Tuesday, October 03, 2006

"Jesus our Mother"

The Rev. Ann K. Fontaine, a supporter of The Episcopal Majority, is a priest in the Diocese of Wyoming. There she spends her Sundays driving across South Pass, where the Oregon Trail crosses the Continental Divide, to serve churches in Rock Springs and Eden, Wyoming. She is also President of the Standing Committee, EFM Trainer and Mentor for two online EFM groups, Deputy to General Convention (Lay 1985-91, Clergy 1997-2006), member of National Executive Council (1985-91), and author of Streams of Mercy: A Meditative Commentary on the Bible.

Recently there has been another upsurge in the discussion about our Presiding Bishop-elect and her use of the metaphor "Jesus our Mother" in her homily at the Closing Eucharist June 21 at General Convention. Most of the church, by now, knows the phrase comes from Julian of Norwich and others, especially those of the 14th century. It was a common image from that era that has recently come back into use. It is often paired with the image that Jesus uses in his Lament over Jerusalem where he likens himself to a mother hen gathering her chicks. As used in Katharine Jefferts Schori’s first sermon after her election, we were called to remember the blood, pain and sweat of the cross as the birth of our community. Some are very upset for a variety of reasons and are calling her a spewing heretic and seem to be demanding an apology for upsetting them.

Googling around, one can find several websites that tell of 100 names for Jesus or 144 names or some other number. Morning star, rock, vine, and bread are just a few. We know that Jesus is not really any of these objects. He is not (from the American Heritage Dictionary) “a self-luminous celestial body consisting of a mass of gas held together by its own gravity in which the energy generated by nuclear reactions in the interior is balanced by the outflow of energy to the surface, and the inward-directed gravitational forces are balanced by the outward-directed gas and radiation pressures.” Neither is Jesus a mixture of flour and water, nor a green plant with branches that entwine and produce grapes or zucchini. We know that there is some metaphorical meaning in these words that evokes a quality that we see in Jesus and which helps us see more deeply into our relationship with the Holy One.

I wonder, then, what is the cause of all this wringing of hands and accusations of heresy? What is it about the metaphor, "Jesus our mother," that evokes such strong feelings from both those who hate it and those who love it?

These are some reasons I have heard:
Protection of the “faith”
Guarding God from blasphemy
Loathing of the feminine
The image of birth, especially when we look top closely at the reality of the blood and pain, and see in it a miracle or a revolting image
A slippery slope towards goddess worship
Celebration of creation in God’s image, both male and female

What chord does this metaphor strike that is so deep as to evoke joy or revulsion? What does it say to you, if it says anything at all? Would you have reacted similarly if a man had used the same image?

This is a great opportunity to examine what is really “the faith” and what is cultural baggage, to examine how we hear the Holy One in our lives, and to open our hearts to listening to each other. Instead of looking for ways to tear down our Presiding Bishop-elect before she even begins her office, can we not give her our support and love as she takes up this most daunting position? We can offer our concerns in love and for the building up of the church, or we can tear one another to shreds. The choice is ours.

[Note: The topic of Bishop Jefferts Schori's reference to "Mother Jesus" continues to garner attacks and critiques from many aligned with the AAC/ACN. Another response – recommended by the Rev. Fontaine – is offered by the Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton.]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder how many who protest against KJS are men who see her election as a threat to their desire to conyinue the patriarchy that has controlled the church for so many centuries. There are too many men who still think women should be at home, barefoot and pregnant.

10/06/2006 11:35 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home