“Longing for Running Water”: A Short Review

I enjoyed reading Ivone Gebara’s “Longing for Running Water.” This book advocates and explains the position of ecofeminism from a Latin American perspective. The main point of the book is that an entirely new way of thinking and doing theology is urgently needed in the face of the ecological destruction of our planet. The close connection between feminism and ecology consists in the fact that the concerns of both disciplines arise from the rampant effects of patriarchal thought patterns and behavior on both women and the ecosystem. If the patriarchy has been opposed to the well-being and flourishing of women, it is outright destructive for the earth. Ecofeminism proposes a radical new way of thinking, not as a mere alternative to established practices, but, because of the urgency of the matter, as the only possible way to overcome the ecological disaster that is looming.

I was struck by the realization that my own emphasis on locating revelation in the embodied reality of the world, my own phenomenological approach to reality for constructing theology, and my view of the world and the human person as process rather than essence, finds a close connection with certain characteristics of Gebara’s proposed feminist struggle against patriarchy. It makes me wonder if feminism itself is more than just a revolt against male domination by itself very much being part of new emphases in philosophy and theology that have been around in multiple discourses for the past so many decades.

Where I was not able to follow Gebara is her doctrine of God and her Christology. What Christian theology has said about God in the past cannot simply and entirely be reduced to patriarchy. Rather, patriarchy has ran with whatever became available from God, by pushing out the perspectives of women and by letting male domination run rampant. It does not mean, however, that there is no revelation, or that the idea of a revealing God is a patriarchal notion. The struggle against patriarchy does not require to offer a reductive account of Christian theology as a merely human (male) speech about God. True feminism ought to deconstruct patriarchal Godspeak and show revelation for what it is worth. In that regard, Sarah Coakley’s strategy is infinitely more interesting.

By giving an entirely reductive account of the doctrine of God, Gebara clears space for a highly creative reformulation of this doctrine, that, for lack of its intentional Christological focus (indeed, for Gebara Jesus of Nazareth is centered only in the sense of a favorite memory), ends up being a rather vacuous construct. One would take her for a pantheist if it wasn’t for the fact that she openly advocates panentheism.

Having said that, Ivone Gebara’s work is not to be neglected. Her metaphor of the world (including ourselves) as the Sacred Body is beautifully woven through her daring theological exploration that issues in a reformulation of a few key doctrines in Christian theology. And as she does so, she helps us think in new and different ways about the relationality and connectedness between world and God that underlies all of reality. There is much to be learned here for those who are willing to see things in a new light. After all Gebara is not entertaining a pet project or occupying a niche in theological discourse. She addresses two major concerns: the oppression of the weak (esp. women) and the destruction of our only home, the earth.

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