Rachel Jones, 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 (The Good Book Company, 2021)
I’ve never read a book on periods before, but I have had lots of questions about them. As a single, same-sex attracted woman who will never have biological children, I have often wondered about the point of me having periods. Why do I go through horrible pain, cramps, mood swings, embarrassment and mess every month? Is there any meaning to it all? How is it fair that God allows me to go through this probably 480 times in my life,1 and is there anything I can learn about him through it?
Rachel Jones’s wonderful book tackles these questions and more. With warmth and humour she begins by explaining the process and physiology of periods. I was surprised by how much I learned (and how woefully inadequate the basic instruction at school was!). She then moves on to a brief exploration of what periods tell us about God and ourselves. There’s nothing hugely groundbreaking here, but it’s good to be reminded that we are wonderfully created in the image of God and to be reminded of the goodness and purposefulness of our bodies.
It’s good to be reminded that we are wonderfully created in the image of God and to be reminded of the goodness and purposefulness of our bodies.
The chapter on the pain of periods outlines a helpful and hopeful biblical theology of suffering, as well as discussing the significance of the differences between women’s and men’s experiences. We are reminded that brokenness will one day be restored and that we have a suffering saviour who fully understands all our pains and enters into them with us. It’s wonderful to be reminded that Jesus isn’t embarrassed by periods and that they’re not something we need to endure on our own. They can be an opportunity to lean more closely into Jesus’ love and grace and look forward to the new creation when there will be no more suffering.
Chapter three was one of my favourite sections of the book because it examines what to do about those awkward passages in Leviticus containing teaching about the uncleanness of periods and laws about what menstruating women are prohibited from doing. Jones skillfully explains what is meant by the categories of ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ when it comes to food, animals and bodily emissions and shows that it is a powerful symbol of our need for a God who ‘has seen the worst of us and has loved us enough to die for us anyway’ (p.69). Of course, it’s not just the teaching on periods in Leviticus that modern Christians find difficult to interpret, and Jones’ approach gives us a helpful model for how to handle this tricky Old Testament book when thinking about other issues such as sexuality. Jones makes a clear distinction between the ritual purity laws and the moral laws. As she puts it ‘A woman on her period is not guilty’ whereas ‘elsewhere in Leviticus (for instance in chapter 20) God lists actions, such as adultery and incest, which do incur guilt’ (p.61). This is an extremely helpful counter to those who would argue that we can dismiss the Old Testament’s moral teaching on sexuality as no longer relevant.
The rest of the book deals sensitively and wisely with the emotional rollercoaster that women experience as they go through their cycle and, later, the pain and grief of menopause. As someone who is approaching menopause and will never have children, I was hugely encouraged by the observation that ‘for God’s people today, this is the main way we bring life into the world: not by bearing children but by making disciples’ (p.95). This is something we can all do regardless of our marital status, biological sex or age.
This book is real, honest, funny and gospel-focussed.
This book is real, honest, funny and gospel-focussed. I loved the reminder that ‘our periods speak both of curse and blessing, of groaning and gift, of pain and beauty, of Abel and Christ, of sin and salvation’ (p.109). What a powerful metaphor God has given us to remind us of the wonder of the gospel! I have certainly started to experience my periods differently and can even praise God for them each month in the midst of the pain and mess.
The book ends with a handy appendix which contains answers to questions such as:
- Did Eve have periods?
- Is it ok for Christians to have sex while a wife is on her period?
- How should I talk to my children about periods?
To sum up, this is an excellent short theology of periods with some really thought-provoking insights that will benefit not just women but fathers, husbands, brothers, male friends and church leaders.
And to all Jones’s female readers – whether you have children or not – this book will make you think (and laugh) and maybe even see periods as an opportunity to deepen your relationship with God. I came away with more reason to praise God for the incredible way that we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139:14).
- The average number of periods a woman will have in her lifetime is 480. NHS, Periods and fertility in the menstrual cycle. Accessed 6 June 2022.