Tag Archives: sacrament

Whose body? Whose blood? Whose feet? Whose meal?

Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday is the feast day when we celebrate Jesus doing women’s work. Most celebrations of this within the Roman Catholic tradition leave out women or relegate them to bit-parts. The feeling of injury and offence I feel at this goes deep, however this is only a tip of the true iceberg. Symbolic “sacrament” can all too easily go hand in hand with deep failure to nurture the world. Jesus asked us to enact and embody sacrament not to empty it out into words and wafers with which to keep out the world. See also my last year’s post

I am going camping this weekend, so I will keep this short. But thinking about our church’s celebration of the Last Supper, or the First Eucharist or however we wish to label it I need to think about the idea of God’s table of grace.

I live in a world where women prepare food and clean tables and set cloths on them and serve food and make guests welcome and clean up afterwards. Not only women of course, but still overwhelmingly the real material work of feeding, cooking, serving, welcoming and entertaining is gendered work, women’s work. I spent the day preparing eggs with patterns of grass, flowers and leaves that we boiled in onion skins at work. The two women in the kitchen were busy hand-making dumplings for lunch for 50 children but they had time to discuss my eggs with me, ensure I had everything and do the background work of boiling them too.

In the midst of all this I was transferred to the baby room to serve lunch, encourage them to eat, work out which baby was the right age for which milk and ensure everyone got what they needed. There was coaxing, there was insisting, there was modelling “look sweet potato…yum” and there was a lot of laughing and affirmation o give our babies a welcoming experience of sitting around the table together. There was also a lot of sweeping and wiping and changing of clothes and the team of adults (all women) had to support each other through doing that while also entertaining and comforting babies.

Then it was back to the “big kids” room where I was welcomed with “when are we going to have the eggs”. They had, had lunch but were already looking forward to afternoon tea as children do. We broke coloured eggs together and served them up with a plate of antipasto prepared by the kitchen women and whichever teacher gave up their break to do some slicing. Once again there was a lot of cleaning up to do, then I went back to babies and helped with more afternoon teas in there and then back to the “big kids” for late snack.

It was as if my whole day, this Maundy Thursday revolved around the preparation and cleaning up (and joyful celebration of) food for others. Coming home my son was in the midst of making his dinner. We will eat and go to “mass” the one meal that I am supposedly not worthy to prepare. How offensive then that women cannot preside at the eucharist (and how untrue that we “can’t”, I presided at many really significant Eucharists today- celebrations of the bounty of the earth, out grateful and inclusive selves coming together and feeding our bodies and minds for growth- what is that if not eucharist?) I witnessed also a baby smile in relief at the end of his childcare day and latch onto his mother’s breast as well as two tiny boys lay down together in the cushions with their bottles of milk, their heads touching companionably while a third friend came and lay his head down too though he didn’t have (or need) a bottle. My day was full of Eucharist coming out of the tireless and often trivialised work of women (though it must be admitted our children and families are grateful). How am I “not Christ enough” to break bread at church?

But then who else do we exclude? Who in our world is not fed because of my privilege? Whose feet are never washed? Whose foot-washing is not given due respect and dignity, or is taken for granted? Who labours to stock a table they may not sit down at? Who is mocked and earmarked for crucifixion? Whose body is broken and thrown to the wolves? Whose blood is spilled? Whose voice preaching unheard?

If we are really going to get serious about communion, Eucharist, the body and blood of Jesus, the idea that sacrament gives life then we must be transformed for radical sharing and service by it. It is not enough for a privileged man in a dress to stand in front of relatively privileged people one evening a year and them all to produce symbols of feeding and serving and including. LET’S GET REAL about sharing sacrament (bread, security, welcome, washing, love). Let’s touch and see and hear each other. Let’s break the bread of justice and fill every heart and belly with it.

And let’s not kid ourselves. The people who are feeding and wiping noses and sweeping up for the “least of these” are the ones who are following the call to “do this in memory of me.” Like Judas we say we will never betray Jesus. But we exclude him from leadership or even lock him away on Manus. We allow mining magnates to take away the earth that was growing his body to feed and nurture the world. 30 silver pieces and an insincere kiss is an every-day occurance in the neoliberal mind set.

Bread of life call us back to eat you, to become you, to love each other,

Forgive us for we are tired and liable to fall asleep

Feed us, wake us, wash us, draw us in and in and into your radical commitment

Transform the world!

Sprinkling, splashing, laughter and play

The next section in my book was “Rite of Blessing and Sprinkling Holy Water” and nearly every time we skipped that and went to the Penitential rite. But I loved it on the few occasions when we had the sprinkling instead of the dreary old Penitential rite. In retrospect I feel I didn’t need to focus on my childish “sins” quite as much as I was encouraged to, especially given that I had so many adults to tell me what I did wrong anyway, it would have been nice to keep at least my internal voice free from that (it has been a toxic addiction my whole life to dwell on my guilt and shortcomings, it’s exhausting and it doesn’t make you a better person and nit-picking yourself is not the same thing as genuinely taking responsibility for your actions and identity).

But those days when we had the sprinkling were always festive days. We’d get a sharp slap or reprimand from Mum or Dad if we dared giggle aloud like we wanted to but we grinned. As I got older and there were seven children I learned to plan strategically where to sit so the water would land on me. Some priest seemed to have a sense of humour they would grin at our large family lined up and deliberately give us an extra splash. When it was clear that “father” did it on purpose we also seemed to get away with a muted snort of laughter. It was clear that laughing at church was only OK if the priest started it. Small wonder I wanted to be a priest, there was so much to laugh at (joy or amusement) and I wanted to be starting the laugh every time. But girls “can’t”.

The feminist theologians have pulled apart the metaphor of baptism and I find it easy to agree with them that “baptism” as it stands, controlled by an all male “celibate” clergy is a sort of insult to the actual physical fact of baptism, where each person comes into the world to take their own life in their own hands, through blood and water- out of another person (and the love and nurture that led to birth) and welcomed INTO a community. So concurrently at birth we gain our independence (arguably personhood) and our connectedness, membership and dependence (later interdependence) of a family. But patriarchy responds to this sacramentality with envy and seeks to erase its significance by mimicking it in an authorised and controlled way where “father” presides. When my youngest was baptised I wrote a poem about this mystery and how I feel we are “baptised” by birth itself (though like a good little member of church I let the rituals take place) and when my children questioned whether their unbaptised friends would go to “hell” I said that I didn’t really believe in hell and that God could baptise them any time when they get caught in the rain or go for a swim in the warm, motherly font we call the sea.

I explained that when we each are born we come out through blood and water (the children found this fascinating) and our cord to out human mother is cut, but the cord to Mother God is never cut and we draw life from her in the Eucharist, which can be any lovingly shared meal. They asked why we went to church then if we didn’t have to and I said because it makes God happy when we show our love that way and in my head was an image of God that was an older woman, like my grandmother who always wanted everyone to gather at her house every single Sunday (unless we all agreed to meet at the forest instead) and gathering to mean celebration and sharing. Those were gatherings where we laughed whenever we wanted and there was food and singing and serious talk just like at church.

But I was not allowed to laugh at church. Because they didn’t see God as the laughing silly Grandmother who lets you sit on her lap even when you are 12 and too big. They saw God as the angry Father who demands respect. Father as in “wait ’til your Father gets home”. Father as in “head of the household”, stern and proper. But the edges between these two possible images blurred a little on days when the sprinkling happened, because sprinkling in my real life was something that happened when Mum was watering the garden. We would come up and make funny voices at her and tease her until she laughed and turned the hose on us. Then we would squeal and run away and come up again trying to make her do it again. And sprinkling was racing Dad into the waves on a hot summer evening, kicking up the salt-spray with our feet and he would always overtake us and plunge in first, he could swim like a fish and let all of us try to crowd on his back while he swam under water. Sometimes it was the “underwater bus” and he swam quietly past the fish as we clung to each other and other times it was one at a time and he would try to shake us off. Sprinkling was play, sprinkling was silly, sprinkling was being accepted by the bigger people.

My missal tells me that water “gives fruitfulness to the fields, and refreshment and cleansing to man (sic).” and refers me to all the “Old Testament” stories of the Red Sea parting to let people through and water gushing from the rock to give them life. In the Sprinkling, the hostile waves of Patriarchy parted and I walked through into another world where God’s reality collided with who I really was, not who someone else tried to make me be. In that desert place of estrangement from my tradition and inability to adequately answer my call to ministry I drank unexpected water from a rock, when feminists broke open the texts to give life-giving water. Life-giving because it was what I was made of (over half of my body is water). Life giving because I am someone who cries, sweats, salivates, bleeds, and once had the potential to lactate and give birth.

I could rewrite the final prayer of the rite of sprinkling with water if I borrow an image from Colleen Fulmer.

May Washerwoman God, loving Grandmother, with much laughter and play,

wash away all that hurts us or holds us back from her table:

which we are called to set for the whole world and all creation,

which we are called to supply and serve at,

and at which we will sit and celebrate on earth

and forever more. Amen.

 

 

 

 

Ways of (not)Knowing

Is it good to bite into

the crusty, doughy wheatiness

of Word made Flesh made Bread;

to drink the cup- the complex bouquet

of birth and stars and long roads,

friends, stories, long roads,

betrayal, suffering, short road to death

but also hearth-fires and washed feet?

 

Is it good to remember

that love had courage

to speak out, stand tall,

stand with, be told;

learn and grow;

to hold firm and die?

Dare we shed a tear?

 

Is it “him” and is it even me?

Where is the place on earth

where love bakes, breaks bread

and wine is shared;

where suffering is acknowledged?

What does it mean

to have “life”?

Beginning of a new phase

My intention when starting this blog was to follow the lectionary readings, and there was a two-fold idea in there. One was that since I am called to preach, but not allowed to do it weekly from a pulpit, I had to find another place to preach each week. I thought the discipline of struggling with the readings week by week would be a good proof to myself of whether or not the call I had was real- if I couldn’t do it then it wouldn’t be real. As for who to preach to, I guess I needed first of all to preach to myself as at times I haven;t received the preaching I have needed (although currently I am in a community where that is not really true anymore) but then there might be others out there too who needed a Catholic framework but a female/feminist perspective. Not that I can speak for or to ALL women, I don’t think that sort of a generalisation can be helpful. Also I do think men need women’s preaching a lot more than they realise.

But just as God was nagging me to preach, albeit I didn’t have a formal role anywhere so I figured if I put it out there God would find people who want to read it (whether they agree or disagree) so I told a few trusted friends but didn’t waste a lot of time promoting my blog. If God finds it useful then God will support it and if not then promotion isn’t helpful. I still feel very strange talking without cynicism about my faith but I do think that God works in the world even if we have frightening amounts of freedom as humans.

Anyway I could go on following the lectionary forever (I haven;t completed the three years I intended yet) or I could try to find the liberative bible readings that DON’T get included in it and bring them back into the centre. This is a worthwhile activity, one that has already been done by wiser heads than me but a conversation and movement I could engage with so I won’t discount it as a possibility in the future. But as far as the lectionary goes I seem to have got into somewhat of a repetitive pattern where the reading is constrictive and kyriearchal. I tell it so. I find the little bits of hope and tell myself I need to be a better activist in the world. Well and good but I have actually done that already and while for the first cycle the process shaped and honed my thinking, at this point I need a fresh way of seeing so that I don’t make a “routine” out of my blog.

So I had a lot of prayer and reflection time as well as reading some exceptional books (look back on previous blog posts for some of them, currently I am reading “Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory by Chris Weedon) and I have had the opportunity to work (unofficially) with some people at the liturgy itself. I would like to then break the mass up into small sections in its logical order and do some deconstructive and reflective work on the meanings of the words and rituals and what it means and how this functions in the life of a “lay” person, a woman, whatever I am (and hopefully in a way that helps others find their similar or differing perspectives).

This week is just an introduction while I try to locate my very, very worn Sunday Missal which I was given by my parents on the occasion of my “First Holy Communion” an exciting day when I got to play dress-ups in a white dress and veil and finally allowed to go to communion from now on forever and ever (until I was 19 and got raped and thought I was excommunicated for a while). My very battered old missal is a symbol of my relationship with the mass (and sacraments) in terms of having been carefully red (the black writing and the red writing and the variants we never used in our church) and consulted for the reflection my parents encouraged me to make on Sunday readings before we even got to church (a-ha so maybe it is their fault I want to preach). In a sense it was my first lectionary too. It has been an exciting and treasured possession, a constricting and difficult document, an out-dated part of my past but somehow I have held onto it.

It symbolises my long, rich, deep and sometimes troubled relationship with the church- the way I used to choose to go to daily mass as a teenager, my discomfort from the time I was two years old at how passive I was expected to be in the service, the ways I found to do “Something” (such as being a reader or “special minister”) and my envy at brothers who were altar servers. I  really did grow up as a “sacristy rat” as many clergy claim to have done, but I was more rat than most because my place in the sacristy was transgressive and contested, I was more rodent than guest there (being a catholic girl). The euphoria of the sacraments- is it life giving, living water? Or is it just opium of the masses? Being dragged in to pray for vocations to the priesthood and even at the age of eight knowing how ironic it was of them to ask me to pray for this.

“Why didn’t you make me male?” was a prayer that automatically came to mind since it was so strictly held that only men could be ordained, “that would be one more priest”. My prayer was missing the real point but since either God was wrong to make me female or the church was wrong that females couldn’t. Sorry church but I have more faith in God.

So over the next few weeks I will look at the liturgy as we have it. What the priest says and does and what we say and do and how the little girl/teenager/woman that I was experienced it all. And what scripture, theologians and other thinkers tell us when that can inform my thinking. And my struggles to articulate female-friendly liturgy that is faithful to the essence of sacrimentality (but also the reality that God created women/priests, we are not as the church would have us think divine mistakes). I will be very critical. But there is love here- always love.

I keep circling back to the love that exists in the gaps between the patriarchy. The love of activist, assertive women and nurturing, listening men. The love of the children who make noise during the service and the “communion services” where we are not allowed to use words that sound like consecration (but where at times I have experienced a far more consecrating reality). The love of a cat who wanders in and tries to pull down the altar cloth and of the sudden giggle that comes up in a serious moment. The love of the people who take so long to give everyone a “sign of peace” and resist going back to their quiet places. The love of a pot of coffee and plate of biscuits, of elaborately decorated altars with flowers and draped material and candles, of wearing my “Sunday best” or just shorts cause I rode a bike to church. The love of children who go to church just to humour their parents.Love of water, bread, wine, word, flame, breath, hands.

Liturgy remains the work of the people- infused with love.

 

 

 

 

A lesson in reconciliation

I am one of those people that finds it hard to forgive. I find it hard to let go in general, of things good and bad and especially of control and predictability. To forgive is to allow the unpredictable in your life, to submit to the possibility that you have not foreseen and are not equipped for.

Recently I arrived into a room where I was working with 2 year olds. I was greeted by a little girl in tears. “She’s just been bitten” said one of my colleagues. There was a mark on the child’s hand and she was clearly in a lot of pain. She followed me quietly, showing me the mark again and again with tears flowing down her face. I comforted her of course but I could not make the terrible even not have happened. The child was very clear about wanting me to know that she was bitten, that there was a mark there and that it hurt. It seemed like all I could do was travel those facts with her again and again and allow her to stick close to me.

As the day progressed, a group of us- children and educators went for a walk to a beautiful garden nearby. The bitten child and the child who bit her both were there. In the beautiful garden we were all engrossed in the birds on the grass and in the trees, the flowers, the fish in the fountain, important things like that. We showed each other things, ran, rolled in the freshly grass until some of us were covered in green stains. The inevitable happened, another child fell and hurt her finger. She was comforted by one of the educators, assisted by all the children and suddenly the child who had been bitten ran up to the child who had bitten her and took her hand.

“Please don’t ever bite me again, is that ok?” she said in a half-stern, half-caring voice. I held my breath as it seemed almost rude of her to refer to the event so long after it had happened. The other child looked her in the eye, “Yes” she said calmly.

“Thank you very much” said the first child and it was as if the air sparkled, that was a definite sacramental moment and I caught the eye of another educator. Something amazing had happened. The two children hugged and ran off together in the friendliest possible way. These children were two, how did they know to keep it all so simple and so sacred?

The process of reconciliation in this true event was actually quite complex. The child needed the wisdom to move away and get comfort and acknowledgement, she needed a chance to feel a bit stronger in herself. She needed joy to have happened (play in the garden). Then as she approached the other child to heal the rift between them (notice it was the one who had been injured who began the reconciliation process) she did not make light of what had happened, but nor did she demand any sort of emotional show about it. She didn’t demand an apology, punishment or compensation from the other child she simply made it clear that she did not want to be bitten again. The other child appeared to have understood (at least in that moment) the need to have a better-care for their relationship. Both of them expressed a simple faith in the possibility of a better “from now on” and both were healed by the encounter.

Perhaps this is all too obvious to state, I cannot seem to find words to express how profound it was to witness it. I do not think I forgive so ungrudgingly  or with so much honesty (I probably try to avoid talking about it unless I am laying blame). I do not think I take the hand of the person I want to forgive before they have even given me any sign of possibility. I do not think I (even metaphorically) roll in the grass and get grass-stains with the ones I feel injured by. And do I so simply without guilt or excuses agree to do better when I have hurt someone? Often not.

I did not say a word to those two children about their encounter, they had already used all possible words and few of them at that. But I was challenged to try to believe that life won’t “ever bite me again” that the church “won’t ever bite me again” that we will understand each other and move on.

So mote it be.

Shout for joy- daughter, sister, beloved

 

I have nothing against the Sunday readings and if I had more energy would do two blogs this week. But Tuesday was the feast of the Visitation, the one day of the year when the church lectionary passes the Bechdel test (Ruth and Naomi could be argued too I suppose), and the one Feast day of the year that actually talks about God’s work working not just through men, not even just through an individual woman, but at times also through women’s relationships and networks of support. This is such good news it ought to be on a Sunday! The reading from Luke is so rich in prophecy, in affirmations of women’s prophetic, leading, teaching and sacramental role in each other’s lives and in the lives of significant male members (Jesus and John though unborn) as well. So much richness here that writing once a year I could never find it all, and I hope each person finds even more in the readings than I can say. But let’s make a beginning.

The first reading (Zeph 3:!4-18A gives away that what is coming is unusually good news “shout for joy” and that this is specifically for women “daughter of Zion”. Even this begins a bubbling up of joy. Women we are not invisible in this Feast, we are valued by God and the silencing, dismissal of our needs and attacking us as “vain” for wanting for ourselves the basic dignity and consideration that we extend to others has been dismissed by God. God is onside with us. We “have no further misfortune to fear” and God sings joyfully because of us. This is a profoundly healing thought, the idea of being so beloved by God that we are not only vindicated but the cause of joyful singing. Here we reclaim our birthright since the opening of Genesis to be part of God’s creation, made in God’s image and assessed as “good”.

But if God is singing for joy, then we know that more good news is in store so we move on to the next reading. Once again the canticle (ie like a psalm but not in psalms) from Isaiah prophesies good things “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation”. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the New Testament we see the drawing of water as “women’s work” and the well as a place of meeting and socialising for women (well maybe we don’t see the latter in the text so much and are indebted to historians for reconstructing the world around the text for us). So that nexus of women’s social life and relationships, the well becomes symbolically a place of “salvation” a sacramental place, a place where the truth of God is joyfully encountered. Among us is the Holy one of Israel. The ancient promises of God are fulfilled in the mysterious depths of women’s flesh, the womb.

This is NOT to return to a view of womanhood as solely being fulfilled in motherhood. Clarissa Pinkola Estes has written about “wild mothers”, the way older women sometimes support, mentor and teach younger women, the way younger women find their own role models and need more than one. Even this is only a fraction of the whole truth. The patriarchal promise that can only be fulfilled in the male body of Jesus may come into the world through the female body of Mary, but if that is all that matters then why the Visitation? Why does Jesus also need the “Auntie” or “Wild mother” Elizabeth in his life? Why does John leap for joy at the voice of Mary? The voice is about more than flesh, it is about opinion and agency. The canticle goes on to bid us to sing praise to God for “his” glorious achievement. Well that seems only fair, in the context of the first reading where God was singing on account of us. The glorious achievement here seems to be a nurturing and reciprocal relationship with us who are lovingly created and affirmed. This will be shown in the gospel to have world-changing, radical possibilities – unseating the unjustly powerful and bringing in a new reign of God.

The other first reading (which I am going to treat as a second reading as I think the Visitation ought to be a Sunday) gives instructions on the “good life”. Even though usually I am feeling a bit like saying “give me a break” when I have these long and complicated responsibilities placed on me, by allowing the other readings and the feast-day to contextualise it, it takes on a non-oppressive meaning. In fact the God who has celebrated and affirmed my existance and our relationship in the first reading and psalm has every right to ask for this respectful reciprocation of that gift. The instructions in this reading are really a call to be authentic, to honour who we are as God’s beloved and as sacramental, priestly people. We are called to be sincere, loving, committed, critical, resilient, courageously forgiving and compassionate. We are called to be “more than” those who oppress us, not to cooperate with oppression but also not to retaliate with bitterness and hatred. We are called to be humble in ourselves too, not to put ourselves down but to see our good like our imperfections within a context of God’s love and God’s call and the shared dignity and humanity of others also.

This reading, within a context of good news for “daughters” and the gospel that is coming is for me a powerful call to remain in the imperfect church and to trust in God’s ability and desire to find me there and sustain me. The grace of God in actual fact cannot be stopped or blocked by patriarchy but we must continue to bless even those who have not blessed us. We are called to a holy partnership with God where we pour out love to the world. I turn to the gospel to see what possibilities for transformation this call may hold.

In the gospel, Mary is not wise in her own estimation, that is she is not complete outside of her ability to reach out to others. Her good news needs to be reflected by Elizabeth’s good news. She has a need to support and be supported, to be in a community where each can rejoice in the other being blessed. Each has a relationship with a husband that in some Christian circles would be assumed to be the most appropriate arena of rejoicing. But each is part of a larger network of support, each needs also the ministry of women in her sacramental life (and don’t we all?). Mary, pregnant though she is goes on a journey that would possibly be dangerous and certainly be difficult. There is something in Elizabeth’s company that calls to her, something precious in the relationship or some need she sees in Elizabeth and responds to.

The great prophet John hears the voice of Mary, who is about to offer one of the great prophecies of liberation and hope. John recognises in this voice the same call that is already whispering into his baby heart the potential for a committed spirit-filled life. He leaps for joy! Elizabeth recognises this leap and knows what it means. Mary’s preaching will shake the church and the world. Elizabeth says that Mary is “blessed” for hearing and heeding the call of God. She recognises Mary’s priesthood. Elizabeth and John become church to accept Mary’s priesthood as Mary both literally and sacramentally carries Christ into their lives. Mary preaches her joy and hope in a God who reverses oppression and liberates. There are strong forces in a world where Mary’s people have been colonised by the brutal Roman army, she lives in a patriarchal society with limited opportunities. But her hope is in God’s power to be greater than the powers of the world.

Mary aligns herself with a utopian view of radical justice and voices her commitment to God’s power to bring this about. She grounds this vision in faith history. Then she stays with Elizabeth for three months. The relationship of sacrament is about more than words. She is there for practical support and shared affection. Faith and ministry are not about a ritual once a week but are about companioning and loving our fellow humans on the journey.

My heart like unborn baby John leaps for joy at the good news of the Visitation. I want to shout it aloud and sing it, this dignity and hope in the reality of God’s call to me as daughter and sister. My response needs to be loving and faithful to the dream of transformative justice. My spiritual hunger is filled with this good thing. I can look to the unofficial priests, when the official church leaves my pastoral needs unmet. No wonder these readings mentioned singing and joy so many times!

Defending the sacraMENts vs the weaker sex and others- warning: contains boasting

For anyone who wants this week’s readings in their entirety, please look here. I zoomed in on a tiny verse this week inspired by another (smarter) person’s facebook rant.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

Boasting of my weakness. That is actually exactly what I do every week when I dare to post a blog on the readings. I am trumpeting before anyone who cares to read my failures to live, speak and perform in a way that would have resulted in me being ordained, that would have rubber stamped me to lead the people of God. But my “weakness” and “failure” of which I boast go deeper still. Being born female in the church is still a very big failing. Sometimes I feel baptism should acknowledge this reality, there should be some words about “only a girl, what a disappointment” somewhere in this liturgy welcoming the child and endorsing membership of the people of God, to reflect the lived reality of the community we call the church.

Of course people would be up in arms over such sexist and offensive language, but the insidious idea behind it IS embedded in every so-called liturgy (or nearly every). That level of misogyny is commonplace and I think keeping it invisible only makes it harder to fight against. So let’s be honest. As a church we really don’t like girls (except as wives and mothers).

The most popular imagery of baptism (that of rebirth) in itself contains a deeply deficit view of femaleness. Right when we are celebrating something that is uniquely female (giving birth) we have to reject this giving birth process as dirty- connected to earth, the body and therefore chaos and sin and we need to “rebirth” in a more masculine place presided by a still usually male priest, with a very masculine set of words and practices to correct the sinfulness of the birthing performed by the mother and give the child a chance to be allied to heaven, the spirit, order and grace. Women of course are necessary to produce the raw ingredients for these perfected spiritual post-sacramental beings.

When I gave birth to my youngest child, I squatted there screaming and growling like everyone else does and I thought to myself (there is water here, God is with me this is baptism. His real birth is also his baptism) while I also sweated and bled and gritted my teeth in the pain and the glory of it. We were a team- the midwife, the child’s father, the child (beautiful little God-bound soul) himself and I and we were engaged in a great and powerful struggle for life, for triumph so why not also against sin and despair? As the child left my body, slid out to make his own way in the world and into individual relationship with God now unmediated by me I cried out in triumph and I thought of Jesus’ words “It is complete”. Even though noone was crucified, noone died in this joyful moment.

It helped that I had read other people’s ideas comparing Jesus’ work of suffering and struggle with the idea of giving birth- giving life and blood to another-take in nutrition from my umbilical cord, take and eat from my body and blood when you take in breastmilk. Take and eat. In theory my child was as yet un-baptised and as yet too young to receive holy communion. I deliberately put him on the breast every week as soon as I had received communion. Any sacrament that applied to me applied also to my children. This argument will probably not seem strange to most parents. To love is always to be sacrament. It would be good if church recognised this already sacramentality of the family and celebrated it rather than trying to correct it with the “better birth” and the “only real” food.

So weakness equated with femaleness, bodiliness, earthliness is something to brag about. God does not transform our weakness into some sort of patriarchal hardness, despite all the imperial imagery around many of the readings, songs and prayers at church that call to mind the Christian life as crusade rather than as breastfeeding, as holding close, as claiming kinship.

Weakness is always part of any “othering” discourse; it is the sort of language used around people who “lose the struggle” against themselves and return to gay lifestyles, relationships or ways of being. Gay and lesbian churchgoers are supposed to closet themselves firmly in Christian respectability. I did this. I married. I bred. I wasn’t very good at the sort of “good behavior” that was required. Something in me kept yearning and questioning and had to be constantly put down and repressed (repressed so soundly that I would not even become aware of it). I had to find less dangerous ‘sins” and adventures to distract myself with to avoid confronting the truth of what I was.

I did not listen to this week’s reading, I spoke a lot about grace but I did not really trust it. God’s grace was not sufficient for me to leave the safety of what I had been taught and to boast about my weakness. I am weak. I am unacceptable. I am queer. Instead I was dishonest and blocked my “weakness” from being part of God’s power in me and I missed some crucial turning-points in my life, in the career that wasn’t. But God doesn’t call us to give us a comfortable life and a successful career. God gives us nothing except grace. Is grace the persistent and sometimes irritating voice that still pokes and prods at me to remain in God somehow?

Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

But since I was little this reading has been a stumbling-block to me. I don’t want weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities. Perhaps I ought to want to bear all that to prove my deep and radical love for Christ. As the offspring told us “the more you suffer, the more it shows you really care, right, yeah”. But I don’t care in that way, if I am being persecuted, abused or belittled in a relationship or because of a relationship I seek to leave it. I don’t find my strength in being trivialised, silenced or judged.

As a gay person therefore, as a woman, I have lacked the courage to bear all the insults (usually disguised as the “proper” language of the liturgy) the feeling of having to choose between believing in all “that” or believing in myself (in a very basic way), the self-persecutions I have been tricked into, the calamities of self-hatred. This weakness never made me strong and I fell and fell and fell away from being ordained, away from church, away from everyone I knew, almost into death (by suicide).

ALMOST. That word. Why didn’t I kill myself? There is no safe way to answer that. If God somehow saved or helped me then it begs the question why not all the others? Why not my very dear friend who did die of rejection and suicide? But no. I was never “content” with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions or calamities.

And now we have the whole question of marriage equality, and once again the church is coming out to “defend the sacraments”. And once again the sanctity that is being defended is a sanctity that reeks of power and privilege, not a sanctity that reeks of manger straw, and fishing boats, and the cross. And all the wise things that could be said on the topic have already been said. All the hypocrisies have already been pointed out. All I can do is add my voice to the more articulate in some way. And I do it with a sigh of exasperation that once again – like birthing and ordination/vocation, once again the church has taken something that is sacramental (in this case human sexuality) and turned it into a bunch of rules and exclusions.

And I say at the end of the day I don’t even need to keep looking for the (obvious) holes in their logic. The fact that the church wants to keep a stranglehold over a sacrament so that most people won’t be special enough to qualify for it already has my suspicious feminist spidey-senses tingling.

Like the boys who build a cubby house for the express purpose of putting a sign on it saying “no girls” and “no pansies” they have built themselves a church. But for those left outside- perhaps God’s grace will be sufficient after all!