The small, non threatening feminist theology reading group I’m part of met on Monday to discuss Susan Frank Parsons Cambridge Companion to Feminist Theology.
Predictably, I hadn’t managed to finish the book, (don't forget, I slept through Monday afternoon) but our discussion majored on intercultural aspects of feminist theology, and one fascinating contribution from Mercy Amba Oduyoye on African Christology. Lest that sound rather abstract and difficult, let me share straight away the passage that struck me,- quoted from another work
Jesus of the Deep Forest, which is so clearly rooted in its African context that it was at first rather startling to my western consciousness.
“All powerful Jesus who engages in marvellous deeds, he is the one called Hero Okatakyi. Of all earthly dominions he is master; the Python not overcome with mere sticks, the Big Boat which cannot be sunk.
Jesus, Saviour of the poor, who brightens up our faces! Damfo-Adu: the clever one. We rely on you as the tongue relies on the mouth.
The great Rock we hide behind: the great forest canopy that gives cool shade: the Big Tree that lifts its vines to peep at the heavens, the magnificent Tree whose dripping leaves encourage luxurient growth”
I was quite disconcerted to realise that I’d read the first few images at top speed, treating them as if they were folk tales from a children’s story book, simply skimming over the surface because they didn’t connect with the God-language I habitually use.
It was only when the more familiar Rock appeared that it brought me up short, and I realised how discourteous I was being to the text, and to another culture’s attempts to communicate a reality that no language can contain. I hate the realisation that I was too immured in my familiar mindset to honour this alternative by serious reflection…and that my cultural blinkers had almost escaped my own notice.
In the group, we talked about what images we might find immediate and real in our current context, where millstones and vines don’t have a lot to say to us,- but acknowledged that the influence of those we’ve inherited is so powerful that it is very demanding to attempt to improve on them . I'm still trying to think of a model of dependence to replace the vine (not a lot of those at this end of Gloucestershire).
I was pleased, though, that when I read further on in the text
“The Christ of the women of Africa upholds not only motherhood but all who, like Jesus of Nazareth, perform “mothering roles” of bringing out the best in those around them” I immediately connected with another African image from earlier in the chapter "Jesus, the great Tree that enables climbing plants to reach the sun”
If we confine our God-language to our own cultural context, we are continually limiting the opportunities to reflect on realities whose fulness is beyond any expression.
Lots to think about here. Wish it were possible to meet together more often,but even on a termly basis, we've yet to find a single date that all those interested can actually manage. Are we all stupidly busy, I wonder?