On Writing · Poetry

Penny-Anne Beaudoin – Poet – On Writing & Religion Part II

I know you’re all patiently awaiting the second instalment of Penny-Anne’s guest post on Writing and Religion.

I’m greatly thankful to all those who have read thus far, made comments and subscribed. Our Penny-Anne certainly is a miracle worker!

In case you missed it, here is Part I.

This is the woman behind the words!

Please visit her site: www.pennyannebeaudoin.com

Without anymore stalling…I give you, Part II.

At the end of high school it was made clear to me that I needed to prepare myself for a job in the, (ahem!), “real” world, something I could make a living at, or at least enough to keep body and soul together.  Writing simply did not fit the bill.  And so began a long and varied succession of jobs from au pair  (lovely name, that, although back in the day we were just plain “live-in babysitters”) to medical secretary, to a three year stint in nursing school (took me that long to discover nursing was not to be my vocation in life), to a whole bunch of clerical jobs, to assistant psychiatric ombudsman, to three years at Hotel Dieu as secretary to the Quality Assurance Coordinator.  With every job change, the inner flame that was my purpose in life burned lower and lower, until, when I landed what should have been my dream job – pastoral assistant at a local church – I found myself in a very dark place indeed, dreadfully sick all the time, taking Gravol to get to sleep at night, waking every morning disappointed I was still alive.

Thankfully, I married my husband before I reached the tipping point, and I have no doubt but that he saved my life.  I grew stronger and happier, but something was still missing, something deep, something important.  Though I couldn’t put a name to it at the time, I know now it was my broken dream of being a writer that was at the root of my trouble, and had been for years.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the “golden shimmering possibility” that was my faith was beginning to tarnish.

It was a gradual thing at first, the unsettling doubts, the niggling little questions.  When I was a teenager we had a pastor who was fond of reminding his flock that “the father was the head of the home and the mother the heart,” and every time I heard it, I bristled.  I said to my mother, “It sounds like he means the man is the brain, making all the decisions, and the woman is, well, a pump, a necessary pump mind you, but a pump, inferior to the brain.”  She assured me I had it wrong – that the mother was the heart of the family because of her love for the children.  But what about the father’s love for the children, and what about those women who had to assume headship of the family in the father’s absence?  These things were never explained.  Perhaps it would have messed up the metaphor.

As I grew older I came to realize how in ways subtle and not so subtle, my role as a woman of faith had been carefully circumscribed centuries before I even came on the scene.  For instance, of the Ten Commandments, only nine seemed to apply to women, unless the Almighty had lesbians in mind with the Ninth Commandment’s warning not to covet thy neighbour’s wife.  There are seven sacraments in the Catholic Church, but only six of these applied to women, as Holy Orders, or ordination to the priesthood was, and still is, exclusive to men.  The language of liturgy and theology in the 50’s and 60’s was strongly androcentric; God was always imaged as a male, and often an aggressive male at that.  Women were rendered invisible by phrases such as “Christ came to save all men,” or the common greeting at the beginning of the priest’s homily, “My dear brethren.”  In the 70’s and 80’s, the Church did eventually open up the ministries of lector, altar server, and Eucharistic minister to women, but adamantly refused to reinstate the historical office of deaconess, though their husbands could be ordained deacons.  Women were not allowed to preach.  If they did speak at Mass, it had to be near the end of the service, and their remarks were referred to as “reflections” not a homily.  Female chaplains were not allowed to administer last rites to their dying patients.  And the sign on the seminary door still read, “No girls allowed.”  It wasn’t easy being a Catholic woman, but I would not entertain the idea of leaving.  No, I was going to help heal the Church from the inside.

I found a warm and progressive faith community at Assumption Chapel on the University of Windsor campus, and one Sunday as I sat in my place in the choir, the chaplain announced that Assumption University was about to reactivate its teaching charter and offer a Master’s degree program in pastoral ministry.  And again my heart thundered.  “Pay attention!” it said, “This will change your life.”

I applied and was accepted in the first wave of students in 1992, and found myself blissfully studying theology, Christology, ecclesiology, sacramentology, Christian feminism, spirituality, liturgy, ecofeminism, and even storytelling with top-notch professors.  I was in my glory back in the world of academics, but even more importantly, I could feel my heart start to heal and my soul energy begin to rise, for I was, at last, writing again!

My first academic paper was 31 pages long!  I had so much pent up inside me it seemed I couldn’t stop moving my pen!  Reflection papers were my favourite because I could put a great deal of myself into them.  I rewrote parables and bible stories.  I asked provocative questions and joined in lively debates.  I studied the Vatican II documents and thought, “Yes!  Yes!  Here is my Church self-reflecting, opening itself to new ideas about how to engage with the world and move into the next century.  This is my Church at its best!”

My professors were impressed with my papers and encouraged me to submit articles to journals of religion and spirituality.  To my utter delight, a preaching journal in New York picked up my first article and paid me the unheard of sum of $100 American – and that was back when American money actually meant something!  More publications followed in Canada and the States, and I was even nominated for the Canadian Church Press award for a compelling, full-page piece about women priests.  I’d found my calling, I thought.  I would be a feminist-religious-journalist.  Now there’s a job title you could sink your teeth into!

But before I graduated, my Church would break my heart one more time.

Please stay tuned for next week’s instalment of Penny-Anne’s amazing journey to her writing self.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s