OBEYING AND SERVING
Some time ago I had a dream in which I was a waitress. To my surprise it was one of the most intense dreams I ever had and still has not left me. Though there was nothing overtly sexual about the dream or my attire or actions, this “waitressing” thing, this serving, made me feel like I was being prostituted and brought a feeling of deep nausea to my stomach. I'd found myself getting the same feeling when I came across BDSM type sites where the woman was expected to put her partner's needs and feelings first and hers on a back burner. And the same nausea again when I explored many Christian sites that advocated the woman either being a super woman type at home (basically a full time servant and maid for her family), or even worse, husbands who force their wives to become a vulnerable servant outside the home and work for a stranger. Where the bleep is the providence and protection in that? But at the same time as these things feel wrong to me, the feeling of obeying one's partner in relationship feels extremely right to me, and in many regards I am deeply drawn to traditional relationships. Seemed like quite a contradiction and I felt rather lost.
Then I noticed that in the traditional Christian wedding vows, a woman does not promise to serve, she promises to love, honor and obey. The word “obey” does not mean “serve”, and that is the key. What's more, if you want to find serving, the place to look is actually in the man's traditional promise, to love, honor and cherish. Cherishing is serving. And yet this has been neatly glossed over for a very long time.
When I look back at my own life, my girlhood was always full of images of fairy tales and ravishment and rescue, and my adult heart has stubbornly refused to make the mistake of so called “growing up” about these things. I know I'm not alone here. In my little girl heart, and later, in my not so little girl heart, I wasn't riding off into the sunset on my own horse next to him as an “equal”, I was on his horse, with him in charge of the reins, being held close to him. I was obeying. And he was serving.
This really does seem to cut to the core of things, but what is the difference truly between serving and obeying? It was Patricia Allen's ideas (see Getting To "I Do", by Patricia Allen: a book review, Respect and responsibility and An alpha female bares her throat only to her mate) that helped me articulate this distinction. In tune with traditional wisdom (and even biology if one looks at the act of intimacy), she stresses that feminine energy is receiving-based, receptive. That is definitely a more vulnerable way to be, and also more inward-focused, and being receptive to one's own sensations and feelings and comfort level is critical for female energy. The result of this as Pat Allen puts it is a woman must “love herself more”, rather than overall putting another's feelings first and losing her center. And many things unfold from these realizations.
RECEPTIVE AND ACTIVE
According to Pat Allen, a woman centered in her feminine energy does not give to someone else in an initiatory way (that would be serving), but rather she gives back, which is receptive-based. It is receiving and then naturally wanting to give back as a result. In giving back she is still being responsive to self-comfort cues and feelings rather than losing her female center through self-sacrifice. A feminine-energy woman also naturally gives back a little less than she has received, because that allows her to remain in her naturally receptive mode. On the other hand, when a woman is giving the same or more overall, then she is no longer being receptive, no longer being in her feminine center, and this is going against her very nature and so quite harmful. As I experienced so strongly in that dream for example, a woman serving feels deep down like a burnt-out waitress, used, taken from, as though she is being prostituted.
So while serving is harmful to female energy, obeying on the other hand is very suited as I see it, yet most people mistakenly see serving and obeying as somehow one in the same. The problem I have realized is that we have misunderstood what true obeying really is. To go back to the waitress example, on the surface it looks like a waitress is simply obeying, but true obeying is not about “taking orders” like that, it is a much more profound thing. Obedience does not happen in an impersonal vacuum, it is a response. It happens in context, as a response of respect and trust when one is being cared for and cherished.
What obedience really is is a natural response to being cherished. A “waitress” like I was seeing in that dream is, instead, a woman serving, and since a woman is not wired for the active imparting focus of serving, it is harmful. And the women I hear about from every direction who are not truly provided for and protected are likewise harmed: their obedience is not the response to being cherished as it should be but rather they are being used. So in both of these cases what looks like obedience there is really a kind of psychic rape, a siphoning, a burning out. No wonder it can feel like being prostituted when a woman is serving.
The only time serving is something else altogether and not prostituting a woman is when it is in the context of her obedience—she is cherished and given to, her feelings and comfort are thus given priority, thus she naturally desires deep down to obey and please back, it can become even an ache to do so, and so serving can happen as a part of this desire to make the one we are obeying happy. In this case it is part of the deeper desire now and so part of receptivity, and this desire is born of having been so cherished. This is not the same thing as a woman simply serving in itself.
HEROES AND HEROINES
However, serving in itself is very suited to male energy. Like true obedience is for a woman the deeper receptive desire, so is true service for a man the deeper active desire. And unlike obeying, we do seem to have more of an accurate idea in general of what serving in itself means—it is initiatory, active, giving, imparting, impacting, and accommodating to the feelings of others—all core male energy stuff according to Pat Allen, and also in line with traditional wisdom. Choosing to lead and serve, and promising this to his chosen partner come what may, is something male energy is truly suited for, and in the end this is what fulfills a masculine-energy man. And serving the one you love is what cherishing is all about.
Pat Allen says that a boy becomes a man by realizing that women children and the earth and her creatures are not there to serve him but rather he them through the imparting of his manful bounty. He becomes a man by ending his focus on his own immediate self-gratification and committing himself to the active imparting of the male gifts he has to give, which in the end actually brings him the deeper gratification he seeks when those gifts of his truly help heal and protect those around him. Pat Allen uses the Fisher King wound spoken of in the heroic Arthurian legends (or rather the healing of this) to illustrate this.
A girl on the other hand becomes a woman when her self-love deepens enough to where she follows her intuition and feelings and sense of comfort, helping her deepen her own receptivity. Allen speaks of the heroine in the Princess and the Pea (happens to be my childhood favorite, smiles) to illustrate this. And it is this deepened self-comfort and feeling focus and receptivity that allows a woman to even recognize the man whose leadership she can trust and whom she can promise to obey with grace and gratitude. Obedience becomes her deeper desire, it is a very naturally feminine response to being cherished.
SLAYING THE DRAGON OF JUDGEMENT
What most people don't realize is this self-comfort focus of feminine energy is completely critical to developing and accessing her “woman's intuition” as well, and her receptiveness in all other areas. It is her opening to her own inner signals and needs and cues and heeding them that underlies both her deep intuition developing, her needing her comfort level overall maintained, and her deepening in other ways of receptivity. They are a package deal. Yet what we seem to expect nowadays is that a woman be intuitive and receptive in ways that benefit others but not focus on being receptive to the priority of her own inner comfort. We want her to benefit others with her feminine receptivity yet at the same time force herself to be the male energy and serve. And it simply doesn't work that way, without this self-comfort focus female energy atrophies.
But instead of embracing these basics of female energy, we wrongly judge them selfish and immature. I was following a discussion about Pat Allen's ideas in which a couple actually practicing her system received the following charged response: “...you don't, as far as I can make out, inhabit the normal world at all. Your lives are so far removed from anything that I recognise as reality that I can't imagine what planet you come from. Certainly not Earth.”
What particularly annoyed the critics was, you guessed it, the husband's insistence that it is his responsibility as the masculine-energy man in the relationship to lead—but also to serve. His wife is the complementing feminine energy so he takes the view that she should not work outside or inside the home, including housekeeping and the like, unless she desires to. He knows that for her to stay in her feminine energy she must maintain a true comfort level there and only give what she truly desires to give, plus it is the nature of a masculine energy man to prioritize the happiness of the one he is cherishing.
The criticism that this couple was living in a fairy tale rather than in the real world really struck a nerve in me. Making life a fairy tale is actually our only hope. The heroes of our deeper fairy tales served. They labored, and they fought the dragon, and they rescued the princess. Nowadays we attack the women who naturally are geared to be that princess (heroine), and we try to turn them into a similarly serving hero, much to our harm. As Pat Allen puts it, cherishing/serving is masculine energy, not feminine energy. Likewise, I'd still argue, obeying is feminine energy not masculine energy.
In the end, the loving giving of serving is what creates heroes and fulfills masculine-energy men. Serving of this same sort done by feminine energy has the opposite effect: it is soul killing. A man anchored in his masculine energy is not looking for a woman to serve him. He is looking for a woman anchored in her feminine energy, one whom he can lovingly give to and one who can gratefully and gracefully receive this bountiful giving of his. She can then give back from a place of deeper desire (i.e., desired in the long run, if not necessarily always in the short run), giving back from a place of being cherished, and thus still true to her female receptive core. This receptivity of hers also includes her receiving his leadership and direction (i.e., her obedience). The healing irony of polarity is that the very act of his fulfilling her is what deep down ends up fulfilling him.
THE SERVANT LEADER
Giving/serving/cherishing is also what the Christian concept of headship is about, where a man is aptly encouraged to be a servant-leader. Headship calls for the man to lead, provide, protect and serve, and the cherished woman to receive and obey. It also ties in with the “curses” Adam and Eve were given in Genesis. Adam was given the work/serving curse, not Eve. Eve's curse was to be ruled by Adam and to receive his seed and bear his children, even when these things involve pain (well, plenty of articles on this site on that topic!). This may seem to contradict the focus on self-comfort but it does not, as these things are not stand-alone but intricately connected with the deeper desire of being cherished. It is as ironic, and profound, as how a boy becoming a man gives up his focus on his own self gratification only to find it leads him to the deeper gratification he truly wants through serving.
I have long felt in my gut that those “curses” actually held the healing that Adam and Eve (and we, their children) need, as a loving God does not punish to harm but to heal. They also seem designed to work only together. Eve is receptive, so her obedience must be inspired by Adam's cherishing leadership, which makes it possible for her trust him. Her obeying without his cherishing would not be healing, but the two together are another story—a healing story, a potential fairy tale.
RETURN OF THE FAIRY TALE
The image of the couple on horseback remains etched in my mind, ancient, archetypal, and I know I'm not alone in this. He has the reins, is leading and serving. And she is held by him and opening to him, trusting and obeying. And it is through his cherishing and her obedience that they both know they are truly loved.
Something to think about when one hears the groom promise to love, honor and cherish—and something to cringe about when one hears a woman saying the same thing as the groom rather than promising to love, honor and obey. Because the modern woman is no longer cherished; rather, she promises to be a cherisher. And God forbid she should want to obey, or worse yet expect her groom to be provident, protective and trustworthy enough to be obeyed. Instead this precious treasure has been stolen from us both. Deep down many of us long to be with someone worthy of our obedience—and deep down many men long to be that man. We do not want to harm our self and our partner by pretending to be a man by cherishing and serving, we want to embrace our receptive feminine energy and trust and obey.
If this is “not living in the real world” please give me the fairy tales any day, they feel to hold far more wisdom. At least fairy tales understand the difference between cherishing and obeying, and who is suited for which. No wonder we see tragic endings all around us in the “real world” and yet fairy tales end...
Happily Ever After.