Saturday, September 18, 2010


Religion is a vexing enterprise. For example, I opened Merton's masterpiece, "New Seeds of Contemplation" and read --

a man cannot enter into the deepest center of himself

fortunately, most of the men who try this sort of thing

Christ prayed that all men may become One

you and I and all men were made to find our identity in the One Mystical Christ

there are 2 things that men can do about the pain of disunion with other men

you cannot be a man of faith unless you know how to doubt

the real purpose of meditation is this: to teach a man

I read until the clang of those two little three letter words -- man,men,man,men,man,men -- began to give me a metaphysical mal du tete.

I found the pronoun "she" in a chapter on the BVM, but also this sentence; contemplating the sanctity of the Immaculate Virgin, what great things He has to accomplish in the souls of men

Men !

Yes, I realize Merton was a male monastic and lived in a primarily male milieu, and that he lived in another era, and that he did have great respect for many women religious and wrote freely about it in his journals -- but, still, I was getting vexed by the text. This was not just "man" used as the generic default for human, this was particular usage: he's talkin' 'bout boys, not girls.

I was listening to a podcast last week on the topic of "God the Father." It was part of a Catholic adult education series given by a parish priest. The speaker stated that God, who, after all, passes all understanding, is neither a man nor a woman --

BUT --

one had to conclude that, in being Transcendent, God is quasi-gendered -- and, QED, Masculine ! (Girls, we are the immanent ones. Stuck in the lactating, menstruating, parturiating muck and mire of our bodies, babies clinging to our aprons, incapable of Viagran heights of transcendent contemplation, and, if we aspire to Holy Orders, apt to destroy the operative ecclesiological metaphor of Priest as obligatorily-penis-endowed alter Christus, the Bridegroom of the Church, who is, of course, a girl. Do you follow me ? )

I couldn't wait to get home and purge my iPOD of the rest of the transcendent father's teachings.

One doesn't need to travel far in cyberspace to discover that the gender divide is alive and well (and fiercely, smugly and triumphalistically defended, mostly by men, but, oddly enough, by women, too.) As one to whom the Ultra-High-Church liturgies and sacraments of Roman Catholicism seem the absolute pinnacle of spiritual expression, I am coming to realize that that this is a world from full participation in which I am -- by dint of accident of gender -- forever excluded.

Contemplate the images at the New Liturgical Movement website -- look at the papal altar party, the gorgeous vestments, the absolute lack of women. Scroll down and you will see one photo with the blurry outline of two, tiny, gray-habited nuns, milling like ground doves around the base of the fabulous altar.

Contemplate the recent Vatican pronouncement -- what was it -- that ordaining women is a worse offense than raping altar boys ?

OK, Dalai Lama, my "own tradition" probably does contain that which is necessary for -- for salvation, for enlightenment -- but much of it is being held hostage by old men in gorgeous dresses who have made idols out of metaphors and a full time vocation of preserving the patriarchy. And who consider me unclean and incapable of transcendence. And whose idea of ecumenism is to have everyone join their shop, the one true shop, the only locus of valid holy orders and valid Eucharist, all else being fake.

OK, I get it. And, yes, I also get that where I have landed -- Episcopalia -- is relatively free of these vexatious issues, and that maybe the scandal of the English Reformation has borne some late and salubrious fruit.

It, of course, is not just sexism, but -- even more exuberantly -- heterosexism -- that spews from the common Patriarchal font. And yes, I am vexed and pissed, uncharitably so; challenged to forgive -- something that doesn't think it needs forgiveness ? Because it writes the rules ? And has the Truth ?

Am I irrevocably apostate because Pilate's question -- What is truth ? -- resonates so deeply with me ? Am I acquiescing to "the dictatorship of relativism" ?

These are my sour reflections on the eve of a long anticipated retreat at St Joseph's Abbey in Spencer. I think I will bring along my zafu and zabuton.

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