to make the knowledge of Christ spread everywhere
like a sweet fragrance.
for we are like a sweet smelling incense offered by Christ to God
which spreads among those all—those who delight, those who are so far away…
Who then is capable for such a task?
God sent us, so we speak with sincerity, as Christ-followers.
–adapted from 2 Corinthians 2: 14ff
We are a sweet smelling fragrance, speaking with sincerity. This metaphor puts us alongside gardenias and lilacs—living ones who can communicate Divine Love with unfiltered immediacy. Fragrances of love, compassion, hope, healing wafting in and among life’s pain there for the ingestion of any and all who would get close enough to take a whiff.
God’s poetic crafting of such sensual powers of transformation means that so much of our embodied experience has this capacity to mediate truth and healing love. Our denial of this diminishes all life and distorts our ability to see and to smell and to taste God around us.
I decided to take this “fragrance principle” and apply it to something both mundane and painful about being embodied—what medical science calls PMS (premenstrual syndrome). Just those words, “premenstrual syndrome,” sound so ominous and forbidding. And that labeling of this time of unfiltered emotion and embodied experience that many women cycle through regularly has created such a feeling of foreboding about it for the larger culture. So the conventional wisdom of our time tells us when women enter this PMS time, the better part of valor is to steer clear of them. Just leave them alone because they are impossible to deal with, impossible to understand, maybe even impossible to love. This quarantine approach to women preparing to menstruate is evident in our cultural chatter from the voices of comedians to the drug prescriptions of doctors.
But when I apply this fragrance principle to PMS, I come up with a description categorically different than what we’ve been told by society about this time in our lives as women. We’ve been taught to loath it, to find ways to avoid it, and to feel shame in how harsh we are when we are in it. But the fragrance principle says that we are Christ’s messengers when we speak with sincerity, which most women who have discernible PMS do with utter clarity. In sincere speech we spread the love of Christ like incense. We are incense, perfume-makers, sources of ethereal plumes of something beautiful. This is absolutely counter to the intimate association we tend to make between PMS and being incensed as in angry, irritated, on edge, inflamed.
The fragrance principle tells us that PMS needs a new name so that we can discern the sensations, have the sensitivity to smell the Christ-like fragrances that come from this intense time in women’s life. This new name needs to point toward the liminality and power of this time. I’ve decided that Estrogenesis is my new name for PMS. This hormone induced state is about generating life—and we enter into it to usher in beginnings and to grieve culminations and losses. Estrogenesis is an estrogen driven new/rebirth with labor pains and all to go with it.
The veil is lifted in Estrogenesis—a monthly personal apocalypse, life and death conflated, swirling around in a body preparing to expel tissue, blood, fluid that could have been new life, but now needs to be sloughed off. Each expulsion is death and clearing; each is a painful cellular reality check that we cannot always nurture life but that we also let death flow through us. We must make space for new life, new growth, renewed cell division, baby blood cells, virgin tissue that anticipates possibilities.
Estrogenesis is a mandate for the sloughing cells to not pass in vain—somehow I must create, somehow I must give birth, and somehow I must take my time close, so close to the truth of life and death. Christ’s message of life lived fully engaged with suffering and redemption has the same mandate. Life cycles into death, but death does not have the last word. There is no shortcut through the wilderness of suffering–you can’t bypass Jerusalem.
Estrogenesis. How much can I stand? How much can I survive? How much do I need it to be softened for a while to steady myself for the next pangs of labor to set in? It is a concentrated brush with the travail of the Christian walk–joyfilled, anticipatory, but also excruciating in its proximity to death and the consequences of truth.
What if we let Estrogenesis be a time when women were given space to grieve and create and be fragrances of vital life truths? What if we had ways of holding women tenderly during this time of loss and rebirth, instead of shaming them about how fragile they feel? What if women who experience Estrogenesis could create, write, draw, sing through those times and to share our creations with the world? Can we let ourselves create from this space we occupy a few days a month when the veil is lifted and life’s pain and promise are so intense that we are engulfed by it in every cell in our bodies. Perhaps the expressions wafting from this embodied poetics are the fragrances of Christ-living, the hard won integrity of knowing Divinity must be close by and compassionate. What wisdom is there waiting to be born?