Dear Friends in Christ,
Today we celebrate Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and the birth of the Christian church. It is also, coincidentally, Mother's Day. I find myself wondering...what might Pentecost and Mother's Day have in common?
Thursday was the feast day of Julian of Norwich, a 14th-century English nun and mystic. Julian lived in tumultuous times, experiencing the death of a king and archbishop, the Black Plague raging through Europe, the 100 years war between England and France. She had a near-death experience at the age of 30.
Julian experienced several revelations from Christ, which you can read about in her book Showings. She speaks of Jesus, among other things, as "Mother." For Julian, Jesus is the good mother who cares for us with infinite tenderness.
Understanding Christ as a good mother goes back to Augustine and other church fathers. It is not radical -- unless you understand "radical" in its literal sense of "getting back to the roots." Jesus himself says in Scripture "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem... how often have I longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings!" (Luke 13:34)
Despite the presence of female leaders, the early Church -- born on Pentecost -- later lost much of its egalitarian flavor, probably because it needed to survive in the very stratified Roman world. Historically the church has been a largely male defined and dominated institution Some find it helpful, as a counterbalance, to recall the qualities that transcend gender -- in Christ, God, and Holy Spirit. One Episcopal church that Numa and I used to attend spoke of the Holy Spirit as "She." The Hebrew word for spirit or breath, ruah, is feminine. Its Greek counterpart, pneuma, is neuter.
Last Sunday I was asked to speak to Immanuel's adult ed forum about "The Changing Role of Women in the Church,'" specifically about the journey of women toward ordination in the Episcopal church. One of the first women to be ordained an Episcopal priest, back in 1974, was Dr. Alla Bozarth-Campbell, a graduate of Seabury and Northwestern. She writes of her struggle for ordination in a book called Womanpriest. Bozarth-Campbell objected to the argument that women should be ordained because they bring "women's" qualities -- gentleness, nurturing, caring. In fact, these are human qualities. Male ministers also exhibit these qualities. The point is that women bring "human" qualities to ministry: leadership and rationality as well as warmth and cooperation. Bozarth-Campbell rejects a shallow breakdown of human qualities into "male" and "female." The idea behind women's ordination is to allow all persons to bring their human qualities to ministry, thus enhancing ministry, and allowing the minister to be a whole person.
We see in Scripture a God capable of wholistic behavior, who exhibits both "male" and "female" qualities -- love and wrath, strength and tenderness. We see those qualities also in Christ, the compassionate healer and the angry table-turner. We see a Holy Spirit that is both urgent as a flame and gentle as a dove.
Jesus refers to God in Scripture as "Abba" or "Daddy." Many people find this a compelling reason to continue to call God "Father." But other people, ordained and lay, find it helpful to understand God as beyond gender. They may feel comfortable calling God "Mother" as well as "Father," or understanding the Holy Spirit as feminine. They may find refreshment in Julian of Norwich's idea of Christ as the Good Mother.
The point is not simple political correctness, nor to try to re-make God in female image. The point is that Genesis tells us God created both man and woman in God's image. Thus there must be something of the female, as well as the male, in God.
Bozarth-Campbell and many others are concerned that women are left out of the Church through exclusive language -- only male pronouns for the Trinity, mostly male characters in Scripture -- and how that can contribute to women feeling invisible or powerless in church settings and beyond.
I hope this Pentecost/Mother's Day you will feel included as a full member of the Body of Christ -- no matter your gender identity -- and know that Christ lived and died for love of you and all humanity, as he told Julian of Norwich. May you feel that the Holy Spirit lives and breathes in you.
The Rev. Laura Gottardi-Littell
for the Pastoral Team
Today, after our Pentecost liturgy, we will have cake and champagne to celebrate the birth of the church as recorded in Acts 2:1.
Our next Council meeting is May 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the 'Nidge. All are welcome.
The Social Justice committee will host a panel of speakers on Fair Trade on Thursday, June 5th, in the sanctuary of Immanuel Lutheran Church. Mark your calendars.
Reconciler will again be participating in the Glenwood Arts Festival (and possibly the Clark Street Festival). Speak to Larry if you are interested in displaying your art. Speak to Kate or Daniel if you are interested in helping set up, staff, or break down our booth.
Jorge Sanchez will be our guest preacher on May 18, Trinity Sunday.