Presence and Praying for Peace

Two nights ago I attended a candlelight vigil, I had received a text message about it earlier in the day and knew only that a man had been beaten. The text cam from my husband who had heard about this through his volunteer/community ties. From the context of the message I received I suspected hate of some form had to with the beating. I did not have much to go on, but I was moved enough to go to the vigil, and to wear my vestments, although no one had asked me to.

When I arrived at the vigil it was a small gathering and this surprised me, but not for long. I soon found the “organizer” of the event and spoke with him. It turns out that the man who had been beaten, Jason, had been living in a local canyon and someone had beaten him in the head with a rock. No words were said at the vigil no statements made or prayers pronounced. Rather people stood around and talked quietly with others that they knew as they held candles, while Jason fought for his life in the hospital. Many the people gathered knew Jason, some were from the local GLBT community. It was simply a gathering of solidarity.

Shortly after I arrived I was approached by a man in a collar. Turns out this man who spoke with me was a gay Independent American Catholic priest who had left the Roman Catholic Church disheartened by what appeared to be the Catholic Church’s refusal or inability to protect victims of the sexual abuse scandal. The priest reported to me that he was there because he knew Jason; the priest explained that he had met Jason while teaching in the local community. Both the priest and I were there simply to show our solidarity with the victim of this senseless crime and his chosen family, as Jason lay in a hospital bed, reportedly, with a very poor prognosis. We were there to provide presence to those who had gathered; all those who had gathered had gathered to be present.

Later in the evening a group of people came out of the hospital and physically leaned on some of those who had gathered for the vigil. They were Jason’s chosen family. One of the women in this group spoke with me and thanked me for being there. I did not do anything, but I was there. It was a reminder for me of how powerful our simple presence can be for others in time of crises.

So what about the vestments? I thought about this, particularly as the media came in and took pictures of the gathering. It may seem presumptuous, and perhaps it could be seen as such. At moments I felt a bit odd standing there, holding a candle in my clergy robe. But it was not presumptuous. It was not presumptuous because in many ways this event was the parable of the good Samaritan made real in the contemporary context. Here was a man and his extended community in crises and of course it was the role of the clergy to stop and bear witness to the pain of the other in crises. I was not there to fix anything I could not do that. But I could bear witness.

That is not the only reason I was there, though. We live in a society of great violence and marginalization of the poor, the GLBT community, the disability community, those who live with mental illness, those who struggle with addiction or propensity toward violence, and anyone else who steps beyond our norms. The truth is I do not know if Jason belonged to any of these categories expect being poor–he was living in the canyon. I do know, however, that we can not continue to accept senseless and extreme violence toward others within our community and continue to consider our society civilized, period. So I wore my vestments to show that God is with all who suffer, and that the marginalized are noticed by the communities who seek to bring God into the world. I wore my vestments, and I was there silently witnessing the suffering senseless violence perpetrates on its victims and on the community around the victims of violence. I did not offer to pray and I was not asked to pray; Jason’s family told the reporter who covered the “story” they were praying for his recovery. It was a gathering of presence and silent prayer. My prayer was one of peace not only for Jason, but for the community immediately around him, and our larger community that has become so fractured that such violence can occur without community uproar but rather be noted on the evening news before we all tuck into bed for a brief night’s sleep. God help us all.
A photo of  Jason, a homeless man who was beaten in the head with a rock, a candlelight vigil held in his honor.

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A Feminist Eschatology

The following article was prepared for a seminary class in 2007.

Eschatology is the study of human thoughts concerning what is “last”; translated from the Greek, eschatology means study of the last (1). The question this raises for me is: the last what? Theologically speaking, eschatology is commonly thought to refer to culmination of history or the end of time. In Christianity, eschatology is often associated with the coming of God’s Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven, and the return of Christ. For religions that place emphasis on the historical patterns of time, such as the Abrahamic religions, eschatology can serve as a “hope [that] locates the ultimate achievement of the ideal in a final era of human history” (2). Ultimately, eschatology leads us to reflect upon what it is that we consider to be ideal, and perhaps essential to the human experience in relation to both the world in which we reside, and the divinity in which we live and have our being. The exploration I will seek to engage in this brief essay is how some feminist theologians approach this notion of eschatology. What are the last things that feminist theologians hope for? What, ultimately, do feminist theologies hope for?

Traditionally, eschatology has brought to mind the Battle of Armageddon, and the notion of some who are cosmically crowned by a heavenly king, while others are sentenced to eternal torture. These images themselves smack of patriarchy with all its war, hierarchy, and threats to non-conformers. Feminist theologians, starting from the ground of their own experience and carrying with them a commitment to non-hierarchical structures, have tended to view eschatology in a different light, and use a different vocabulary in reference to it. Justice is one word that seems common in feminist discussions and visions of the eschaton.

Building on a tradition that emphasizes history in its concept of world completion, Rosemary Radford Ruether draws an eschatological vision based on the jubilee notion found in the Jewish and Christian scriptures. She writes that “[i]n the Jubilee tradition this is thought of not as one ‘great cycle’ defining history from a beginning to an end but as a series of revolutionary transformations that continually return to certain starting points” (3). The idea of jubilee is that each family has possession of the land they need to provide for their means, and that individuals are free to benefit from the land. It is an idea that all have what they need to survive; this is the starting point to which justice returns in the world. An eschatological vision based on this would have to assume an ongoing process of justice in which injustices are righted and the necessary means of life restored to all persons on a regular basis. Ruether sees this “concept of social change as a conversion to the center, conversion to the earth and each other, rather than flight into an unrealizable future.” (4). It is ultimately justice among persons in community, and all the responsibility that entails, that Ruether advocates as an eschatological hope. It is a hope in which the ultimate meaning of humanity comes in the form of personal responsibility and a communal justice that encompasses all the earth. This is justice.

Justice—and the struggle for it—is also a primary (if not ultimate) goal for other feminist theologians. Judith Plaskow, as a Jewish feminist theologian, is even bolder in this pursuit writing of “the relationship between spirituality and politics as a theological issue” (5). The politics of which Plaskow speaks is social justice. The connection of politics and spirituality is paramount to Plaskow because drawing upon her Jewish tradition she reminds us “the prophets affirm that the forms of worship are meaningless in the absence of social justice” (6). Thus the Jewish tradition, and the Christian tradition that stands upon it, demands the not just the uplifting of but the reality of social justice as a prerequisite for worship. It is only through social justice that humanity can reach toward “new understandings of divinity” (7). Eschatology for Plaskow seems to be a reaching out for and bringing in those persons society marginalizes and considers to be “last.” This requires a political understanding and interaction with the world, because, “[w]hen spirituality is understood from a feminist perspective—not in otherworld terms, but as the fullness of our relationships with ourselves, others and God—it can not possibly be detached from the conditions of our existence.” (8).

Experience as the basis for the formation of theological and spiritual reflection is at the heart of Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz’s Mujerista Theology. Isasi-Diaz’s eschatology is one in which, like Plaskow’s, there is an expectation that the establishment of justice will also bring with it the establishment of the kin-dom (sic). She writes that “[t]he main obstacle to the unfolding of the kin-dom is the alienation from each other experienced by all in and through the oppressive societal categories and structures that cause and sustain oppression.” (9). Thus, the kin-dom exists when oppression is banished and liberation established. The eschatology here is, again, a function of human interactions. As a Latina, Iassi-Diaz not only writes her theology from a feminist perspective, but also from a perspective that seeks liberation, culturally from within and racially from without. In this effort to organize for the liberation of the poor, of women, and of Latinas/os, Isasi-Diaz’s theology puts emphasis on the practical steps of how to build a community that will bring about the kin-dom. Such practicality is based on her emphasis that change will only begin when the oppressed achieve “conscientization” (10) of their situation and the oppressors are able to find their way to being in dialogical solidarity (11) and mutuality in which the oppressors come to understand the oppressed (12). From the perspective of Isasi-Diaz’s theology, it is justice between the people, with power and those without, that becomes the determining factor of when the ultimate hopes of humanity are achieved . Yet, this justice is “ever changing” based on the lived realities of people’s real experiences (13).

There are many ways in which eschatology has been and can be viewed. Often when we look to eschatology there seems to be little agreement about what the last things or times are. However, when we look at the question of what eschatology is from the feminist perspective there seems to be agreement, even across interfaith lines. Feminist theologies seem to agree that the eschaton, the ultimate hope for humanity, will be found only in the seeking and establishing of justice (Plaskow and Isasi-Diaz), or in the establishment of new ways of living in which seeks right relationships and justice among all inhabitants of the earth, human or not (Ruether). In terms of feminist theology, the eschaton is the realization of justice for and inclusion of those persons, and beings, whom are thought of last in the traditional hierarchies of power and control. There is also the implicit expectation of feminist theologians that this feminist eschatology includes roles and respect for women in the ecclesiastical / religious power structures.

***Endnotes

  1. Wikipedia contributors, “Eschatology,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Eschatology&oldid=175010037 (accessed December 4, 2007).
  2. Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1993), 243.
  3. Ibid, 254.
  4. Ibid, 255-256.
  5. Judith Plaskow, Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective, (San Francsico: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990), 212.
  6. Ibid, 214.
  7. Ibid, 238.
  8. Ibid, 213.
  9. Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, Mujerista Theology, (New York: Orbis, 1996) 90.
  10. Ibid, 94.
  11. Ibid, 97.
  12. Ibid, 89.
  13. Ibid, 116

Bibliography

  • Isasi-Diaz, Ada Maria. Mujerista Theology. New York: Orbis, 1996.
  • Plaskow, Judith. Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990.
  • Ruether, Rosemary Radford. Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology. Boston: Beacon Press, 1993.
  • Wikipedia contributors, “Eschatology,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, [on-line] available from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Eschatology&oldid=175010037, accessed December 4, 2007.