Sunday, October 2, 2011

2011.10.02 Madeleine's Commandment

In the late 70s and early 80’s when I was struggling to get ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church, which was not yet ready for breasts and ample bellies in their pulpits and at their altars, I was fortunate enough to have as my spiritual director the author and theologian Madeleine L’Engle.

Madeleine, now dead and missed, was a commanding presence in voice and height and sheer bulk of wisdom. She towered over me in all ways. I was bordering on meek then, having been rejected a couple of times for ordination and being sure there was something wrong, if not toxic, about me and my gender.

Madeleine was reassuring and kind. She bolstered my soul and gave me hope. But she was no softy. She gave me regular opinionated lectures on things like divorce, a church “sin” I was contemplating. Never, she told me, unless for unremitting homicidal behavior or unremitting suicidal behavior. Well, that left me a broad interpretive swatch.

I remember feeling awed in her presence—also buoyed, but not spoiled.

One day, probably sick of my laments, she said, “Now my dear, when you get ordained, and you will, do NOT become a little man.”

I got it and I didn’t, become a little man that is. I laughed and forgot about it until I got ordained. To follow Madeleine’s commandment has not been easy though I’ve been ordained now for almost 25 years.

The first decision I made not to become a little man was to decide not to be called Mother Lyn. I had enough kids already. Many men still call themselves and/or invite or let people call them Father.

To be called Mother I thought would be like becoming a little man following the tradition of paternalism in the Church making congregants, whether consciously or not, think of themselves and even behave like children, dependent and beholden to Father or Mother knows best. (Petri dish for passive aggressive adolescent subertfuge, if nothing else. )

I told people to call me Lyn. Even “Pastor” suggested a shepherd and her flock of bleating stupid sheep. Not a good model. Besides, images of shepherdesses frolicking on the green or Little Bo Peep just weren’t my style. (God/Jesus as shepherd isn’t an image that much appeals to me either. Baaa)

When parents wanted their children to use a title I’d discuss my perspective of mutuality (my needs are as important as your needs even if I have more authority). If they insisted I conceded to Rev. Lyn. But the kids who wanted to do what everyone else did and who liked the respect usually won the day.

Stay tuned for more on how I tried not to become a little man, in remembrance and loving thanks to a grand mentor, Madeleine L’Engle.

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