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Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday: Christa

“Christa” by © Edwina Sandys
The following poem is excerpted from a presentation by Nicola Slee. It is the first of three addresses on Christa that she delivered on Good Friday in 2010 at St. James Piccadilly Church in London. Her other addresses look at the Corporate Christa and the Cosmic Christa.

You can find the full text of all three addresses by following the link over at Jesus in Love, where I first found this picture of Christa and these essays by Slee.

The illustration above is “Christa” by Edwina Sandys - the most famous artwork of a female Christ.

Sculpted in 1975, this amazing bronze crucifix has been portrayed on the pages of the London Times, Time, Newsweek, Life, and other major publications. It has appeared at respected galleries and churches throughout Europe and North America, notably a controversial 1984 showing at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.

Wherever Christa goes, the sculpture triggers debate on both ends as well as across the spectrum of understanding about the nature of God and the role of women.

Sandy’s “Christa” sculpture and the story behind it are included in Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More by Kittredge Cherry.

In the following excerpt, Slee describes Christa in a poem.

I hope you find it as powerful and deeply moving a Good Friday meditation as I have.
" . . . . the female Christ figure is, itself, controversial amongst feminist theologians. Some consider it merely reinforces, rather than challenges, the stereotype of women as powerless victims of abuse.

Others find it immensely healing, enabling them to realize their own bodies as the site of the divine, even in their mortality, pain and abuse. I leave you to make your own response, as I share with you something of my own, in a poem I have written exploring the identity of the crucified Christa with us today:
Who is the Christa?

Every woman forced to have sex who didn’t want it
Every girl trafficked out of her own home country
trapped in some anonymous bedsit in someone else’s city
working all the hours men want to have her body
making a fast buck for her pimp

The woman you meet in the street with bruises all up her arm
which you don’t see because she covers them up in long sleeved blouses
and thick sweaters
(Harder to hide the gash on her face but make-up has its uses)
Every woman who is too frightened to go out alone because of what has happened to her in the past or what she imagines might happen to her

The woman sleeping in the underpass
in her makeshift room of cardboard
who wards off the unwanted attentions from the drunk two streets up

The smart young graduate climbing the career ladder
who can’t get through the day without shooting up
The anorexic teenager starving her young body
that is strange to her and she cannot seem to love
The classrooms of self-harming girls

The nine-year old orphan caring for three siblings all under five
in a shanty town in any African city
Her parents dead from AIDs

Every street girl and boy scavenging on rubbish tips
Every child working in sweatshops making cheap tee-shirts for Primark
All the women raped in war or, worse, forced to watch their daughters raped
Husbands shot in front of their eyes

Women who walk a thousand miles through a war-zone
with babies on their hips and children dragging along beside them
Desperate to make it to a refugee camp
where they might find food and shelter

Christa, our sister,
have mercy
Christa, God’s beloved,
show us your face
where we have not wanted to see it
where we resist your presence among us
Nicola Sleeis a theologian and poet based at the Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham, where she teaches feminist and contextual theology.

She also works freelance, doing a wide range of writing, speaking and retreat work, with a particular interest in women’s spirituality, faith development, liturgy and poetry. The author of numerous articles, her previous books include Faith and Feminism (DLT, 2003) and Praying Like a Woman (SPCK, 2004).

She is the author of the new book Seeking the Risen Christa.

She lives with her partner and two cats in Stirchley, Birmingham.


Ahab said...

Powerful and heartbreaking. Thank you for reminding us of the human beings in need around us this Good Friday.

JCF said...

And she makes the Popoids on EWTN go apoplectic! [Literally. I once thought Fr John Corapi---now on time-out, while allegations of impropriety are being investigated?---would have the vein on his forehead pop right right off, as he excoriated Christa.]

claire bangasser said...

Thank you so much for this post, Elizabeth, This is most precious to me.
I knew of Edwina Sandys sculpture (not that I would have remembered her name). But I did know Nicola Slee.
Thank you.
Happy Easter.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ahab - I think that's the message at the heart of Good Friday.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

JCF - I haven't tuned into EWTN in AGES! I used to watch Sr. Angelica from time to time, before she had her stroke, poor dear. I no longer have the stomach.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Claire - I knew the sculpture and the artist, but I was happy to be introduced to Nicola Slee.

JCF said...

Christas are still happening today. Sometimes they have Y chromosomes. [Do *not* watch the video, if you're not prepared to become very upset and/or ill]

Kyrie eleison! :-(

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

JCF - It's just horrible. Simply, terrifyingly horrible.

Christa eleison.

susankay said...

My local hospital (Roman Catholic) had in its new chapel a large crucifix that is slightly less obviously female but is obviously not male.

So far "they" haven't made the good sisters remove it.

JimB said...

Lord have mercy, forgive them in prison where they must go.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

SusanKay - Wow. That's pretty amazing. Unless, of course, 'they' haven't noticed.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Amen, Jim.

Kittredge Cherry said...

I’m glad that you share my appreciation for Nicola Slee’s writing. Thank you for including the link to this post on my blog, the Jesus in Love Blog.

Female Christ figures fascinate me. I included visions of the female Christ by several different artists, including this one by Edwina Sandys, in my book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More. As I wrote in that book, it’s possible that the historical Jesus was gay, but he definitely was not female. All artists who portray the female Christ are breaking with historical fact in order to express a deeper truth about the sacred feminine and the suffering of women.

A woman on the cross is still rare enough to shock, but for those who go looking, it is the most common motif for female Christ figures in art. I especially appreciate Nicola’s new book because she focuses on the RISEN Christa.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

KittKat - It's an honor to bring your amazing work to a wider audience. You are doing an important ministry. Art often precedes theology - stained glass windows, icons, religious art work, sculpture and music have shaped and formed the theology of the people for generations.

I would love to see more images of other Christologies - the work of Tannis and the Trans Christ and Eislander's Disabled Christ are powerful images that deepen our understanding of the mystery of Christ while underscoring the power of Jesus to challenge, comfort, heal and inspire.

Unknown said...

Jesus was NOT a homosexual!!! Whoever said that is highly misinformed! Hoping that you meant, 'gay' as in 'HAPPY' {the true meaning of this word}, then please accept my apologies! If not, then please apologize to {me} at once! Thank you. ~ Christa Maria

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I'm pretty sure that THE AUTHOR meant to be provocative in the title of her book "Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More "by Kittredge Cherry. I'm sure Kit based her title and her art on the fact that there is no evidence in scripture that Jesus is either hetero or homo sexual - or, sexual at all. All art - all good art - is, by its very nature, provocative. No apologies needed anywhere to any one.