Recently a short book appeared by Barbara Duden, a historian of medicine, under the title Woman's Body as a Public Place. In it she demonstrates that the expected child used to be regarded as flesh of the mother's flesh and as a secret gift of God in the darkness of the womb. But modern technology has made it possible to see and analyze the child, and has degraded the mother to a mere vessel; even worse, to an unreliable, dangerous covering. The child has become a fetus or "a life" which in the views and practices of doctors, lawyers, theologians, mothers, men and the public has been detached from women's bodies and has developed into an object of therapies, rights and theological speculations. Women's bodies are now seen as a system of uterine care! They are the sphere of life of the child which can be inspected and speculated about by all the sciences, and in which the person and status of the woman and her body no longer has any role.

3. The appropriation of women's bodies as a means of waging mar. This is certainly as old as war itself. Those women who lived east of the Elbe in 1944/5 can still remember it with terror in their bodies, though in the post-war period it was shamefully forgotten and suppressed until it was made public for the first time in a television film in 1992. Today, terror is evoked in the media by a brutal war in former Yugoslavia, in which women have been raped and pregnant women forced to bear children in order to have them brought up later as Czetniks. Here is compulsory conception, which is taking place in history perhaps for the first time. Here is a weapon which is cheaper and more effective than tanks and napalm. Like torture, rape should be included in the Geneva Convention as a war crime.

Years ago, the American feminist Robin Morgan wrote: "Our bodies are defined, possessed, maltreated, veiled, bared by men, sprayed with color or used as metaphors ... Our bodies are objectified and commandeered for male interests. We have no selves even as far as our bodies are concerned" (Morgan, 78).

We can hear the voices of women who apparently have no bodies of their own, and there are women who have undergone experiences of brutal expropriation and only want to live on with their brains and consciousnesses.

One of them writes: "The body was the body of the man. My body was only an indeterminate area which was waiting to be defined and evaluated by the man who chose it." And another woman, who had been raped by her father, says: "I wanted to destroy my body, so that in some way I could only go on living with my brain."

The way back to the body is a long one, for it is a way along which first the centuries-old prejudices of a male society and a still ever-present sadism must be demolished. It is the way of every individual, and it is a way which will lead to its destination only if many people follow it.

However, two positive things must be noted on this often wearisome way: women of the First World are drawing attention to the expropriation of the bodies of their sisters in the other two-thirds of the world. They are publicizing the suffering of women there as a result of cultural customs (e.g. excision of the clitoris) and colonial exploitation (e.g. sex tourism and prostitution).

What is being experienced here in women's bodies affects whole generations of women there, who have before them a far more difficult road to self-determination.

And a further quite different but important recognition is emerging. Women with their bodies are beginning to have an experience which is continually suppressed in our culture, namely that life is shared life and that it begins with a twosome. As Annie Berner-Hurbin writes: "We grow in our mother's bodies and at the same time flow into our mothers’ field of energy. We may also assume the same thing of the bodies of our mothers which grow around us, the fields of energy from which flow into ours and fuse with it" (59). "Our life begins in dimensions which transcend the anatomical limits of our body towards an infinite destination from an infinite origin." The "empathetic continuum" (Keller, 186) of mother and daughter which is never given up consolidates this primal feminine experience of the body once again, showing that we do not begin as monads but as beings in relationship, who are concerned not to destroy ourselves but to attain recognition and selfhood with one another and through one another.

Men's bodies

Nowadays men are felt by many women to be the powerful sex. But there is doubt whether they really are the strong sex. Initially there are some indications of strength: the physical build of the male is striking. His muscular power is greater and he can do anything requiring this muscle-power, like pulling, lifting, beating, striking, better than women. In competitive sport, which similarly requires muscle-power, he is better than a woman. His heart is larger—it always corresponds to his clenched fist. While a woman's heart weighs 226.8 grams, a man’s heart weighs 283.5 grams. On average his brain also weighs 120 grams more than a woman’s. A survey has shown that the average man is 1.76m tall, the woman only 1.64m. He weighs on average 75 kilos, while she weighs 63, and his hands and feet are also larger. But the striking differences already stop there. With the exception of the sexual and procreative organs the internal organs are very much the same. Liver, lungs, pancreas display no female or male characteristics. Nor are size, weight and achievement interdependent. Relative to her body, a woman's heart performs just as well as a man's. The greater size of the man's brain has not been conclusively connected with greater intelligence.

When physical power is called for, the man seems strong. But over recent decades investigations have shown just how vulnerable and susceptible he is. Already in the womb he is more unstable: it is male embryos which predominantly perish in the womb. The cause for this seems to be the Y chromosome, which is responsible for the formation of a boy. If a male sperm penetrates a female ovum, the individual chromosomes are connected in pairs to form a new chromosome chain. If the sexual chromosomes pair as one X and one Y chromosome, the result is a boy. If they pair as two X chromosomes, it is a girl. But the Y chromosome is smaller than the X chromosome and it is conjectured that certain physiological susceptibilities and perhaps hereditary illnesses like diseases of the blood are to be explained by this. The decisive step in the formation of the male is taken in the tenth week of pregnancy. The genes of the Y chromosomes cause the cells in the small testicles which they have already formed to produce the sex hormone testosterone, which is responsible for the production of testicles, penis and the male form.

After this complicated initial period, as a baby the boy often develops more slowly than the girl. The mortality rate with new-born boys is greater. According to statistics, as children boys are more often ill than girls. Only at puberty do they gain strength and power.

So men undergo a complicated development. For biological reasons (the interior of the body is too hot) their sexual organs, of which they are proud, are visible and vulnerable. Further limitations are that the male has an unstable inguinal ligament, so that men suffer hernias more often than women; they are more often colorblind and suffer from blood-related diseases; become hard of hearing around ten years earlier than women; and get gout more frequently than women.

These physiological data normalize the image of the powerful hero. But it is not these minor susceptibilities which make him and his body weak. Rather, it is the patterns of behavior which he has imposed upon himself as a male in male society.

A man takes far less care of his body than a woman. He undergoes physical examinations less frequently. Automobile accidents more often bring men’s lives to a premature end. Men commit suicide more often than women.

Heart attacks, cirrhosis of the liver and lung cancer are causes of death which are almost always connected with the male’s image of himself. (To the degree that women attain to these male structures and develop the same patterns of behavior, similar phenomena can also be noted among them.) Men have to achieve, often under stress, and to meet a deadline. The phenomena are similar in every professional group. The man drinks to relax. He smokes to calm himself down. He exists at a remarkable distance from his body. What leads him to do this is not clear: "What ticks in the man’s brain is his gender-specific identity . . . that means his male notions, attitudes, fantasies and wishes. He is programmed by his male Y chromosome, by his hormones, by his upbringing, by his traditional role-model" (Norbert Lebert, Brigitte 14, 1982).

We can no longer say as easily as we did in the 1970s that one is brought up to be a girl or a boy. There is a complicated interplay of different social and biological factors. The feminist attempts to get boys interested in playing with dolls have failed. The thesis worked out by many researchers under Evelyne Sullerot in 1978 that the brain is a kind of "sexualized organ," i.e. that the brains of boys and girls, men and women, are organized differently and in some respects function differently—a thesis which provoked indignation among feminists—was not meant to provide a social foundation for a biological classification of women, but was meant to indicate the challenges that lie here (Sullerot, 352). In a changing society in which nature is again seeking her due, the potential capacity of women to have a stronger "integration between the emotional and the rational aspects of life" is an opportunity to deal on an equal footing with understanding and feeling, head and body. Or better, if possible, we should no longer distinguish the two spheres in a way which separates them, and instead attempt to find a total pattern of life and thought. But the Franciscan Richard Rohr complains for all males: "We have not even idolized the whole head, the whole brain, but only the left half of the brain. According to scientific investigations, the left half of the brain is the analytical side which is capable of thought. The left half of the brain thinks in a polar way: either-or. It does not think synthetically, or in connections. It is incapable of grasping a both-and. The left side is absolute—apparently logical but in reality ideological. The left side is intelligent, but not wise . . . We must rediscover and develop the right side. . . ." (Rohr, 1992, 68).

However, first it seems to me once again to be important to investigate the striking remoteness of the male from his body. This cannot be explained from the weaknesses associated with his origin. On the contrary, because of this he should take particular care of his body. Perhaps the psychoanalytical observations of Christiane Olivier will help us towards an explanation.

In her view the small boy has an infinitely better chance of being felt to be beautiful and attractive by his mother, who is of the opposite sex, than the small girl. This deep erotic love and acceptance give him an assurance which can accompany him through life. He feels good where he is. However, as he must experience later, the tragedy is that he is different from his origin; his body is different; he has to detach himself from the symbiosis with his mother in order to find his own identity. In order to escape his mother's desire, Olivier writes, "the boy will repudiate everything to do with his body. His body was the attraction for his mother; it stood for everything connected with a sense of life with which it had surrounded him all too much, indeed had throttled him" (Olivier, 94). The mother drops out, and with her the spheres of nearness, nourishment, warmth, motherliness and feeling, which he has to leave behind. And with this loss he leaves behind part of his body, the place of experience and the starting point of these feelings. What remains is a self-awareness which was acquired at an early stage, but remains remarkably detached from the body. Many boys are not at home in their bodies, although they think that their strong bodily physique is a sign of manliness. This physical character which is foisted on them is an instrumentalized embodiment. It demonstrates power and force. For the small boy and adult man it is proved by the erect penis. But behind this is concealed a self which is dependent on such demonstrations of power and can never wholly cope with its separation from the sphere of the feminine, the maternal, from its feelings. This self lives in fear of failure.

The vision of physical strength and power is developed against that: the vision of the father with a powerful body, as Tilmann Moser describes him in his fantasies about a handicapped father (Moser, 69ff.). The vision of physical powers like those represented by the plastic He-Man Turtle and Batman, dynamic conquerors of the world in the battle against evil, all with inflated chests (exaggerated self-consciousness) and underdeveloped stomachs (a lack of feeling). Moreover, they are all equipped with the most modern weapons, which are apparently meant to back up a physical power which is still inadequate—in the end they are all descendants of the Western Christian hero St George. According to a saga, booted and spurred, with helmet and in armor, riding a horse, he killed a dragon. In our male Christian world we usually understand dragons as embodiments of evil. But if we investigate their original significance, which is still present in Eastern Asia, we find that they are also bringers of happiness, symbols of the unconscious and the feminine. The boy could also have had as ambivalent an experience as our experience of the Western St George today. But the myth of masculinity haunts all spheres. The armor remains, the thick skin as self-protection which lets nothing out and nothing in, and which is further fortified by the managerial training which is customary today. First of all, the illnesses which are increasingly appearing among males need further explanation. The suppression of feelings makes them hardly perceive their bodies, so that an observer of a male ward in a clinic notes: "Sick men are like sacks of potatoes, suddenly knocked over by a magical hand." The "suffering of not being able to suffer," as Horst Eberhard Richter terms this phenomenon, absolutely ruins their bodies. The fragile self, detached from its origin, thinks that it can console itself for its doubtful and weak points with its power. But here, too, defeats threaten which destroy its picture of the world. Always strong, always successful, always potent—these are slogans with which many men must struggle from their early childhood days onwards, and in the end these slogans bring their lives to an end six to eight years earlier than those of women. They dream of victory, and for ages victory and death have been part of the lies and deceit of the heroic sagas.

Observations indicate that medical care should pay more attention to men. But here the cat is biting its own tail: those who do not want to be looked after will resist any appropriate precautionary measures. However, a generation is also growing up which increasingly looks self-critically at the idolization of power and strength. Fathers who change their small children's diapers, who do civilian service, who quite naturally look after the old and the handicapped, are images which are appearing increasingly frequently in our society. But the old models of our fathers and forefathers are programmed into our bodies and consciences and take hold of us again if we do not fight against them.

Men who acknowledge their homosexuality similarly represent a quite different life-style: sensitive, and open to their own bodily needs and those of others.

Since I think that the body is the hinge of human personality, we must also begin with the body to find healing and health again. The three great movements which are shaping our culture have not brought men much liberation. The sexual freedom which the 1960s brought with them has intensified the anxiety of the male about always having to be potent. The feminist movement suspected him of being a chauvinist and—in contrast to the penis-envy which Freud claimed to find in women—suggested that he was subject to an envy of giving birth which he did not always want to acknowledge. The New Age Movement required him to reflect on nature, but usually left him with the feeling that this—like everything else in this world—could be manipulated. His own involvement in this nature, the experience of not doing something but first experiencing, suffering and thus having to change himself, was all too often overlooked. And yet in these three movements there are demands which can make men reflect and find their own way to themselves.

However, a man's body will continue to remain a dark continent to him, which unexpectedly draws attention to itself through discomfort, pains, sicknesses, in which apparently evil, uncanny drives lurk which he thought that he had learned he must control and which could again swallow him up in the physical, feminine, maternal sphere from which he had so laboriously detached himself.

The processes of change are under way, but it will take a long road and many detours before there is any fundamental change.

Parents will be needed who share their care of children in all spheres, so that fathers are involved in the bodily life of their children and this life is no longer fused only with the mother.

Teachers will be needed who no longer preach the dominance of the will over all the other drives.

Women will be needed who put question-marks against male competitive sexuality and show men the whole body, including male bodies, as a sphere of love, tenderness and sexuality.

Friends will be needed who show men a non-phallic embodiment and a life-style which is not centered on the self.

Finally, and above all, men will need to find their own place in a changing world, not in self-pity, but with curiosity.

His capacity for detachment and abstraction, for order and system, could then be made fruitful. It would no longer need to dominate life from above, but could help him to shape himself.

The sick body

"I've a fever," "my stomach's on strike," "my back's out of action"—that's how we first perceive our illnesses. We keep them from us, see them as an isolated defect which can be remedied in isolation, until one day we have to say, "I'm sick." Then we are saying something that we do not normally say of ourselves: that our destiny is to be bound up with our bodies. In a variety of situations we can distance ourselves from our bodies, but at some point they get hold of us and will not let go. "I am my body." Being unwell, fever, pains, restlessness and paralysis preoccupy us. The I, the self, our feelings are surrounded with them. We cannot get away from them. A dark world shapes us, whereas normally we allow ourselves to be shaped by so many more welcome events. It is not only my body that is sick; I am sick. I am in my body. I have no other identity.

Unfortunately it is only in such limit situations that we come up against our real existence, namely that we are in the body. If we are healthy, we are not surrounded by our health—unless we have just recovered from a serious illness and are enjoying health like a new garment. A thousand other experiences shape and dominate us. Many people first learn during the course of their lives that health is the supreme good. Many people take it as for granted as the feet which walk and the eyes which see.

But can I say "I am healthy" in the same way as I can say with conviction "I am sick?" Hasn't something long been lurking in me which will make me sick tomorrow? A virus, a bacteria, an unrecognized hereditary disposition which is making a devastating appearance? Perhaps as soon as tomorrow I shall no longer be able to walk, I shall find it difficult to think and hard to breathe. As soon as tomorrow my body can grasp me and take me where I do not want to go.

So perhaps our definitions of health are highly unsatisfactory, indeed controversial. When a doctor pronounces a patient healthy again, the patient must regard herself or himself as healthy because he or she is capable of work and can function. That is the simplest and also the most common view. Sigmund Freud and others also define health as the capacity for enjoyment. At any rate this view is opposed to a notion of the body which saw not only the body-machine but also the pleasure of the body. (But how far the woman’s "capacity for pleasure and enjoyment," not a topic Freud identified, was thought of here remains an open question.)

The World Health Organization goes still further: "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not just the absence of disease and infirmity." Fine though this maximal demand may sound, it is put so idealistically as to be problematical. Certainly it is important that any view should no longer consider just the individual, but also the individual's social involvement, which is part of health. It is also important that education should equally be counted as part of the whole and sound personality. But this notion expresses the dream of a healthy society rather than indicating a practicable vision of health. The questions raised by this definition are: Doesn't it overestimate the physician or ask too much of doctors? Isn't there also a need for some kind of psychological and political therapy in the medical system? Isn't the basis of the definition a utopia of immortal, eternal life, a utopia of life without suffering, of happiness without pain, of a society without conflicts? At the least it is a definition which fails to do justice to the human body, which is never perfect, which ages, becomes sick, is part of society, and precisely in all these imperfections can experience happiness and well-being. This definition from the perspective of the left-wing critique of domination ultimately, like the critique itself, leaves the body in a corner as a reflection of society.

The formulation of the Christian Medical Commission of the World Council of Churches is almost even more idealistic. It states that health is a "living sign of the well-being of the individual and society, of bodily, spiritual, mental, economic, social and political stability." Health is harmony with oneself, with one's fellow human beings, the environment and nature, and with God. In the right context health is shalom = peace (Isa. 32.16f.), a sign of the correct interplay.

If we want to find words for "health" at all, then Ivan Illich's approach is nearer to reality. For him health means "the process of adaptation, the capacity to adapt to a changing milieu, growing older, convalescing, suffering, expecting death." Health is then "the capacity to overcome pain, sickness and death autonomously," the power to live with disorders or health is, as Karl Barth said with reference to the psychosomatics of Richard Siebeck, "the strength to be human" (Moltmann, 273). However, these definitions "autonomy and power" need a further addition which male contemporaries easily overlook. Autonomy needs relationship, and the power to be human is nurtured, consciously or unconsciously, by relationships. It is one-sided confidence in one’s own power that makes one sick. That is what lies behind heart attacks. Health—if we want to define it—is indissolubly connected with relationship and concern. Stress and death arise through isolation. As experiments with animals also show, loneliness has a direct effect on processes in the brain. Health then means living in oneself, with oneself and in relationships.

But let's return once again to sickness, to the sick body and the terror and pain which it causes us. There has been too much talk about the meaning of suffering, although to those involved in suffering this suffering seems completely meaningless. We should forget this consolation. Sick people can more credibly speak of their sickness as a journey, the "journey of the poor," on which they have unsuspected experiences with their bodies. After a cancer operation Maxie Wander wrote in dismay: "I have grown old in an autumn, I have a body which has been cut and which will never again attract a man. Never again will I be able to undress easily on the beach. My body which I loved is mutilated for ever. I can't understand it, it is too cruel . . ." (Wander, 1980, 72). But six months later we read: "And when life is cruel to you, don't grumble, don't cry, but hold on and wait patiently until something good happens to you. How will you become a human being without pain? It seems to me that at the moment God is nearer to me than to you. You may perhaps want to grasp him with the head, through the understanding, but he shows himself to you in quite a different way . . . Words do not express approximately what I feel is happening to me. But I am just beginning to live. . ." (ibid., 1 73).

An impressive collection of stories about sick women, Sickness as an Experience, depicts such "journeys" through the fear of death and despair. In it there is a recollection of a remark of André Gide's, that illnesses are keys which can open certain doors to us: "Among those who enjoy perfect health I have never met anyone who was not in some way a little limited, like those who have never traveled . . ." (Möhrmann and Würzbach, 258f.).

Women with life-threatening, mutilating, wearisome and tormenting illnesses were invited to write their stories. What came out of them, for all the terrible differences, was a help to others. These women faced sickness without compromise. A women tormented by dermatitis was finally able to accept her sick hands again. She had become one with her body, and never again did she have the feeling that her hands did not exist. The stories also draw urgent attention to the fact that concern and love give rise to this journey and that in a sick body a self can establish itself which supports itself and endures itself and finally discovers pleasure: pleasure at enjoying little things and the present, pleasure which quite unexpectedly restores a unity with the body. Something that is never experienced in health comes through pain. What a grotesque detour! A woman expresses this being-with-herself like this:

I feel that the withdrawal into myself during the last months has created a home in me into which I can always go with a light step to withstand pain, to rest or to look happily out of the windows. This little house was already there in the rough during my youth; I kept building on it, and now it is being renovated. The inside is still incomplete, but it can become richer and more varied through experiences and encounters. The old rubbish must be thrown out. There is also a dark cellar of anxieties which I ought not to enter if possible or, better, on which I should shed some light. I keep wanting to get out of the house and receive guests. . . The lack of protection in my life which initially seemed so cruel has extended to become an undetermined but also hopeful possibility. Most of it must come from myself, and for the moment I am up to that. I resonate in myself and let others resonate with me or even away from me. I can roll up into myself, gather strength and turn to myself: There are pains and there is my new joy (49).

This is a sense of life which does not triumph over the body, but experiences its limitations and opportunities in the body. A man ill with AIDS put this being at home in the body, almost triumphantly, like this: "I feel that my body is no longer just a covering, but alive and strong."

As a handicapped person, Ulrich Bach has said something specially for handicapped people, but which is similar. "They want to be recognized, recognized in the way in which under their conditions they attempt to shape their one life as something precious" (Bach, 202).

Not everyone makes such a journey to such experiences. But the door into new spaces is there, and it can be opened.

Growing old

In a fitness center a young woman was working out vigorously with dumbbells. When a reporter asked her why she was doing this, she replied, "To cheat old age." Growing old and old age seem to be frightening in our society. People think that they can avoid old age like an infectious illness, like a dangerous bacillus, arid will try anything to do so: sport, clothing, diet, operations which are supposed to restore youthfulness. Youth and youthfulness has always been attractive. Fairy tales tell of fountains from which people get eternal youth. The Bible promises healing, "that you may be as young as an eagle" (Ps.103-5). Social groups like political parties, church conferences, societies and churches take great pains over youth. As a report on the elderly in the church puts it: "The greatest pastoral efforts are directed towards addressing and reaching the young and young adults." All are striving in their own way to cheat old age. If a person, an institution, is surrounded with youth, that is to their credit and they gain a feeling of self. But the old are there, and old age comes inexorably.

But what is old age? What is growing old? W e cannot escape it, as we can escape some illnesses which make us anxious, unless we die when we are young. And the fear of old age has made some people wish for an early death.

Let's look closer at the body in old age, its biological processes and the prejudices attached to it.

Old age is not an intermediate stage like an illness, but is part of the law of life like birth, growth, procreation, death. Old age and death begin when a predetermined program of growth and maturity has been completed. In old age the tissues change; the mass of metabolic tissue diminishes, while the inactive tissue, e.g. the connective tissue, increases. The capacity of cells to renew themselves diminishes notably. Important organs regress and their functions became weaker. Biochemical changes take place. The hair becomes white and thinner, the skin develops folds. The skeleton changes. The shoulders become narrower, the pelvis often broader. Muscle loss and sclerosis lead to difficulties with walking. The heart does not work as well. The arteries calcify. Less blood flows through the brain. The motor nerves no longer communicate stimuli so quickly. Far-sightedness increases. The sexual organs regress.

But this horror scenario should not terrify us. How quickly individual changes become visible depends on a person's standard of living, level of education, surrounding culture, social and psychological environment. In the rich industrial nations people have greater possibilities of leading a "normal" life despite the reduction in their bodily functions and can compensate for the decline. Nor does aging occupy a fixed period. There can be a great difference between a sixty-year-old and an eighty-year-old. "I’m getting old," a thirty-year-old can say. And perhaps the process of aging already begins on the first day of life.

The body is the terrain on which this process is played out, and particularly in the rich countries the aged body has become a specter, a specter contrasting with the ideals of these countries with their self-images of health and success. The disappearance of smoothness, strength, luster unsettles people and makes them look out for other ideals. That increases the market value of the young body and at the same time makes the old embodiment of the body, the woman, a special terror.

First let’s look at how men grow old. The image of the old man has few negative associations; with men age is often associated with status. God is also often depicted as an old man with a white beard, as are Moses, Abraham, the Germanic god Odin, and Vishnu the Hindu god.

Experience, wisdom and authority are associated with masculine old age. By comparison, physical morbidity fades into the background. The Old Man and the Sea, the gripping story of Hemingway’s own aging, shows victory despite annihilation. The great fish that the old man catches ultimately becomes the prey of sharks. In the end, only a skeleton is left. But the author’s conclusion is: a man can be annihilated, but not conquered.

Masculine aging preserves a touch of victory despite the outward collapse. "Masculinity," writes Simone de Beauvoir, "is not a prey to old age" (de Beauvoir, 291).

Things do not look so positive on the woman’s side. Brecht's story of the disreputable old woman who after the death of her husband takes out a mortgage an her house and happily gives away her money, falling in love with an old cobbler, and being disowned by her family, was for long a solitary revolt. At the end of the 1970s, Bernhard Sinkel's comedy film Line Brake produced a new type of old woman: an old woman, apparently powerless, tricks a bank, and tricks her own declining strength with a tricycle on which she asserts herself in the traffic. The actress Lina Carstens became the symbol of the coming "gray panther" with her peaceful and obstinate face, gray bun and old fashioned handbag. However, in the eighth grade of a high school in which the teacher was collecting associations with the phrase "old woman," the situation of women was seen more realistically: sick, grumpy, untidy, ugly, carping, cross—that was the result.

The wise old woman seldom appears as the counterpart to the white-haired divine leader in fairy tales and myths, though there are instances (like Frau Holle in German mythology). What we find more often is their caricature, like the witch with her bent body. Some years ago a book of medical advice for couples said this about the wife at the menopause: "the luster of beauty disappears, the body becomes unattractive except for trivia." And in 1977 the well-known professor of forensic psychology, Elisabeth Müller-Luckmann, said in an interview for Weltwoche: "The male body ages more aesthetically. The woman’s build is more in danger of degenerating into ugliness." Bodily images are very soon associated with the idea of the "old woman, and they signalize decay. "Man" is seen more easily beyond his body, "woman" is seen in her body. But the dream body is the young, smooth, dynamic woman's body, as it is dreamed of by men, which occupies only a very brief span of time in the real life of women. What is taken to correspond to this sexualized body is a male body which—as feminists say—remains presentable, marriageable and loveable to the death. Women have often subjected themselves to these norms, denied themselves, failed to stand by their bodies and often tormented themselves physically and without pleasure to preserve youth and dynamism for themselves and others.

However, compared with the man who remains presentable, marriageable and lovable we have a woman whose body does not show the same continuity. Women arrive at the years of change, the climacteric. The menopause is a physically perceptible change in a woman's life. The monthly bleedings cease. Migraine, hot flashes, fits of sweating and even depressions can develop. This second hormonal change which the woman experiences after puberty ends her capacity to have children; that means loss of prestige in the eyes of those who identify being a woman with the capacity to have children. And for the male who sees her sexuality coupled with the capacity to give birth it also means the loss of the sexual object. In 1903, in his treatise On the Physiological Imbecility of Woman, the famous physician Mobius wrote that the woman has only thirty years in which she is "complete."

Anyone who is dependent on the verdicts of our culture will suffer from this cold-shouldering. Bodily experiences often go with social changes: the children leave home and a woman who saw her family as her object of love stands there with empty hands and unrequited feelings. However, those who have learned to see themselves differently can see this break as an opportunity.

Pregnancies, which despite all the means of contraception were still often feared, are now no longer a danger. Sexuality can be experienced differently and as self-determination. Biological facts confirm this: the estrogen level declines during the menopause and the progesterone level rises, and progesterone is responsible for sexual pleasure. Women belong to themselves, and this "other fertility" can become the beginning of their shaping of their own lives. "My body has never felt as near to me as at this time," a woman declared. Another says that she is learning to see her aging face as an "aesthetic face, characterized by life." The pressure of norms eases, and a new freedom can begin. Many women doubt whether taking estrogen enables them to get through this phase better. Research into the menopause is still very incomplete. A woman's responsibility for herself should increase, and that means being given information and talking with others at the same stage.

What about the man? Does he remain condemned to eternal sameness? Researches into andrology are still thin. But the myth of the male who does not undergo a change of life is collapsing. Men also experience similar phenomena to women: hot flushes, fits of' sweating, diminishing vitality and loss of potency. According to the Kinsey Report the frequency of intercourse declines after the age of fifty.

These changes are visible and threatening for the male. In addition the physical changes in them often become professional crises. Young men tread on their heels and violate their sense of being successful and respected. What the body signals is also signaled by the reason. "I only felt good when others thought me good," reported a man about his conscious experience of the years of change. Now he is attempting to feel who he is, to become aware of himself, to shift his self-awareness from other people into his own consciousness . . . "I find this a very good change."

For the American researcher Gail Sheehy, the crisis for the man is really even greater than that for the woman, since he feels compelled to achieve something that no living creature has ever achieved—eternal potency. "The permanent anxiety of failing here" blocks many other powers. The fixation on potency excludes a man from the many other possibilities of care and eroticism. However, for that, mutuality is needed, a new experience shared by women and men. A woman sees it like this: "Since we women are again seeking to see our bodies as belonging only to us, we can also begin to imagine a new male feeling about the body. When men learn to respect a woman's right to possess her own body, they can also accept gentler relationships to their own bodies. Then the phallus could serve as an instrument of relationship and not as an instrument of subjection" (Keller, 318). Bodily energies could be experienced and translated in quite a different way from what we have so far suspected. An awareness of the senses could help men in their ways of seeing and thinking.

So the years of change are years of change for both men and women. However, men still feel less affected by them; they are less informed and more distracted from themselves and their bodily processes by their work. An Abyssinian woman put it like this: "His life and his body are always the same . . . He knows nothing."

One important experience could grow out of women's experiences, to help us to understand aging better: that our bodies and we ourselves in them undergo processes of change which are not only losses of youth, activity and functions but also lead to other new periods of life in which unsuspected possibilities lie. Many people are getting accustomed to dying. Reviving can be something quite different. Women in particular are programmed to such processes.

Unlike small boys, who see the man, the father with his body, as their role model but do not yet correspond to him in size, small girls have no model towards which their bodies can develop. "The little girl's trouble is that her body is not like anyone's. She possesses neither a sex like her father’s nor the distinguishing features of her mother (who has breasts, comes in at the waist and out at the hips, has pubic hair)" (Olivier, 46). For women, at a very early stage that means learning change, transformation, flexibility. Menstruation, pregnancy with its immense physical changes and the menopause, are then further phases. They can be endured and be felt to be burdens. But they also bear within themselves the pleasure of becoming new.

Aging could be experienced similarly; as a decline or cessation of particular forces which we no longer need, and as an intensification of other energies we have hardly lived out or active "passivities" we have seldom investigated.

In her great investigation of old age in 1972, Simone de Beauvoir brought together insights and experiences about aging from the whole history of culture. However, her material was for the most part the experiences of men, since—as she writes—she had not come across many ideas from women and in the 1970s research into women was still in its infancy. This gave rise to a quite depressing panorama of melancholia, injured vanity and repression, as in the case of Richard Wagner, who in horror avoided mirrors so as not to see his "gray head." Others complain about the ruin of their bodies, in which their spirits can no longer live. For Chateaubriand, old age was a "shipwreck." It seemed to him to be a "torment to preserve one’s intellectual being intact, imprisoned in a worn-out physical shell" (de Beauvoir, 298, 303).

The return of freedom from norms and new openness is seldom noted by de Beauvoir. An Englishmen, John Cowper Powys, is one of the few exceptions here. In his view, in old age people finally come to practice "that passive activity by which our human organism merges with the Inanimate." The happiness of old age is to come near to the inanimate. "There is an inexpressible relationship between an old man warming himself in the sun and a piece of flint being warmed by the sun." The hardly experienced joys of contemplation could begin (de Beauvoir, 487).

The view of the Jesuit Walter Burghardt is similar. He sees contemplation as a creative experience of old age. However, for him the way is a via negativa, kenosis, a renunciation of what has been had. here Christian asceticism seems to have shaped a process of thought which then again parts company with the body (Concilium 1991/3,65-71).

Process thought always includes two things, decrease and increase, dying and becoming new. And it is originally related to the body. It avoids the great thunderbolts and is not fixated on breaks. It teaches relaxation or resignation.

Even now, there are few documents by women which reflect on the process of growing old. Susan Griffin has made an attempt. She has described the body of an old woman for us in the style of a biography which is more than the history of an individual life. It is a women’s history, which includes all of us and to which we owe our lives:

From the body of the old woman we can tell much of the life she lived. We know that she spent much of her life on her knees. (Fluid in the bursa in front of her kneecap.) We say she must often have been fatigued, that her hands were often in water. (Traces of calcium, traces of unspoken anger, swellings in the middle joints of her fingers.) We see white ridges, scars from old injuries: we see redness in her skin. (That her hands were often in water; that there must have been pain.) We can tell you that she bore several children. We see the white marks on her belly, the looseness of the skin, the wideness of her hips, that her womb has dropped. (Stretching in the tissue behind the womb.) We can see that she has fed her children, that her breasts are long and flat, that there are white marks at the edges and the darker color of the nipples. We know that she carried weights too heavy for her back. (Curvature of the spine, aching.) From the look of certain muscles in her back, her legs, we can tell you something of her childhood, of what she did not do (of the running, of the climbing, of the kicking, of the movements she did not make). And from her lungs we can tell you what she held back, that she was forbidden to shout, that she learned to breathe shallowly. We can say that we think she must have held her breath. From the size of the holes in her ears we know they were put there in childhood. That she wore earrings most of her life. From the pallor of her skin, we can see that her face was often covered. From her feet, that her shoes were small (toes bent back on themselves), that she was often on her feet (swelling, ligaments of the arches broken down). We guess that she rarely sat through a meal (tissue of the colon inflamed). We can catalogue her being: tissue, fiber, bloodstream, cell, the shape of her experience to the least moment, skin, hair, try to see what she saw, to imagine what she felt, clitoris, vulva, womb, and we can also tell you that despite each injury she survived. That she lived to an old age. (On all the parts of her body we see the years.) By the body of this old woman we are hushed. We are awed. We know that in her body we began. And now we say that it is from her body that we learn. That we see our past. We say from the body of the old woman we can tell you something of the lives we have lived (Griffin, 208f).

Growing old need not be beautified. Seeing it accurately—without anxiety—makes us see reality, and in it a single liveliness, a single history.

Now for the first time religious images are reappearing which reflect the processes experienced intensively by women: the goddess with her threefold face as a young, middle-aged and old woman is interpreted as women's experience, and in addition is taking on a religious significance for life—of cycles instead of linear patterns which express our life. And the God of the Jewish tradition can also be seen as a woman growing old, who gives a meaning to the rhythms of human life, above all aging. In a sermon, a rabbi in New York tells her congregation how she imagines God:

We become older, as God becomes older. How similar we have become to each other! God takes our face in both her hands and whispers . . . "Even when you are old I will be with you and hold you when you are gray-haired. I have given birth to you, I carried you, I will hold you fast. Grow old with me..."

Our anxiety about the future is now dampened by curiosity. The universe is infinite and still full of unlimited possibilities. And we may welcome every new day with expectant curiosity: what will I learn today, what will I discover? What will I perceive today that I never saw before?

. . .Her face, marked by time, now no longer seems to us to be fragile, but wise. For we understand that God knows about things that only time can teach; that it is possible to survive the loss of a love, to feel certain in a world which is constantly changing, to be able to live in dignity even when every bone hurts . . .

Now we understand why we have been made to grow older: every added day of our life, every new year, makes us more similar to God, she who is eternally older . . . (Evangelische Theologie 5, 1992, 382ff.).

God as woman is not only a changed cipher. God imagined as woman creates a broad sphere of life in which our body can be, change and die.