Saturday, 22 November 2008

Defecting in place

A little while ago, I was re-reading A woman's journey to God by Joan Borysenko. I put it to the side because things were getting very busy, but I think it's time I picked it up again. She talks about church leavers and returnees and how women find their way in religion and spirituality - their anger at being trivialised, the walking away, the emptiness, the way they live what they believe.

It's a wonderful read, but one that can be very difficult, as it strikes so close to the bone. She also mentioned a book that I want to find called Defecting in place: women claiming responsibility for their own spiritual lives.

Which is exactly what I need to do.

I've never really felt spiritually at home in an organised religion. I've felt spiritually at home with people, or in certain places or at certain moments, but never in a religion. Not even in the one I chose for myself, knowing that I had some real disagreements with the pronouncements of the hierarchy.

But as I've said before, I need resistance and a good fight.

Over the last several years, that fight has centered around the Oratory. As I said to Yaqoob and another friend last night, the misogyny there is palpable, and dealing with the contempt that is dished out towards women on a daily basis is Chinese water torture. I told them that if you asked most of my friends, I'm seen as sensible, calm, the person who you'd want around when there's a problem. My exact quote to them was, "At the Oratory, it's like I have permanent PMT, I get so angry." You can't treat people like that and then complain when they turn on you. Actions, consequences.

Trying to make that point, I once told an Oratorian that a woman who played the organ for them noted how at Blackfriars, she was always thanked. The response? "You can't always be saying 'thank you' to people." I'm ashamed to admit that I bit my tongue then, though I wouldn't now. The correct answer to that would have been, "Yes, you can. It's called 'manners', and it is two little words - Thank. you. If you can do it when sycophants buy you guys drinks every Sunday because they want something, then you can do it when someone does something your liturgy depends upon."

There was always a part of me that wondered if it would have been an issue if it were a man. I thought I could answer that; maybe I really can't.

I was very involved at the O, then left for a while, and am now trying to come back a bit, namely because there are people I'm close to and because I like the odd bit of liturgy to frame my spirituality. All Souls', Christmas midnight mass and Easter Vigil resonate on levels that run through all traditions; they're archetypal and incredibly powerful. I'm not about to give those up.

And so, how to find the balance? Can I defect in place? Can I find a way, because as one of the women in Defecting in place says, "I am still a Catholic and I refuse to be driven away from the community I claim as home."

I think I have, in a lot of ways. Most of the time now, I sit at mass, completely detached, feeling like an anthropologist or a psychologist, as if I'm looking at a beautiful painting, curiously unmoved, remembering that it once DID move me deeply. And in rare moments, when the liturgy meets archetype and becomes something much bigger than itself, still does. There is the odd intercession after which my mouth remains firmly shut, because I cannot, in good conscience, pray for that; there are verses I can't sing because I can't lie anymore; there is the occasional response I won't make.

Or am I fooling myself, and in reality, is it just that my body is there and my soul has been long absent, finding its refreshment elsewhere?

I know I love there, so my soul must be present, even if only occasionally. What I do know is that it needs more depth than it has found.

Yes, I defect. Whether it is in place remains to be seen.


Anonymous said...

I am afraid to say that quite a lot of male religious can sometimes lack manners. Not all, mind you, and not all of the time.

My own experience as an organist in a Catholic parish (not in Oxford) was that I was very rarely thanked, and quite often criticised, sometimes thoughtlessly. So it is not just women who are sidelined, but if a man does not pass the 'Hyland' test, he too can get sidelined.

As for 'we cannot be saying thank-you the whole time'; whoever said that, as you say, needs to do an about turn with regards to manners and gratitude. It is a poor excuse, and CAN be done if the recipients of whatever service it is start to think about the service received. But oh dear, that would mean acknowledging other people's feelings and needs - and from there, they might have to think of women as having lives and needs and abilities etc...we know where that would end, don't we...

Ariel said...

I will never understand the difficulty in offering a simple 'thank-you' when it's deserved. Yes, to be fair, there are sometimes complicated personal circumstances, but those are exceptional.