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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.

19 comments:

David |Dah • veed| said...

Dios Todoamoroso, bless you and keep you, on this the anniversary to your ordination as presbyter, dear Mother Lizabet.

ROBERTA said...

Elizabeth, You've written yet another beautiful piece. May we all come to know the compassionate embrace of our God, Our Mother.

Happy Anniversary.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, darling Dahveed, and thank you, Roberta.

David said...

(c'mon brothers and sisters, you know the tune, sing along)

OH HAPPY DAY!
OH HAPPY DAY!
OH HAPPY DAY WHEN E-LIZ-ABETH FOUND
HER RADIANT WAY!
OH HAPPY DAY...OH HAPPY DAY!

dearest Elizabeth, what a great joy to be able to honour two great sisters, two living blessings to our Church.

and what a powerful reflection you've written you've written on your priesthood.

i'd wish you endless blessings, but you've got them already in that 'love beyond our wildest imagining.' so just enjoy your day, a living blessing yourself.

OH HAPPY DAY indeed!

David@Montreal

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Okay, David, now I am officially embarrassed. Thank you dear man. Thank you

SUSAN RUSSELL said...

Mazel tov!

David said...

(((((((((Elizabeth))))))))
one gigantic fraternal hug to help Elizabeth deal with her embrassment.

Enjoy the embrassment Elizabeth, it's only love wearing a warm blush!

Oh Happy day! Oh Happy day....

David@Montreal

Katie Schwartz said...

Happy Anniversary, my sweet! This is such a beautiful post. it brought a tear to my eye and joy to my heart.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Susan - thanks for all you're doing to fight off Prop 8.

David - I'll take the warm hug. Thanks again.

Mazel tov right back atcha, Katie goil. You're the best!

whiteycat4104 said...

Congratulations and blessings for many more years of ministry!

Lisa Fox said...

Blessings to you on this day, Elizabeth, as you have been such a blessing to me and so many others.

Thank you for telling this story. My story is similar to Neff's. Had the Episcopal Church not found me, I'd still be wandering far from the church and that vengeful, hoary old white guy they call God.

FranIAm said...

Happy Anniversary dear Elizabeth!!

What a gorgeous post, clearly written straight out of your heart. I think that if I were to see it, the world would be reflected in that heart - at least that is what I believe about you, even from afar.

It is interesting to read this right now. This morning I was a talk about the Eucharist, given by my pastor but at another parish.

It got me to thinking about the one time I was at a service at Caminante's and how moving it was for me to experience her presiding. And it made me think about how much I want to experience that in your community as well.

And now this. Yes - God who is our Mother and whose feminine spirit is like the zest and fullness of the Holy Spirit to me. Always enlivening and bringing us forward.

Thank you for all that you do and God bless you richly, always.

JCF said...

When I read the words "October 18" and "anniversary", I was brought up short. It's an anniversary for me, too: the day 7 years ago my spouse solemnized his leaving me, with our divorce "blessed" by the State of Michigan.

Not an anniversary I want to remember, even now, but it was what it was, and is what it is---for the best.

Sorry for the digression, Lisbet: all happy returns of the day, and w/ thanks to "God Our Mother", for your ordination---and splendid ministry! :-D

Paul said...

Sorry about the embarrassment factor but I've gotten my tambourine out to join David@Montreal in the joyous chorus.

Thank you for sharing so much of your ministry with us here and facilitating ministry (Cidade de Deus) and sharing yourself and inviting us all more deeply into the mystery of the Holy One.

Many blessings on your continued ministry.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, one and all. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Happy Anniversary, dear Elizabeth. Sorry to be a day late. Prayers and blessings to you. With Fran, I'd love to attend a Eucharist with you presiding. Maybe one day....

Jane R said...

A joyous and holy anniversary to you!

Muthah+ said...

"That's what I felt approaching the communion rail - I felt I was approaching my other self whom I had blinded years ago."

Yep, that describes the feelings I had 25+ years ago when I was ordained. It is really important to know that you have embraced your truest self and that you haven't done much to deserve it. What a gift God gives when you are about the work you are called to do.

Sorry to be late--but it is never too late to celebrate God's gifts.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks for all of your wonderful comments and congratulatory words. Thank you.