Monday, 15 July 2013

The Good Shepherdess

As the Church of England continues to agonise over women in the church (visit the WATCH website), specifically the question of bishops, I find myself drawn to the wonderfully iconic Celtic saint Brigid, or Bride, who is said to have come for consecration as a nun, and found herself ordained a bishop, when the presiding minister had a charismatic 'moment' because of her aura of holiness. A good place to read the story is a Catholic Women's Movement for Ordination site, in the article, 'St Brigid's Ordination'.
St Bride with crozier - I found this icon  in a small church in Exmoor

A  shepherd's crook is one of the symbols of office of a bishop, representing pastoral responsibility.
Shepherding as an image of caring leadership, is one of the most well-known and well-loved of metaphors for the Divine and those appointed by God to lead the people, and one that I explore as the principle theme in Rejoice with Me. ( A book  reflecting on times in life when the journey seems hard and relationships with God, the church and our own sense of self  can feel strained.)
 The image of shepherding is a Biblical one. It strikes me as strange, therefore, that anyone drawing on the precedent of scripture, could maintain that this is an exclusively male role, since in the Bible, as in today's world, shepherding is clearly an equal opportunities job.
In Exodus 2:16, for example, Moses meets Zipporah for the first time, at a well where she is watering a flock of sheep with her sisters - that is, she and her sisters are shepherds. Moses becomes a shepherd too, by marrying Zipporah.
In Genesis 29:9, again at a well, Rachel appears with a flock of sheep, to the great interest of Joseph - Rachel is a shepherd.
In the Song of Songs 1:8, the beloved is advised to pasture her flock near the shepherds' tents: the beloved is a shepherd.
Taking shepherding as a more general leading of the people, we find among others, Miriam the prophet, companion leader to her brother Moses and Aaron (Micah 6:4) and Deborah the judge and 'mother' of her people (Judges 5:7).
Shepherds can be male or female. So, to my mind, can bishops.

My Shepherd,
thank you for drawing me into the fold of your love,
for reaching out to me in a way that I can hear,
for healing me from the feeling of exclusion,
from the pain of feeling marginalised, as though I am only second best.
Thank you for raising me up in your eyes to be equal within your flock,
equally beloved, equally valued ...


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