When asked for a statement about the role of women in the Roman Catholic Church, a question which indirectly refers to women in the priesthood and episcopacy, he reiterated the position that the door to the ordination of women is closed. In response, I was inspired to write in the way that most intensely felt responses come out~ as a poem.
As I wrote, I couldn’t help but hear an older poem, “Water Women,” in the background. Perhaps the fact that Pope Francis had been to Rio, the Spanish word translated into English as river, inspired this association. Perhaps it was reinforced because Mary Hunt, whose article had moved me, was the co-founder and co-director of the organization WATER (Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual). I wrote the poem “Water Women” a few years after the historical Philadelphia Ordinations, in which eleven women put a significant crack in the stained glass ceiling barrier in the Episcopal Church by being ordained to the priesthood on July 29, 1974. That fait accompli event opened the doors to the ordination of women into all three Holy Orders. The Roman Catholic Women’s Ordination Conference began later that same summer. I wrote “Water Women” in response to a question asked of me and others in a small group of Roman Catholic and Episcopal feminists during a press conference, just as I wrote “Pope Francis in Rio” on the 39th anniversary of the Philadelphia Ordinations because of a press conference, this time with Pope Francis during his flight back to Rome.
I include “Water Women” here as the first in a pair of bookends, followed by “Pope Francis in Rio.” You may also read the poem, “Call,” here. I wrote and read it aloud by outdoor firelight at a gathering of the participants the night before the Philadelphia Ordinations to bolster our spirits. For while we had no idea what would come of it all, we sensed there would be great personal cost to ourselves. And there was.
We do not want to rock the boat,
you say, mistaking our new poise
for something safe.
We smile secretly at each other,
sharing the reality that for some time
we have not been in the boat.
We jumped or were pushed
or fell and some leaped overboard.
Our bodies form a freedom fleet,
our dolphin grace is power.
We learn and teach and as we go
each woman sings~ each woman’s hands
are water wings.
Some of us have become
mermaids or Amazon whales
and are swimming for our lives.
Some of us do not know how to swim.
We walk on water.
Alla Renée BozarthFrom Womanpriest: A Personal Odyssey, revised edition, Luramedia and Wisdom House 1988; Water Women, audiocassette, Wisdom House 1990; Accidental Wisdom, iUniverse 2003 and This is My Body: Praying for Earth, Prayers from the Heart, iUniverse 2004. All rights reserved.
Pope Francis in Rio
Quiero lío . . .
He says it
In front of more
than a million people
he says it.
In the city named River,
the pope says what is
loosely translated as,
I want you to make a mess,
or in the street vernacular,
I want you to screw up ~
but what he really said is
those two words,
literally the poetic,
the romantic word for
I desire, and the cracking
concrete word, trouble
There was no menace
or challenge in his words.
They were lovingly spoken.
He meant what he said
in a way suffused with hope
and faith in the listeners
as well as in the living flames
and rushing waters of Holy Spirit.
The good papa,
the hugging papa,
the twinkling, chuckling,
man who refuses
the pope’s crown,
the false trimmings,
the scandalous trappings—
he says he wants us
to make trouble . . .
To whom was he speaking?
The youth? The smart and restless?
Was he saying it to everyone?
Old, young, male, female?
That’s us, Sisters.
Let’s be our holy best
and blessed selves
and show what we
Quiero lío, he says?
Let’s give it to him.
Alla Renée Bozarth
July 29, 2013
Since the founding of the Roman Catholic Women’s Ordination Conference shortly after the Philadelphia Ordinations, the movement has brought forth many irregularly ordained Roman Catholic women priests who are serving congregations in various nations on both sides of the Atlantic. Is it possible that their ministries will be recognized and celebrated within their tradition in any of their lifetimes?
During the years when the Episcopal Church hierarchy refused to recognize us, I called myself and my sister priests River Women, River Priests for the River People~ those who were freed by rejection simply to serve souls and welcome them to the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries. Being marginalized allowed us to move in the creative flow that became a strong current, the river of life leading us through into the future and making it possible for us to find each other, both in the flowing waters themselves and on holy ground along the river shore all along the way. That’s where the most creative and most interesting people were, and when we shared our stories even as we made new ones together, we thrived.
Near the end of the Philadelphia Ordinations’ silver anniversary service after Holy Communion, the choir of the Philadelphia Church of the Advocate sang uplifting songs and I broke into a spontaneous dance of thanksgiving in honor of Miriam, the dancing prophet, remembering her song of Thanksgiving.
Dancing toward the Promised Land
I, Miriam, took my tambourine
and finger cymbals with me
out of the land of slavery
with its daily insults and petty
exemptions, and so remain always
ready to dance on the long, long journey,
dance at every victory, beginning with
surviving the Passover, then the strange
occurrence when the Red Sea dried beneath
our feet as we ran, safely passing over the narrow
strip onto the Sinai Peninsula, all the way out
from the land of longing toward the storied memory of Home.
I danced to the song that spilled out of me,
loud up to Heaven, rejoicing on hopeful feet,
rejoicing with arms flying through warm air like wings,
and water followed me all the way through
the great desert, to keep the people faithful and alive.
God knows it may take a long time to return.
It’s been five hundred years, after all.
A long time gone, but our stories keep it alive
in our hearts. I wonder if I’ll live to see it from
the mountains across River Jordan. I wonder
if I’ll be an old woman, and dance down
the side of Mt. Nebo with arms wide open,
heart fluttering strong, leading the way
with cymbals and songs into the Promised Land.
Alla Renée Bozarth
My Blessed Misfortunes, copyright 2013.
Alla Renée Bozarth is A Russian, Celtic, Osage American mongrel poet, Episcopal priest, Northwestern University Ph.D. in performing arts and Gestalt psychotherapist soul caregiver who lives at the foot of Mt. Hood in Western Oregon. She has published 20 prose and poetry books on feminism, spirituality, grief, hermeneutics of performance and most recently the Vietnam War— and 4 audio albums, with 14 more large poetry collections and 2 CDs ready for publication. Alla has written award winning poetry for over 40 years. Her poems are widely used all over the world, often in collaboration with visual artists, singers and dancers. For permission to reprint a poem, please send Alla your request at firstname.lastname@example.org