Thursday, March 31, 2016

What Wonder Woman and Mary Magdalene Have Taught Me This Easter Season

Two things occurred this past weekend that, at first glance, might seem to have nothing in common.  The first was that Batman vs. Superman opened in theaters everywhere, and the second, of course, was Easter.  Now I know what you're thinking, how could I possibly connect Batman vs. Superman with Easter?  Well, never fear, I have a trick up my sleeve.  I'm going to do it by magically using two figures that you might not have thought of: Wonder Woman and Mary Magdalene.

(Here's a teaser of the movie in case you live under a rock and don't know what I'm talking about)

First though, I little context for my thought process.  Over the weekend, I was brainstorming ideas for posts for this shiny new blog.  I was doing research, looking up counter arguments, making a list of everything I want to eventually talk about.  However, I kept catching myself doing the same thing over and over.  Every time I read an article, a post, or a document from an opposing viewpoint to see what points were being made (several of these, I'll admit, were documents written by members of the Church's hierarchy itself), I found myself automatically thinking things like "Oh, that's right.  That'll never change," or "Maybe I am being a little irrational", or "I don't think I have enough knowledge to counter these points", and even "Well I guess they at least made an effort to be inclusive...kind of", and on, and on, and on.  I found myself constantly hesitating, constantly doubting my own abilities, my own knowledge, and my own experiences.  Why?  Well, part of it is because I continue to hold this idea that the authority has the knowledge, the final say, and that ultimately I can't push back against it.  In this specific case, the authority is the patriarchal hierarchy of the Church.

So, I was feeling a little hopeless, a little deflated.  I was rethinking this whole blog idea, and wondering if it would make any kind of difference anyway, or if I was just wasting my time.  Easter Sunday came, and the Gospel was John 20:1-9.  Obviously it was about the resurrection, but this telling highlights Peter and "the other disciple" more so than Mary Magdalene's role in the whole thing, so that wasn't really very helpful to me (don't worry, though, she's going to make a comeback).  So, I left Mass still a little down in the dumps about what I was going to do, whether or not I could actually make my voice heard, and if I could ever make any real difference in the Church and the world.

Then, the next evening, I went to see Batman vs. Superman.

(I promise, no actual spoilers)

Now, whether you are a fan of superhero movies or not, or if you enjoyed this movie or not, there is one part of the film I think everyone can agree on: the awesomeness that is Wonder Woman.  She is a fascinating figure in the DC Universe in general.  She's a powerful, Amazon warrior princess who could go toe-to-toe with Superman in a fight.  She's a founding member of the Justice League, fiercely independent, and doesn't take shit from anyone. 

So much fierceness.

Why hasn't there been a live action movie made about her (until now, obviously) with so many years of superhero-hype in Hollywood?  Some say because she's a woman, filmmakers have passed on her because they don't think a Wonder Woman movie would be as profitable as a movie with a male star.  Others say, however, that the idea of making a Wonder Woman movie has been such an intimidating feat (you don't want to mess up a movie about the one woman who is arguably on the same level, maybe higher, as Superman and Batman in skills, strength, intelligence, authority, and respect) that no filmmaker wants to take it on for fear of doing it wrong (we will see if they've managed it when Wonder Woman comes out next June).

There's something about the way Wonder Woman is portrayed in Batman vs. Superman, however, that is especially notable.  Maybe it's just that Gal Gadot, the actress who plays her, is simply amazing in the role (which she is), but I think its also the sense of worldliness that Wonder Woman possesses in this portrayal of the character.  Wonder Woman is always shown as a super-powerful and incredibly skilled warrior who never backs down from a fight, but she is also often been depicted (depending on the writer that takes her character on) as being fairly new to the larger world outside of her home of Themyscira, and so a little innocent and naïve.  What's striking about Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman is that she is so far from innocent and naïve to the larger world, that she's almost cynical of it, which gives her an edginess and also creates an internal struggle as she debates whether or not to get involved in the mess between Batman and Superman.  When she does step in (and this is not a spoiler, because the trailers show her fighting), it's pretty clear that her skills in battle are superior to the other two.  Once she's in the fight, there is no hesitation, no sense of fear or feeling that she doesn't belong there.  She doesn't defer to the powerful men around her.  She's confident in her skills, knows that she's good at what she does, and dominates in the battlefield.  At one point, she's thrown to the side by Doomsday (again, not a spoiler because he's shown in the trailer), but instead of crying out or looking on in fear, she freaking smirks, as if to say "Finally, a challenge worthy of me."  That single moment is one of the most badass of the whole movie.

All right, so you're probably thinking, "Great Erin, Wonder Woman's awesome, but what does this all have to do with Easter or Mary Magdalene?"

I'll tell you.  It wasn't until Tuesday in the Octave of Easter (the day after seeing the movie) that Mary Magdalene's role was really emphasized.  In John 20:11-18, we find Mary Magdalene outside of the empty tomb, weeping.  When she looks inside the tomb, she finds two angels who ask her why she was crying.  She responds that the body of her Lord has been taken and she doesn't know where he's been laid.  When she turns back around, she comes face-to-face with the risen Christ, but she doesn't immediately recognize him.  She mistakes him for a gardener, and demands to know if he took the body and if so, where he put it so she can retrieve it.  When Jesus says her name, she instantly recognizes him as her Teacher.  He tells her to take a message to the other disciples, that he will soon be going to his God and their God.  She goes and announces to the disciples that she has seen the Lord, and then reports to them everything Christ told her.

Not gonna lie, I'd be freaking out.
There are a few things in these verses that are pretty significant, not least among them the fact that the risen Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene first before even any of the twelve apostles.  However, that's not the detail I want to focus on (right now anyway).  I want to focus on Mary's surprising boldness throughout these verses.  When she looks into the tomb and finds angels inside, there's no sense of a freak-out happening on her part.  When they ask her why she is crying, she doesn't hesitate to answer, even though SHE IS TALKING TO FREAKING ANGELS!  Then, she encounters Jesus, who she mistakes for a gardener.  Now, she doesn't simply ask him if he took the body from the tomb (again, she doesn't know she's talking to Jesus yet), she demands to know if he took it, where it is, and then follows that up by saying she'll go retrieve it herself.  Finally, he speaks her name and she recognizes him, and unlike the apostles who down the line won't truly believe it's him until they see his wounds (John 20:19-31), there is no hesitation in her acceptance of the risen Christ.

That's the amazing part.  Mary has such incredible confidence in her love for and in her relationship with Christ, that there's no room for doubt when she finally recognizes him.  This is completely unique among Christ's followers.  No other disciple believes that Christ is risen until they see his wounds.  Mary doesn't need to.  And she also doesn't hesitate to go to tell the others that Christ has returned, without fear of backlash or disbelief, even though she is a woman bringing them incredible, unbelievable news.

So, what do Mary Magdalene and Wonder Woman have in common?  Their unwavering confidence.  Their lack of hesitation.  Their ability to overcome obstacles, whether internal, social, or mystical in order to get the job done.  Wonder Woman's confidence in herself, her abilities, and her intelligence is mirrored in Mary Magdalene's confidence in her love and in her relationship with Christ.  Both women have unshakeable foundations from which they are able achieve amazing deeds.  Wonder Woman defeats monsters and goes toe-to-toe with superhumans, and Mary Magdalene brings the amazing truth of the Paschal mystery to the other disciples, and through them, to the rest of the world.

It was the lucky double-whammy of encountering these two figures, one from comic books and one from the Gospel, so close together that restored my own confidence, and made me see that my hesitation and uncertainty was a direct result of years of feeling I have no real place to speak in my Church, or in my society.  I realized that sometimes there is no space for my voice, but I can't give up, and have to make the space myself.  Even if I come to doubt myself, I have to hold onto the goal I'm working towards and know that I can't let other voices beat me down and convince me I'm not capable of achieving it.  I might not be as strong and skilled as Wonder Woman, or as strong in my faith as Mary Magdalene, but I have gifts and abilities of my own that I can overcome any obstacle with.  And so, happy reader, do you.  So have confidence, have faith, and go out and change the world, because it's not going to do it itself.

Until next time,
Erin B.       

Just a fun little treat to get you hyped for the Wonder Woman movie next year!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Welcome to Prayers of Sophia

It's not easy being a woman in the Church, especially in the Catholic Church where old patriarchal traditions continue to exist. If you're a woman involved in ministry, the potential joy you feel in your work is often dampened by the knowledge that you can only do so much, say so much, and have to live out your faith in sometimes less-than-fulfilling ways. Women do not have many outlets for their voices, for their frustrations, or for their prayers and reflections. Our sharing is limited, what defines us as women is often limited, and yet there is such a deep love within us for our Church and our God that we put up with all the extra baggage and crap. We do the best we can with what we are able to have. Sometimes, though, it's not enough. When we don't have the opportunities to share our faith, to share our voices, that deep love we possess is in danger of turning into bitterness. So that's what this blog is. It's a place for women of faith to speak, to be heard, to share their stories, prayers, reflections, frustrations, and joys. It's a place for us to explore our faith, to show what's in our hearts, and to find support in our work, whatever that may be. Some posts may be serious, some may be funny, some may be frustrating, others joy-filled, but they will be honest representations of the women who write them.

Personally, I will share my own story, but I will invite others to join me because I cannot speak for everyone by myself. I think it's fitting to kick off this blog during Holy Week, with Easter mere days away. This is a time of renewal, a time to reflect on where we are as individuals, as a community, and as a Church. With so much darkness, pain, and overall craziness in our world right now, I think it's important that we come together, peacefully, respectfully, but honestly, to talk about our experiences. So welcome to Prayers of Sophia. To kick things off, I want to share a reflection that I had the privilege to give at a communion service yesterday, March 22nd. The reading was from the Gospel of John 13: 21-33, 36-38. In this reading, Jesus and his apostles are at dinner, and Jesus singles out Judas as his eventual betrayer, though no one seems to understand what he is trying to say. Shortly after that, however, Jesus turns his attention to Peter, and tells him that he will deny him three times in the end. Below is the short reflection I wrote based on this Gospel reading:

When I was a kid, I remember this animated video series I used to watch called The Greatest
Adventures: Stories from the Bible. I don’t remember that many of them, but there is one that has remained stuck in my head ever since I first watched it. It was the video about the Easter Story. Now, every time someone talks about the Passion, the images from that movie pop into my head. For a kids’ movie, some of them were pretty vivid. I don’t remember a ton of details, but two scenes are still very clear to me. The scene where Jesus is whipped, and the scene where Judas kisses Jesus in the garden, completing his betrayal.

 We hear about Christ’s final days every year during Holy Week. The Passion is read, in full, and I’ve heard and read it so many times myself that I can at least recite the order of things pretty perfectly (I don't know it word for word because it's about a million pages long). I know the story, I know the meaning behind the actions, and I know the legacy that those actions left. At this point in my life though, and not to belittle the significance of the Passion itself, it’s the days leading up to the final days that I find the most fascinating. In those days, during that time, Jesus knew what was coming. He knew who would betray him, knew what he would be forced to endure, the suffering he would face, but he continued forward. He didn't stop, he didn't run like anyone else in his position would most likely have done. He stayed on the path that God had laid out for him.

Can you imagine the anxiety he must have felt? To just have to wait, knowing exactly what was coming for him? Those final days as they crawled by must have been agony, a torture he continuously suffered, and the only way out was going to be just more pain. And it was a suffering he endured alone. 

Whenever I am feeling anxious, or dread, or know I have to do something that I really don’t want to do, I’m torn inside. Part of me desperately wants to reach out, to unburden myself on someone, to have someone support me and sympathize with my pain. Another part of me, and the part that usually wins in these situations, is determined to face whatever I have to do alone. It’s my responsibility. It’s my burden. Nobody else should have to carry it for me. And yet, sometimes I find myself dropping small hints. Reaching out to those around me in subtle ways, too afraid to ask for help and support outright, but desperate for something. That’s what I think Jesus was doing with all of his hints and suggestions to his disciples. Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus eluding to his inevitable death again and again, never quite saying it outright, but reaching out again and again to his disciples. To me, that’s Jesus subtly seeking that support, that help, that companionship that would ease the weight of his burden, if only slightly. He could never give up what he was destined to do, could never pass it to another, but to just have someone know, to understand, to confide in, I imagine would have been such a relief. Yet, his followers never seem to get it. They always misunderstand him, or even deny what he is telling them. It’s as if they are so afraid of what he’s saying that they refuse to face the truth, but in that denial, they are isolating Christ. Forcing him to face the inevitable alone. When he singles out Judas, and even when he singles out Peter, it’s as if to warn them. You will betray me…you will deny me…two of my closest friends will cause me the greatest pain.

It's interesting that in the same night, Jesus points out Judas as his betrayer, though no one understands, and warns Peter that he will deny him three times. Which betrayal is worse? Yes, obviously Judas' betrayal may seem the worst because of the suffering that Christ endures as a result, but Judas is always portrayed as shady, and Jesus knows that he has to die in order to fulfill his mission on earth. His suffering most likely would have happened with or without Judas. Peter, on the other hand, is not just another apostle but one of the most loyal, and one of the first to follow Christ. I imagine that Peter wasn’t just a follower of Christ, but a true friend of Christ. Yet, in the moment Jesus needs him the most, Peter will deny that relationship. Will act as if they don’t even know each other in order to protect his own life. Peter, the apostle he hold up as a leader, as a teacher, as the first Pope, arguably betrayed Christ in a worst way than Judas. Judas was never a true apostle…Peter was the apostle. His denial of Christ, his abandonment, left Jesus more alone at the end than he’d ever been in the days leading up to his death.

What's my point? Christ died for the salvation of humanity. Holy week is a time of both solemn remembrance and joyful anticipation of the resurrection. Jesus fulfilled his mission as the Son of God, but let’s not forget that he was also a man. Fully divine, fully human, with all of the complex emotions, responses, and reactions that come with that existence. I want us to remember, as we continue through this week, that the image of Jesus stepping from the tomb, having defeated death and opened the pathway to the Kingdom of God, is only part of the story. The other part is the image of a man, alone because he’s been misunderstood and abandoned by his friends, and afraid because he knows exactly what he must suffer to do God’s work. Yet, he remains determined to stay the course that God has given him, to fulfill his destiny and save the world. So, as we continue through this week and we remember the Passion of Christ and the glorious resurrection, let us praise the divine, but also remember the person. Because, it is in Christ’s complete humanity that we ourselves learn how to be human, and how to be in relationship with God even with our fears, our flaws, and our failings.

Erin B.