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Monday, June 08, 2009

Herstory IV: The Spirit of God that Dwells.


I don’t know the story of how the publication of the Episcopal Women’s Caucus came to be named “Ruach.”

Someday, I’ll ask the question and then sit back and listen to the story, which I’m sure will include a cup and a half of passion, a flash of anger, a small dose of irony, a dash of synchronicity, a modicum of danger and sprinkled throughout with laughter.

Ruach, of course, is the Hebrew word used in scripture to describe the Spirit of God, who broods over chaos and brings forth new life, new order, and makes creation new.

It is a feminine pronoun for the third person of the Trinity, the first gift of the Risen Christ, who is also named, the ‘Advocate’ and ‘Comforter’, who will ‘lead us to all truth.” It is the word used to describe the fullness of the presence of God.

From the very first issue of Ruach, it is clear that the Spirit of God was moving in a powerful way during the first week of March, 1974. In retrospect, we are able to see that the events of July 29, 1974 should have come as no surprise to anyone.

This is the third, final, and perhaps most dramatic event to happen in those three days, from Friday, March 22 through Monday, March 25, of 1974, as reported in the first issue of Ruach, published May, 1974.


“Monday evening, March 25th, was an even more painful and yet uplifting experience. The Rev. Philip R. Bozarth-Campbell, male deacon, was ordained priest. His wife, Alla Bozarth-Campbell, who had been ordained deacon two years before her husband, was not priested. She was present but did not participate in the ceremony. She wore a black cassock and a red stole to match her husband’s stole. She stood just inside the door at the back of the church, St. Christopher’s in Roseville, whose rector, the Rev. Henry Hoover, voted against the ordination of women at General convention in Louisville, October, 1973.

At St. Christopher’s, Fr. Hiza’s “Statement of Love and Concern” was again distributed to the congregation. The Rev. Jeannette Piccard vested and walked in the procession but did not take a lace in the pews with the other clergy. She stood behind the crucifer until the clergy were in their places and the Bishop with his entourage were arriving. At that point, she stepped aside until they had passed. She then turned and walked back down the center aisle to stand beside her sister in Christ, the Rev. Alla Bozarth-Campbell, deacon.

When the moment came for the Laying-on of Hands and Philip knelt before the Bishop, Alla also knelt in the aisle at the back of the Church. As the priests joined the Bishop to lay their hands on Philip, the Rev. Douglas Hiza, priest, and the Rev. George Parmeter, deacon, came back to join Jeannette and Alla. A number of women also came out of the congregation and stood around them. One of the laywomen joined the Rev. Hiza and the deacons Parmeter and Piccard in laying their hands on Alla whose vocation had been denied by the General Convention in Louisville.

The Bishop gave the Kiss of Peace to the newly ordained priest, Philip, who started back toward his wife. Stopped by someone on his way, he was startled to see the Bishop, walking tall, march past him. The Bishop stepped aside to let Philip be the first to kiss his wife and then he, too, gave her the Kiss of Christ’s Peace. The formal Eucharist ended.

Later that night, in the home of one of the clergy, three of the newly ordained priests, the two women deacons, Fr. Hiza and three lay women celebrated a “Third Rite” Eucharist with a deep sense of vocation and commitment.”


Feminist theologians have a different name for an encounter with God: Shekinah.

Author Kristin Johnson Ingram has probably given the best description of Shekinah. Johnson explains that Shekinah (she-KI-nah or SHEK-I-nah) is a transliteration of a Hebrew word not found in the Bible but used in many of the Jewish writings to speak of God’s presence.

The term has a feminine gender and means, “that which dwells.” It is implied throughout the Bible whenever it refers to God’s nearness either in a person, object, or God’s glory. It is often used in combination with glory to speak of the presence of God’s shekinah glory. (Daughters of Sarah, Spring, 1994).

Johnson writes,
“I sometimes prayed to her, calling her Lady and Sister; I waited for her beside quiet pools and in the fern light depths of the woods. I listened for her in the voices of flutes and harps, sought a vision of her in moments of peace. . Shekinah came not as a handmaiden but as a queen, not whispering but crying out like a hoyden in the streets, bringing no consolation but urgency of motion. . . .

. . . .She travels at warp speed and beyond: she is in the mouth of blessed Miriam on the far shore of the Yam Suph, drives Miriam to grab her tambourine and lead the dance of rejoicing. Shekinah vaults to glorious Deborah, and gives her an army and a song; she races into the mouth of angry Huldah as she warns the men of Judah that they have forsaken God and God’s book; she speaks through Isaiah’s prophetess wife, she comes forth in the host of heaven to say she will go forth and delude the priests of Ahab. And Shekinah swirls over a young Galilean girl and lines her womb to prepare it for a salvific miracle.”

Whether called Ruach or Shekinah, the spirit of the glory of God is She who will not be denied. She is a ‘force to be reckoned with,’ the powerful dwelling of God within each soul who is called by God to serve God’s people – despite race or ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, age or physical ability, educational background or class status.

I believe that Ruach or Shekinah, the spirit of the glory of God, whose hot breath brought to life the dry bones right before the eyes of Ezekiel also moved the earth that hot summer day, July 29, 1974, in the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia.

I believed that Ruach or Shekinah danced on the ears of an acolyte for that service, a young woman named Barbara Clementine Harris, who would, fifteen years later, on February 11, 1989, become the first woman to be ordained bishop in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

I believe that Ruach or Shekinah was with us, fifteen years after that, one windy Sunday in Columbus, June 18, 2006, when the Episcopal Church elected Katharine Jefferts-Schori as the first Presiding Bishop and Primate in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

It was ‘Father’s Day’, as I recall. Leave it to Shekinah to shatter all of our false idols ‘lest we create new ones.

I believe that Ruach or Shekinah called all the saints together on that Sunday afternoon, November 2, 2003, when V. Gene Robinson was consecrated Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, making him the first honestly gay man to hold a position in the highest councils of our church.

I believe She is, even now, racing to be with us in Anaheim, July 5 – 18, 2009, to swirl round us with awe and wonder, ‘bringing no consolation but urgency of motion’ into the fullness of time where justice dwells with mercy and peace.

I can’t wait to hear the stories our daughters and granddaughters will tell of this time in our lives.

For make no mistake: Whenever we are in the presence of Ruach or Shekinah, the spirit of the glory of God, time stands still as it rushes to fold in the past and the present, bringing us to the knowledge that we have been – are and will always be – living Herstory.

11 comments:

Frair John said...

Very cool essay, I just have one nit to pick.

The Ruach that dances at creation is translated into Greek as Sophia and more than a few of the (overly maligned) Greek Fathers, upon reflection grounded in the uses of the words, put it that the Sophia of God found in Ecclesiasties was the Logos found in John. Where the ancient Hebrews used the concept of God's Wisdom, the Greeks spoke of the reason and wisdom that underlay all things, wich they called the Logos. Ruach is the Second Person of the Trinity under that schema.

The Shekinah is most definatly the Spirit, and works far better for the third person than that silly bird we keep seeing. It also helps avoid the "residue" idea that an over solidifying of Agustine's metaphoric Love constrruction.

David |Dah • veed| said...

There is no more to add at this time. May all be ready in the path in which She leads.

Amen, and Amen!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Friar - thanks for that one nit that you picked. I always love learning what the 'true orthodox' have to say about matters of faith. Works for me, even though it is not the 'official' position of TEC or the Anglican communion, which is waaayy to 'feminine' for them.

Interestingly enough, I never feel judged or ridiculed by it. It's just what they believe. So unlike the so-called orthodox in our own church, eh?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Dah.veed, but, you know, I'm never ready for Shakenah. She's quite a trickster, that one

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Friar - thanks for that one nit that you picked. I always love learning what the 'true orthodox' have to say about matters of faith. Works for me, even though it is not the 'official' position of TEC or the Anglican communion, which is waaayy to 'feminine' for them.

Interestingly enough, I never feel judged or ridiculed by it. It's just what they believe. So unlike the so-called orthodox in our own church, eh?

Frair John said...

Orthodoxy, properly understood, is pretty damned broad. It is an embracing of Mystery and paradox (the Trinity and the Incarnation are paradoxical to say the least). "Heresy" is when we reject the mystery and replace it with something far more palatable. Or we so over simplify or focus on one little bit, we distort the entirety of the Mystery. Sound familiar?

(Heterodoxy, at least as I and a few others use it, is to not be a holder of a heresy per se, but rather to hold an unusual belief or view of an idea that isn't quite inside the (current) mainstream.)

One of the most rewarding things I get to do as an EFM mentor is to listen to a member of the seminar articulate their personal theology. Often times they seem to fear that some deeply held belief is some how heretical. When I say that, no it's not, it's just a shade out of the current main stream and show them stuff that resonates with them it's so much fun. (A few people have been a bit disappointed that there's no stake being prepped for them. )

I then get to do my "Heresy is a denial of Mystery" talk that I polished up in Seminary. One of the few times I get to use this fancy (and expensive) education.

Bill said...

Frair John said...

"The Ruach that dances at creation is translated into Greek as Sophia and more than a few of the (overly maligned) Greek Fathers, upon reflection grounded in the uses of the words, put it that the Sophia of God found in Ecclesiasties was the Logos found in John. "

I read recently somewhere (possibly in one of Marcus Borg's books) that the only reason the Greeks used Logos was because it was a masculine pronoun vs Sophia which is feminine. The choice of translations may have been nothing more than having a patriarchal society flex their muscles.

David |Dah • veed| said...

A few people have been a bit disappointed that there's no stake being prepped for them.
Some folks over the top reaction to Bishop Spong sort of made being declared heretic a badge of honor!

to hold an unusual belief or view of an idea that isn't quite inside the (current) mainstream.
So Orthodoxy is a little slip slidey and can change over time?

The pidgeon is just the symbol, not the thing.

Frair John said...

Dah*veed

Not exactly what I mean.
"Orthodoxy" is a very broad concept, properly understood, with several different languages and ways in. Some are more mainstream than others in that it is familiar/comfortable to most peoples understandings.

Frair John said...

Bill-

I would say that (the posable) Borg has it wrong. The concept of the Logos was a well established part of the Neoplatonic and Stoic philosophies of the day that made it correspond better to the concept of "Ruach" than "Sophia" would have at the outset.

"In the begining was Wisdom" would not have had the same cultural and intellectual resonance in Greek as "In the beginning was the Word."

Jane R said...

It was Jewish feminists who first started using Shekhinah, retrieving the word from Jewish mystical tradition, where it had been in use for centuries as a word for the presence of G*d.

A few quick contemporary Jewish resources on Shekhinah here and here.

For ritual songs often using Shekinah and Ruach, go to the website Ritual Well and poke around. It is a great source for Jewish Renewal and Jewish feminist resources for worship and celebration. There are links to MP3 sound versions so you can see what the texts sound like, from simple one-sentence blessing over the bread in both traditional male and new female language (in Hebrew, with an inclusive translation on the web page and a link to both tunes) to contemporary composed songs.