Thursday, July 31, 2008

Goddess Mary

National Catholic Reporter has a lovely article about Meinrad Craighead, an artist who grew up Catholic and whose images convey “a keen sense of the brooding, watching, beckoning power she finds in the land around her, in the sky above, the earth below, in the animals, in our dreams.”

I would change a word in the statement that the artist’s “first real religious experience, at the age of 7, was not in the church but in nature, with her dog.” Her experience was spiritual, not religious.

Gazing into her dog’s eyes, Craighead as a girl felt water rushing deep inside her and saw a woman’s face that she immediately recognized as God, “more real, more powerful than the remote ‘Father’ I was educated to have faith in. . . . God the Mother came to me and, as children will do, I kept her a secret. We hid together inside the structures of institutional Catholicism.”

Craighead’s feminine images of the Divine are healing the Christian tradition’s lopsided use of male images and masculine pronouns. “He,” “Him,” and “His” endorsed the oppression of women and also the degradation of nature, because psychically women are associated with nature.

As Carl Jung pointed out, however, Catholicism retained more feminine imagery than Protestantism because Catholics venerate Mary, who plays exactly the psychic role that the Goddess played in pre-historical times—she’s the Great Mother, as mythologists like to observe.

Jung approved vigorously when the Assumption of Mary into heaven was declared in 1950 because, he said, it brought some balance to the masculine Godhead. He did not believe any doctrines literally; his concern was human psychic health. In addition to gender imbalance, he observed Christianity’s low valuation of nature.

Maybe because women give birth and suckle children, they are more closely related in the human psyche to nature than are men. Interestingly, shrines devoted to Mary often have moving water, as Craighead’s vision had. And the Goddess appeared with natural elements such as water and trees.

We need feminine God-images to balance the preponderance of “king,” “lord,” and “father.”
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At http://ncronline3.org/drupal/?q=node/1565 you can read about a peace activist priest who assisted at a women's ordination ceremony. Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois, long associated with the cause of Christian non-violence and attempts to close the international school for military training at Fort Benning, Ga., earlier this month staked his conscience to a different cause: the ordination of women in the Catholic Church.”

A reader emailed me a comment (not submitted for publication), naming Nancy Pelosi as evidence that woman power is not shared power. Her crafty wielding of power does not come close to accomplishing the harm done by other powerful women, past and present, that I could name. That individual women who managed to rise in the male system used male tactics does not invalidate our conviction that woman power is needed and rising.

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I'm responding to the comments after this post.

The gleeful “ha, you want power” opens up thoughts about power. Someone once suggested I run for office but I said I’d be spectacularly unsuccessful as a politician. I’m no leader in that sense and don’t want to be. My “assignment” is to prod deeper reflection than most people are willing to engage in. If I wanted external power, I would not risk dislike by debunking cherished notions.

But the world needs women to collectively acquire more power and it is happening. Called “soft power” in popular parlance, a more feminine kind of power is now promoted as the preferred way to do foreign policy. It encourages agreement with one’s own position without using violence.

Woman power, however, is power WITH instead of power OVER. It is shared power, symbolized by and carried out in circles. A circle of shared power, in contrast to hierarchical power, values the contributed wisdom of EVERYone equally. To do foreign policy or church governance with this model, would require leaders to relinquish their patriarchal role of forcing their own view on others and instead coax out the view from those at the bottom of influence.

Woman power is democracy at its best. Ironically, while the current Bush administration claims to spread democracy around the world, it tramples on democracy at home. Strong resistance from both conservatives and liberals rises from disgust over its underhanded endorsement of torture and its efforts to control public discussion. Its disdain for the views of others resulted in disastrous foreign policy that Condoleezza Rice is now gamely trying to reverse.

Leaders cannot impose their views for long anyhow. Observe the futile efforts of the Catholic hierarchy to squelch discussion about women priests. Relentlessly, historical facts refuting their cherished position that women have never been Church leaders keep surfacing—evidence from New Testament letters, evidence in the catacombs, evidence from monasteries in Ireland, and the list goes on. Burgeoning respect for womanly wisdom can’t be squelched.

The statement “God's masculinity is part of the Christian revelation” in Florian’s second rant would be denied today by every respectable Christian theologian, Catholic or otherwise. But Florian is right in assuming the importance of sexual symbolism in the Christian myth—what he calls its “revelation”—and in its denial of ordination to women.

I’ll refer again to Sex, Priests, and Power by A.W. Richard Sipe, retired priest, psychotherapist for abuser-priests around the country, and a board director of the Collegeville Sexual Trauma Institute. He analyzes the culture of the celibate priesthood and its pathological loathing of women, quoting a treatise as recent as 1909:
“If he is going to treat her as she wishes, he must have intercourse with her, for she desires it; he must beat her, for she likes to be hurt . . . [she] has no desire to be respected for herself.”

Sipe comments, “Although Weininger’s verbalization would be consciously rejected, the essence of his message and logic is alive and well within the celibate/sexual structure of power. One has only to analyze the operation of that system in Rome, in any diocese, or in official documents that deal with issues of gender or celibacy to validate the appeal to nature and God’s will for the place of men and women in the order of things.”

For a healthy priesthood, says Sipe, we must “divorce it from the denigration of women and the arrogance of religious superiority.”

I will accept no more comments to this post. I publish submitted comments if they have points worth discussing, but I have to take the whole or nothing. Unable to edit submissions, I have to subject us all to empty words, words, words. It's the reason I used the word "rant." Please edit your comments for economy and spare us all the clutter. And please stop the ad hominem attacks.

7 comments:

Kathleen said...

YES! This is another affirming article that includes all of human-kind in our pursuit to know and love God. When the exclusively male God images are heard and only the male hierarchy are seen, females may question their value in the church. The Catholic Church can no longer afford to discriminate against women. It needs women; women who have taught their children about the faith and have brought their families to church.

Women will be assured that women have worth equal to aliens when women who are called to serve the church as priests are welcomed. In the Vatican newspaper, the astronomer, Father Gabriel Funes, said intelligent beings created by God could exist in outer space and the official Vatican newspaper headlines his article 'Aliens Are My Brother'. Hmmmm. Aliens will be accepted as brothers before women will be accepted as priests. Women ordained are excommunicated; however, not one of the hundreds of pedophile priests and bishops has been excommunicated. Notice a double standard here?

The excuse that Jesus only ordained men is bogus. First of all, Jesus did not ordain anyone. This was a Church ritual decades after the death of Jesus. Second, if following the twelve disciple model is the standard by which we are following, then all priests should be Jews before being ordained! The systemic injustice against women was never intended by Jesus. What’s interesting is that the public is overwhelmingly in favor of women priests. Since the recent ordinations, Google reported that it was overloaded with hits for information on this topic. Male “authorities” may resist this movement, but the tide will change or Catholic Churches will eventually be empty.

http://www.womenpriests.org/index.asp

http://www.womenpriests.org/classic/schneide.asp

http://www.romancatholicwomenpriests.org/

Florian said...

Of course the church knows it needs women. In fact, it has women. About half of all Catholics are women. They raise our children, populate our convents, and teach in our schools and universities.

Of course, the church teaches that women have dignity and value. Oh, but then there is this little fact that only men can be ordained priests, and to that extent the church discriminates against women and doesn't treat women equally. But that doesn't mean women don't have great value. See, the church does not conflate the terms "equality" and "value". It is women advocates of women priesthood who undervalue women in the church. They don't think they have much value unless they are fully equal.

But I don't think the issue is just about value anyway. I think some women just want more power in the church.

What Kathleen forgets to take into her account in her analysis of the priesthood is the church tradition. Remember, we are not Protestants, but Catholics who are sticklers for tradition. We've had a long tradition of the male only priesthood that goes back to the time of the apostles, and some would say back to Jesus. We have no tradition that priests must be Jews and they should always be 12 in number. On the contrary, the church has traditionally had lots of Gentile priests; and since the Holy Spirit is guiding the tradition, then this must be okay. So that is actually why the argument that we must have Jewish priests doesn't work.

The public in INDUSTRIALIZED countries is in favor of women priests, not the church worldwide. We've discussed this before. And it's not only "male authorities" that resist this movement but also all Catholics who want to be faithful to orthodoxy. Maybe it's an intoxicating enthusiasm, or even obsession, with women priesthood that is warping the judgment of Kathleen and Jeanette, but I am hardly convinced that women priesthood is "inevitable". The ridiculous idea that Catholic churches will be empty shows just how intoxicated they are. Kathleen and Jeanette way underestimate how tolerant many Catholics are of the male-only priesthood.

Kathleen said...

Florian, it seems that you have no respect for women and have prescribed roles set in your mind for them that can never be changed. You are stuck in “the world is flat mentality.” You may recall that before the Nineteenth Amendment became law, women were arrested and many were tortured and force-fed when they went on hunger strikes simply because they wanted the right to vote. Opposition to the women’s vote, similar to your way of thinking, was fierce because it was against “tradition”; men didn’t think women were capable of voting. Much of what you attribute to the Holy Spirit was really cultural prejudice just as it has been for centuries.

You missed the logic regarding the disciples being men and Jews. My point was that of course they ordained Gentiles, but not women! That was not following “tradition” as you put it: “but the church has traditionally had lots of Gentile priests; and since the Holy Spirit is guiding the tradition, then this must be okay.” I’m glad you believe the Holy Spirit influenced all those men. Slave owners were good Christian men who listened to the Holy Spirit too. They just were not ordained in the church.

I notice you made no comment about what I said regarding the statement by the Vatican that aliens will be treated as brothers but women ordained will be excommunicated. Do you think pedophile priests and bishops who are convicted by the courts but remain active in the church should remain with impunity in the church while the women who work with children, the poor, the community, and continue to do Christ’s work should be excommunicated? I’d really like your answer. You seem eager to talk about orthodoxy and certainly like the rules, but when it comes to humanity and social justice, you are silent.

I hope that you find a woman you can really talk with from whom you can learn to love, listen to and learn from and you can finally understand that she, too, can be guided by the Holy Spirit. However, if you are too busy trying to impart your preconceived views of what is Truth, you will never be open to gain knowledge outside of your extremely rigid narrow world. I do hope you do some reading outside of your comfort zone so that you can see there’s a whole world out there that disagrees with you. Watch a sunset, dance, do something silly. You really need some fun in your life.

Anonymous said...

The chance of the Catholic Church ordaining women, ever, is 0%. There have been inmerable instances over the last 2,000 years of power grabs, scandals, and heresy. The women's ordination movement is just another blip.

Florian is right about the power. The buildings and copy machines are in place. Much easier to grab than start from ground zero.

Jeanette said...

Yes, of course women want power. And the men who have it don’t want to give it up. The thought of letting women make the big decisions scares the hell out of them.

Unequal power is always playing out in cases of discrimination and abuse. It’s grossly insincere to say, “I value and respect you but I’ll make all the big decisions.” Only to a child can an adult say this without sounding phony. People instinctively know this about power, and it’s why the world got excited when both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama ran for the presidency.

That we’re talking here about sacred matters makes it all the more serious. Imagine a congregation of women monastics waiting for a male priest to have their liturgy, women who have greater maturity, knowledge, and wisdom than the young priest. If he doesn’t show up for some reason, they leave without having their service. This has happened. With rank hypocrisy the hierarchy says, “I value and respect you but all the food you get has to come through me.”

Catholics are “sticklers for tradition.” Yes. Defending tradition is a nice excuse for keeping the status quo. We like being lulled with the familiar and comfortable, but growth doesn’t happen through things staying the same. That they keep changing is an ineluctable fact of the universe. Inexorably, the movement toward Catholic women priests marches on, despite the frantic efforts of the hierarchy to stop it.

Florian said...

There, so you admit it. You want power.

This proves, then, that you are not Judeo-Christian. A very important virtue that has always been stressed in our tradition is that of HUMILITY, not of being power hungry. Our first model for humility is Christ, who humbled himself by incarnating as a lowly human from Nazareth. Though his human life eventually led him to Calvary, he nevertheless humbly submitted to the will of God. We must also submit to God's will, accept His authority over us, and respect the human authorities that He places above us.

That is difficult to do. It is, of course, always easier to give in to our thirst for power and attack the authorities that stand in the way. Desiring power may be a sign of selfishness.

Clearly, Jeanette, you have given up on many traditional Judeo-Christian values and have opted to view the world through a modern secular lens. Your discussions about "power" indicate that you have studied Marxist-Feminist ideologies which tend to interpret history more as a struggle for power between groups, and not as a debate among people over ideas. As a result, idealogues are not interested in reasoning; they almost always dismiss the arguments of their opponents as "nice excuses for keeping the status quo."

But, let's try to reason anyway, even though I know it will be futile. You said, "Imagine a congregation of women monastics waiting for a male priest to have their liturgy, women who have greater maturity, knowledge, and wisdom than the young priest. If he doesn’t show up for some reason, they leave without having their service." Oh no! The poor nuns are going to spiritually starve without the bread of life! Come on, the bread is just an "image" of God in your mind, so you must not believe that the Eucharist is so important anyway.

Moving on to my main point, though, the "problem" of a young priest with less knowledge and maturity than their congregations also occurs at parishes with young priests. But the mature adults in the pews are willing to accept the young whipper-snapper as the head of their parish. Why? Because, ultimately, it's not the fact that the priest is "mature" which makes him eligible to consecrate the host, but the fact that he is ordained.

There are simply certain protocols we follow when performing our Catholic rituals. As far as the Eucharist is concerned, the protocol stipulates that we have bread and wine as the "matter" for the sacrament; we cannot substitute juice and crackers for the matter. Also, according to the protocol, an ordained priest is necessary to consecrate the matter, and the priest is to be a male human. The church has the authority to determine these protocols, and the humble Catholics accept that as the way it is.

But these ritual protocols do not have much to do with the problem of power. Not only do priests and bishops administer sacraments, they also run the church government. Well, maybe the church can evolve to the point where multi-member boards are really running the church government and the bishops and priests are relegated to figureheads, like the Queen of England, who is the theoretical head of government, and is really a figurehead while the parliament has the governmental power.

Would that sort of leveling of priestly power make you happy? Would you then stop complaining about the male-only priesthood? Probably not. Clearly, destroying the male-only priesthood has now become an obsession for you. Many of the rest of us accept it, whether we like it or not, and redirect our energies to other things.

Florian said...

I guess I will respond to some of Kathleen's perplexing comments. I call them perplexing because she speaks as if she knows me, even though she has never met me. She is even giving me life advice by telling me to have fun in my life! =)

Let's first look back at some of my earlier comments. I said, "Of course the church knows it needs women," and I said, "Of course, the church teaches that women have dignity and value," and I said, "They raise our children, populate our convents, and teach in our schools and universities." Why that means that I have no respect women, I do not know. It's perplexing.

No, I did not miss the logic regarding the apostles being men and Jews. If the Jewishness of the apostles was not significant, then why is the maleness? Yes, it is a good question and the church has tried to answer that, but not to Kathleen's and Jeanette's satisfaction, apparently.

The answer has to do with the fact that Jesus was a man, he was the incarnation of God, who is basically masculine. That Jesus to taught us to call God "our Father" means that God's masculinity is part of the Christian revelation. I know that Jeanette doesn't believe a single word of that. (Well, Jeanette isn't truly Catholic anyway, so why should we expect her to believe that.) According to the Catechism, a priest is in persona Christi; he represents Christ who in turn images God. So, anyway, the reason priests are male has to do with religious sexual symbolism. One might argue that a woman priest is an adequate representation of Christ. Still, it is the church makes the final decision about what symbols we are going to use, and which symbols are liturgically appropriate.

I am sort of tired of having to prove that I am not sexist whenever I debate this issue. But it sounds like Kathleen believes that I am sexist, so let me assure her that I am not. I don't think that women shouldn't be voting or working outside the home, etc. For most of my life, I thought we should have women priests, but that was before I learned that that is actually theologically impossible. I strive to be orthodox, so I accept the church's teaching about women priests. If it were possible to change that, and if the church did change its mind and allowed women priests, then I would be willing to accept that too. In fact, if it were theologically possible, I might support the idea of ordaining women as priests in order to alleviate the priesthood shortage.

Kathleen seems to have a superficial understanding of tradition. The church's tradition of a male-only priesthood is not like our former "tradition" of allowing only men to vote. We need to remember that there are different traditions: church traditions, like our use of palms on Palm Sunday, and then there is the Sacred Tradition which goes back to the apostles and is unchangeable. The question is to which tradition does the male-only priesthood belong.

Finally, there was a question that Kathleen really wanted me to answer. She suggests that my position is not respectable because I defend the excommunication of women, even though they do Christ's work and their only crime is that they want to be priests too (actually, the crime is disobeying church authority, which I believe is regarded as sinful). I will admit that I am just not going to look good if I defend that position. But, to answer the question, I don't think that convicted pedophile priests should be active in the church. And, yes, I am quite okay with the church excommunicating women priests. I do not doubt that these women have also done good works, even great works. But one cannot cancel out an excommuncation by a certain amount of other good works if one is does not apologize for what one was excommunicated for in the first place. That's not how the procedure works. I'm sure you know that.

Oh, and sorry about being silent about social justice. That's not what I typically blog about. But, of course, I think social justice is important, but I also think orthodoxy and church tradition are important. It doesn't have to be one or the other. The church has always believed that we can walk and chew gum at the same time.