I was on retreat at Canterbury Cathedral in
The idea that systemic misogyny and androcentrism might be the actual sources of “disunity” in disputes over the ordination of women does not seem to occur to many people, even people who are in favor of progressive change and who fight local micro-battles with verve. And that “feminist” would be a noxious label to a woman who was a pioneer in breaking through a gender-related ecclesial barrier – I understand it (she’s rejecting the caricature of feminism that was current some decades ago among its detractors), but it deeply disheartens me. Now, I’m as mired in my own presuppositions and cultural constraints as the next person. But nevertheless, I am staggered by the wholesale deforming of women’s imaginations that has been perpetrated for millennia in androcentric cultures. What has been lost is incalculable.
I’m teaching a course this semester on the work of biblical theologian Walter Brueggemann. For years, Brueggemann has worked with the category of “imagination” as the spiritual faculty by means of which we experience transformation when we encounter the Word of God in Scripture or in preaching. The God whom Brueggemann sees in the Hebrew Scriptures is tumultuous, odd, and unruly. Regular encounters with this God can train our imaginations to become restless, unsettled from our habitual numbness and false assurances, open to radical new possibilities. Thinking of the ordination of that octogenarian Anglican deacon puts me in mind of this from Brueggemann’s The Threat of Life: Sermons on Pain, Power, and Weakness (Fortress, 1996, p. 86): “we are created and ordained for a deeper, more demanding restlessness. It is that other restlessness beyond virtue, so elusive and so urgent, that both satisfies us and places us in crisis.” I hope that all of us – whether 85 or 45 or 25, whether Episcopalian or Wiccan or atheist – can dare to enter that place of restlessness, and that we can bear the crisis of seeing with wide-open eyes the systems of oppression that have deformed our imaginations for so long.
Carolyn J. Sharp
Associate Professor of Hebrew Scriptures
Yale Divinity School