Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Feminist theology with Dominique Cadel and the parable of the lost coin

Dominique Cadel, who is a Franciscan sister working in the Geneva region, gave us wonderful multiple ways in to the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin in Luke 15.1-10. She first offered us a study of the text and a spiritual meditation on it which concluded with a prayer by St Francis of Assisi from 1224. She showed how even all that time ago St Francis was sensitive to wanting to blend both masculine and feminine attributes of God. This is lost in English of course as justice is not "la justice" and wisdom is not "la sagesse". Those with some Latin or Italian can get a sense of how Francis played carefully with language by reading at his Canticle of the Sun though the English translation "Sister moon, Brother sun" gives some idea of what he managed. Dominique prayed a different prayer of his with us tonight, one which had more feminine than masculine nouns for the attributes of God.
After that she moved on to the feminist heart of the exposé based on readings from Mary Ann Beavis' book The Lost Coin, Parables of Women, Work and Wisdom. In particular Dominique translated large parts of Linda Maloney's article "Swept under the rug". Tonight was probably the first time that a Francophone audience had any exposure to some of this scholarship. Once more it made me realise just how important translation is for the exchange of ideas, particularly with the grass roots.
Before I finally go to bed I want to mention two things Dominique highlighted from her reading of Beavis and Maloney. The first was how the parable of the lost coin has almost been forgotten while the parable of the lost sheep has spawned countless icons and religious paintings of the good shepherd. We don't have similar altar pieces with pictures of God the good sweeper holding up a prized coin to the light when found in the dust - of course that God would have a broom in her hand and her skirts hitched up and be bent double to find the tiny but prized lost coin.
The second thing that moved me was the fact that the act of finding is rejoiced over not individually but with a whole community - this is the case for the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son - each of the parables end with a party. It's possible that the shepherd and the woman would spend more on the party than they had originally lost. This speaks of "finding" being a re-establishment in community and relationship with others - perhaps also with God. The joy and party also speak powerfully of finding not being about personal possession but about community celebration, right relationship - noone is counting the cost of the celebration - it's the natural outcome of finding and being found and precious. Perhaps it can say something to us about generosity.
Anyway more about the wonderful parable of the lost coin again soon - it's my favourite.
And we are hoping to launch a blog in French for the members of the group soon and it will ahve all of this year's studies on it.