In Out of the Depths: Women's Experience of Evil and Salvation, Ivone Gebara uses stories of women as the springboard for developing a feminist discussion of evil and salvation. Gebara's premise is that women's lives give witness to the ways that evil affects people and to the ways that sacrifice can be redemptive. Their long-ignored witness is the legitimate ground for theological discourse that remedies the gaps in the classic discourse about evil that "has always given preference to evil as men perceive it, with no reference to the evil actually borne by women" (7).
Gebara recounts the stories of several women, including her own. Their stories, which come from different countries, social strata and times, are the primary data for her inquiry into the ways that women experience evil in the world. Reflection on the experiences related in those stories is the starting point for a more complete discourse about the problem of evil in the world and the ways that evil can be defeated. "The phenomenology of evil as women experience it... put[s] before us what can be called in Christian terms the experience of the cross — the cross as concrete suffering, one that is physical, psychological, and social" (110). Recognizing the pervasive and concrete reality of this "experience of the cross" leads to the realization that the public suffering of a single man for the whole group can no longer be held up as the only criterion by which to judge the value of suffering. Everyday suffering, especially the suffering of women and others who have been left at the fringes of society, even the suffering of the earth itself, can no longer be justified by calling it an imitation of Jesus' own obedient suffering, nor can it be valued less than Jesus' suffering.
Gebara's phenomenological analysis of the particular experiences of evil witnessed to in these women's stories shows that the elements of salvation are often mixed in with suffering. Even in the darkest suffering, people experience small bits of salvation: another's solidarity or assistance or even just understanding in difficult situations. "It is not just an actual rescue that keeps us alive but also support, like the hope of rescue.. . The cross and resurrection coexist in the same body; in the same body they intermingle and form one element" (114). Since every body carries the cross, the cross loses its exclusive centrality and becomes an ordinary element of life. With every cross, the Spirit awakens the possibility of salvation — "provisional escapes from our tentative lives" (115). Salvation comes not from exalting an instrument of torture that has been transformed into victory over death, but from shared bread, tender gestures, the birth of a child. Cross and salvation both come in the concrete reality of everyday life; evil and salvation are not experienced as separate entities, but as intertwined realities of human life.
Attention to human experience shows that corporeality and finitude constitute human being, and it is within the limitation of finite creation that human beings, together with the rest of creation, experience evil and find salvation. The search for salvation, then, must begin again every day; there is a resurrection in the here and now, in the limits of our bodies, our hearts and our daily routine. In every cross there is also the invitation to go beyond the evil that torments us. Salvation, like the cross, is daily; it is "a little oasis in the midst of daily trials"(125). "It is everything that nourishes love, our body, our life. It is more than happiness in the hereafter, even if we hang on to the right to dream of our eternal tomorrow" (125). Gebara's premise is that the theologian will find the most likely "perspective on hope capable of integrating in some dynamic way women, men and non-human nature" (122) in the stories of the everyday struggles and joys of women and of those who have been moved to the margins of society. Out of the Depths presents feminist theological discourse about evil, the cross, and the shape of redemption with great finesse. The book is quite readable and Gebara develops her argument well (even for someone like this reader who is skeptical about the value of "narrative theology"), deftly incorporating difficult concepts such as gender and the plurality of human existence. The themes of her work will be familiar to anyone who knows feminist theological discourse, yet she presents those themes with subtle nuances that this reader finds intriguing and worth further investigation.