Yet this is no lukewarm work with notions that are neither clear nor powerful. Wendy Farley challenges us with the humbling perspective that the reality of the divine is always so much more than our ideas about it. Drawing on traditions that include Origen, Augustine, Nicolas of Cusa and Calvin, she weaves together these strands with the vibrant visions found in the work of contemporary feminist theologians. Like a prophet, she calls us to the important and faithful work of identifying, confessing and setting aside preconceptions that have been gleaned from tradition and shaped by individual experience and worldview.
If her work focused solely on polemic which describes the errors of our various ways, it would be just one more voice in the cacophony of 21st century rhetoric rising out of an ever more cynical point of view. But reading and engaging Farley is refreshing because her thoughtful and compassionate work draws upon the best of non-dualistic thinking. Throughout, she remains grounded in divine love that provides a hopeful way forward through the often chaotic theological discussions.
Coming from the deep pain of her experience of exclusion in mainstream institutions, Farley challenges two millennia of assumptions that have something other than divine love at the center. From historical assertions to present-day ecclesiological debates, she points to the hermeneutic that keeps theological interpretation, transmission and enforcement firmly grounded in the power elite of the church. Yet there is more to her theology than a call for institutional change. Farley challenges each one of us to attend to our own need to reexamine understandings of the incarnation. She asks us to pay attention to what the incarnation says about the breadth and depth of divine love for every human, each one created in the image and likeness of God. We are urged to look beyond the idolatry of theological and spiritual norms that center on the experience of white heterosexual males in order to experience the fullness of Word Made Flesh, remembering all the while what Calvin would only name as “mystery,” that is, the provisional nature of what we can know or believe about God.
I am grateful for this call to confess that we are not at the epicenter of creation. It is urgently needed. The call to recognize the image of God in one another, to see the face of Christ in neighbor and stranger, is a call to live into the fullness of the incarnation, the en-fleshment of Divine love. When we do this, we will be able to see the fully human Christ wearing the torn clothes of a transvestite who has been attacked. We will see Christ making soup and weeping with a sister who lost yet another baby in miscarriage. We will see Christ sleeping among the drunks in the street. And we will learn to see him as he is born to an unwed mother in a barn.
DEBRA AVERY is pastor of Pali Cristi Presbyterian Church in Paradise Valley, Ariz.