Announcing: Chanting the Feminine Down
If I was writing a novel about the Catholic Church based on media accounts, my first paragraph might read: “Cardinal Brutelli,” a Vatican insider of insiders, swears in the shadow of St. Peters in Rome that Pope Francis’s decision to open the door to married priests is simply a stalking horse for women to get sacred orders. It is as if the good Cardinal is taking a sacred vow.
“On the blood of our Savior I vow I will not stand for this abomination. The Holy Father has stepped across the line into apostasy and must be stopped at all costs. The fate of Holy Mother the Church hangs in the balance. May God the Father give me the strength to bear this awful cross as I stand up to this ungodly and outrageous feminization of the Church!”
If I decided on this fictional approach, there would be plenty of material at my disposal. I could watch the movie “Radical Grace,” a film based on the “Nuns on the Bus Tour,” designed to call attention to economic inequality and the lack of opportunity for women in the church. Made three years ago, this film is still being shown in communities across the country. I look forward to seeing it soon in New York City. There will be a discussion after the film featuring a lineup of female faith leaders. The patriarchy will hover over this prestigious affair.
Of course, in a nod to fairness I would go to “The Catholic World” which calls “Radical Grace” propaganda that pushes a tired old story line that the “out-of-touch Catholic hierarchy is oppressive and cares only about rule-keeping and maintaining authority, while the sisters are following the real Gospel message by working for ‘social justice.’” And then there’s that radical feminist, Susan Sarandon, who has endorsed the film and helped spread anti-Catholic venom throughout the corridors of America and the world.
So there’s plenty at my fingertips if I want to write such a novel. Roman Catholic Women Priests, an organization I support, acknowledges that “we have challenged and broken the Church Canon Law 1024, an unjust law that discriminates against women. Despite what may lead the faithful to believe, our ordinations are valid because we are ordained in apostolic succession within the Roman Catholic Church.” In other words, the women priests were ordained by ordained Catholic priests.
My fictional Cardinal Brutelli is half-right. Pope Francis is looking into the possibility of married priests but when pressed, appears to agree with the late Pope John Paul II’s assertion that women could never be priests. Not everyone in Rome believes him.
My fantasy novel was inspired by what I had read this morning in my social media feeds and on websites I frequent, including the Guardian newspaper. I could certainly write a novel around what’s in the news and what greets me when I turn on my computer. Others have written novels with less. As my friends at “The Catholic World” have noted, the field of religious combat is well-known and well-studied. But much as I would like to move Cardinal Brutelli like a chess piece through palace intrigue, with the requisite sighs, mutterings and curses, I will have to let the good soul die an early fictional death. And therein is the tale.
The fictional road I started down starting more than two years ago is best described as an eruption courtesy of the collective unconscious. Out of nowhere I had a dream about Pope John Paul II dressed in very feminine robes and sliding softly into an earthen grave. In the same dream sequence I was standing in front of a Catholic Mass that was being celebrated in Latin. At the point of the Communion service, I was turned away by a priest, as if I was being shunned.
The psychologist Carl Jung would surely say this is an archetypal dream, bringing up themes, language and characters from my unconscious that were presented in dramatic fashion, unfolding as it was theater or fiction within fiction. And it scared the hell out of me.
I was not new to religious themes. My PhD dissertation was on the Catholic Imagination. I have struggled with religion in the world in my various books of poetry and fiction. But this was different. I was not fantasizing about some religious figure grumbling in St. Peter’s Square. That is easy, literal and mechanical. The dream seemed like a threat or a challenge from my soul or psyche, a stunning invocation for me to take notice. In one sense, the dream represented in the figure of John Paul II an unmistakable affirmation of the feminine. That was the feel, the movement and the logic of the dream. The counterpoint to this was the religious service itself during which I was turned away from the ceremony. Even so, when the priest was asking the Father and the Son to grant us peace, I added loudly and prayerfully “And you too, Mother.”
The dream became a prayer, then a poem and finally the novel, “Chanting the Feminine Down.” The dreams continued in torrents as I wandered through more than a thousand years of church history looking for hints of the feminine.
A writing teacher once told me that in most instances a writer does not seize a subject for a novel; rather, the subject seizes him or her. The writer is often at the mercy of the unconscious forces that haunt his nights and shape his days. That’s what writing “Chanting” felt like; not a stroll through some Vatican garden but a dangerous psychological, theological and historical journey through the dark corners of Christianity. The novel is narrated through the conscious of a female graduate student in the Bronx, New York. Her search and hunger is for a Radical Grace.
I am happy to report that Chanting the Feminine Down is now available at the following booksellers…
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