Sunday, 14 November 2010

Between the past, present and the future at feminist theology

It is nearly two weeks since our feminist theology evening with the excellent Anne Claire Rivolet.
We are this year looking at "Between the past and the future, living in the present" at our encounters this year and Anne Claire invited us to have both a personal and biblical approach to the question of "living in the present"
She began by asking whether "living in the present" or "living the present" (the French is Vivre le présent) is the same as "consuming the present, building the present, suffering or being subjected to the present". What is the present that the God of Jesus Christ gives us to live?
She ended this introduction with the brilliant phrase "my faith inscribes me in a different time to my watch!"
She then asked us to think about the kingdom, God's commonwealth which calls us to be actors in the present. We then spent some time thinking personally about an image from our own lives that brought this idea together for us. Anne Claire also encouraged us to think of a gospel or biblical passage which heléped us see this more clearly.
As always we came up with come wonderful examples - livign in the present is looking at the wheat rather than the tares, to not look at the speck in others eyes or even the beam in our own but to focus on what is growing and good. some spoke of the joy of simple Christmas pleasures; of the joy of recognizing that one's church is outside the church and being in the present of unconditional welcome of the other...

My favourite story was of the heavily pregnant 42 year old single woman who distributes communion in her local Catholic church. Living in God's present, included fully by her church, carrying the future and knowing it will be her baby and God's child, offering a present taste of the kingdom to those receiving the host from her hands.

In this time of exchange I realised and was able to speak about some of my own recent pain and sense of hopelessness. The biblical image I chose to focus on was of the grain growing in secret from Mark 4:26 - to focus on what is growing now almost unnoticed until suddenly it is time for the harvest.
I spoke about how in recent months I had discovered how destructive of the present it is to live without any sense of the future, or any sense of having a role in making that future. As I said that with a heavy heart I also recognized how much this is the case for so many, perhaps even the majority of the world's population. Subjected to the adversity of the present without being given any real stake in the future.
I was also able to say though that in my personal depression something had broken through the previous evening, a kindly offer to take me home, an attempt to rebuild trust. Strangely it was only as I began to see the future again that I realised how much I had been missing it and weeping for it. Yet somehow the seed of it had been sown and was busy growing, I sense there is a long way yet to go until harvest yet I can see that perhaps the fields may turn green and then gold again.

As our discussion moved forwards looking at how the present is the time of revelation, God is revealed in the here and now. Given to us in our own time. Our human time when it is penetrated by the time of God becomes an incarnation.
Much of what Anne Claire shared with us and encouraged us to share together showed how it is spiritual understanding, the work of wisdom and spirituality which help us piece together understanding and commitment to God's future-filled present. this made me think of the work of Sarah Coakley and Grace Jantzen, both working in the area of feminist theology and both insisting on the insights of mysticism and spirituality for theological understanding. A great shaem that neither of them have been translated into French.

Anne Claire is about to move from her responsibilities at the Ecumencial Centre for Catechism here in Geneva to become part of the Swiss religious broadcasting work based in Lausanne. She'll begin on December 1 so we wish her well with this new professional challenge and with her recent marriage. Our thanks to her for imbuing our present with a sense of God's ongoing future. That's what helps us go on living and find meaning in the here and now.