Pope John Paul II, Love Letters and the Voice of the Feminine
It’s just another day at the office. The morning has been a bit of a slog, with me knocking around the Council of Nicaea in 787 AD, listening to the 350 bishops who were sitting in a divine circle, mumbling about the trinity and reflecting on the meaning of two circles that share the same center, with one inside the other. This was metaphor on top of theology on top of geometry.
I can’t help hearing the clerical voices denouncing the wild stories that come from the poets and pagan tongues. The clerics tell the assembled that they should not come quickly to utterance, using easy words and descriptions that come from the bosom or unreliable heart, and not from the head of the Holy Catholic Church.
The male voices pray that the assembled do not listen to the stars and the astrologers as even our beloved Augustine had done, because the stars are like fickle women sitting in the corner knitting and predicting the end of the world.
The clerics remind the assembled not to be distracted by what some religions have called the angel in words, as if language could take flight, dictated by man and as unpredictable as the wind blowing off the Aegean Sea. The bishops say that such claims are from the serpent tongue, the same organ that was responsible for the Fall, the separation of the tribes, and the Tower of Babel, after which language and grammar were forever confused like ocean currents that refuse to mingle.
The clerics tell the assembled that the Holy Spirit has given them the ability to reason, to weigh and parse words as if this practice has a sacramental intent. Being illogical, poetic, and meandering in thought is an offense to the Godhead and a failure to make use of our higher facility, our immortal soul.
At this time, the clerics begin their list of anathemas or formal curses for those who had not yet embraced the Christian religion. Sure, I was writing fiction, but words have consequences and I needed a break.
A year or so ago, I began writing a novel, “Chanting the Feminine Down,” about a young woman’s frantic search for aspects of the feminine in the history of the Catholic Church. She roams through the various councils, waltzes through early Christian romance novels, spends a little time with Boccaccio, hob-nobs in Florence and Venice, all the while bombarded with dreams that tell another story of religion.
The idea for the book started a few years earlier with a dream about Pope John Paul II slipping into the earth dressed in what seemed very feminine, lacey attire. In an accompanying scene, a woman is dressed in a black tunic and turned away from the altar when the priest celebrates communion. She cries out for her “daily bread.”
The dream details about the Pope felt very respectful, feminine, and even prayerful. The segment on the female worshipper was much harsher, as if she had been put outside the worship circle became she was a woman. So a contrast and tension existed between images of a gentle, dying Pope slipping into Mother Earth and the woman who is turned away from the altar.
I think the spark for the dream was hearing on television women outside St. Peter’s in Rome demanding some years after his death that the Pope be made a saint immediately. They got their wish. But the dream soon left this familiar territory to focus on the Pope slipping into the earth, which in a way felt like giving birth.
As a student of psychologist Carl Jung, I am a believer in what he called synchronicity, or a meaningful coincidence, where there is no causal relationship. Anyway, that was the word that came to mind when I read about Pope John Paul’s 32-year relationship with a Polish philosopher, Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka. The BBC had discovered in the National Library of Poland letters from the Pope to Ms. Tymieniecka written during this period, both when she was in her native country and after she moved to America. Her letters to him have not been made public.
This tale has all the ingredients of a love story featuring the Pope and an attractive wife and mother of three. All accounts I have read suggest that this was a loving, non-sexual relationship.
I am thinking of my dream again and the feminine trying to secure a place at the center of church doctrine. I am thinking of the many councils, medieval texts and scholastic writings that I have consulted in the last year, looking for signs of the feminine in this religion.
If we turn our eyes away from the lurid sex and the Pope tale, perhaps we can focus on what the Pope seemed to have found in Tymieniecka. From excerpts of John Paul’s letters published in the UK Guardian newspaper, the pontiff seemed to have found a soulmate, a kindred spirit and a touch of Anima, the Queen of the Renaissance that the church frequently tried to still.
If our saintly Pope was in need of such psychological completion by the feminine, what about the rest of the clergy? What about the church?
(Background for the novel and poem based on the John Paul dream can be found at www.chantingthefemininedown.com.)