I recently had the heart wrenching privilege of watching Radical Grace. It relays the story of a group of nuns – actually, all American nuns – who came into hot water with the Vatican. They faced the possibility of excommunication for focussing too much on social justice. It follows the nuns from Vatican II onwards, depicting the roles the different popes played in supporting or suppressing the voices of Catholic women. Seeing their story hit an unsuspecting nerve in me.
This documentary is a rare beauty because there are few insider female voices publicly discussing contemporary issues in Christianity. This is because among those issues is whether women should be given a public platform to talk about faith. After all, it is widely accepted that men can’t learn anything worthwhile if the transmitter of that knowledge is a woman standing at the front of a church. (In many Protestant circles, if it’s a really important message that has been weighing on her for some time, she must get married. Then, she can quietly approach her husband about it provided she is simultaneously nursing, cleaning something and making his dinner. That way, he can sieve out her hysteria before he decides whether or not her thoughts are worth sharing more widely.)
That paragraph is angrier than I like to get on this blog, but it is an issue that stabbed at me as a Christian. I faced similar Bible verses, dismissive stances, theological arguments and holy sexism to what these nuns did.
As I lay awake last night contemplating the challenges Christian women put up with, my heart let out a long throaty, grieving wail. It physically ached within my chest, feeling a size too big for my ribs. I reluctantly observed that even though its been a year since I left the Church, I’m still so hurt by this. Overwhelmed with sadness, I tried to think of other things – my toes, my breathing, the sounds of the night – enough to distract myself from the soreness and the cry of my heart to fall asleep.
All of the nuns in the film were older women who had been fighting for causes for decades. To watch them hold their ground and weather the threat of being dismissed from the Church they gave their entire lives to was inspiring. It was a testament to the strength of their convictions, their faith and their character.
Since I last posted, my husband got a new job in a different part of the province. As quickly as we could, we quit our current jobs and moved to a new city.
As a result, my future has suddenly gone blank. What do I want to do with it? The prospect is both scary and delicious. I hope I can make it into something that has the same flavours of courage, goodness and tenacity that these nuns have. I hope I can find my own tribe of “sisters” to do it with me. I hope. It won’t be in Jesus’ name, because I’ve given up on that now. Nevertheless this film has supplied me with such hope in the potential of women on a mission.
Watch it while you can online. I’ve given a link to it, but it will only be available on CBC’s website for free for a short time.