By Fred Koenig
Hannah Shanks always loved writing, and had a childhood dream of being a writer, but this isn’t the book she would have dreamed of. She wrote it out of necessity. “This is the book that I needed that didn’t exist,” she said.
Three days after giving birth, Shanks was not well but was at home. Her son, born premature, was also not well and was still in the hospital. She got up that morning and saw herself in the mirror and didn’t recognize her own swollen, flushed image. Then she laughed.
“This is my body, broken for you,” were the words she heard in her head, echoed from countless sacraments of communion through the years.
She knows she was sleep deprived, on opioids and that she has a powerful theological imagination, but it was still a powerful moment. She thought about the broken body and blood shed every time a birth has happened in the history of the world. She realizes she probably wasn’t the first person to have that thought, so she started doing some research.
She did find some mention in some old texts, as in texts from several centuries ago. She also found it addressed in some high-academic feminist journals, but it was done in a manner too dense to give to a friend and say, “You should read this, it’s great.”
As she researched, she made notes, and continued to jot down her own feelings about motherhood and how churches viewed the role of women. In March 2016, she attended the Festival of Faith writing conference and was challenged to submit a chapter as a book proposal. A couple of days later she got an email from The Upper Room saying its editors were interested. She had a book deal by the next month, with a deadline for the manuscript of May, 2017. “This Is My Body: Embracing the Messiness of Faith and Motherhood” was then published May 2018.
She did most of her writing on weekends when family would help by taking over childcare. She took writing retreats at Shaw’s Nature Area. Shanks hopes the book will speak to people who have struggled with their role and identity in church and who the church expects them to be, particular in relation to gender and motherhood.
Shanks grew up in Beardstown, Illinois, a town of about 6,000. She was a member of First United Methodist Church, but as is often the case in small towns, as a child and a youth she followed the crowds to Vacation Bible School at the Lutheran Church, youth group at First Christian Church and community events at Church of the Nazarene, among other activities and events at various churches.
Growing up, in some churches Shanks heard, “You’re a great preacher. Too bad you’re a girl,” or “You would make a great pastor’s wife.”
“The book was an opportunity for me to give language to a shared experience that so many people have difficulty finding words to describe,” she said.
Shanks attended Greenville University, where she majored in psychology and urban cross-cultural studies. During her college years she also served as a summer social justice intern through the General Board of Global Ministries, working at a ministry called Rising Hope in Alexandria, Virginia. There she worked with programs assisting the inner-city homeless population as well as various recovery programs.
In 2010 she started working on her master’s in social work at St. Louis University. She now teaches social work at Greenville University.
When they moved to St. Louis, they stayed urban and found a place to live downtown, right across the street from Centenary United Methodist Church.
“There we found an opportunity to continue ministry with the homeless community in a manner very similar to what I was doing in Alexandria, Virginia, and we found a great community of faith,” Shanks said.
Shanks has studied homiletics, and often preaches during Sunday morning worship at various churches at the request of her friends. She doesn’t feel she was called to word and sacrament to be an ordained pastor, but she is ready to help with worship.
“I know sermon preparation is really hard, and I like to be able to give pastors a break,” she said.
This Is My Body: Embracing the Messiness of Faith
and Motherhood is available on www.amazon.com,
in either a print or digital edition.