The Table

img_5902Spanish theologian, Emma Martínez Ocaña was welcomed by the Rome-based, Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation working group on the “Collaboration of Women and Men in Ministry,” last week. Well-known amongst Spanish-speaking religious communities, Ocaña’s work is poetic and deceptively simple, engaging deep spiritual questions of gender, Jesus, and the cosmos.

Ocaña crafted a dreamscape of a “New Future for Women in the Church,” transporting the 60 or so gathered to a radical vision of Church. Dreaming, she said, is encouraging desire, beauty and truth; and in dreaming together, dreams can come true. However, she cautioned: dreams are chaotic, free, and often not “politically correct.”

Ocaña first dreamed of ministry, rich in service and love, based on a call of recognition from one’s community, and not confined to sex or a priesthood. Women will not simply occupy benches (pews), but be active in sacrament, in equal rotation. She dreamed of an end of “formation” all together, in order to rid the Church of clericalism. No “men as demigods,” but many trained ministers, willing to share. Friends, not servants.

She dreamed of an abandonment of all sexist and patriarchal language. She dreamed of never excluding a woman’s body from revealing God: “Allow the word of God to become true in their bodies.”

This being a dream, Ocaña also envisioned Jesus’ response to her dream, in the form of a letter. While this exercise felt a little silly to me, it was a rich and empowering journey to take as a group. In this letter, Jesus reaffirmed his call for a revolution that denounces sexual discrimination in all forms and gives visibility to women, who are “builders of the history of salvation,” and equals in dignity, rites/rights, duties and tasks.  

Not wanting to wake up, Ocaña eased us back into the room by encouraging us to keep dreaming: for Church to be a witness, for these seeds to become trees. img_5884A question came from a priest in the group who challenged her “use” of a Jesus (who totally agrees with her dreams), rightly calling this a path that the patriarchy also enjoys to secure opposite conclusions. (I am reminded of one of my favorite lines from a Women’s Ordination Worldwide press statement: Stop making Jesus the Vatican’s partner in gender discrimination!”). He offered that listening to each other, may be a solution. Ocaña responded that one must put the historical Jesus, not what is constructed or cultural, on the horizon.  

Another participant shared the she believes in the beauty of dreams, but carries “so much rage,” especially towards priests who too often encourage the submission and invisibility of women. I was so grateful for this honesty.

And finally, one woman asked what we all ask at times, Why stay? When in secular society and around the world women’s equality is becoming increasingly affirmed…  Ocaña, a woman of hope, shared: “It is the triumph of patriarchy to believe what they tell us about ourselves.” She believes in mystical and political change from within. She believes in the historical, revolutionary Jesus.

The group gathered again the following day for an interactive workshop to go deeper into these questions and find fruitfulness and mercy along the journey.

I’m not sure if it was a shift in tone, or process, or simply the joy of escapism, but to enter into a dream articulated with so much hope and happiness was just the light I needed on that winter’s afternoon.