"It is good to have an end to journey towards," Ursula Le Guin writes, "but it is the journey that matters in the end." The truth of that statement explains, as well as anything, I think, how it is possible : necessary even : to stay in a church that is riddled with inconsistencies, closed to the discussion about the implications of them, and sympathetic only to invisible women. The fact is that I have come to realize over the years that church is not a place; it is a process.
To leave the church may in fact be leaving part of the process of my own development. So, intent on the process of grappling with truth, I stat in it, when (for a woman) staying in it is full of pain, frustration, disillusionment and far too often even humiliation. Both of us, this church and I, have need to grow. The church needs to grow in its understanding of the Gospel, and I need to grow in my understanding of myself as I strive to live it. It is, in other words, a journey of conversion for both of us.
I stay in the church as a restless pilgrim not because I don't believe what the church has taught mew, but precisely because I do. I believed when they taught us that God made us equal and Jesus came for us all. I believed in the Jesus they showed me who listen to women and taught theology to women and sent women to teach theology and raised women from the dead.
So today I believe that the church, if it is ever to be true to that same Gospel, must someday do the same. It must commission women as Jesus did the Samaritan woman, listen to women as Jesus did the Canaanite woman, raise women to new life as Jesus did the daughter of Jairus. I stay in the church because there is nowhere else I know that satisfies me in what the church teaches us to seek: a sacramental life that makes all life sacred, a community of faith that celebrates life together, the proclamation of the image of God alive in each of us, the contemplation of truth that makes life meaningful.
I know clubs and societies and congregations of deep sincerity that do great good. The problem is that I need sacrament, common faith and a sense of the divine in the core of my humanity as well as I need good talk, good words and good intentions.
We are sanctifying one another, this church and the women who refuse to be silent, refuse to be suppressed. What each of us sets out to convert will in the end convert us as well. Women will call the church to truth. The church will call women to faith. Together, God willing, we will persist -- women despite the madness of authoritarianism, the church regardless of the irritation of unrelenting challenge. We will perdure together. We will propel ourselves to the edges of our potentials for holiness.
"Why does a woman like you stay in the church?" a woman asked me from the depths of a dark audience years ago. "Because," I answered, "every time I thought about leaving, I found myself thinking of oysters." "Oysters?" she asked. "What do oysters have to do with it?" "Well," I answered in the darkness of the huge auditorium, "I realized that an oyster is an organism that defends itself by excreting a substance to protect itself against the sand of its spawning bed. The more sand in the oyster, the more chemical the oyster produces until finally, after layer upon layer of gel, the sand turns into a pearl. Then the oyster itself becomes more valuable in the process. At that moment, I discovered the ministry of irritation."
I stay in the church with all my challenge and despite its resistance, knowing that before this is over, both the church and I will become what we have the capacity to be: followers of the Christ who listened to women, taught them theology, and raised them from the dead.