In our daily prayers God was every manner of image and metaphor and meaning, and always, "God the Father." We never ever prayed to "God our Mother." What were women in the economy of God? The answer was only too painful: We were invisible. I had given my life to a God who did not see me, did not include me, did not touch my nature with God's own....Joan Chittister, "Called to Question"

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Lent 2C

A reflection on Psalm 27 by the Rev. Anne Fraley.

Psalm 27:1, 14 The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? … Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!

This past week I took part in an icon-writing workshop. This was the fourth time I have had the privilege of serving as chaplain in this annual offering by our local cathedral’s program for the arts. As in previous years it afforded me an opportunity to release the concerns of daily life to be immersed in communal silence, and in the same way that the image of my saint emerged on my canvas, some of my own soul came into focus in a new way.

The icon I wrote was St. John the Theologian dictating to St. Prochorus, an obscure biblical figure who went on to be a bishop and martyr in the early years of the Church’s development. The icon is full of details, from the position of John’s turned head to receive divine wisdom, to the elevated position of the two men in front of a cave of darkness.  The mind and heart can swim with contemplation while painting layers of color, and as the image came into relief with the application of lightening layers, my soul was drawn more deeply into the ancient truths the icon is meant to reveal.

I went into this week of creative devotion fresh on the heels of reading columnist Susan Campbell’s memoir Dating Jesus, subtitled “A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl.” A self-described recovering fundamentalist, Campbell shares the story of how she wrestled with and extracted herself from a Christian tradition that extolled her adored Jesus while subjugating women through a literal interpretation of holy writ. Her narrative is familiar to us, and though her journey toward spiritual maturity bears little resemblance to mine, her pain reverberated in the corridors of my own experience.  As I faced a blank canvas ready to be immersed in this ancient spiritual practice, Campbell’s courage to depart from the tradition that shaped her life so firmly and fiercely inspired me to take a modest risk with my icon. Unhappy with the patriarchal tradition of men portrayed as sole guardians of the Word, my Prochorus would be depicted as feminine, Prochora.

This was far from a scandalous act, but it was a significant choice for me as a woman and a preacher of the Word to add curling locks to the saint of old. It wasn’t just about adding a feminine image to a genre dominated by men (with the exception of the prevalence of the Holy Mother). It was a declaration that in spite of appearances and experiences to the contrary, for centuries women have been entrusted with receiving and sharing God’s wisdom and the incarnate revelation of Christ. In this icon in particular—with John’s face turned away from his scribe—the sacred trust implicit in the theologian’s posture conveys an equality of the sexes that underscores a truth that many of us have received over the years. 

Such a declaration is not meant to deny or diminish the oppression of women during these same years, especially by a Church that professes to proclaim the Good News that ought to have liberated our sex and rejoiced in its equal participation. It is, instead, intended to acknowledge what has been hidden by the darkness of patriarchy. In the same way that icons are painted beginning with the darkest layers, revealing its details with successive of layers of increasing light, so is the Church in many quarters now in a place where the barriers of gender are being shed. It is a journey far from concluded, but the voices of women now heard from pulpits and shared in decision-making circles have reached a tipping point of no return.  As the psalmist proclaims, with the Lord as light and salvation, there is no place for fear. Strength and courage are endowed to us through whatever waiting we endure.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Feast of the Transfiguration

A reflection Luke 9:28-43 by the Rev. Crystal Karr
28Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him.31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said.34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”36When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
37On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him.38Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child.39Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him.40I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.”41Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.”42While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.
I adore Peter, probably because I can relate.  Here Peter is confronted with an amazing site—the man he’s been following transformed into a vision of whiteness while talking with two other men—Elijah and Moses.  Still rubbing the sleep from his eyes, unable to take in all that he is witnessing, rather than taking a moment to process what is going on (not that he could have anyway) he blurts out the first thing that comes into his head—to make a lasting marker on the mountain for each of the great men before him.  Then comes God’s voice, “Just stop!  Shut up and listen!”  I can imagine Peter, stumbling and embarrassed.  He wants desperately to please Jesus, to be the one who gets it, who understands…even when he clearly does not.
This week I subbed as the librarian at an elementary school.  As I envisioned Peter on the mountain top with Jesus, Elijah, Moses, and the other disciples I was reminded of one of the books, The Dinosaur’s New Clothes

 It’s a new take on the old story of The Emperor’s New Clothes—two swindler’s come to town proclaiming a glorious robe made of cloth only intelligent and “dinosaurs fit for their jobs” can see.  Everyone utterly afraid that their foolishness, stupidity, or unfitness for their job would show through they lied about seeing the robe.  Peter on the other hand, sees the glory of Jesus blazing before him.  He wants everyone to know that he sees it, that he understands it.  He wants to make it known.  I imagine he wants to tell the story so that everyone knows that he was there, he put up the dwellings, he saw it first.
How much trouble in this world is caused by wanting to prove ourselves worthy?  Prove ourselves intelligent?  Prove ourselves fit for our jobs?  Too often in moments in which we need time and space to breathe, to take in the experience, to simply sit and process so what we witness can make a lasting significance in our heart and lives, we jump to bragging about being their first, how to fix it without thinking first, or we go along with the crowd so not to be considered stupid and unintelligent. 
Too often in our rush to prove ourselves we, like Peter, miss what is going on around us.  We miss the glimpses of God in action, in the act of transforming our world.  We need time to process just as we need time to act.    The more we take time to sit and listen and be with God, the more relevant and transformative our actions will become.  We live in a knee-jerk world in which stopping to listen to the voice of God, stopping to process and understand those we are dealing with are practically dead arts in many circles.  In order to transform our world we must leave our needs to be right, to be first, and to prove ourselves aside so that we may go deeper listening to God, listening to the “others” and then responding with relevant and transformative action.