Jumping up on the windowsill, his dancing eyes scanned the room. After searching our faces one by one he smirked as he fired out a loaded question;-
“Is God a man or a woman?”
Silence fell, broken only by the sound of us shifting uncomfortably in our seats. I picked up my pencil and began chewing it nervously, head bent to cover my acute embarrassment. What the hell was he up to? An Irish Dominican priest teaching theology in the late 1970’s to future teachers. Was he trying to provoke us? Then again most of us thought he was nuts – a wired up jack in the box leaping about from table to podium and back again, wild eyes gazing at us in earnest through shaky wire spectacles.
“God is a man because he’s ‘God the Father’.” Came a steadfast reply from the back. A collective sigh ensued as we felt relieved to be let off the hook and I for one hoped he would change the topic. No such luck! As though ignoring the response he prodded further:
“Why could God not be female?” He paused to look at our blank faces before pointing to the tall girl seated in the middle of the front row.
“Fiona what do you think?” Obviously he presumed the one non- Catholic among us was the only student capable of lateral thinking.
“It is possible that God could be a woman or not have a specific gender, like a tree. It seems we need to personify God in order to understand the concept of God.” she answered.
What she said was beyond our understanding at that time, so conditioned were we in believing the dogma that had been forced down our throats since childhood. To not believe what we were told would have been to question the ‘Word of God’ and therefore a sin. An urgent need to defend our beliefs and save our souls compelled a few of us to blurt out some form of protest, beginning with:
“But it says in the Bible …”
Yet the wisdom of Fiona’s words struck to the core of an inner knowing. Furthermore our comments appeared to have no basis in logic when faced with the weight of theological and historical knowledge of our Woody Allen-esque teacher. Yet it was deeply unsettling for many of us to have our belief system overturned, like being sent to sea in a boat with neither compass nor rudder.
Over the coming months, the priest went on to tell us about earlier Matrifocal societies, where Mother Earth and the Goddess were worshiped. Bit by bit we began to take him seriously despite his jumping around the tiny lecture hall. Instead of nattering about how weird he was and dreading his classes, we began to look forward to his unorthodox teaching methods as he opened us up to learning the various philosophies behind different spiritual traditions. He knocked many theories on their head including ‘Eve as temptress’ and ‘Mary Magdalene as scarlet woman’. For the first time in my life I began to feel considerably less tainted, less disempowered by my heritage as a Christian woman.
Sadly he did not return to teach us the following year and we were left wondering had the college authorities dismissed him on grounds of over eccentricity, as had happened with a psychology lecturer who was rather too fond of Freud’s sexual theories. Many years later as I began to research my novel Love & the Goddess, I realised the lasting impact of having been taught by the quirky priest who obviously was a very wise fool indeed.
My novel is due for publication on the 25th of January 2013! I would like to thank each and every one of you for your support so far.
I ‘d love to hear your opinions on this, so please comment.
Love, Mary E.