Appeared in Spring 1993, Vol. XIX, No. 1

The following paper was delivered during the national meeting of the Institute on Religious Life held in Chicago April 16-18, 1993. The theme of this meeting was “Religious Life and Family Life: Co-Partners in the Mission of the Church.”

Unsex me here!” Lady Macbeth’s prayer, significantly, was made to the gods of death – “you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts” – and we remember with a shudder how completely and vividly her plea was answered. She was, largely though not entirely, a contrivance of fiction, and yet Shakespeare’s powerful and gruesome anti-heroine was a forerunner of a species of Christian for whom the conjunction of prayer, personal resolve, and the negation of life produced a radically new thing, a third order of sexuality – a way of being human that is neither authentically male nor recognizably female, neither inceptive nor receptive of life, neither ordered to creation nor designed to nurture: “Unsex me here!”

It is important to notice that when Lady Macbeth prays that she be unsexed, she is pleading not for a diminishment of libido but for a freedom from compassion. The juices of sexual frenzy may flow unchecked; it is the promptings of motherhood that must be ripped clean away.

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