Friday, March 09, 2007

The Women Are A' Gane Wud

Here's a blast from the past: Mary Malone is in town, promoting a new book. I remember reading about her in Anne Roche Muggeridge's "The Desolate City", and she was "a former nun" even then. Must be a bit of a downer when your principle claim to fame for over 20 years is that you failed in your first career choice.

Church needs to give women 'a public voice' or face collapse

ex-nun: Mary T. Malone says the female interpretation of Christianity has been suppressed for centuries, writes Jennifer Green.

Jennifer Green
The Ottawa Citizen

Friday, March 09, 2007

It was International Women's Day and not really any surprise to hear an internationally-recognized theologian and historian say the Catholic Church must include women more fully or fall apart.

The real attention-getter was the 12th century Christian mystic nun who compared the female orgasm and male erection.

Mary T. Malone, former chair of the the University of Waterloo's graduate department of religious studies, told an audience of about 500 at Saint Paul University yesterday that the female interpretation of Christianity has been suppressed for centuries, resulting in a badly abbreviated understanding of the faith.

The church still sees women as "wholly unnecessary to the understanding of Christianity," she said, pointing to the recent encyclical, or official letter, from Pope Benedict XVI that spoke about love without ever mentioning any women, except for Mother Teresa.
True, the first woman mentioned by name in 'Deus Caritas Est' is Mother Teresa, in paragraph 40. But Ms Malone must be like those hockey fans that start heading for the parking lot when there's still 5 minutes left to play in the game. Chapters 41 and 42 - the clinchers for the entire composition - are entirely devoted to the Virgin Mary, who, last I heard, was a woman. Or maybe only female orgasmics count in that category.

Ms. Malone, a former nun, and author of the three-volume reference book, Women and Christianity, discussed the explosion in Christian mysticism among women in the 12th to the 15th centuries, right at a time when many male theologians considered women less than human.

They also saw the body, especially women's bodies, as innately corrupt. Men were the spiritual ones, women were lustful and physical.
Except for that Virgin Mary, of course. Damn, she always comes along to screw up every handy stereotype!

The mystics saw no such division, seeing their bodies as conduits for grace. How could a human body be naturally bad, when, as the Bible says, "the word was made flesh" in Jesus? If anything, they saw the eucharist as the core symbol of female humanity.

"They felt like their bodies were godlike, that femaleness was godlike."
Ah, yes, the mystics. Those people nobody but seminary wonks have ever heard of. Those straight-down-the-middle orthodox thinkers Mrs. Schori is always recommending. Those folks.

Similarly, they did not see blood as a symbol of torture and death, as men did, but as life-giving. For them, it was a sign of the blood spilled at childbirth.
Were these brilliant mystics married women, any of them? Because in a time when childbirth was a dangerous, unhygienic, non-anaesthetized horror that you stood a very good chance of losing your life over, I'd say that the average woman going through labour would be pretty much in agreement with the view of those traditional male Catholic thinkers. They might even have taken some comfort in thinking of the pain and suffering of their Saviour, and related it to their own experience.

Their point of view caused great consternation among the bishops of the times, especially as they were not at all meek about their point of view.

One abbess refused to relinquish the body of a criminal who had taken sanctuary in her convent, even though the bishop said he would come in and dig it up himself.

She simply had her sisters muss up every grave in the convent's cemetery so he couldn't tell which body had recently been buried. Then she wrote him a letter in which she said, "You are wrong and we are right."
Then she slammed the door and rearranged the furniture and treated herself to a new pair of shoes.

She was excommunicated for her disobedience, but reinstated a few years later.
And even if she said she was sorry, SHE DIDN'T MEAN IT!

This tug of war between the sexes, and the church's deep distaste for the human body continues to this day.

Ms. Malone said in an earlier interview, "I am absolutely convinced that unless women begin to have a public voice, the Catholic Church will collapse."

"All of the big remaining controversies -- abortion, contraception, celibacy, homosexuality -- they all have to do with bodies," especially women's bodies.
Big remaining controversies? You mean, we're basically at the end of all controversy, and these are the only ones left to be settled? Funny how they all seem rather obsessively groinular in subject. I wonder if that's because humanity has really reached complete agreement on everything else, or because a few misfits have shrunk their world to a small, damp itch.

"Celibacy is a women's issue It's about women's bodies not being godlike and taking men away from God."
I think 'The Fox And The Grapes' applies here somehow, but I haven't quite figured out how.

Ms. Malone was also in Ottawa to promote her new book, Praying with the Women Mystics, a book of prayer-poems, one of which is entitled "Body Talk."

She said even today, nuns have formed new ways of worship, writing their own prayers, performing liturgical dance, decorating the sanctuary according to their own principles.

"It's like a parallel worship."

And does a priest or other authority ever come and tell them to stop?

"Oh, no, they wouldn't dare."

More than 10 years ago, Ms. Malone left the Catholic Church. "For me, it was clear: I can no longer worship or pray," she said at the time, "because of the language, and because it seemed so essential as the core of the tradition that God be male."

They were told that their femaleness was not godlike and what they did is found their femaleness as the core of their journey to God.

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4 Comments:

Blogger muerk said...

As a woman (married with four sons) it really, REALLY annoys me when I hear this flavor of rolicking trollopy balderdash!

Ooooh puh-lease save me from old ladies who are stuck in the sixties love-in mentality. I'm quite capable of making _my_ voice heard without being a priest. I do not need a bunch of ex-nuns and heretical virgin nuns to teach me how to embrace my womanly, fecund body and worship God too.

Argh. I don't need to be condescended to by stupid, ugly "inclusive" language because WOW, I'm bright enough to work out:

1. my place in the universe
2. "man" as a collective noun
3. God as Father, and Jesus as Bridegroom

Thank you for trying, but I want my ontological womanhood.

12:21 am  
Blogger Ellie M said...

Sigh! Why must it always be one extreme or the other? The Church MUST be a misogynistic, hidebound, rigidly patriarchal institution, or else it MUST be a neo-pagan, narcissistic, goddess-venerating temple of radical extremism.

How about a Church that neither hates women nor worships them? Is that really so much to ask?

1:15 pm  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

Only abnormal people can look at the Church and see this sort of cartoonish extreme. Normal people DO see it as a combination of female and male characteristics, valuing and using the strengths of both sexes where appropriate. Muerk correctly points out one of the chief characteristics of these agitators: they're OLD. Old men and women who haven't learned anything new in over 30 years, but are still deluded that they're "cutting edge" and new, instead of stale and over-the-hill. Young people today are too polite to point this out to them.

3:25 pm  
Blogger Phil said...

I took a course in Church History from Dr. Malone once. A very engaging and likeable woman. One wonders why it is any concern of hers what happens to the Roman Catholic Church with its "remaining" controversies, since she long ago deemed it unworthy of her membership.

11:34 pm  

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