Monday, June 01, 2009

III The Seven Devils of Women's Ordination, or, She Who Lie Down With Dogs Catch Fleas

Discerning the Vision of God

With the institution’s failure of vision has come the failure of discernment. While many women seeking ordination are driven by their uncontrolled passions, by the seven devils, others, now ordained deacon or seeking ordination are distinctly uncomfortable with the system into which they are being forced and the process of discernment they have undergone. They quite rightly suspect, though they may not be able to articulate it, that they are making a Faustian covenant. They realise that fundamental questions have not been addressed, not just those of sex and power and pathology in the culturally compromised institution, but the much more fundamental questions of a single hearted pursuit of the vision of God, of putting on the kenotic mind of Christ, which is the only source of any non-destructive ‘good works’ that might be done.[13]

These women realise that the freedom of Christ’s promises has been turned on its head to become rigid categorisation and conformity, the creature of class and status. Some are aware, quite conscious, even, that theirs is a contemplative vocation, but since the church has no use for contemplation and will not support it no matter how piously it blathers about ‘prayer’, they perceive that the only way for them to survive physically is to become ordained. Contemplatives who follow a vision, who are compelled to follow it by the mind of Christ, do not do well in the dog-eat-dog, cut and thrust of the church of post-Thatcherite Britain or post-Reagan America. Women who have chosen the clergy option out of despair fail to realise that unless they are exceptionally lucky, the clergy club and the laity who decorate their own egos by acting as its minions, will eat them for breakfast.

What will happen to the anger of these women? Will it continue as depression in such a way that women, too, become part of the so-called ministry to women, exercised by males for centuries, a ‘ministry’ that simply feeds, feeds on, and perpetuates the hopeless closed world of their depression? For compassionate ministry is not the iron control of managed niceness and conformity with the status quo. And this sort of depression—I say this as one who knows from the inside—is often a form of accedie. Compassion is rather to help someone grow into the vision of God, and metanoia cannot take place until reality is faced, and depression broken. So often I want to say to these women, wake up! Get a life!

But before going further, let us look at what we know about the sort of God who gives the vision and what people must do to dispose themselves to receive it. Christianity was originally a vision that was communicated more by intuition and example than by speech.[14] It still is. It was the religion of the poor and poor-pure in heart. It still is. Christ’s peace was fundamentally simple. It still is. [15] And we are all called to the same degree of union with God.

What sort of God are we talking about? The essence of God revealed in Christ is inexhaustible, self-emptying love (Phil. 2,5-11). Christ comes to free us from slavery to the fear of death (Heb. 2,14 ff) and to transfigure us into himself (see the Gospel of John). [16] This Christ indwells us by the Spirit, bearing us to the Father. That is, God indwells us, and when we try to love purely, simply, in single-hearted self-forgetfulness, we are participating—a much more profoundly nuanced word than modern usage suggests—in divinity.

The New Testament is a continuation of the struggle of the Hebrew peoples, from Exodus through the prophets, to purify their own vision. ‘I despise your sacrifices...’ (Is. 1,11 ff.) The Lord demands a pure and faithful heart; faithful, though all visible signs may seem so much folly. Who will see this invisible vision? It is given to those who go, or are driven, beyond all signs and signification into the far reaches of faith: to those who ‘know their need of God’ (the NEB redeems itself here), to the pure in heart, to the merciful, to the meek, to those who mourn from abuse or repentance or who weep for joy of the divine beauty, to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, to the peacemakers, to the persecuted. To the Mary Magadalenes who, conflated into the single figure that is transmitted through tradition, [17] has been cured of the seven devils and all her other sins simply because ‘she loved much’. She is the first to see the risen Christ—and of course the men, already caught in a cycle of pretension, and in a culture that despises women, will not believe her. In other words, those who are given the vision are those (no matter what their station, for kings have seen it as well as the poor woman, Mary, from Nazareth) who are willing to give up all worldly values in order to be plunged into divine Love, to let Love have its way with them.

'Do not set your hearts on the world or what is in it. Anyone who loves the world does not love the Father. Everything in the world, all that panders to the appetites or entices the eyes, all the arrogance based on wealth, these spring not from the Father but from the world. That world with all its allurements is passing away, but those who do God’s will remain for ever. (I Jn. 2,15-17).' [18]


[13] ‘“But then,” the boy said, frowning at the stars, “is the balance to be kept by doing nothing? Surely a man must act, even not knowing all the consequences of his act, if anything is to be done at all?”
‘“Never fear. It is much easier for me to act than to refrain from acting.... do nothing because it is righteous or praiseworthy or noble to do so; do nothing because it seems good to do so; do only that which you must do and which you cannot do in any other way.”’ The Farthest Shore, by Ursula K. Le Guin, New York: Bantam, 1969, p. 67.

[14] See Aloys Grillmeier, S.J., tr. John Bowden, Christ in Christian Tradition, vol. I, London: Mowbrays, 1975, p. 35.

[15] See The Way of Silent Love, by A Carthusian, London: DLT, 1993, and my ‘Apophatic Prayer as a Theological Model’ in Literature and Theology, December, 1993, pp. 325-353.

[16] For an extended practical exposition, see the series by Carthusian writers cited above. See also O. Clément, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, London: New City, 1993, and André Louf, Tuning Into Grace, London: DLT, 1993.

[17]Benedicta Ward, Harlots of the Desert, London: Mowbrays, 1987.

[18]It is interesting that the REB has far and away the most sensual of all the translations of this passage.


Anonymous Rachel Alvelais said...

It is so good to see this laid out like this! Yes, the options have become ever more limited, and those whose hearing is tuned to a more distant or fainter melody find ourselves forced either to sit out this concert or find a narrow seat in a vast orchestra playing Boston Pops.

You follow the call to solitude. I have followed the call of family - yet even here the melodies available to me are limited!

God bless you and keep you, and bring us all together in everlasting life.

3:22 am, June 04, 2009  

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