WDL 9: Reflections of a 'dedicated listener'

WDL 9: Reflections of a 'dedicated listener'

Published: Jun 20, 2011 by Maria Gwyn McDowell

Before the conference, I was asked to be a “dedicated listener,” sharing my reflections in our final session together.  This is, for the most part, what I said, minus ad lib and tears:

The question with which I entered this conference, is how do we have this conversation?  I ask this because, as we have seen over the last few days, there is a wide range of thought, comfort, emotion and opinion on this issue.  Since it is apparently my call to ask questions, often uncomfortable ones, I would like to present questions which I hope reflect what was said, not simply what I heard.

How can we simultaneously acknowledge and affirm the woman who is content with her current role, space or situation, while also acknowledging and affirming the discontent of other women?

How do we receive and live with our own call, a call that may not be shared by others?

How do we support the call of others that is not our own?

How can we respect, as someone said, the sustainers, the gradualists and the prophets, without reading the ‘other’ position as a personal condemnation of our own?

How do we affirm the often invisible works of women, such as the labor of motherhood in the home so often exercised away from the eyes of the world, while also affirming that some gifts may be more fully exercised and received if they are visibly recognized?

How do we acknowledge that for some there is no problem, and for others, there is?  

Do we name the sources of our fear?

Do we speak openly of those things which we, or others around us, fear?

I ask these questions because I know the effort that went into planning this conference.  I know the fear and offense generated by the topic, yet it resurfaces over and over again.  Not only in the world around us, but in ourselves and our experience.  We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have at least the trace of a question, concern, or curiosity.  

I know that it arises in me every day, and the truth is, I wish it wouldn’t.  I wish I could be content with the situation of women in the church.  Or, I wish that I could be content in another church.

But I cannot be content as a non-Orthodox (I have tried, believe me), and I cannot stop seeing and responding to the sadness, pain and frustration of women.

The reality is this: I love the church, and I love the men and women of the church.  I want the church to be a place of love, a place which loves all of us better and more fully than it currently does.  

This is what I heard this weekend, a love for the church and one another that is sharp, painful, and conflicted.  This is, I think, how love goes.  It challenges us, stretches us, and causes discomfort.  All of which, hopefully (but not guaranteed), results in further growth into God.

And as at all conferences, some of the most fruitful elements were the conversations that happened outside the sessions.  In these conversations, I heard more questions, a hunger for learning more about the already existing work of women.  A desire to explore how those ministries are new, how they are old, how they might fit into the traditional patterns of church ministry such as ordination to the diaconate.  In these conversations, I saw that the difficult questions and topics are unavoidable.  Even if they cannot be fully explored, they arise.  How to pursue the details of getting chaplaincy endorsement?  How are women already serving in liturgical worship?   How might they?  What does it mean to do, as Tanya suggested, to have a conference on the possibility restoring women to the diaconate?  I am grateful to this conference for creating an opportunity for new conversations.  It is those conversations which will serve as a basis for future conferences, papers, regional groups, and parish-based work.  It is the anger, frustration, and joy reflected in those conversations which will give us the energy to continue to move forward.