Thoughts about God

Earlier today, driving through western Texas while my husband napped in the passenger seat, I spent some time thinking about how our greater awareness of LGBTQ+ people and of sexuality and gender as continua rather than boxes can help us better imagine God in somewhat new ways. I was thinking that God is neither god nor goddess but rather, while fully personal, is not constrained by our created sexual categories.

I have been moving back and forth in my prayers and thoughts between referring to our divine creator as God and Goddess. Neither is completely satisfactory to me but simply saying “Divine One” is not always satisfactory either.

Sometimes, I like my angry prayers best. Prayers that sound blasphemous but are often my most intensely personal with God. “Explain to me, O great creator of everything, how you can be so powerful, so knowing, so loving and such a god almighty bastard.”

But I digress. Somewhere in the middle of southwestern Texas – the sheer empty expanse of which lends itself to such thoughts – I thought that maybe I could refer to our divine creator-redeemer-sustainer as Goddest.

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Legacy

Here is the legacy of being a woman raised Catholic:
I can’t decide if I am saner or crazier than my teachers.
I can’t decide if I am more or less enlightened now than when I was a
Catholic in good standing.
I can’t decide if I believe anything or nothing that the Church teaches.
I can’t decide if I love or hate the Church.

And mainly I can’t decide why the hell I care.

A Collection of Facebook Posts and Comments

This is an unusual post for me. It is a simple collection of many of my FB posts and comments during this week following the release of the report by the Pennsylvania Grand Jury on sexual abuse and assaults by Catholic clergy and the cover-up by the hierarchy. To say I have been obsessed by this is a bit of an understatement. Many of these posts and comments appeared on a private website of Catholic women. I decided I wanted to collect them for myself and this seemed the best place to do that.
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“The tree is known by its fruit. Those who profess to belong to Christ will be recognized by their actions. However, what matters now is not a mere professing of faith. Now the crucial thing is whether one is found in the power of faith to the end. He who truly possesses the word of Jesus can even hear his silence speak. In this way shall he be perfect: he will act in accordance with his words and will be known even by his silence.” Ignatius of Antioch
Like many of you, I have been preoccupied for a week now by the massive, entrenched evil revealed in the Pennsylvania report of clerical abuse and the cover-up by the institutional hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. I have read many articles on it, thought and prayed and planned my actions in response. And of course I have written about it.
One theme that emerges time and again in what I read (especially in what I read that is written by Catholics) is that silence is complicity. That everyone and anyone who loves the Church must speak out, must act and demand action. I appreciate that and agree with it. It is too easy to fool ourselves into inaction just because we are afraid, or unsure what to do, or comfortable with our privilege, or…or…or.
(I think of my friend Carol’s determination to decrease her use of plastics. Despite my continuing concern for our environment and all I read, it is her example that has had the most effect on me, that has made me pause every time I reach for a plastic bag, that has made me think of alternatives. A living example of that old truism “Actions speak louder than words.”)
And yet, and yet…there is a silence that is not complicity but is prayer, as this morning’s reading reminds me. There is a silence that is the necessary balance to action (even the action of reading and writing). There is a silence that is creating poetry with God. To paraphrase, here is the difficult challenge:
“She will act in accordance with her words and will be known even by her silence.”
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Perhaps we are called, by these continuing horrific revelations, to identify with and care for the victims: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/suspendedinherjar/2018/08/not-church-care-about/
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“The grand jury investigation named Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik as someone who covered up abuse over the years. After the report was released this week, Zubik called upon the church to listen to victims.
“We all must take this report to heart,” Zubik said. “It’s a story of people’s lives, people who need to be heard, people who need to be healed.”
Zubik is the signatory of the letter the [Pittsburgh] priests are supposed to read this weekend.”
Aw, Mom, I’m sorry (that I was caught).
He doesn’t need to write a (expletive deleted) letter; he needs to resign and be “laicized” NOW.
https://www.npr.org/2018/08/18/639648032/beyond-anger-pittsburgh-priest-says-sex-abuse-report-shook-parishioners?sc=ipad&f=1001
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It is not enough to feel shame and sorrow over the crimes committed by individual priests. Where is the acknowledgment of responsibility for and pledge to action against the larger horrendous crime of a complicit, corrupt hierarchy that hid and enabled the abuse. The Catholic Church needs reform and cleansing: https://www.npr.org/2018/08/16/639380193/pope-francis-expresses-shame-and-sorrow-over-latest-abuse-allegations?sc=tw
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“We are guilty of many errors and many faults,
but our worst crime is abandoning the children,
neglecting the fountain of life.
Many things can wait. Children cannot.
Right now their bones are being formed,
their blood is being made,
and their senses are being developed.
To them we cannot answer, ‘Tomorrow.’
Their name is today.” Gabriela Mistral
What’s on my mind is my total disgust with the complicit, secretive, self-protecting and self-aggrandizing hierarchy of the Catholic Church.
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“Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” (Lord Acton) There is no better example of that truth than the Catholic Church.
From the grand jury report:
“We believe that the real number of children whose records were lost or who were afraid ever to come forward is in the thousands.”
“Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades. Monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals have mostly been protected; many, including some named in this report, have been promoted.”
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/steelmagnificat/2018/08/5880/#hGtLirx2mo9osAIB.01
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The Catholic Church’s hierarchy can’t have it both ways: They try to identify the Church with their hierarchical structure to enforce obedience and then say “oh we are all the church” when it comes to the need for admission of sin and need for penance.
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I so badly wanted to hear from Francis. There are parts of his letter that do resonate with my grief and anger and that do seem hopeful but why is it that “… the entire holy faithful People of God [are invited] to a penitential exercise of prayer and fasting…” but never invited to full participation in the church priesthood and hierarchy? Why this persistent blindness?
https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2018-08/pope-francis-letter-people-of-god-sexual-abuse.html
When they are doing time, I will be willing to join in prayers and penance.
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“If it takes a village to raise a child. it takes a village to abuse one.’
– Mitchell Garabedian, lawyer known for representing sexual abuse victims in the Boston area during the Catholic priest sexual abuse scandal, including the cases against Paul Shanley, John Geoghan, and the Archdiocese of Boston. He also represented one of the people who accused football coach Jerry Sandusky of sexual misconduct.
It is not just our priesthood that is the problem… but members of the laity who enable the caste system, who treat priests like princes, who shush those who raise critical voices. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.
For those of us who grew up Catholic, we were each victimized to some extent by the ugly powerful secretive sect that the Catholic patriarchal hierarchy has become. Some of us are old enough to remember pre-Vatican 2, and the loosening of religious shackles that came with Vatican 2 – a loosening that felt like freedom and reform, but could better be compared to going from enslavement by a harsh owner to enslavement by a kind owner. It was still enslavement. We cannot make that mistake again. To change metaphors, we cannot settle for opening doors and windows, the structure needs to be torn down.
M. Night Shymalan’s The Village is not a particularly good movie, but it is a vivid picture of what can happen when those in power in a village distort reality to control thru fear.
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From the Ephesians reading for today:
“Brothers and sisters:
Watch carefully how you live,
not as foolish persons but as wise,
making the most of the opportunity,
because the days are evil.
Therefore, do not continue in ignorance,
but try to understand what is the will of the Lord…
And be filled with the Spirit…”
Please, Lady Wisdom, may it be so.
But trying to read Psalm 34, the psalm for today, I could not get past thoughts of how hard to impossible these prayers become for those who were victimized. The depth of evil is of the devil.
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The Old Testament reading for today led me to these words in Deuteronomy 32:32-36:
For their vine is from the vine of Sodom,
from the vineyards of Gomorrah.
Their grapes are grapes of poison,
and their clusters are bitter.
Their wine is the venom of serpents,
the cruel poison of vipers.
Is not this stored up with me,
sealed up in my storehouses?
Vengeance is mine and recompense,
for the time they lose their footing;
Because the day of their disaster is at hand
and their doom is rushing upon them!
Surely, the LORD will do justice for his people;
on his servants he will have pity.
My prayer this morning is simply Lady Wisdom, let it be so.
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I had a bit of an epiphany a few minutes ago, trying to respond to a Protestant friend asking why the Catholic Church was so against priests and nuns having families.
I remembered, decades ago, a young friend deciding to leave the novitiate when the novice director refused to give her permission to attend her grandmother’s funeral – a grandmother who had raised her. I remembered the emphasis by the priests and nuns throughout my childhood on the superiority of a religious vocation (to use their words). I remembered the emphasis on obedience, on leaving everything and everyone to cling to Christ only – as embodied in the Church. I remember being taught to distrust all other earthly authority. I remember being taught to distrust my own emotions, my own insights, my own yearnings, when they differed from what the Church had taught was right.
And I remembered one of the first things I learned in my training as a mental health professional – something I saw over and over again through the decades: abusers isolate their victims. Abusers teach their victims to rely only on them. Abusers teach their victims to distrust and even despise themselves and to accept that the abuser knows best.
Make no mistake about it, all of us who were raised within the Catholic Church are the victims of abuse. Not all to the same degree, not all of the same kind. I am not trying to equate ordinary experiences with the horrendous abuse we have once again seen exposed. But I am saying that part of our response needs to be to recognize that the Catholic Church has institutionalized, normalized abuse for centuries.
Perhaps it is beneficial to lay claim to the true un-institutional holy small-c catholic Church, a beloved community of believers. That is fine as long as we recognize that the institutional Catholic Church is, and long has been, an abuser that use its power and wealth to solidify the abuse.
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THE SCANDAL OF SEXUAL ABUSE: A MOMENT OF RADICAL CONVERSION FOR THE CHURCH by Gilles Mongeau, SJ
This is a wondrous piece and will be my reflection piece for this week. God provides – through you today. Thank YOU!
I don’t have an easy relationship with God or a steady faith. I have found, thru decades of struggle, that psalms, yoga and Ignatian reflection are the best ways for me to understand myself and guide my responses. Given a free choice, I would walk away from the RCC, but my choice is not free – I will worship with my 94 year old mother in a Catholic Church as long as she is alive and living with me. It is very important to her. So I need to turn to my tried and true, God-given aids for discerning my own continuing response to this horror.
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What’s worked for the hierarchy so far is a brief “heartfelt” apology….a brief uproar, some people leave, then back to business as usual. If we want something different, we have to make it happen. Personally, “I’m aiming to misbehave.”
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As the revealed abuse goes beyond scandal, beyond crisis, ever deeper into the expected but disappointing non-response of the hierarchy, I become more aware of the profound blessings of exclusion. As Catholic women, we have no vested power to be threatened or to lose. As Catholic women, excluded for centuries, we find it easier to empathize with the ignored victims. As Catholic women, we cannot turn to the established church for legitimacy but only to God. As a Catholic woman, I feel that I have some right to claim a kinship to a crucified Nazarene holy man.
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(On reading Pope Francis’ homily urging us to “accuse ourselves” rather than focusing on the faults and sins of others)
I’m done, DONE, DONE – It is all simply different versions of shut up, leave us alone, and above all SHUT UP. Twisted, self-serving theology that I cannot respond to any more except with foul language. WHERE ARE THE VICTIMS? WHERE IS TAKING UP THEIR CROSS FOR THEM?
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Do Not Judge

Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven… Luke 6:37
 
Contemplating this verse this morning, I wondered if I could remember to apply this to myself…”Do not judge [yourself] and you will not be judged. Do not condemn [yourself], and you will not be condemned. Forgive [yourself], and you will be forgiven…”
 
That is what I often have the hardest time with.

One God in Family Unity

God the Father
God the Son
God the Holy Spirit

Or, if you prefer non-gendered:
Creator
Redeemer
Sustainer

One God in Three Persons

But where, pray tell:
God the Mother
God the Daughter
God the Other

Or, if you prefer non-gendered:
Birther
Nourisher
Teacher

One God in Family Unity

Why so dense a theology?
Why so strained a philosophy?
To explain three in one, or more in one
When the family is there
God’s explanation
For all to see

Except that would mean
Recognizing
Worshipping
The divine feminine:

God the Mother
God the Father
God the Child

Holy Trinity
Holy Family
Whole

Finding God in the Negative

I am used to the idea of “mountain-top” experiences, finding God in ecstasy and peace. But I often reject the downward experiences, despair and death, depression and disease (dis-ease, unease) as being anti-God, as being a sign of the devil’s work in this world.

And yet, didn’t God make us to experience the good and the bad, negative as well as positive emotions? Jesus prayed with something close to depression and despair in the Garden, Jesus called out to a God whom he could not feel close to him on the cross. Jesus was fully human as well as fully God, but he was without “original sin”. So those so-called negative emotions – Jesus’ feelings of depression and despair and desertion – are not just the result of “original sin” and the distortion of God’s good creation.

Doesn’t that means that I can find God in the negative as well as the positive? I can accept the negative as well as the positive. I do not have to find my way out of the negative to find God.

It was easy for me to recognize and treasure God’s presence at the time of my husband Gordon’s death. There was a timeliness even in the untimeliness; there were many, many small and large mercies; there was a peace that passes understanding, and there was gratitude for the life of a good man.

It was not easy for me to recognize and treasure God’s presence at the time of my unborn twin grandaughters’ death. And yet, when I read what I wrote at the time and later, when I consider what it has led me to become, to value, to release, to feel, then I know that God was there – not in any way that I wanted, but there.

God is there with me no less in my anger with Her than in my peace with Her. And I treasure that immensely.

So I love God for the peace that She blessed me with in Gordon’s life and death and I hate God for taking the twins from us before we had a chance to be blessed by their lives. I love Her for the Scripture and I hate Her for how messed up She is allowing this world to be. I love Her for all She has blessed me with and I hate Her for what She has withheld from me.

And, most of all, I love that She is OK with all of that. She does not ask me to have a peace that I don’t have. She doesn’t ask me to accept quietly Madeleine and Lorien’s deaths. She doesn’t ask me to stop fighting against Her. I don’t have to accept without questioning or rest quietly in Her peace. I don’t have to believe in order to teach, or have a faith that moves mountains in order to love Her Scripture and the fellowship of Her people. I don’t have to feel blessed and confident in troubles and problems and disease. I can be angry and resentful and I can yell at God just like I used to yell at Gordon when I was mad and frustrated, and God will keep on loving me just like Gordon kept on loving me. And, just like I kept on loving Gordon even when I was totally angry and frustrated with him, I can keep on loving God even when I am totally angry and frustrated with Her. It’s a mystery, but love and hate, peace and frustration, gratitude and anger are not incompatible opposites with God – at least not to me.

This, to me, is the most miraculous of all miracles – more miraculous than the creation, incarnation, resurrection, trinity – that I can find God’s love for me when I hate Her as much as when I love Her. “This is love, not that we love God, but that He [She] first loved us.”

History Beautiful and Terrible

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“When you step on this, you are stepping on history,” Woody said as we left the small screen room he built to one side of their Bremo house. Of course when we sit in the screen room we are sitting within history since Woody built it entirely from reclaimed lumber, some from an 1815 barn. But that stone that we step on outside the entrance? That was part of a lock on Thomas Jefferson’s canal that ran from Richmond to Lynchburg before the railroad filled it in and built the railroad line there.

And I stand on this stone, almost certainly put in its original place by enslaved people, as I leave the room timbered with beams almost certainly put in their original place by enslaved people.