Jeremiah exhorts the people to listen to God, to heed the call of the Divine. The Psalmist says, “Harden not your hearts.” Jeremiah reminds Israel and us that we do not listen to the Divine.
After attending session with Sister Miriam Therese Winter, my concept of listening and hearing has expanded. Our hearing the word of the Creator improves when we allow the interplay between opposites, when we allow for paradox. The interplay is between paradigm and paradox. Paradigm is accepted structure, usually in church it is some accretion of top-down hierarchical and paternalistic order. It is command and control. Order comes from dogmas, decrees, conciliar pronouncements, infallible papal statements, pronouncements from conferences of bishops and individual bishops. There is a right answer and all must profess belief in the right answer.
Enter paradox. Paradox is bottoms up and very, very messy because quantum spirituality tells us that reality is evolving and is very unpredictable. The interplay of waves and particles creates chaos out of which emerges new order. Faith is based in part on mysticism—personal experience of the divine. It is also based on life in community—relationships—which keeps individual experience from going too far astray but yet always open to mystery and change.
In the 1960s Merton rightly identified the crisis in the church as a crisis in authority. Patriarchal top-down authority demands obedience. Bottoms-up authenticity requires collegial consensus. In many instances, the bishops are refereeing a game whose rules are based on compliance with top-down authority. Many in the church and now out of the Church (the second largest religious group in America is former Catholics) are playing by another set of rules—rules defined by change, relationship, discontinuity and personal meaning.
If we are in the paradigm mode, it is harder for us to hear the word of the Creator. Creation flared forth and is still flaring forth. The Divine inflames the created universe. God and God’s creation are ever evolving, always changing. Listening must be active not passive. Inquiry is the mode. Questioning is the way. A few examples will suffice to illustrate what I am saying.
The institutional church and its leaders tell us that we cannot so much as discuss whether women should be ordained. They reason is that Jesus called only men to apostleship. If I were Pope, I would have reassured the “good ole boys” by declaring as one pope did, “This issue is not open to discussion.” Wrong! Tilt! In a quantum world everything is open to question and discussion. Bottoms-up thinking says, “Wait just a minute! Let’s reason together.” God created everything. God is everywhere. God created male and female—equal recipients of the imago Dei. Priesthood is based on a call from the Divine. Does anyone really think God would call only men to priestly service? Of course not!
Another issue. God created men and women to become one flesh. Marriage is thus defined only as a relationship between a man and woman. The American bishops and their Knights of Columbus (plumed, sworded, caped defenders of the faith) supporters spent millions to defeat the gay marriage proposition in California. When the District of Columbia enacted a gay marriage law, the church decided to deny benefits to gay couples. An Catholic elementary school dismissed a student with lesbian parents. The top-down “doctrine” is that God created men and women to become one flesh with a member of the opposite sex. Bottoms-up thinking again says, “Wait a minute.” Sexual orientation is not a choice. I did not wake up one adolescent morning and declare, “I will be heterosexual.” Nor does a gay person make a deliberate choice. I used to be homophobic. Then, by the grace of God, I began to meet gay couples who had been in committed, loving relationships for many years (something that not all straight couples can claim). It is now clear to me that people in committed relationships are married despite what the patriarchy thinks or says. Remember the priest does not “marry” people. They confer the sacrament on one another. The priest is but a witness.
Cradle orthodox Catholics may well read this and say, “He is of the Devil.” The Devil, whoever and whatever the Devil is or is not, is not into unity, inclusivity and compassion. The Devil is about strife, exclusivity and division—the kind of strife and division that is racking our church today because those in leadership want to maintain patriarchal power and control.
When we peel back the encrusted layers of doctrine and get to the core, we come to a new understanding based on paradox, uncertainty and change. Jesus did not teach dogmas and morality as we define it.
Jesus was about love, compassion, equality and confronting structures which dehumanize and demonize. Jesus taught that all person—sorry no exceptions allowed here—are created equal. This means first of all that Jesus’ Creator God did not choose any one people over any other people on earth, despite what Zionist Jews proclaim. Jesus taught that denying ordination to women called by the Divine is a justice issue which must be resolved in the church. Jesus according to Paul taught that in God there are no Jews or Greeks, no male or female, no gay or straight.
We have a responsibility to confront and challenge structures which deny the compassion and justice of Jesus. Let us listen to the Word of God. Let us not harden our hearts to Jesus’ compassion and justice.