- Cosmic Catholicism In Embodied Conversation
cosmic Catholicism, embodied conversation, justice, theology
I welcome Carol Christ and Judith Plaskow's invitation to add my theological perspective to the embodied conversations that have emerged with the publication of Goddess and God in the World.1 I do so as a white, lesbian-feminist, Catholic-rooted theologian and activist in the United States, long engaged in liberation struggles of many stripes. I spend far more energy on social change than on theological nuance, though I claim both as essential to creating an equitable, respectful, inclusive, and sustainable cosmic community.
I am grateful for Carol and Judith's work both in itself and in terms of how they spark others to probe our own basic assumptions in theology. I hosted them on a Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual (WATER) teleconference, reviewed their book in the National Catholic Reporter, and presided over the American Academy of Religion session that resulted in this roundtable, so my wholehearted support for their project is well-known. My comments flow appreciatively from their work and are intended to deepen an already lively conversation.
I come from the Catholic tradition; I have never identified as a Christian because it conveys more biblical content than I embrace. Catholicism, in my experience, is more spiritual than textual, more sacramental than preached, more mystical than doctrinal. Catholics have always prayed but have only relatively recently read the Bible. Catholics have always marked with water and shared bread and wine but only sometimes given sermons. Catholics have [End Page 123] always had a strong pneumatology as the Holy Spirit trumps Jesus, but precious few teachings have endured throughout its history.
Mine is a social justice-focused faith; I am at once practically rooted and swimming (my sport of choice) in the ethers of the unknown, perhaps unknowable. I do not experience any contradiction holding these two aspects together. A sniff of injustice ignites me to join others to right it. That feels like a religious impulse and I note that it is shared widely over time and traditions.
Despite the Roman Catholic Church's infamous, erroneous dicta about women, same-sex love, and other common matters, my earliest religious formation in that tradition and my current practice as a cosmic catholic are informed by a limitless flow of energy or spirit that seems to be abroad in the world. Catholicism assumes that. Like Carol and Judith, I do not stake claims on transcendence; afterlife is anybody's good guess. But I acknowledge the power of this spirit or force—or at least my perception of it—as shaping and being shaped in history. Naming it is quite another matter.
"Cosmic catholicsm" is a way of naming my concern for all that is—the cosmos and beyond. All means all, so "catholic" or universal is as adequate a name as any to describe an approach to articulating what defies limits. The words pale and fail, but the effort to exempt or bracket something from reality is, in my experience, a fool's errand. That everything is connected may be a cheap truism, but try proving it wrong.
Theology is concerned with the whole mediated through bodies both physical and symbolic. But all views of the whole are necessarily partial, limited, and contextual. The critical theological task seems to be finding ways to access those various views and to note where they converge, diverge, and do not intersect at all. Embodied conversations are tricky. Religious wars and even some theological debates are evidence of how hard the task is—yet we persist.
Coming from a spiritual, sacramental, mystical tradition, it is no wonder that meditation is my preferred spiritual practice and that I have little or no interest in so-called sacred scriptures. Words, while necessary, are simply not adequate. Alas, I admit that theology is by its definition word based, rendering it, in my opinion, of limited but notable usefulness most of the time. Theology does not console or counsel; people do. Theology does not invite or inspire; people do. Theology is a vehicle, but it is not yet driverless.
In my view, theology is as much...