Monday, October 19, 2009

The Litany of the Inquisitive

The Litany of the Inquisitive, most properly said in a public arena, preferably after an excruciatingly long day while the unwitting celebrant tries to finish her grocery shopping, traditionally begins with a furrowed brow, a slightly-opened mouth, then the words, “Are you a priest?” although another opening option includes, “Are you a nun?”

To which the strange woman in clergy apparel responds, “Yes, I’m a priest.”

The Litany continues with any number of appropriate responsorial sentences: I’ve never seen a girl priest; can you marry; can you date; are you Christian? All responses demand an answer, and the liturgical standard holds that the longer, more exhausting the priest’s day has been, the more inquisitive the litanist will be, thus adding substantially to the length of the Litany.

Or maybe I’m just a person who gets irritated when she’s tired and in no mood to delve into theological discussions while I’m buying lettuce and red bell peppers at the grocery store.

As an ordained woman in a highly Roman Catholic area of the country, my clerical garb invites odd looks and questions from those who just don’t know. They don’t know that for over thirty years, many of the mainstream Churches and Synagogues have ordained women; that we can date, at least in theory; and that we can marry. They don’t know that we bless, marry, baptize, and bury the children of God, just like the boy priests. They don’t know that we aren’t new and novel in the Church. Women were integral in the early Christian church, so when any woman is ordained, she is simply reclaiming a role stripped from us for centuries.

Perhaps, though, in their questions, they want to know. So they ask questions that are obvious and safe, instead of challenging the patriarchy of whatever faith they belong. They see something, or actually someone new and different, and inquire. Some people share their condescension at my role in the church, but most are simply intrigued, even happy to know I, with thousands of my sisters, exist and stand in pulpits and behind altars and pray beside hospital beds and in public gatherings all over the world.

Perhaps the Litany of the Inquisitive, like so many prayers, is God speaking to us through our own questions. Faith is always more about daring to ask the questions than sitting smugly within the answers that are probably wrong or at least mildly off-base. In the Gospels, many of Jesus’ teaching moments occur in response to questions, both genuine and surly. The hows, whos, and whys of life are the access into our deepest thoughts, fears, and doubts. Within our human desires, perhaps the deepest longing is to know. Not a sinful desire, mind you, unless we are so convinced that we know everything that we, in turn, dismiss what we do not know and strangle the mystery, ambiguity, and grace out of life.

So when we see something that we didn’t know existed, like Bigfoot or the first truly carbon-neutral car real people can afford or a clergy person who is a woman, humanity inquires.

And God says such inquiry is good and reminds me to be patient as the Litany is prayed in its fullness. God also tells me I can go up to a male priest one day and perform the Litany, just for laughs. After all, laughter is a prayer She always loves to hear.

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