Tag Archives: women’s ordination

Take, eat, this is my body

“Take my body and eat, take my blood and drink” that all seemed very confusing and creepy when I was a child, and from reading male “experts” on faith I think it can seem creepy to them as well. But perhaps there is a type of person for this is actually a very ordinary and sensible thing to do? I am referring of course to those very ordinary people known as MOTHERS.

I am not going to claim to be Christ in any sort of a grandiose way, but of course there is something of Christ in an ordinary human experience…which is the point of Jesus grounding all his teaching in ordinary things like meals and weddings and wheat and fig-trees and shepherds (which may be exotic to the 2016 Australian reader but were ordinary and common-place to the original hearer). I would argue sacrament too is ordinary. Beautiful, precious but ordinary as a kiss from your mother, as your child’s grubby hand seeking yours.

In 1996 I first experienced my body being broken to give life to another person. This “breaking” was alleviated by some very good pain-killing medicines and the experienced midwives and a reasonably comfortable and clean bed, so it was not completely like crucifixion, my suffering was limited and I was safe and tended. But for the first time in my life I realised how powerfully creative pain and suffering can be; I could understand a love that would willingly (mostly) enter into pain and suffering. I had spent months giving the nutrients of my body over to the small and so far unresponsive life inside my womb, I had vomited and fainted with the trauma of it…I realise this is an ordinary thing that every mother does. But I had literally used my body to feed another, to nurture another so that then my body could be broken radically transforming that smaller life and giving it meaning, power and independence.

A couple of years later, it all happened again and suddenly I had two children. Both children listened to me and loved me and were free to think their own thoughts and to be themselves. Not long after this I first discovered feminist theology and I was struck by the way that the patriarchal church has to take on very ordinary things like birthing, feeding, forgiving, loving and make big liturgical “events” of this; which you could argue is a beautiful celebration of women’s work except when they say that only men can preside at celebrations of baptism (better than birth), communion (better than food) and marriage (better than just sex). And many feminist have argued that the sacramental reality is already in the mundane event itself.

I thought at once then of my mother, her hands sticky with dough night after night when she gave up hours of sleep to make fresh bread. She loved us, she loved baking…it was a sacrifice of love and in the morning we broke fresh fragrant bread like the people of God do in the sacraments. Her womanly hands were good enough for this work, despite not being ordainable because she (and I) were “only women”. Sometimes I took her work for granted, took the fresh roll for my school lunch, didn’t eat it at school (most kids at times forget or refuse to eat their school lunches) and then unable to face the sadness of my mother’s face seeing that I had wasted her labour of love and fresh ingredients I threw the roll out of the train before I got home. I remember the guilt of doing that so vividly.

But is that not also the nature of sacrament? Of the death and self-giving of Jesus that at times it is rejected, wasted, or we are unable to absorb it. Sacrament is extravagant love to those who are loved, not just to those who deserve. I pondered thoughts like this as I went home and fed my baby breast-milk which for some people is an enjoyable process, but for me was painful and difficult. It became clear to me how much nonsense the church weaves around sacraments, mystifying and codifying the very stuff of life. It is like putting a handful of good fertile earth into a golden reliquary where it can no longer feed a seed.

Consider for example the nonsense of children not being allowed to receive communion until they are old enough to magically be entered into this sacrament. I accepted this no question as a child, I loved the thought of earning a privilege through growth and learning and being more than I had been before. But if we say that only those who “understand” the Eucharist ought to have it then I suspect none of us should, or very few of us. And if the oh-so-clever but celibate male fathers of the church had only asked a REAL parent about feeding children they would see how silly it is to only give nutrition for a child’s growth after the child has already been growing for a few years. Silly ideas about child development I suppose were part of the root cause.

But any mother, even a half-arsed one could tell you, you have to feed the baby.

Once I considered this,  I considered that my babies were at least as worthy of Eucharist as I was, and considered moreover that they had already received whatever physical, tangible “reality” of Eucharist there is in the wafer and wine through their umbilical cords, just as they received the nutrients and minerals they needed through it and just as they received first language and then hopefully the Word of God through their ears and through their experience. And I made it an act of faith-activism to ALWAYS breastfeed my baby during or immediately following communion so that I was self-consciously saying “the body of Christ” to the baby at this time and passing on whatever gift of grace I supposedly received from it. And this meant that I was saying that my body was a suitable conduit for God’s embodied grace and since only women (mothers) can breastfeed I was claiming something Christlike about a mother’s body. Which was a direct disagreement with the idea that only the (male) priest can represent Christ. But after all God made a world where babies are fed by breast-milk and when you look into it whatever the mother eats seems to be passed into the baby for good or ill. So if I participated in communion as a breast-feeding mother that also logically was passed to the baby. So I marked it as sacrament.

Jesus said “do this in remembrance of me” and perhaps he was referring to breaking bread together and talking about the gospel events like we do each Sunday. Perhaps he was referring also to washing feet (serving) and feeding, giving our bodies for the well-being of others, radical sharing, radical giving of life, transformative relationships such as the mother-baby one (but any mentoring and gifting relationship could also mirror this sacrament). Jesus used humble, ordinary events in many societies presided over (or invisibly performed) by women to take us into the deepest realities of radical grace. Jesus did all this and then was killed for being too radical, going too far.

Jesus didn’t say “make safe, ritual versions of this with some special people who are more important than the rest of you and who can emphasise how much more important the ‘sacramental’ version is than the ordinary version”. Jesus said “do this to remember me”. We can be ordinary. We can be real. We can enter into grace and provide grace for others. In memory of Christ, for the growth of those we feed. Ordinary, women’s-work grace. Heartbreaking, body-wearing, radical gifting in love. Sacrament.

 

A woman’s place

 

There was a pope who tried to tell us we are not allowed to talk about women’s ordination. He forgot to rip this page out of the bible though…

Before I had even looked up the gospel for this week, I was listening to Everything’s alright from Jesus Christ Super Star and even though it diverges in some ways from the story as “John” originally told it, there was a lot to ponder in it about power, about priorities and about how issues of gender are reflected in the story of Jesus.

‘Mary Magdalene’ in the song is looking after the mental health of Jesus, seeming to offer and evening of peace, massage and forgetting to be a workaholic savior figure. Although she is interrupted first by Judas’ pseudo-political critique and put downs and then Jesus’ irritating posturing (remember I am still talking about the song) which verges on mansplaining, I love that each time she relentlessly comes back with her message of comfort and gentleness and peace.

The ‘Jesus’ in the song comes across a bit like a neoliberal celebrity having an ego trip “you will be lost and so sorry that you didn’t pay attention for me” almost like the way of the cross is an attention seeking drama. The cult of the marketable personality is more important than the “poor” in the song. Meanwhile MM shushes both Judas and Jesus and insists that it is time for relaxing and letting go. Her idea of calm and domesticity and even perhaps pleasure, she insists is as important as any delusions about “bigger” things. Taken in moderation I think this is a good message, besides it underlines what it is that women do. In the midst of big events they continue to relentlessly take care of the little events (sometimes instead of the big ones but just as commonly AS WELL AS the big ones).

So this was the gendered idea I was taking into my reading of John. I knew that in the gospel it is Mary of Bethany (not Magdalene) who performs this scene and I was really hoping that Jesus would be less attention-whore rockstar and more wise teacher in the original, but I smiled at least that in the musical the scene belongs to Mary and Judas and Jesus do their important man-argument thing but can’t shout her down.

What then is Mary doing in John? She often gets interpreted as a prostitute or comfort women or at best a girlfriend sort of character for Jesus. We are meant to be so sex positive these days that we uncritically accept this, we avoid being slut shamers by embracing the idea that women is equated with sexuality. Jesus is just telling them not to slut shame her. Well…in a way perhaps there is that in the story because the history of interpretation is part of what we have as church and as church and society we have again and again been told that a good woman is a wife or girlfriend and a bad woman is a prostitute. Either way a woman exists for the comfort of the real hero (man/Jesus).

But this is Mary of Bethany.

Mary who Martha tried to pull back into a traditional female role and Jesus said “let her go she is following her true vocation” (apostleship/priesthood). Can we read her in the simplest and most obvious way? Considering the powerful symbolism and mystery that the gospel of John weaves through every and all story, all building toward the sacrificial and Eucharistic climax of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection? Considering it is a week before Psalm Sunday. This is the curtain raiser for the sacramentally enormous happenings. Mary is using oil in the lead up to Palm Sunday. Mary anoints the one who is to be the sacrifice. Mary surely here is a priest!

She uses her hair to wipe his feet. Her long, womanly hair is part and parcel of her priesthood to Jesus. She is not an honorary man in her role she is called and consecrated AS A WOMAN to serve Jesus and minister to Jesus and minister for Jesus and perform the prophetic, liturgical action for all time in the moment and in the gospel that is written as sacred.

Everything that she is she brings to lay at the feet of Jesus so that she too is at the feet of the teacher. She is a priest and a prophet a faithful apostle and one who has sat at the feet, one who has learned the trade, one who can teach after the teacher passes on. If we see any sexual tension in the idea of scented oil and female hair, then we need to sit with the discomfort of that sexuality being a priest-thing. Because it cannot be doubted that there is priestly work happening here.

Judas’ criticism (in the song he says “people who are hungry…they matter more than you” the ultimate put-down. Even in the song he is only caring for the poor because Mary is worth even less than them. But in the gospel, there are more sinister motives attributed to Judas. He wants to control the funds so that he can embezzle them. This is partly to set him up as the villain of the story of course, but it also speaks into the tendency many Christians have to suddenly develop a social conscience when talking about how other people should spend their money and their time.

Jesus’ retort then “you will always have the poor with you” can then be interpreted NOT as claiming that he is more important than social justice, but as a refocus on RELATIONSHIP not isolated “good works” as the key to the kingdom. Judas has the purse strings, he could be distributing funds to the poor every day but he waits until now to be suddenly concerned. An act of disconnected generosity here or there will not change the world; nor will top down controls over how people behave with their money or time. Judas as the treasurer, as a man tries to control Mary who is only a woman. Jesus reminds Judas that Mary’s faith journey is her own, how she expresses it is also her own.

We will always have the poor with us because we have not-yet become one with the poor to challenge the systematic injustices (such as man over woman). We will always have the poor with us if I am more interested in telling you, the less powerful how much to give to charity than in having the courage to challenge those who are setting up systems of abuse and inequality…or interrogating my own privilege and my use of the resources I am steward over. I think the church all too often acts like a Judas in our preaching and in the sort of actions we enable or close off.

So this week’s reading for me, reifies a woman’s absolute knowledge that Jesus has called and consecrated her to ministry. It turns and interrogative eye back to those who would try to keep her “in her place” or distract her with minor “good works” while basking themselves in an unfair system. It tells us that liberation is going to happen from a place of respect and dialogue (in this way it reminds me of Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed) not from a top down set of rules or decisions from above. This is a democratically arriving kingdom of God.

It speaks to me of the longing for an authentic, visionary and always political church. There are churches like that (The man who threatened Rome tells of one example but I think there are ones also closer to home). How tragic that often in those stories of hope the church, bishops and Vatican play the part of Judas and shut down authentic liturgical action.

If only all of us had courage to practice a priesthood like Mary’s. Could we trust that Jesus would stand up for us when we are attacked?

Only Love may preach

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 is one of those oft quoted, widely beloved but I suspect underestimated pieces of wisdom. It makes us feel very connected in, as though there is meaning to human love (and yes, there certainly is) so we trot it out at every wedding and quite a lot of funerals too. It says something so powerful and true about the human experience and the source and nature of the divine that is in us. And it says something so powerful and true that perhaps after it moves us to tears it is easy also to then let it rest, our bit of escapist “catharsis” having washed us out.  Unfortunately if we cleanse out our dissatisfaction of all that is shallow and hollow in our lives, we also cleanse out our drive to be better than.

The reading is certainly a warning to blog writers like me who try to be clever with God’s word. What am I really doing week to week? I hope I am motivated by love, love of God, Love of scripture, love of my vocation and love of people who may receive my words. But even if I began this task out of love, there is no place for complacency and excessive comfort when working with that burning coal, the Word of God. The first reading reminds us that a vocation to speak is real, there is no getting out of it because I am “only a boy” or not even because I am “only a girl” (please only click the link if you want to cry tears of angry frustration) in the patriarchal church. I may be the lowest of the low in terms of the church, but in terms of God I am as trusted a messenger as any. And that is true for anyone.

But the words that God puts into my mouth, those words are not concerned with aesthetic beauty; to simply be as eloquent and stirring as the speech of an angel. It is not just about the unsilencing and it is not enough to open the mouth and preach.

There needs to be behind every preaching, a life grounded in love and a soul rooted in love. This love needs to be manifest in how a life is lived, in how choices are made, not only big choices but the smallest moment to moment choice to speak, to act, to be present. Love, the beautiful ideal we can all swoon at the thought of but when I think about real nitty-gritty love in each boring decision of my life, I have recently become aware that in fact I am a complete beginner. So many things other than love motivate me from moment to moment. I wonder how often those preached to could actually hold up a much greater model of love and much more real and keen examples of how to live in love than the preacher who rises above ordinary things to speak with the tongues of mortals and angels, but runs the risk of becoming too far above to know love.

I have certainly known some love in my life. Love is dirty nappies and pleading for an extension for overdue school-fees (and doing it again). Love is scratching together money for Christmas presents for my children and at their bidding for “Jesus” (ie charities) as well. Love is returning to people you know will accept you, building bridges with people who don’t understand you, tending people who are vulnerable, challenging people who are full of the toxins of wrongly used power and holding your arms open to welcome back someone who failed to accept your love at a time when you had wished they would. Love is holding back criticism, believing in the impossible, giving with a generosity bordering on foolishness. But for a better way of putting it turn back and read the original words.

In the reading words are used like “patient… kind” these are the same words I teach to my preschoolers, and yet they are words I also need to constantly find meaning for in my own life’s choices. They are words to practice and grow into not know once and then feel gooey over. Love is not boastful or arrogant or rude. Maybe love understands that other people have needs and strengths and weaknesses and a complicated dance-path through life and does not try to control others. Can a controlling, blaming, excluding church preach such love to us? If not then it must be us, “only a girl”, “only a single-mother”, “only a lesbian”, “only a loser”, “only an aging and still confused wanderer” and only whatever any of us are.  Whatever our low status and lack of qualifications, God anoints us to preach and somehow we must manage to draw from our experiences of being loved and of loving and preach love to the church.

But of course the church knows us in the casual dismissive way they knew Jesus as “Joseph’s son”. They might know me as the “mad-woman” or as the “underachiever” or as one of “those dratted ever-complaining feminists”. I don’t understand Jesus’ words in this gospel as he seems to be reifying “chosenness” which is an idea I cannot accept. But what I do see, is that when this Jesus person they know, and have tried to form, and have been community for, says things they don’t like and acts in ways they don’t control and tries to preach back or speak back to authority; then they are angered to the point of wanting to kill him and he has to disappear.

It’s validating for those of us who have needed to take a “break” from church at times isn’t it? To think that at times we are so at loggerheads with the church that it is ok to fade away and go onwards alone for a while rather than let our spirit be completely crushed by their anger at who we are.

So there is a lot of challenge in the readings this week, but equally affirmation and encouragement. You, (yes you whoever reads or writes this) have a valid point of view that comes from your unique dance with God. In so far as you let yourself be inspired by and grounded in love (the love as it is described in the reading) you are also called, empowered and anointed to preach your subjective truth as part of the ultimate truth that is love. It doesn’t matter whether your words are eloquent or beautiful because the love you live will shine through, because love is everything. When you are misunderstood and under threat it is valid to disappear. But love is patient; “bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things” so there may also be a season for returning.

Live, work, be, speak all in love and all things out of love. Because faith, hope and love are the things that won’t fail you. “and the greatest of these is love”.