I have always loved the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32), yet at the same time, struggle with it. The story seems so male in context. A young man returns home repentant and humbled after squandering his inheritance on a life of debauchery. His father is moved with pity, and runs to welcome his son home, clasping him in his arms and kissing him.
“Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. We will celebrate by having a feast, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.”
Meanwhile the elder son who always slaved in the fields and obeyed his father grows angry and refuses to enter the celebrations. But the father says:
“My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”
What would the story of the prodigal daughter be, and what would her return to the welcoming mother reveal?
Perhaps in the third millennium, the prodigal daughter would be the one who denies her own femininity and self to squeeze into the patriarchal society that she finds herself in. She spends time and money on cosmetics, designer labels, and beauty treatments with the hope of attracting love from men who know not how to love a true or whole woman. She buries her talents and passions to take care of other’s needs first.
Perhaps, she abuses her body with diets, plastic surgery, and high-heel shoes. She stays in loveless, soulless relationships for the sake of material comfort. She identifies herself as the strong one, even as she remains a victim of her husband or lover’s physical and emotional abuse. She regretfully harms, surrenders, or aborts her own child. She loses her voice, in the silencing of it.
It is to the mother that the prodigal daughter must return, for it is the mother who has given her life and can re-ignite her soul. It is in the mother that she will find her lost voice and regain love for her own body. It is in the mother that strength is gathered from her monthly flow of blood and tears.
And the mother waits just as patiently as the father, for she knows a daughter’s needs are different from a son’s — the daughter’s journey more riddled with confusion and doubt, her movements confined by the care for her young, her way less clearly marked by silenced foresisters. But when mother sees her daughter even from “a long way off,” her pity is great and her joy ever greater. She too runs to clasp the daughter in her arms and kiss her, wrap her in the best robe, wed her with a gold ring so that they may never part again, place sandals on her feet which have traveled from so far.
And what of the elder daughter, who remains at home, behaves herself and watches jealously when the younger returns? These two sisters must reconcile with each other, or the one will destroy the other. The elder is just as lost as the younger, imprisoned in the dictates of what is a “good girl” and what is a “bad girl” without perception of who she is herself and what her soul needs to do or wants to become.
Sin is the refusal to love and mortal sin is the denying of self. When the daughters seek integration and are reborn as a whole woman, then they return fully to the Mother who created and bore them.
This week we have seen this story of both the Prodigal Son and Prodigal Daughter played out on the US Senate floor through the testimonies of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh. They are both coming home, but who is there to welcome them? While we hear forgiveness in the words “Boys will be boys”, there is no equivalent “Girls will be girls.” The Prodigal Daughter is questioned by a prosecuting lawyer, the Prodigal Son defended by outraged male senators. She will be sent home, but it is now become her fortified refuge, because of harassment and death threats she and her family have received. He will probably end up wearing the lifetime robe and ring of U.S. Supreme Court Judge.
Fortunately, women are waiting and ready to embrace Ford, often as a symbol of their own inner prodigal daughter. These waiting Mothers are brave and vocal, marching, protesting, and confronting their misguided senators in elevators and congressional hallways. And yet society clearly remains unable to fully welcome the prodigal daughter home. Her robe, gold ring and sandals are still too big and keep slipping off. But her Mother is there – clasping her arms around her and kissing her, welcoming her back to life.