A Brief Theology of Periods – Rachel Jones

A Brief Theology of Periods (Yes, Really) by Rachel Jones
Also by this author: 5 Things to Pray in a Global Crisis (5 Things), A Brief Theology of Periods (Yes, Really): An Adventure for the Curious Into Bodies, Womanhood, Time, Pain and Purpose - And How to Have a Better Time of the Month
Published by Good Book Company on May 1, 2021
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life
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The average woman has 500 periods in her lifetime. And whether yours are mildly annoying, utterly debilitating or emotionally complicated, most of us have at one time or another asked: Why?!
This warm, light-hearted, real, honest and at times surprising book gives a biblical perspective on menstruation, as well as a whole lot more. Beginning with periods, Rachel Jones takes readers on an adventure in theology, weaving together wide-ranging reflections on the nature of our bodies, the passing of time, the purpose of pain, and the meaning of life.
One thing is for sure: you've never read a Christian book quite like this one.
Whether you're in need of hope and help, or are just downright curious, you'll be refreshed and encouraged by this book. As Rachel puts it, "Whoever you are, my aim is that you reach the end of this book celebrating who God has made you, how God has saved you, and the fact that he speaks liberating and positive truth into all of life's experiences (even periods)".

I am not the target audience for A Brief Theology of Periods. Yet, the title intrigued me and I’m all for destigmatizing and demystifying the cultural taboos that keep us from being healthy, well-educated, confident, and without shame. My hope was to learn something—biologically, theologically, sociologically—that would affect how I as a pastor do ministry. Particularly, I curious as to what sorts of “theological” implications Rachel Jones would make. And maybe it’s my personal detachment and lack of personal experience, but while I liked the idea of the book, the content was not quite where I hoped it would be. However, again, I am admittedly coming at this book from an outsider’s perspective. I could certainly understand how someone who has a period might feel differently and feel seen through virtue of shared experience through this book.

The “brief” part of the title is accurate. The main text weighs in at just over 100 pages. Maybe 15k words total. This is fine, as it’s not intended to be academic at all or really to a deep dive, but just get people thinking about menstruation through a different lens that they might normally. There are five chapters that each highlight a different aspect of a period: potential, pain, mess, feelings, and time.

My primary criticism with A Brief Theology of Periods is that it doesn’t live up to its title. It’s not so much a brief theology as it is a book that talks about God, women, and the human condition using the periods as an illustrative launching point. For example, in the first chapter, Jones writes that God created women to have periods, so a period is a reminder of God’s creative work. She says that periods should remind us of the original Edenic mandate in Genesis 1 to multiply and care for the earth. Her theology isn’t wrong, but menstruation is only ancillary to the point being made. It’s a not a brief theology of periods, it’s a brief theology using periods.

Chapter two discusses the pain of a period with the theological application that periods remind us of sin and human suffering. Chapter four talks about how women must rely on the Spirit to master their emotions which are being affected by hormone fluctuation. Chapter five becomes even more metaphorical, talking about the clockwork nature of menstruation and how each period could become a time of reflection for what the individual had accomplished in the time between periods. None of this is necessarily wrong, but all Jones is really doing is using periods as points of context or illustration. You may find yourself connecting with it if having a period is one of your experiences, but this book—in its theological content and devotional suggestions—could have easily contained much of the same material and not been about periods.

The closest Jones gets to actually giving readers a theology of periods is chapter 3, where she actually deals with Biblical references to menstruation. In particular, Jones goes to Leviticus 15 and talk through the texts regarding ritual impurity. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like Jones did this part of the book justice. There are rich cultural and scriptural implications to be mined here, but Jones’s primary takeaway is that “God wants to show us that we can’t be pure without him.” Which, true, but there’s so much more ritually and culturally that could have been brought to the table.

Lastly, in the appendix, Jones becomes unnecessarily controversial when she asks the question “Should we call people who have periods ‘women’?” Recently, there has been conversations surrounding transgender identity, the difference between biological sex and sociological gender, and how to best express certain terms with inclusivity and accuracy. Trans women will not have periods and some trans men may still have periods. It’s beyond the scope of this review to go through all the social/political baggage that comes with this conversation—and it was beyond the scope of this book as well. Jones quotes J.K. Rowling’s insensitive and offensive comments on Twitter about “people who menstruate” and then reasons that nobody complains when COVID-19 deaths are broken down into a binary gender demographic. She then conflates sex with gender, ultimately concluding that because the two pre-fall humans were created male and female, then…well, Jones never actually explicitly states a conclusion. It’s an awkward, unnecessary, and ham-fisted aside to the entire book.

Okay then. A Brief Theology of Periods. I appreciate what it was trying to do, but I am not convinced it met its self-stated mark. Nonetheless, just the fact that evangelical Christianity is beginning to have this conversation in any format in any depth is a sign of good cultural change.