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Monday, October 02, 2006

Mother Jesus

Note: The following will appear this Thursday in my monthly column, "Faith Matters," in the Daily Record.


These are certainly interesting times in the Episcopal Church. In June of this year, we elected a new Presiding Bishop, and life has never been more interesting.

You may have heard. Her name is Katharine Jefferts Schori. Yes, our new Presiding Bishop is a woman. In fact, she is the first woman in our history to hold the highest position in our ecclesiastical structure. She’s also the first woman to be elected Primate (of a total of 38 Primates) in the 77 million-member Worldwide Anglican Communion.

The conservatives, neo-puritan evangelicals and those of our members who consider themselves ‘biblically orthodox’ were, of course, desperate to find something against her – other than that she’s a woman. They were positively euphoric with her first convention sermon, which they proclaimed as flat-out heresy. As time has passed, many remain in a state of near apoplexy about it.

Here, in part, is what she said, “Our mother Jesus gives birth to a new creation – and you and I are His children. If we're going to keep on growing into Christ-images for the world around us, we're going to have to give up fear.”

Yes, that’s right. She said, “mother Jesus.”

The outcry has ranged from the anticipated hand-wringing about “liberal revisionism” to the predictable laments about “radical feminism,” “Gnosticism” and to the outrageous claim that she had created a “transgender Jesus.”

Yes, that’s right. They said, “transgender Jesus.” Make no mistake: these otherwise intelligent, well educated, pious and dedicated Christians are dead-serious. Apparently, misogyny can destroy brain cells.

Never mind that scripture, psalms, and the historical tradition of the church hold a rich treasury of feminine images for God and Jesus. Julian of Norwich, the great English mystic of the 14th century, wrote this: “…. A mother can give her child milk to suck, but our precious mother, Jesus, can feed us with himself. He does so most courteously and most tenderly, with the Blessed Sacrament, which is the precious food of true life.”

The great theologian Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury in the years 1093 to 1109, prayed these words: “Jesus, as a mother you gather your people to you; you are gentle with us as a mother with her children. Often you weep over our sins and our pride; tenderly you draw us from hatred to judgment.

Or, these traditional words: "And thou, sweet Jesus Lord, art thou not also a mother? Truly, thou art a mother, the mother of all mothers, who tasted death in thy desire to give life to thy children."

Clearly, Bishop Katharine, as she is affectionately known, is standing in the footsteps of giant figures of church history and is neither the heretic nor blind innovator her detractors would like to make her. Neither was she being intentionally provocative, or, as one wag complained, “politically maladroit.”

When asked why she chose this particular phrase, she replied, "It was very deliberate and conscious. I was wrestling with the image of blood on the cross, the image of labor. It's medieval imagery actually, Julian of Norwich. It seemed appropriate to the text and the hard work we are trying to do in this place."

These are interesting times, indeed. Life in the “Age of Terrorism” seems to leave little room for the mysteries of life. We want our God, like our borders, secure and fixed. We want Jesus on the cross – not resurrected near the empty tomb. We want the comfort of the “faith of our fathers,” not the challenge of discerning the face of the Divine Feminine.

Bishop Katharine is right. If we are going to have any hope of bringing peace and reconciliation into this world, we’re going to have to give up fear. That’s going to take the kind of courage women throughout the ages have had to claim who know what it is to shed blood in order to bring new life into the world.

Here’s how Bishop Katharine ended that sermon. Actually, I find these words, these images of the work of the human enterprise, infinitely more challenging than anything she could have said about the image of God:

“Our invitation, both in the last work of this Convention, and as we go out into the world, is to lay down our fear and love the world. Lay down our sword and shield, and seek out the image of God's beloved in the people we find it hardest to love. Lay down our narrow self-interest, and heal the hurting and fill the hungry and set the prisoners free. Lay down our need for power and control, and bow to the image of God's beloved in the weakest, the poorest, and the most excluded.

We children can continue to squabble over the inheritance. Or we can claim our name and heritage as God's beloveds and share that name, beloved, with the whole world.”

Somebody in the church say, “Amen.”

8 comments:

Mary Jane Herron said...

"AMEN", Elizabeth.

"AMEN", Bishop Katharine.

"AMEN", Mother Jesus!!!!

Suzer said...

How beautiful!

Personally, I wasn't able to fully realize God's love for me until a pastoral counselor told me that it was o.k. to see God as Mother, as well as Father. God made infinitely more sense to me after that, and I finally understood God as nurturing, instead of just judgmental.

So, yes -- Amen!

revsusan said...

Thanks be to God. Alleluia. Amen.

PS - I think you're really on to something in destroying brain cells department! I'll bet we could get a grant to study THAT one!

Deborah Sproule said...

Thank you sister Elizabeth. Thank you sister Alison for sending me Elizabeth's blog site. Thank God for sending us Bishop Katharine.
Let's remember the nonsense and violence of labelling others with views different than ours. "Heretic" is just another brick in the Orthodox wall of exclusion as are the bricks
"evildoer","ungoldly",
"unworthy","Gay", "Transgender",
"feminist" or "outsider". I'm a happy heretic! The walls of exclusion can not harm me because my God gives me Her Christ, with whom I am never alone and need not fear. With never ending heretic hunts, one now going on in my Diocese,it's assuring to know that God is still speaking through Her servants at the top. God Bless Bishop Katharine.

In discerning my call as a lifelong Episcopalian I have perceived the love of Christ through God my Mother thanks to
feminist examples like Julian of Norwich and Hildegard of Bingen. Staying loyal to that love, which I hold as a remnant of Grace against the wagging tongues of orthodox Kings, I see my duty as turning up the volume of God's female voice through feminist bible study and sprititual growth. I lead a Red Tent Group in my church and write spiritual prose on my blog site.
In my view the ordination of Bishop Katharine is an affirmation of the long over due awakening to our Mother God.
debsredtent.blogspot.com

GL+ said...

Perhaps nothing wrong with the imagery, but her timing was way off!

Someone hailed as a "reconciler" would not have deliberately used words to inflame the situation at that particular moment - without explanation.

Amen.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

gl+

Hmmm . . . let's see . . . this is a woman whose "manner of life" (simply because she IS a woman) represents a MAJOR challenge to the rest of the communion (as has already been amply demonstrated by the dis-invitation to sit at the same table with "some" - the actual number varies daily - of the Global South Primates.

Whether she opened her mouth or not, her mere presence already "inflamed" a highly flammable situation.

So, when WOULD be a good time to preach your theology of the cross as a woman from the perspective of a woman?

Lisa said...

Preach it, my sister!

B Hip said...

I'm all for a transgender Jesus! I find this image anything but repulsive. But then.... I don't find God's transgender children repulsive either.

Thanks for naming this farce for what it is.. misogyny pure and simple.