Saturday, October 18, 2008
A Dream of Women
I was ordained to the priesthood on October 18, 1986, being the Feast of St. Luke the Physician. It's an anniversary I recently learned I share with Bishop Barbara Harris, who was ordained to the priesthood in 1980.
Much of it seems like a blur to me now. I don't think my feet touched the floor the whole time.
I've been looking over the picture album I made of the day (Note to self: Learn how to scan pictures), and I swear I don't remember half of what I see recorded.
I also found a note written to me in almost perfect hand-written script, the kind that was carefully taught in Roman Catholic Parochial Schools. The note is on yellow lined paper, dated October 30th, from a reporter from the New Hampshire Guardian.
She had written an article the week before about the new Chaplain at the University of Lowell, in Lowell, Massachusetts, a woman who was to be ordained priest.
That was news, then. Especially in the first 10 year wave of women ordained in The Episcopal Church. Especially in that very Roman Catholic part of the world.
At the end of the service, people lined up for a blessing from the new priest. I do remember that it took almost an hour - and that the rector of St. Ann's, Lowell, where I was ordained, was not pleased. My bishop, Fred Wolf, a very high Anglo-Catholic man who had voted against the ordination of women, commented that "this place is so low church you have to bend down just to get in the door."
The journalist from the NH Guardian, a woman named "Neff," began her note with these words, "I cannot remember the exact words Elizabeth spoke in her blessing of me, but it was something like: 'God our Mother, who has guided me in my journey, bless this soul and illumine her path as you have mine, and help her to find what she seeks.' I began to cry at the words 'God our Mother' for the same reason I cried several times during the ceremony, beginning with the entrance processional."
She goes on to describe the ceremony, commenting on the number of women in the procession, "It seemed like a dream, a thing that could not happen in real life, at once a horrible sacrilege and a joyous, long-overdue righting of a wrong. It seemed the kind of thing you'd expect to see only in heaven, so unearthly was the vision. A dream of women."
She speaks of her alienation from Roman Catholicism, which began with the awareness of an all-male clergy and intensified by her sense of exclusion in the language of God as "Father" and "Lord."
"And this is how it began, I'm sure - my fierce rejection of Catholicism. It began with the church's rejection of me . . . And what of the church's rejection of my father, who wanted to fervently to be a priest? Too scrupulous was he, as they said? Or did they sense the gentle part of him that was so female - the part he kept hidden much of the time after that, the part I would have given anything to know more?"
"As I prepared to receive communion at Elizabeth's ordination - something I hadn't done for years but which seemed to right - I began to tremble and tears kept welling in my eyes, and I tried urgently to understand my agitation."
"A story from Alice Walker came to me. It's from 'When the Other Dancer is the Self', an essay in which she describes how she once had a recurring dream in which she was dancing and dancing and could not find her partner."
"Alice Walker has a glass eye - the result of a childhood accident involving one of her brothers - and in the essay she recounts how she grew up being very self-conscious about her appearance because of it."
"One night, putting her toddler daughter to bed, the child looked up from her crib and, thinking of something she'd seen on TV, a globe, - looked into her mother's face and said, "Mommy, you have a world in your eye."
"And something in Alice Walker was healed by that baby sentence."
And that night, when Alice Walker slept, she dreamed she was dancing and dancing and a partner approached to dance with her and the partner was herself."
That's what I felt approaching the communion rail - I felt I was approaching my other self whom I had blinded years ago."
"I don't know what she has for me now - whether God or church or those painful memories can inform me - but I know I must learn to dance with her."
"God our Mother."
"I wish someone had said that to me so long ago, before my leaving began."
I don't know what happened to Neff. I moved to Baltimore about a year later, and we promised to keep in touch, but, well. . . good intentions and all that.
I think I recall that her marriage had fallen apart, but I can't remember if that was before or after my ordination. We had dinner occasionally, with another reporter named Maura who now writes for The NY Times. I saw a piece she wrote just the other day and thought, "I'm going to have to try to get in touch with Maura."
But, I didn't. Maybe I'll go into the Recycling Bin later and see if there's an email contact or something. I'd love to catch up with Maura and, in the process, see if she knows whatever happened to Neff.
I hope she's happy. I hope she's still writing. Mostly, though, I hope she's dancing. I hope her partner is that dream of women deep in her soul.
It would be the Best Anniversary Present ever.