Monthly Archives: May 2016

“You give them something to eat” – Priesthood that makes a difference

This week we celebrate the body and blood of Christ (corpus Christi). Traditionally this has been a time to talk about Eucharist and priesthood. I had almost finished writing this blog when I was fortunate to experience the ministry of a community of women theologians who also shared food that each had prepared. My head and heart are too full of good things to rewrite the blog but I feel there is something relevant to ideas of body, blood, sacrament in what happened today. Nevertheless for want of more time I will stick with what I wrote earlier in the week…

The readings were:

Genesis 14:18-20

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Luke 9:11b-17

 

I was always taught that the most special thing you could ever do was to be a “priest”. This was a somewhat unfair thing to teach to a girl. I grew up wanting to be the one who broke and shared the life-giving bread and spoke the word of hope. I felt depressed, even suicidal about not being the one who could do these things. This week we celebrate the body and blood of Christ, and with all the things I have been told about real human bodies and blood as opposed to the supposedly better risen body and blood of Christ, things that sometimes contradict each other I feel like there is a maze that I have to carefully find my way through, avoiding turns into despair or superstition.

The first reading and psalm draw to our attention ancient patriarchal traditions of priesthood. Liturgy here is something Melchizedek performs for his patron (in the sense of paying him a tithe) Abram. The psalm reinforces this as a continuous tradition. So far all that is there are all the old feelings of exclusion, the idea that all of this would mean something if I was a man and could become a priest. As a mere woman in the aisles however I get a little bit sick of being expected to look up to and praise male figures and male symbolic actions for no very good reason, just because I am told to. There is no mention anywhere in these readings of any sort of meaning or even trickle-down effect to women. It all begs the question why would you bother even being there, let alone supporting it with your labour, approval and money (as women do).

The second reading then places this ancient tradition of priesthood in a context of Jesus’ last supper action as retold by Paul. We are told, as we are constantly that this is the tradition, that Jesus took the bread and cup and broke them and….hang on a second! Here Jesus is quoted as saying “Do this in memory of me!” He’s not saying “Watch a guy in a dress who thinks he is special doing it” he is saying “Do it”. No wonder that little girl that I was, was not content to sit and watch the action week after week after week, year in and year out. So there is some sort of call to priesthood here. Not a call to have priests but a call to be priests. Returning to the first reading and psalm but as a middle-aged woman who has been denied ordination I still am thinking “nope I don’t get it”. Something in the tradition is not gelling for me.

Onward to the gospel!

The gospel is one of feeding the crowds. The Twelve propose a system of individual responsibility where each person needs to go and sort out their own meal. Reading in a neoliberal time I cheer to see Jesus rejecting this approach. No, says Jesus. Our way is not to send people away. Or way is welcoming and feeding. In the face of overwhelming need we take what we can and distribute it. In the face of the “bottom line” and the “Real world” we refer the problem to God but then we take in our physical hands, the small amount that we have and we distribute it.

After five weeks unemployed and income-less I believe in miracles. Most of the miracles I have seen in that time have walked around on two legs. Most of them are people who are faced with too much to do and think and too little to distribute. Some of those miracles are my own capacity to do with less and to survive.

The lectionary puts this feeding of the five thousand as a Eucharistic act. It is a sacrament when we take the meagre supplies we can scratch together and confront the endlessness of need in the world with it. In another place Jesus points out that noone lives on bread alone…on the other hand we access the Word of God by refusing conventional wisdoms of turning people away and breaking our privilege and plenty down into crumbs that go further and do more good. When I see the miraculous feeding, and society building engaged in by Jesus, then I see a model of priesthood that is quite different to the ritualistic and patriarchal priesthood. Priesthood as nurture, priesthood as service. Priesthood as selfless giving for the sake of a better world. Priesthood of mothers and nurses, teachers and food growers, counsellors and artists and fire fighters and anyone who follows a vocation to serve others. Priesthood of doctors that refuse to be silenced as they speak the indignant Word of God concerning Manus Island. Priesthood of feminist theologians who support each other and gently heal themselves and then come back to tend the ungrateful church with their underappreciated gifts.

I used to think of women in the church as staying within an abusive relationship (which would be sinful) but I have come back to the church thinking it may be possible to be less co-dependent. It may be possible to see myself as limited by my status within the church, but I am called not to be “with” or “in” church but to be church. And then the limits I experience are part of myself, just as my body is limited in flexibility, energy and capability. This is not to take on the church’s abuse as somehow my fault, but to render irrelevant what the voice of men’s power says in attempting to boom through the church that is really my church. Some bodies live well with depression or asthma or diabetes or even cancer.

And so when I am church, I am invited into the Eucharistic act of feeding the world. The people come asking for a word of hope and healing, but they also have bodies that tire and need food. It is foolish to ignore the body and to pretend we can live wholly as spirits. In the gospel everyone sits and shares and is satisfied. In the gospel everyone looks to the sustainability and picks up the crumbs.

Noone tells us what happens to the crumbs that are gathered at the end of the miraculous healing.But then again it wasn’t women who wrote these extraordinary happenings down in the first instance. Those leftover crumbs too were the body of Christ. Five thousand is just a beginning, our mission is to feed all the world.

Creator, Wisdom and Spirit invite us into their work

There very nearly was no blog this week. I was aware that last week I didn’t manage to write very well and between that awareness and my general state of mind it was very hard to force myself to write. When I forced myself it was somehow not working. There was no heart and no joy in it and I just “couldn’t” do it. On Saturday morning I went to an event and heard a man speak and he changed my whole thinking around what I could say and what would have meaning. I had ridden my bike there and was really overtired afterward and had a lot of other things to do so I still did not write down my thoughts, although I felt them in my heart and thought that God had perhaps wanted me to wait and be enlightened by this other person, not to hurry in and do it badly for myself.

I woke up several times during the night thinking of my blog and praying but too tired to write. I woke in the morning sluggish, but my son expected to go to church and was sort of a solid influence toward that so I managed to get there. When I did I saw two members of the community running around doing thousands of jobs to prepare a liturgy at the last minute (not their fault, they were coming in to cover up for someone else’s mistake). I tried to help although they were the experts and I was not. I asked if there was anyone to do the “reflection” and there was not. I offered to do it, feeling very cheeky for doing so and believing I would not be allowed to, since I had not prepared. After a short pause I was granted this privilege. 

As a teacher it is true that I often speak off the cuff. However I felt a great sense of belonging and acceptance in being allowed to do this risky thing. I felt trusted and supported and people smiled at me so that I knew I had been let into an “insider” place within that community. My hope is that that is how everyone feels there. I spoke a few short words to connect the wisdom of yesterday’s speaker with the really lovely readings of the day. As far as I remember this is how my short reflection went:

Yesterday, Sebastian and I rode our bikes down to Glenelg for “Hands across the sand” which was protesting against unnecessary drilling that could ruin South Australian beaches. One of the speakers there was an Aboriginal man who focused on his great love for the whales and the dolphins. He was telling us the names of all the whales in the local language and then he said that each whale says its name as a way of honouring and expressing love for their creator.

He talked about the Dreaming, the time of creation and he said it is a mistake to view it as only part of the past, that the time of creation is ongoing and we are living in it. He said: “Right now is the time of creation, today is still the time of creation. It is still happening. The past is the present and the future all is one” and I couldn’t help but hear that through the filter of my own Christian tradition and consider that this weekend was the feast of the Trinity.

I consider that man’s words in the light of today’s gospel where Jesus admits he has not had time to tell us every single thing, or to address every possible situation for us in a legalistic way, or to leave a set of step by step instructions. What we have is what we know of Jesus along with the Spirit who is living and moving in the world with us. We can still find Wisdom in the world through that Spirit. We can still know the Creator.

What if right now is the time of creation? I often feel despair and see the present as a sort of end time when I consider the harm we have done to the environment, what we are doing to refugees, the way we as a society destroy even our own children. But what if it is not an end time, but a beginning time? What if today is the time of creation and a new reality is possible?

That first reading which is so beautiful it almost brings me to tears then becomes an ongoing event. That beautiful Wisdom figure is still being a master-worker delighting in our world as she makes and remakes it with the Creator and the movement and work of the Spirit. If that collaborative work of God  is now then we are invited into it, not just as products of creation but also to collaborate in any way we can in the act of creating.

We are living in the act of creation. It begins again every moment. Including right now.

It is interesting to me, how the  Pentecost story disrupts the orderly group-think of church. And yet as church we are really uncomfortable with heterodox thoughts and even diverse ways of expression aren’t we? I wonder if the Spirit was moving in the words of the apostles or in the ears of the hearers to make sense? I love that there was not one message, in one voice, in one language but understanding was brought into the culture and world of each “in our own languages”. This fits with the psalms portrayal of creation as “manifold” and diverse, yet all going back to the same source, the same God.

I have felt recreated this week in some of the happenings of my life. I feel God patiently waiting for me to get over my flaws and reluctance. I had a paper to write for university, an academic piece of work with no direct connection to God or to my Vocation. I could not get through my anxiety and writers block, and in the end I recognised that this was exactly the same anxiety and writer’s block I feel every week about my blog posts, and especially the weeks when I am “actually preaching”, giving the talk to a group of people.

So I did what I do when faced with that block, I prayed that God would help and inspire me to bring me through the block. Then I apologised to God for praying this in a secular matter “I can’t pretend it is for your glory” I said, feeling guilty and shallow when surely there are far more important things in the world than my paper. I think God shook her head, she seemed to say to me “All this time we have grappled with this and still you do not understand! What other evidence do you need? Your real life, your identity, the things that give you joy and put fire in your heart are not opposed to your vocation. I call you as you are. I call a nerdy person who wants to write academic papers. Did I ever ask you to stop? No. I want you to stop doubting and trust me and use your gifts.”

I tried saying “after this God I will return to things that really matter.”

God said, “Try to have integrity in your work, in everything you do. There does not need to be seperation between your life in yourself and your life in me” And then God added “but you do need to show more love, thoughtfulness and care for others. I am not letting you off from that higher duty.” God’s spirit is radical and unsettling, but it is a spirit of good news and being humanised. We work to orient our lives and our motivations to her, but we DO live on this earth.

This brings me to my quarrel with the second reading. I think that we are made “in the flesh” and we can and do please God “in the flesh”. I’d love to rehabilitate that idea of the Spirit being higher than the Flesh somehow but I cannot. We are fleshly creatures and our spirits live in flesh and have the needs and desires of flesh and when people try to be “higher” than the flesh too much and repress their flesh then all sorts of unhealthy extremes result. On a simple level if I am too holy to eat then I will collapse. If I am too holy to sleep then my mind will be compromised and I will lose the ability to relate to others. If I set myself apart from human interactions or over/above the earth itself then I will fall into sinful arrogance.

If Christ is in us, then the BREAD of life is in us. Bread. Food. Material good. Christ walked upon the earth and with hands that touched the skin of another human being and laughed and cried and coughed and sneezed and yes even relieved himself. The church has attempted to “put to death the deeds of the body” and has shunned women who are less able to be out of touch with bodies that bleed or swell with new life. But without their mother’s fleshly life which of us would have life? Without the hands that perform base chores like feeding and washing and holding what would we be? We would not even be human, we would not live long and our lives would be nothing.

And there’s the flaw with the spirit of “adoption” theory (sorry to Paul or whoever wrote the letter to the Romans) because it is grounded in a FATHERHOOD from a very patriarchal time,where fatherhood was far removed from the reality of baby vomit, nappies and such mundane fleshly matters. But what if we are adopted instead by a nurturing God who holds us as we are and loves us even when we are less than pristine? Because how can we say “we have suffered with him” whose real flesh was torn by nails and thorn and scourged, whose heart broke at the physical sound of taunting voices and lost, grieving followers? How can we tell Jesus who told the women of Jerusalem to look to their own suffering, how can we tell that Christ that with him we simply rise above worldly messes.

This sort of apolitical thinking, this sort of compartmentalised way of being is a trap of privilege. In the church it has been spread and glorified through men, largely white men and through those who wield power over others. I cannot agree with what this reading seems to be saying, God does not call me out of my flesh, God calls me to let the Spirit into my flesh and allow her to orient my life toward happiness. Happiness does not mean self-indulgence but it may involve self-care as well as care for others.

And so having dared to quarrel with scripture I move on to the gospel. Jesus here equates love with keeping words. There is a unity of purpose within the trinity, in that the “father” with Jesus and the Spirit all love on each other’s behalf and all move on each other’s behalf and it it that life we are called into. The life where we participate in that unity of purpose and that love is what we are invited to, but in acknowledgement that we are still learning how to live it and be it the Spirit comes to us as a teacher, to “teach us everything”. The Spirit who is always new must be aware that there is a movement in teaching toward play-based and inquiry-based pedagogies. We don’t sit in rows spouting rote-learned dogma, we live our lives and follow our interests while paying attention to the rich, deep learning offered by the spirit in how to be love.

In the words of Miriam Therese Winter: “Come Spirit come and be, a new reality, your touch is guarantee, of love alive in me” And to each of us she will come in a language we can understand. “May my meditation be pleasing to her”

Stirrings

I will spend some time today thoughtfully grappling with next Sunday’s readings like I am committed to doing whenever possible. However let me interrupt my usual transmission to share a fantastically reflexive piece of writing by a fellow-Catholic.

The Catholic church,  has a poor record when it comes to ecumenism and interfaith dialogue (and almost anything that involves recognising dignity, autonomy and rights in “others”). This is particularly true if we define “The church” as the people who think they are the bosses of the rest of us and hand down rules. As this article shows there is also a much more beautiful grass-roots tradition on catholicism. A tradition of humility, reflexivity, focus on the public good and class struggle. A tradition of boldness in the Holy Spirit and compassion toward a partially known other. These beautiful souls within the church, tend to exist uneasily and somewhat critically within what even to them seems like a somewhat oppressive edifice.

The sort of Catholicism expressed by the writer of this article makes me able to still identify within that church. This sort of idealism and reflexivity is what I seek in looking to work in Catholic education.

Here’s the article.

Gazing heavenward is missing the point

I was allowed to preach again. It gave me great joy and some measure of struggle. These were the readings (I used an inclusive language version prepared by the liturgists for the week and the Ephesians option for second reading) and here is the reflection I ended up coming up with…

Men of Galilee! Why do you stand there looking up toward heaven? A valid question for them but also I would suggest for the women and men of the church in Adelaide in 2016. For us.

Why do we stand looking up toward heaven? Is it that we want to catch Jesus by the ankles and pull him back down to earth, to make him a king by force as was tried at one point in the gospels?

Let’s remember that the human person we call Jesus, was an embodiment of a person of the Trinity that existed in the beginning creating all things with God. In the Old Testament this same character is often called Sophia. In the person of Jesus we see the courage and the strength of will, the utter commitment to liberation that characterises Sophia, Wisdom.  In Jesus, also called “the Word” or Logos in John’s gospel we see a good news that cannot be stopped, cannot be suppressed, can be killed but springs up again and continues to love and liberate beyond what for a human would be possible.

This essence of who Jesus always was, and continues to be; becomes accessible to us through the Holy Spirit. Jesus has finished the embodied ministry, which was confined to one place and one time. He can no longer walk on the earth, can no longer sit and eat with one small group of friends. Now the meaning and power of Jesus needs to be diffused to all creation. We can no longer look inward solely to those we belong with, to feel the cosiness of a Jesus clique or a church, we can no longer gaze to an escapist heaven as though the ministry of Sophia were finished and Jesus left us nothing to do but act religiously happy.

Even in the Old Testament Sophia always avoided being caught, controlled or domesticated. She goes out everywhere at all hours. In the same way, if we want Jesus we stop gazing upward, wishing the ascending Jesus would pluck us out of the dilemmas and headaches of everyday life and human politics and drag us into the clouds.

We still find Jesus where the disciples always found him, on the road, in their homes, sending them out, breaking their bread, receiving their hospitality and modelling foot washing. We still find Sophia speaking loudly on street corners and opening up her home to all sorts of people for hospitality; always causing an upset of the ordinary and a broadening out of the exclusive ways of being church. We look forward to Pentecost, to being infused within our own bodies and lives with the same Spirit that emanates from God, from Jesus/Sophia.

Church often gets re-imagined as a sort of posse of Jesus’ home-boys who are the clergy and can tell the rest of us what to do. Or even if we have a broader idea of grace and vocation, we still in some way might think of insiders and outsiders and who has “met Christ” and who hasn’t and we might feel superior to others who do not understand or follow Christian values. But that is not our true vocation- to feel superior or comfy within our faith, nor to draw a line between earth and heaven and allow faith to be nothing more than a once a week or few minutes a day gazing upward.

The “glorious inheritance” that we are promised in the second reading will include work and pain and struggle if we look at the realities of Holy Week that we celebrated so recently, or the lives of the saints that (within that inheritance) we aspire to. The hopes that we have are hopes for a world infused with the Spirit of God, guided by Wisdom and honouring its creation and recreation in the image of God. The good news is not a news of escapism upward, it is that Jesus, having ascended, is also still the eternal God that is constantly with us giving meaning to our lives, to the joys and loves as well as the struggles and feelings of inadequacy. This life here is what has meaning and importance. The Spirit is always coming to us to reignite our vocation. The kingdom of God is where we are, wherever we choose to bring it about together with others.

We don’t control Sophia, we cannot chain Jesus to our small section of earth.  In the Spirit of wisdom and perception we come to know her, we come to sense the good news in the possibilities of our own life and relationships. To paraphrase the conclusion of the gospel reading:

And they loved her and returned into ordinary life with great joy and hope, and they were constantly in amongst God’s beloved- healing, working, bringing love to all they met.

Please take a few minutes of silence, knowing Jesus/Sophia in these readings and in your own life and then you may like to talk them over with the people sitting near you.