Author and lecturer Matthew Fox, speaking at a Boston conference July 19-20, gave his personal blessing to chaos, calling it a necessary prelude to new birth.
"Chaos is a blessing; in its origins and before patriarchy, it was a goddess,” he said. “Chaos is the prelude to new birth after the dark night of the soul.
“In a paradoxical way, crisis is the mother of invention," said Fox, in a keynote address at a conference titled "Inclusive Ministry and Renewal in a Complex Age."
The gathering was jointly sponsored by four organizations dedicated to ministry: Federation of Christian Ministries, Women's Ordination Conference, Roman Catholic Women Priests, and the National Association for an Inclusive Priesthood (formerly CORPUS).
The stated conference goal was "to come together as communities of people engaged in ministry, to further the understanding, meet the challenges, and to implement inclusive ministry in this complex age.
In his address Fox said the age we are living in – an age of chaos and complexity – is not tolerated by orthodoxy, which does not like untidiness. He said the Holy Spirit is deconstructing, and this process is “a blessing for all of us."
With these and other perspectives from which to view the present conditions in the church and wider world, Fox offered encouragement.
"The universe," he said, "is a wild place, a wellspring of creativity. Renewal will come when we recover our wildness. ... Creativity is a far greater virtue than obedience."
Fox projected current religious, spiritual, and ministerial concerns onto the large canvas of the universe.
Jane Via and Jean Marchant, ordained priests, held their audience in a near trance as they spoke in poetic imagery of the need to accept women in the ordained ministry. In their general session entitled "Womb to Tomb," Marchant compared the contemporary emergence of foundling faith communities to the formation and growth of a fetus in the womb and its coming to birth.
She also employed the story of Adam and Eve to illustrate the need for human psychological wholeness in authenticity, mutuality and empathy.
Via spoke of the tomb, noting that we are today standing at the door of an entombed church. Many stones must be rolled away - the heaviest and most difficult one to move being the stone of clericalism. The elements of empire and kingdom are insidiously embedded in church teaching and practice - so much so that we too often are unaware of them.
Via urged the audience to "look ourselves in the face and become aware" of how we've been entrapped in patriarchy and empire. She insisted that we must read the works of feminine theologians and read them over and over, to facilitate that awareness.
"We must re-vision things," for our time, Via said.
In addition to the two general sessions and a liturgy to close the conference, 30 workshop sessions offered an extensive menu from which conference-goers could choose. Topics included personal spirituality, racism in a supposedly inclusive church, prospects and possibilities for ministry, growing into adulthood in a paternalistic church, jail ministry, women's ordination, the Community of John XXIII (a contemporary model for religious life), inter-religious dialogue as ministry, and pre-marriage ministry.
The opinion, obtained from informal interviews, was unanimous that spouses do not limit or restrict ministerial activities; actually, they support it and make it more possible.
Conference attendees came from 30 states, Canada, Germany, Thailand and the Netherlands.
[Regina Schulte is a Catholic theologian living in Burlington, Wis.]