I believe in an open biblical canon, testaments that include new imagery and readings of stories, narratives and parables. Such readings allow for open-ended talk about God, Jesus and women, a history of understanding that is not yet finished. The Second Vatican Council alluded to this process when it spoke of using the organic metaphor of growth. There is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down, it said.
Contemporary beliefs, experiences and techniques should be applied to the ancient biblical texts to uncover new meanings and to support women who are still blamed for ancient sins and weakness. We require new insights because the story of Christian salvation has been told from a male point of view by the gospel writers and the creative reflection of women has been neglected and marginalized. The words and interpretation of the bible are not written in stone. They should be subject to new forms of expression and scripting.
In her article “What Is Process Theology? A Conversation With Marjorie,” contemporary American theologian Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki likens this organic process to a meandering river that carves out new paths while still flowing to the sea. She continues, saying,
the same is true of biblical understanding. The texts are given, but
how they are interpreted varies enormously from age to age. So
how we draw from scripture is also an adventure. Scriptural
understanding blends studies of the actual texts together with
the history of the way those texts have been interpreted in the
tradition. Scripture may look like a steady sort of thing, but
it is actually a dynamic story of varying interpretations
and applications through history.
These diverse ways of speaking about God matter because the way a faith community shapes its language about the divine moulds its identity and practices. A religion that might speak of a warlike god would promote aggressive behaviour. On the other hand, a sacred text that speaks about a benevolent, loving god who pardons sins would promote care of neighbour and forgiveness of transgressions.
Feminist theologians are shaping new speech about God and growing the church into a new movement. For if ideas of God do not keep pace with newly-enfolding experience, the god dies and fades from collective memory. Today, other images must be introduced to replace dead, exclusively-male metaphors and to set free a greater understanding of the mystery of God. The symbol of the patriarch idol is cracking. Thankfully, a plethora of new ones is emerging. Prophets, poets and religious thinkers are embracing the living God with their inspired language. These symbols are emerging from real encounter with divine being. They are also drawing from the creative work of women including spinning, weaving, quilting and domestic chores.
Also, we are seeing the introduction of gentle, nurturing traits traditionally associated with the mothering role of women. This trend suggests that such language can be used equally as well as metaphors of ruling men to point to divine mystery. Mothering is a vitally important and uniquely female role. But, bearing, birthing and nursing babies are potent symbols to also describe God’s role as creator. In Catholic Christianity, the most influential expression of these concepts has been the veneration of Mary, the caring mother at the heart of the church.
Furthermore, some contemporary Christian feminists stress ecological issues that are emerging in response to new theological concepts. Elizabeth A. Johnson points out in her book Women, Earth, And Creator Spirit that Jesus did live in harmony with nature and taught his disciples important lessons based on his knowledge of God’s natural world. Communion, too, she adds is an example of Jesus’ creative use of bread and wine, earthily gifts that remain living symbols of his organic ministry. But a crisis emerged later, says Johnson, when Western thought divided reality into opposing spheres and imposed it upon Christianity. Humanity became detached and superior to nature; man was distinguished from and made superior to woman; and spirit, linked to the masculine principle, was valued more highly, whereas matter was regarded as feminine and earthy, embodying the lower, material realm. Even the body, whether male or female, was regarded as inferior. The result is a number of political and social structures and consequences that are profoundly misogynist and which harm both women and the natural world.
Theologically, this dualism suggests that God is a transcendent deity who creates by “His” word. Johnson argues for a holistic, feminist model which views God as an immanent, sustaining presence and who is alive in matter and the unfolding of history. As a result, God, human beings, the Earth and its creatures are alive and are companions in a community. For matter is made of dancing particles internally defined by relationships and is, says Johnson, “profoundly social.” Later, she suggests that the very fire from the stars and the genes from the sea creatures are woven into our lives and “everyone, utterly everyone, is kin in the radiant tapestry of being.”
Excerpts from The Word Made Flesh: Jesus and the Divine Feminine, Poetry by April Bulmer
Martha’s hands move quickly as doves,
while Mary listens to my parables
and washes from my feet the dust.
Blessed is Mary for I am
the Word made flesh
and the Lord is as seed
on my damp tongue. I bloom
in the womb of Mary’s ear
“Daughters of Jerusalem,
weep not for me,
but weep for yourselves
and your children.”
But, at Golgotha,
the women wilt like torn flowers in the dirt:
faded blossoms at the base of the cross.
Mary Magdalene, your face folds
like a bloom, pale as a desert rose.Tags: children, living, Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, Mary Magdalene, new, work