The Two Trees

The Rev’d. Dr. Joanna Collicutt reflects on the stark visual juxtaposition of Christ crucified next to the hanging Judas, depicted in the Fifth Century Maskell Ivory. 

 

 

On 7th February I was part of a panel invited to reflect on an image from the Imagining the Divine exhibition currently taking place at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The exhibition contains artefacts from what it refers to as the ‘Five great world religions plus paganism’ (a contentious notion in itself, but not the subject of this blog piece).

 

Maskell Ivory

The Maskell Ivory (c.420-30 CE), probably originating in Rome.

Ivory, Height 7.5 cm, British Museum.

 

I chose this tiny and exquisitely carved panel that was originally part of a box whose sides depict incidents from the life of Christ. This has a claim to be the earliest surviving depiction of the crucifixion and is therefore hugely significant in the history of Christian art. In fact there are very few surviving depictions of the crucifixion from the first millennium at all, and we should ask ourselves why this is. For an intriguing account take a look at Rita Nakashima Brock, and Rebecca Ann Parker’s 2008 book, Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire.

 

Perhaps the first thing one notices is that this is not the crucified Christ with whom we are so familiar from mediaeval art – an agonised, contorted, dying or – more usually – already dead victim full of pathos. Instead we are faced with a victorious Christ, very much alive, even perhaps smiling, standing erect with eyes and arms wide open as if to welcome all comers, ready to fly off the cross.

 

There is lots here that is reminiscent of John’s account of the death of Christ; the emphasis on glory, the presence of the Mother of Jesus and the Beloved Disciple, and the Roman Soldier (known in later tradition as Longinus) who inserts a spear into Jesus’ side. Yet, like a Gospel harmony, we also find Judas’ suicide as told by Matthew, complete with the thirty silver pieces, and the completely charming detail of the birds of the air nesting in the branches of the tree from which he hangs, surely alluding to the story of the mustard seed from Mark and Matthew.

 

This would have been an image used for personal devotion and, like the texts and traditions that inspired it, it is not simply telling a story; it makes demands on the viewer. These are intensified, literally thrown into relief, by the three dimensional nature of this artefact that dissolves the threshold between the world of the viewer and the scene depicted. The figures move out towards towards the viewer, who in turn is drawn towards them.

 

And what does she find?  The juxtaposition of the death of Judas and the death of Jesus is highly unusual in Christian art and it should tell us something. It reminded me of the opening verses of that early Christian text, the Didache: ‘There are two ways: one of life and one of death.’ The cross is the tree of life in which all may come and find a place, but it is the tree of death for those who, like Judas, don’t ‘get’ Jesus. Judas is dead, defeated, flaccid, and crucially alone. Jesus is alive, victorious, erect, and crucially surrounded by his loved ones (Jews) and one who in the tradition becomes a faithful witness to his death (a gentile).

 

The viewer is faced with the fact that the cross presents a moral and existential demand to make a life and death choice, a repeated choice that must be made daily.

 

Personally, I find yet more in this image. I find a visual way of making sense and making real that very difficult but important verse from Paul’s letter to the Galatians: ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us; for it is written ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’. There is something here about God’s transformation of guilt, shame, and death in Christ that is communicated better visually than in words.

 

But there is also hope. Is Christ reaching out to that tragic figure on the tree? Is this the moment that the gibbet is brought to life? Is Jesus’ touch transforming even this, the loneliest and most desperate of places?

 

The Testament of Mary

The Testament of Mary

 

Tim Middleton reflects on the tangible, immersed experience of Christ incarnate, and that of his mother Mary, and the challenge of meeting God in the pain and truth of life on earth. 

 

‘Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead, and buried’—the Apostles’ Creed puts it all very succinctly. If you’re in church on a Sunday, this terse summary of the key moments in the life of Jesus is sometimes all you get. But Colm Tóibín’s play (and subsequent novella) The Testament of Mary includes rather more.

Mary the mother of Jesus has been the focus of Christian adoration for centuries and we’ve inherited a tradition replete with images. When people talk of Marian devotion, one might hear the haunting opening of Arvo Pärt’s setting of the Stabat Mater, a sorrowful hymn to Mary. Or one might conjure to mind the exquisite marble of Michelangelo’s Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. According to tradition, and indeed much of our greatest sacred art and music, Mary is serene, obliging, self-sacrificing and God-fearing.

But what if you had been the mother of Jesus? What if you had been at the foot of the cross when your own son was crucified? What if you were thoroughly exhausted by everybody else trying to re-interpret what the life of your son meant?

It’s not necessarily easy to read: Tóibín’s book can disturb, upset and provoke. In places it is anachronistic, chronologically disjointed or in direct contradiction with what you find in the Bible. For me, though, to be concerned by this is to miss the point. What I have gradually come to realise is that, by definition, there has to be something very gritty about the incarnation. I used to be very bothered by the idea that Jesus only came at one time and in one place—the so-called scandal of particularity. How could a supposedly universal God be as thoughtless as to not give us easy, universal access? But I have come to appreciate that the messy, historically contingent way in which God came to Earth is not a weakness but a strength—in fact, it is taking the notion that God became fully human very seriously indeed. The human condition is messy, and so the life of Jesus must also have been messy. What’s more, each of us views life through our own subjective prism: parts of life are unfair, parts of life don’t work out in the way we had hoped, and for much of our lives we are dependent on other people for support and happiness.

So what would all of this have looked like through Mary’s eyes? It might well have been baffling. The crucifixion might well have been so dangerous and terrifying that she decided to flee. And, in an echo of Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, it may well have felt like the whole thing just wasn’t worth the pain and anguish. Our abstract, creedal formulas have a certain place, but it is only in gritty, lived experience that we fully grasp the reality of things. Perhaps it was all rather tougher for Mary than we are sometimes led to believe.

God of Restoration and Repair

Rev’d. Caitlin Carmichael-Davis reflects on the resurrection life in Christ through the poetry of Philip Larkin, the scripture of Isaiah, the prose of Marilynne Robinson, and the paintings of Stanley Spencer. 

 

I was once told that you don’t get back what you lose. Lost is lost. Your childhood, your children’s childhood, those who have died, those long summer days of happy completeness before the photographs become pain.  Life is a process of learning how to lose, as life shrinks and reduces and more and more is lost and disappears.

 

Truly, though our element is time,

We are not suited to the long perspectives

Open at each instant of our lives.

They link us to our losses: worse,

They show us what we have as it once was,

Blindingly undiminished, just as though

By acting differently, we could have kept it so.

Phillip Larkin, Reference Back

 

If this is the lesson life teaches us, it seems unlikely that the afterlife will be about getting things back. Lost is lost. Our resurrection, our heaven, will be something new.

 

Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?.

Isaiah 43.19

 

Yes, I thought, that seems true. Christianity cannot be about making those holiday photographs complete again, those Christmas tables whole. If being ordained has taught me anything it is this — sorrow is weaved into the very fabric of our lives. Under the cheerful ordinariness of Sunday morning coffee, grief lurks unspoken. That wish could easily become the whole of one’s religion. Some sort of destructive spiritualism, a religion of the dead.

 

So I lived for many years with a sketchy, figurative, amorphous vision of the afterlife, a non-interventionist God, an ephemeral Jesus. Christianity was difficult to grasp, I said. Part of its very strength is its shifting oddness.

 

And then I read this:

 

“Memory is the sense of loss, and loss pulls us after it. God Himself was pulled after us into the vortex we made when we fell, or so the story goes. And while He was on earth He mended families. He gave Lazarus back to his mother, and to the centurion he gave his daughter again. He even restored the severed ear of the soldier who came to arrest him — a fact that allows us to hope the resurrection will reflect a considerable attention to detail. Yet this was no more than tinkering. Being man He felt the pull of death, and being God He must have wondered more than we do what it would be like. He is known to have walked upon water, but He was not born to drown. And when He did die it was sad — such a young man, so full of promise, and His mother wept and His friends could not believe the loss, and the story spread everywhere and the mourning would not be comforted, until He was so sharply lacked and so powerfully remembered that his friends felt Him beside them as they walked along the road, and saw someone cooking fish on the shore and knew it to be Him, and sat down to supper with Him, all wounded as He was. There is so little to remember of anyone — an anecdote, a conversation at table. But every memory is turned over and over again, every word, however chance, written in the heart in the hope that memory will fulfill itself, and become flesh, and that the wanderers will find a way home, and the perished, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming, habitual fondness, not having meant to keep us waiting long.

Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

 

There is an oddness, of course, to all these stories. Those distant words “Talitha koum!”, the Jesus who passes through walls and disappears at will. And yet, distracted by strangeness, I’d missed the consistency and the domesticity. While Jesus was on Earth he mended families, resurrected he returned to eat supper with his friends.

 

Memory is part of resurrection — part of a God who is greatly moved, greatly troubled, groaning inside at our grief for those we have lost. Restoration of our relationships is part of resurrection — Thomas’s doubts and Peter’s denials healed by the energy of God’s love. In so many of the stories, incomplete tables are made whole —Jesus returns to eat, to fill the space and the loss and the memory he had left.

 

And if the raising of the widow’s son, the centurion’s daughter, Martha’s brother describes Jesus’s resurrection, and Jesus’s resurrection describes our own, then this will be a resurrection of domesticity and relationship. These are stories which endow the small importance of our homes, lives and memories with all the power and wonder and oddness of this God of undefeatable life. Judaism had always understood the power of memory to create reality, that memory and loss have a creative as well as a destructive power. In these stories that intimation reaches its fulfilment. For out of memory and death God brings into being wholeness and life.

 

spencer - reunion

Stanley Spencer, Reunion of Families

This is what Stanley Spencer showed in his Resurrection paintings. There is a physicality of joy and hope and reunion, Jairus’s daughter become real for all creation. The promise of that distant, chaotic, heat filled day is heard in the familiar greenness of the Oxfordshire countryside, “Talitha koum!”. The beautiful strangeness and physical domesticity of resurrection suddenly visible.

 

As I stand, hand resting on a coffin, commending the departed to God, I believe “That memory will fulfill itself, that the missing, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming, habitual fondness, not having meant to keep us waiting long”. That our God is a God of restoration and repair. That the lost will be found.

 

 

God’s Own Country: Learning a Language of Grace

Through the film ‘God’s Own Country’ (available online here), Andrew Bennison reflects on grace, speech and Christian life.

 

God’s Own Country (2017) is not, despite the title, an overtly religious film. Set on a struggling farm in the Pennines, it is a captivating story of loneliness turned into intimacy, played out against the backdrop of the rugged Yorkshire landscape. Twenty-something Johnny (Josh O’Connor) is the disaffected protagonist, shouldering the burden of running the farm following his father’s stroke, under the tight-lipped scrutiny of his grandmother. It’s an unforgiving way of life. Conversation in the farmhouse is clipped and economical: blunt Yorkshire idioms disclose a stoic resignation to life’s hardships and disappointments. For Johnny, escape takes the form of oblivion: binge-drinking and anonymous sex.

Into this world comes Romanian worker Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), hired to help Johnny with the lambing season. Soft-eyed and pensive, Gheorghe brings a tenderness to the task which unsettles Johnny, who responds with a mixture of aggression and attraction. Their first sexual encounter is rough, urgent and wordless. But as the tenderness which Gheorghe shows to the animals is patiently held out to Johnny, a relationship develops in which Johnny becomes haltingly yet visibly alive. Like the new-born lambs taking their first fragile breaths, we see Johnny being awakened from the deadening effects of loneliness and monotony, both tentative and giddy in his new surroundings. As his father suffers another stroke and the family’s situation becomes even more precarious, Johnny discovers that he needs Gheorghe – a need that runs much deeper than merely keeping the farm afloat. Johnny’s struggle to voice this need marks the climax of the film, and it is only the risk of losing Gheorghe forever that brings him finally to admit it.

Above all, it strikes me that God’s Own Country is a story about learning to speak. The central irony is that the person who finds a voice is Johnny – the one who, initially, wields his coarse Yorkshire dialect as a weapon, defensively charged with xenophobia and machismo. It is Gheorghe, the outsider and non-native English speaker, who teaches Johnny how to speak. A further irony is that Gheorghe teaches Johnny mainly through silence. Through his searching and steady gaze, he coaxes Johnny to new depths of honesty. With his body, he patiently shows Johnny a new way of communicating, shaping his lust into tenderness, aggression into vulnerability, and fear into trust. The few words he says are simple but penetrating, often capturing a truth that Johnny has yet to articulate: ‘It’s beautiful here, but lonely, no?’  Through Johnny, he teaches the whole family a new language of honesty and truthfulness. In a poignant scene, Johnny washes his father in the bath after his second stroke, applying the sponge with a new-found gentleness and attention. His father touches his hand and says simply but meaningfully: ‘Thank you’.

Christian faith involves, I think, a whole series of new discoveries. Principal among them is the task of learning a new language – a new way of speaking shaped by grace, and shorn of fear and self-assertion. Often this may involve very few words, relying instead on habits of touch, attention and hospitality. In such ways, our ‘speaking’ (in a broad sense) becomes genuinely sacramental: a conduct of grace through which God can teach others the same language. This mutuality is reflected, I think, in St Paul’s words to the Corinthians: ‘We have spoken frankly to you; our heart is wide open to you. In return, open wide your hearts also’. (2 Cor. 6.11-13).

The challenge, of course, is that in this new way of speaking, someone has to speak first. Watching God’s Own Country, I found myself reflecting on my own experience of ‘coming out’ last year. The gift of a new-found honesty about myself was the opportunity it provided for speaking a new language, a language of truthfulness, and giving others the permission to do the same. The difficult thing is that very few people will begin the conversation. You have to risk speaking in a way that others might find strange and threatening. And you have to risk speaking first.

In God’s Own Country, Gheorghe speaks love into the life of Johnny. He speaks attentively, silently perceiving Johnny’s hidden pain. He speaks with courage, patiently enduring the risk of rejection. Above all, he speaks with grace – he makes it possible for Johnny to find his own voice. The film left me wondering how Gheorghe learnt to speak this language of grace, and how, in my own life, I might learn to speak it too.

 

Eva’s Call

Alice Watson reflects on the origins and creation of the community artwork ‘Eva’s Call,’ which arose from the communal lament of the prejudices faced by women responding to God’s call into ordained vocational ministry. 

The reflection is followed by further photographs of the artwork, and a sample of some of the things said to women clergy and ordinands. 

Image - Rosie Homer - 1.jpg

Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion!  Put on your beautiful garments.

Isaiah 52:1

The community piece of art which has come to be known as ‘Eva’s Call’ is a response to the ‘Nevertheless She Persisted’ movement which highlights female resistance and power against a backdrop of societal expectations of how a ‘woman’ or ‘girl’ should act.  The piece celebrates both the persistence of God’s call, and that of those who respond and follow.

It is based upon the lived experiences of ordained and ordinand women drawn from both within the Cuddesdon community and from wider groups of women, accessed through social media.  The response was overwhelming: each word you read has been said to or about women, and is reported without exaggeration or editing.  The central idea was to take these experiences and to transfigure them, through prayer and resistance.  Looking directly at institutional, and institutionalised sin, it responds in grace, seeking to transform structures and not participating within them.

Over three days, the college community was invited to come together to pray, to create, to transform, and to dream of a better world.  Candles were lit, cake was eaten, and people, from all walks of college life came by to share their stories, to think, and to produce the joy and lament that is evident within the work. We wove our stories, our tears and our laughter with those which we were given.

In a year which has both celebrated 100 years of the beginning of equal voting rights for women, 25 years of the ordination of women to the priesthood, and when the abuse, harassment, and subjugation of woman has been so visible, we worked conscious of our position of privilege as those able to live out their faith and their calling affirmed and supported.

On a personal note, this piece represents a decision and a challenge – to live out a vocation in a world which so often seems at odds with both conviction and Gospel.  It represents a desire to create a cultural memory, a knowledge and a strength, to sing our own Magnificat, and to suggest that this sin, whatever face it wears, is not OK.

Alice Watson

 Lent 2018

Image - Alice Watson

Image - Rosie Homer - 11

What course is your husband studying?

Do you know what St Paul says about women preaching?

I can’t debate things with you, you get too upset.

Irrational.

Ice-queen.

One of those silly feminists.

Keep away from those silly feminists.

Breastfeeding and hormonal.

Is your husband interested in theology?

LIBERAL. CHRISTIAN. SLUT.

That’s not the sort of language you expect from a lady vicar.

Should a lady vicar be wearing that?

How attractive should a female priest be?

(serving tea) I always knew you were a deacon at heart.

The problem is, you just seem to dominate the room. You just seem to be the focus of everyone’s attention.

Women only get through BAP to fill quotas.  Similar standard men wouldn’t be accepted.

You’re wearing too much makeup, you look unprofessional.

You’re not wearing enough makeup, you look unprofessional.

You’re only here because you’re a woman under 40.

Let the lady speak.

Will you ever feel equal to men?

Silencer.

Oppressor.

A rose between two thorns

You just haven’t found the right man.

Will people take you seriously?

Girlish voice.

Should you be wearing that?

Should you be seen to be going to the pub?

Let me explain…

I bet the children like you.

Oh we’ve got the girls this morning.

We’re just not used to priests in high heels.

I worry about the men with all these women priests.

Not conclusive to mutual flourishing.

Is your husband training for ministry?

What will you do with your children?

Are you presiding today? If so I am leaving.

You’re pregnant? Oh, that’s going to be difficult.

So, your husband will look after the children? We can treat you like a man then.

Needs time to discern if true vocation is to motherhood.

Of course we talked about whether you were going to have children at PCC before you came.

Gosh, three women on a team??? How will that work? Poor xxx, being the only bloke.

I can’t stand up here in front of Almighty God with you.

Who is going to look after your child while you do your training?

Why do we waste old ladies’ heating money training people like you?  You’ll get pregnant and it’ll all be for nothing.

Isn’t your husband ashamed that you didn’t put his vocation first?

Your poor children.  They’ll hate church because you neglect them, and then it’s your fault they’ll go to hell.

You need to give me the dates of your periods so I know when not to take communion.

The vicar’s wife always…

But why won’t you join the clergy wives group?

You naughty girl.

You’re authoritarian.

YOU WILL BURN IN HELL YOU F**KING C**T.

Women should not be priests.

Well we don’t want two women.

Some women vicars are very good.

I think it’s a case that men are not being faithful to God’s call, so he’s had to call women, even if they aren’t his first choice.

You’ve ruined my worship.

Sometimes ordained women are a bad thing.

But we don’t want a matriarchy.

Using female language for God demeans Him.

Nice jugs.

Well, I’ve never heard any of these things said…

If we call priests Father, what will we call the women?!

How are you going to cope without a husband?

You’re damaging to the gospel.

So is this a surrogate marriage?

But you would have been such a good mum.

Does this mean you can’t have children?

What if you have another baby?

How can you possibly do this when you’re a wife and a mother?

How will that work with the children?

Is your husband a priest too?

You must be so busy with the children.

Are you the vicar of Dibley?

Make sure you don’t get a married woman with children next time we have a curate.

What’s that f**king bitch doing here?

Are you automatically a vicar because your husband is?

Well at least you’re good looking.

Is your husband ordained too?

You scrub up alright.

Your family will hold you back.

Obviously the advert has all the equal ops guff but students need someone to look up to, not a girlfriend or mother.

Good girl.

They’ll never put you forward for training.

You don’t look like the normal sort of vicar.

What about your family?

You’re throwing it all away.

Who will cook tea for your family if you’re not at home?

Your husband cooks? Aren’t you lucky.

If all vicars were as pretty as you, churches would be bursting at the seams.

Should you have this many tattoos and be a priest?

The congregation were just being kind with their positive feedback.

Jesus was a man.

Jesus only called men.

I can never hear you, your voice is too high.

You’ve lowered the tone in your voice, that’s much better!

Smile, it might never happen.

You just have to stand there looking beautiful.

I’ve never seen a woman priest who looked, well, like you.

You poor dear, you’ve taken on a lot.

Women aren’t meant to be ministers. It’s in the bible – look it up!

I believe every word of the bible.

Yes but you aren’t really the vicar, are you?

I don’t want to deliberately hurt your feelings.

My amazing friends can’t find a job because they won’t share an altar with a woman.

I don’t want to upset your feelings.

She’s very strident.

The best candidate will undoubtedly be a man.

We don’t feel it’s appropriate for a woman to be the vicar.

I didn’t put you on the rota because I assumed you’d still be breastfeeding.

We were warned we might be landed with a woman.

I can see why this church is growing. It’s got a sexy vicar.

That bloody woman.

Not very inclusive.

I spoke to your husband about it, to check it was ok with him.

Are you the strippergram?

What should we call your husband?

We already have a female vicar, we’d have rather had a male curate.

You won’t be so committed once you have the baby.

Abomination.

Oh good, you’re easy on the eye.

But I thought you wanted to have kids?

Oh you’re going to theological college to get married.

It’s a shame. When they let women do something the men stop.

That’s nice dear.

You won’t be presiding at communion while you’re on your period will you?

I mean you’re still going to be a youth worker right? Not a proper vicar.

Have you prayed about becoming a vicar?

Good for you.  I’d never want to have a female vicar.  But good for you.

This pathway would be unsuitable for you, being a mother of a small child.

It’s just not right is it? It’s like the women are taking over.

I’m sure God will call the best man.

Calling God She just isn’t inclusive.

It’s not that I don’t like women preaching, it’s just that their voices are too shrill.

What are you going to do after you ‘graduate’?

The lady leading the service.

So your husband must be the new curate then?

Oh you’re still breastfeeding, how will that work?

Oh no, they won’t accept your kind there.

I don’t think you have a chance!

All these women, it’s just the Church capitulating to culture.

You shouldn’t put your hair up, it makes you look unfriendly.

You must tie your hair up to preside, it makes you look more neutral.

Of course, you’ll be much more pastoral because you’re a woman.

Who is looking after your children?

Make sure you’re discreet when you feed your baby in church.

Good girl.

Where are your children? We never see them.

Your daughter looks so unhappy.

Where is your husband?

I think you will find ministry is incompatible with your duties as a wife and mother, my dear.

I can’t receive communion from someone who paints their nails.

We can’t confide in you, you’re too young.

Not bad for a woman.

You must promise not to have children whilst you’re here.

Your miscarriage is probably a blessing given your job.

You are paid to be here 100% for us, not for your children.

We all really love you, agape of course, but a bit of eros too – wink wink.

You should do something about your eyebrows.

Are you old enough?

Of course it helps that you’re easy on the eye.

Too obsessed with preaching on women in the bible.

I bet you’ve got suspenders on under that cassock.

But what about your family?

Aren’t you lucky your husband is letting you do this.

God doesn’t change so your call must be from the other one.

Have you thought about what earrings you wear to lead worship and whether they could be distracting?

You intimidate other women.

When you are ordained priest I won’t be able to worship here any more.

Intimidating.

How are we supposed to concentrate on the service when we are distracted by your outfit?

We would have asked you, but we assumed you were busy with the children.

But your husband has worked so hard to get to where he is, it’ll all go to waste!

Here comes the coven!

You’ve ruined the Church of England.

Is there a male priest here?

But who will men go to if they have a problem?

We don’t want another female, it’ll upset the hen house.

Oh I do prefer women in skirts.

But you’re pregnant.

Are you going to get a lesbian haircut then?!

You’re going to be far too emotional if you get rejected from BAP, so it’s in your best interests to not be put forward

Wear your hair in a ponytail, you’ll be more attractive when talking to the young men.

The Whore of Babylon.

Satan’s Little Helper.

Where are your children then?

Is your husband here?

Does this mean you can’t get married?

I bet you can’t wait to have children.

Are you a children’s worker?

I didn’t’ recognise you without your children.

“Can everyone hear me?” No and we don’t want to.

Satan’s Whore

Daughter of Satan.

You’ve had a miscarriage, this vocation is just a surrogate child.

You’ve got a young child, now’s not a good time to train.

Are you in fancy dress?

I want my priest to be someone I get moral instruction from, not someone I wish to copulate with.

You’re very brave.

Our lovely little lady vicar.

You might have to work on your voice, as women’s voices can be shrill and unpleasant to listen to.

Keep wearing those skirts and batting your eyelids at the Bishop and you’ll not have to worry about your career.

Can we speak to your husband?

A woman who thinks she is a priest is like a whore trying to attend a cocktail party.  No one is fooled.

Well if she can’t preach, at least she’ll be nice to look at.

Now then, are you going to listen to the men in the room?

When’s all this women stuff going to be over and done with?

I am ashamed of you.

Oh, you’ve been a busy little girl, haven’t you?

You’ve misheard God.

Vicarette.

She’s the four F’s of women’s ministry: Fat, Female, Forty, and Thick.

I’m not being told what to do by a slip of a girl!

You have desecrated this cathedral.

We shall have to find another church, we could never worship somewhere led by a woman.

Nice to see the girls leading the service today.

Not really leadership material.

That skirt is unfair to your brothers in Christ.

You’re just too emotional.

God’s Plan B.

Intimidating.

If priests had looked like you when I was a lad, I might have gone to church!

I don’t believe in women priests.

I don’t take communion from you.

It’s nothing against you.

I don’t think we should have been given someone who will just go off and have babies.

Is your husband babysitting tonight?

Well that wasn’t bad for a little girl.

Do the gentlemanly thing and just resign.

A disaster.

Oh he loved women, in the kitchen and the bedroom, but not in positions of leadership and he’d really not want a woman doing his funeral.

Good girl.

Even more gorgeous than her photos.

Are you wearing mascara?

I’d have come to church if I’d known you’d looked like this.

I wish all churches had someone as good looking at you.

There’s plenty of work you can do without being a priest.

Stay in your lane.

Don’t you love God? He wouldn’t call you because you’re a woman.

Our party girl.

You’re doing the work of the devil.

You’re just a pseudo-priest.

SPAWN OF SATAN.

I believe women should be nuns and nurses, not priests and doctors.

I just get such a maternal vibe looking at her.

*Spat in face* during procession.

A good fundraising idea – come to church to ogle the vicar.

You have a husband and two young children, isn’t that enough?

I won’t be able to take communion because you’re a woman, what are you going to do to accommodate me?

You probably won’t like this question but I need to know what kind of priest you are – did you lose your virginity before you got married?

I’ll put a list up of dates you’re presiding so people know when it’s safe to attend.

I can’t see you doing this, but I could see your husband as a vicar.  The calling must be for him.

I didn’t listen to the first few minutes of your sermon because you’re a woman.  Actually, you were quite good.

You have a young child, you don’t have time to train.

So who does the cooking in your house?

Of course I can’t take communion from you.

You need to have a family before you get ordained.

Of course, you’ll only be able to minister to other women and children.

You’ll need to apply for churches that men wouldn’t want to apply for.

Ooh if only I was 10 years younger.

I’m coming back to church, just to get you out!

There’s no sexism in the Church.

All women ministers should sign to say they won’t get pregnant whilst in their post.

So you’ll be able to bake cakes and preach about it.

As your brother in Christ I am obliged to encourage you to re-consider taking a pastor / teacher role in the church as it is clearly prohibited in God’s word.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not in any way patronising you.

I can’t see how the creator God would call you for something that He is against.

You say that God is not against women in leadership, so why was man created head?

Your pregnancy is bloody inconvenient.

You are the Mother of Satan

Are you planning on having more children because that could make training difficult?

You have a much nicer arse than that other female priest.  She has better tits though.

Cleavage in a cassock.

But what about your family?

Don’t your children miss you?

Yes, sweetheart.

She’s on her hobby horse again.

Do you think that this vocation is instead of a child?

Where do you intend to dump your children when taking services?

Your role is clearly to be with your children so we won’t be looking at stipendiary ministry.

You’re damaging your children.

Has the girl finished talking yet?

Where can I go to find a proper priest at Christmas?

Don’t go to the joint Good Friday service, someone pretending to be a priest will be leading it.

How dare you dress up as a man.

They’ve had two young females out of curacy, and now they’re looking for a mature man who will suit them better.

Is this the girls’ table?

Your husband is so brave!

Priestess.

I never really saw you as the leadership type.

Is your husband ordained as well?

Is that fancy dress?

To celebrate women’s episcopacy is triumphalist.

Why is someone so pretty going to be a vicar?

You’re too young to be a priest, and you’re a woman.

You’re far too pretty to be a vicar.

Hello, are you a strippergram?!

How will you manage the housework?

Where’s my kiss before you go?

Do you want to practise slamming the door in case you can’t manage it?

If you really knew your bible and were a proper Christian you would know that women can’t be priests.

Its good you’ve found something proper to do now the children have left home.

And what will you do for support if God doesn’t give you a husband?

Blonde vicar with a cracking rack.

Can you ask them to make sure we get a man next time?

Ha, well you would love beaver wouldn’t you…

You are the Devil’s gateway!

I don’t accept the patriarchal narrative.

Don’t worry, we’ll do everything possible to keep a pretty little thing like you in the diocese.

Now, the question is sex, that’s not how much you would like, but whether you’re male or female.

Do you mind if I touch your hair? It’s irresistible.

The Gypsy Nun

A translation of Federico García Lorca’s ‘La Monja Gitana’ and reflection by Lyndon Webb

La Monja Gitana

Silencio de cal y mirto.
Malvas en las hierbas finas.
La monja borda alhelíes
sobre una tela pajiza.
Vuelan en la araña gris,
siete pájaros del prisma.
La iglesia gruñe a lo lejos
como un oso panza arriba.
¡Qué bien borda! ¡Con qué gracia!
Sobre la tela pajiza,
ella quisiera bordar
flores de su fantasía.
¡Qué girasol! ¡Qué magnolia
de lentejuelas y cintas!
¡Qué azafranes y qué lunas,
en el mantel de la misa!
Cinco toronjas se endulzan
en la cercana cocina.
Las cinco llagas de Cristo
cortadas en Almería.
Por los ojos de la monja
galopan dos caballistas.
Un rumor último y sordo
le despega la camisa,
y al mirar nubes y montes
en las yertas lejanías,
se quiebra su corazón
de azúcar y yerbaluisa.
¡Oh!, qué llanura empinada
con veinte soles arriba.
¡Qué ríos puestos de pie
vislumbra su fantasía!
Pero sigue con sus flores,
mientras que de pie, en la brisa,
la luz juega el ajedrez
alto de la celosía.

The Gypsy Nun

Silence of lime-wash and myrtle.
Mallows among the culinary herbs.
The nun embroiders wallflowers
on cloth the colour of straw.
Within the grey spider soar
seven birds of the prism.
The church groans in the distance
like a bear, paunch to the sky.
How well she sews! Such grace!
Across the straw-coloured web,
she longs to embroider
the flowers from her dreams.
O sunflower! O magnolia
of sequins and ribbons!
O crocuses and moons,
for the altar cloth!
Five grapefruits are ripening
in the nearby kitchen.
The five wounds of Christ
cut in Almería.
Before the nun’s eyes
two horsemen gallop by.
A soft and final whisper
slips off her blouse,
and seeing clouds and mountains
in the rigid distance,
it breaks her heart
of sugar and lemon verbena.
Oh! the soaring plains
with twenty suns overhead.
What rivers begin to run
in her dreams!
But she continues with her flowers,
whilst standing overhead, in the breeze,
the light plays the high
chess of the trellis.

Federico García Lorca, 1928
from the ‘Romancero Gitano’ (Gypsy Ballads)

 

Training for ordination during LBGT history month and the current political climate, Lorca’s voice speaks with a particular freshness, and an unsettling urgency. His nun is unaware of the nationalism which will sweep over Spain in the coming decade, drawing the country as tightly behind the Pyrenees as she is drawn behind the lime-washed walls of the monastery. Already she feels the repression of her gypsy heritage, a common mallow among the ‘fines herbes’ of the other nuns. That repression will tighten and tighten under Franco, whose regime will murder Lorca in less than ten years for being too colourful himself. He was executed in 1936 at the ‘Great Spring’ for ‘homosexual and abnormal practices’.

 

As he stood in that final place, I wonder whether Lorca thought of the rivers which sprung up at his gypsy nun’s feet as she too dreamt of a more colourful world; I wonder whether some church stood idle nearby, paunch to the sky; I wonder whether he thought of the outrageous cerise of grapefruits, and the wounds of Christ, another man too colourful for his climate. I hope the church of the day had not whitewashed Christ into one more oppressive figure at that moment; I hope in the crucified and risen one, Lorca saw a friend for the seven bright birds of his indecent imagination, which dared to remind Spain about the earth and sex and the strength of women – who invariably take centre stage in his works, alongside men of the fields and the road, in protest against the fragile masculinities of Francoist Spain.

 

I look forward to being sent out of this place, in the name of the indecent Christ, Son of the Creator who dared to embroider the flowers of Her dreams across the straw-coloured earth; I can’t wait to call out the colours in other people’s lives.

 

gypsy