Wednesday, 15 October 2008

All desires known - an evening of feminist theology celebrating Janet Morley

Last night at our feminst theology group I led an extra session on the theme of the year which is untranslateable into English "Dieu est belle". The title I gave to my talk was:
Intégrer la foi et le féminisme à travers le langage de la prière publique: Plaidoyer pour le langage inclusif
Integrating faith and feminism through the language of public prayer : a call for inclusive language.
I used the talk as an excuse to pay hommage to the influence of Janet Morley's for me key feminist theology text All Desires Known. Calling it a key theology text is perhaps a bit strange, yet for me it certainly had that effect. The book is 20 years old this year, first published in more or less pamphlet format in 1988 by the Movement for the Ordination of Women.
All Desires Known is, at its heart, a book of carefully crafted and beautifully written short "collects" - prayers following the Sunday lectionary readings and themes, with some additional psalms and also very powerful eucharistic prayers in the second half. The author sought to use words, images and metaphors in a new way and it was in many ways her three page introduction that for me managed to name a deep felt sense of what I believed about worship, prayer and language, yet at that time I had not found words to express.
"In worship our ideologies stand exposed, and nowhere is this clearer than in the assumptions expressed in our language ... the effort to erase gender from our image of God, or to make everything fair and balanced, can produce linguistic awkwardness, and tend towards a neutrality in prayer which I think is inappropriate. Much more potentially creative is the writing of new texts in vigorous language ..."
I began the evening by reading my rather last minute French translation of a Psalm by Morley which fits in well with our theme for the year. What follows is just a short extract (in English)

I will praise God my Beloved
for she is althogether lovely.
Her presence satisfies my soul;
she fills my senses to overflowing
so that I cannot speak

I don't have time to write a great deal more now as I really must catch a train to Rome! However I must add that we eneded our evening by writing prayers and poems ourselves and we'll begin to post them on our new blog soon - once I get around to learning how to use it!
But here's a further taste of Morley's prayers:

O thou sudden God
generoous in mercy
quickener of new life
giver of new love
irreverent, subversive,
deep source of yearning
startling comforter
bearer of darkness
unmaker of old paths
bringer of strange joy
abundant, disturbing,
healing unlooked for
tender and piercing:
late have I loved thee
O beauty so ancient and so new.

Copyright (c)Janet Morley, 1988