Pope Benedict XVI was sitting at his sixteenth century desk in his private office at his private residence, Castel Gandolfo. It was late and the eighty-one-year old Vicar of Christ was fatigued from a very long day of work. He had just slipped out of his red Pravda shoes and tiredly removed the weighty pectoral cross from around his neck when he sensed another presence in the room. Looking towards the heavy drapes that covered the windows, he saw a small, wizened woman with pince nez glasses wearing a long faded cotton dress. Benedict, completely surprised, looked up and inquired, “Are you new here, Sister.”
The woman stepped sprightly from the shadows and walked right up to his desk, placing her hands, palms down, on his desk. Benedict looked from the hands to the deeply lined face with the sparkling bright green eyes and said patiently, as if to a small child, “Can I help you, Sister?”
“Joseph,” she returned with equal patience in perfect German, “I am not your sister or anyone’s sister. “In fact,” she said settling herself comfortably into the chair on the other side of his desk, and crossing her thin legs, and looking at him over the top of her glasses in a most business like fashion, “I am the Lord, thy God.”
Joseph leaned back in his chair, his jaw dropping, pinching himself to see if he were dead. He had always wondered what God might look like. He recalled seeing the American movie, “The Emperor Jones” where God was a black man. He could get that. But God as a woman? He reached for the button on his desk that summoned the Swiss guards. The lady was a lunatic.
A strong hand, smaller and more elderly than his own, grabbed his hand. “Joseph, I am not a lunatic. I am God.” Seeing his surprise at HER divine image, God returned, “ You humans have such predictable images of God: kings, crowns, scepters, royal gold, law and order, high and mighty – all fru fru. God will be Who God will be. Remember Exodus? Your biblical scholars and even your artists think they have the Lord, thy God nailed down. But, you know, the Hebrew tenses so often get lost in translation. You must agree that the future tense puts a different spin on things, yes?” Her green eyes sparkled behind the glasses. “I am like the definition in the catechism. I am, I was, and I will be - but on my own terms, not yours or anyone else’s, which is why I look like this to you. And by the way, you, Joseph, should consider yourself fortunate. Moses only saw my hindquarters and Elijah heard only a whisper. But the modern world needs to work with new metaphors, so you get the full monty. For behold, I create all things new, in case you forgot.” The large, overstuffed chair in which she sat seemed to envelope her small frame. But as she said the word, “forgot,” the chair jolted forward a couple of inches. Benedict could only sit, transfixed.
“You and I need to have what modern people call, ‘conversations’, Joseph. I know you are a good listener. In fact, we need to have a couple of them.” God drummed her fingers on Benedict’s desk and looked pointedly at the accoutrements in the pope’s castle keep. “If I recall, my child, whom you purport to emulate, was born as a poor Jewish baby to an unwed mother in a smelly barn and lived as one of the most wretched of the earth with one coat and no place to put his head. I’ve asked many times and many ways, through my servants Clare and Francis of Assisi, and Dorothy Day, through the Quakers and the Shakers, through the Dalai Lama and the people of the Simple Way, how do you account for all this?” God’s mouth rather snapped shut as SHE waited patiently for his answer. Benedict could only put his hand over his mouth.
Suddenly, God looked under Benedict’s desk at the red Pravda shoes. “I know this is a non sequitor, but can I try on your shoes?” Benedict could only nod. God slid her tiny feet into the red shoes. “It’s a perfect fit,” she announced. “Can I have them?” Before Benedict could answer, she padded out of the pope’s office. “I’ll be back,” she said over her shoulder.
When Benedict awoke the next morning, he was still sitting at his desk with his head down. His back ached and his head hurt. People of a certain age should not sleep at their desks all night. When the good sister who cooked for him brought his morning coffee, she was surprised to find a rumpled pontiff, a little worse for wear.
“Are you feeling well, Holy Father?” she asked, her voice raised slightly in concern.
“Sister, is there a very elderly sister among you, a tiny woman who wears a cotton skirt, with gray hair pulled back in a bun, who wears no head covering and has sparkling green eyes?” Benedict felt silly even asking.
“No, Holy Father, it is only our order who serves you and we are all veiled and wear only black.” She looked at him inquisitively.
“No matter, Sister,” he said, waving his hand in dismissal. Sister bowed and walked out of the room.
Benedict reached under his desk with his toe and tried to slip into his favorite red shoes. “Now how far did I kick them under my desk,” he said aloud as he bent over and stuck his head under the desk. The sister returned to gather up his breakfast found him kneeling on the floor with the top half of his body under the desk.
“Holy Father,” she said rushing towards him, now completely alarmed, “Do you need help?”
“Only in finding my shoes,” came the muffled reply.
Benedict gingerly climbed back into his chair, his pontifical beanie hanging down around his ear and sipped his coffee, shoeless and clueless. What exactly happened to him last night?
Before he could answer himself, SHE was back, striding into his office wearing his red shoes, which seemed to have some sort of glow about them. His head hurt and he couldn’t think straight despite the strong black coffee. What was that movie he had seen when he was a boy? She saw his eyes looking at his shoes. “Dorothy,” she said. “The Wizard of Oz.”
“You do like them on me, Joseph? I have really taken a shine to them.” She raised her long skirt a bit and showed him each tiny foot.
“I see, Sister,” he replied pushing his beanie back up on his head, “But how…?”
God stopped him in mid-sentence and rather thundered. “Joseph, I am not a sister or your sister. I am the Lord God Almighty. Get over your fear of powerful women.” She walked over to his desk, each foot creating a pool of red as it touched the oriental carpet. SHE looked down at Benedict’s desk and read the correspondence on his desk, a letter signed by Cardinal Levada, the Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, excommunicating women priests and the bishops who ordain them.
“Joseph,” she asked plaintively, “Don’t you all have better things to do? My people are starving in Myanmar and dying in China, the entire church is falling down around your papal ears and all you are worried about is who can look like me! You say you have no power to change the practice of the church? Of course you do. You’re the pope! Two thousand years is but a day in MY eyes.”
SHE waved the letter in front of his face, “You are such a smart man. Why are you doing this dumb thing?” She threw the letter on the floor, and stamped on it with her red shoes, leaving a red imprint. “Do you really think that anyone can image the Lord God, Creator of heaven and earth?” God’s eyes seemed to flash and then deepen into unfathomable pools into which Joseph found himself sinking. He could not move. For the first time in his life, Joseph felt thrashed by a woman. When he saw God’s look, he quickly checked his thoughts.
“You also have an incredibly bad taste in your appointments. Do you have some sort of vetting process when you do this, like businesses do? Or do you just use your gut like my son George in America does? Do you know that I had a talk with Bishop Burke in St. Louis after he excommunicated Elsie, Rosemarie, and Marek along with his entire parish council? I directed him to stop persecuting ME. It was a divine experience, right from the Book of Acts. I knocked him out, he’s that hard headed. And still he chose not to listen to ME! And then you, Joseph, promoted him! How do you think your silliness makes ME look? People judge ME, the Lord thy God by your actions. If you don’t make any sense, then somehow people think I don’t make any sense. Have you ever thought about that?” Benedict sunk deeper and deeper into his chair.
“And this Levada fellow, “ she continued, “He was about to be subpoenaed by an American court. You rescued him so he didn’t have to face his terrible mistakes. You did the same thing with that Law fellow from Boston. You protect men instead of allowing them to learn from their bad mistakes. My people aren’t all that stupid that they can’t deal with your buddies’ errors. Didn’t I tell you that all of you have fallen short of MY glory? The people know and understand that. They would have forgiven you. It’s the hypocrisy that gets them, not dumb human mistakes. When will you ever learn? You are not ME! And then you have the temerity, the temerity, Joseph, to think that you can separate people from MY love! Just how, Joseph, do you practice pastoral care? In your head without your heart?”
God was so angry that SHE reached over the desk and grabbed the pope’s pectoral cross from his desk, put it around her neck, and strode out of his office in his red Pravda shoes. Benedict heard her exclaim as she went out of sight, “Do not tempt the Lord, thy God.”
Benedict must have fallen asleep again. When he awakened, his physician was standing over him. “Your Eminence, you Eminence, are you all right?”
Lifting up his head, Benedict looked at his doctor with bleary eyes. “Am I all right, Doctor? I can’t honestly say. Let’s just say that I have had the shock of my life. Actually, there were a couple of shocks. Please let me sleep off whatever happened to me.” As he climbed into bed with the doctor trying to take his pulse, all Benedict could think of were the deep green pools of God’s eyes. Benedict snored through the doctor’s exam.
The pontiff swam effortlessly in the deep green pools of God’s eyes. The water, suffused with light, was clear, straight through to the bottom. Although he was under the water, he had no need for oxygen. As he swam, Benedict felt God removing the burdens of his adult life. His age disappeared and since his clothes fell away, he could see that his body looked as it did when he entered the seminary at age 13. Books dropped from his hands and ideas felt out of his head. He saw them all float away and sink towards what he thought was the bottom. Part of him wanted to swim after them but a voice said to him, “You are a new creation. You have no further need of these things.”
He floated to the surface and a gentle wave carried him towards the shore. A large contingent of women stood on the beach dancing and singing. He wanted to laugh, sing and dance with them in his new found freedom. As he emerged from the shallows, he only caught the last verse sung by a large woman who wore a sash across her chest that read, “Queen Latifa.” “God’s gonna trouble the wah- a- wa-ter!”
The women stopped singing when they saw the young man standing in the shallows. The queen stepped forward. “We are the women who supported Jesus when HE walked through the streets of Jerusalem on his way to Golgotha. We are intimately acquainted with grief, inflicted upon us all by transgressors of the law of love. We are women who have had issues of blood, despised, rejected, used and misused by men. We have been raped and murdered. We have been forced to have children against our will, even when it killed us. We have been forced to marry against our will. We have been forced to enter convents against our will. We have been forced to think thoughts that are not our own, thoughts that have destroyed our minds and our souls. We have been held to have no account in the world of men who choose not to believe us. We have been burdened with the sins of men who could not bear their own sins. We have been told to ‘offer it up’ to men who laugh at us or ignore us or cast stones at us. We understand the theology of the cross for it has been our constant companion. Our blood cries out for justice, and the arm of our God will give you strength for you are the one who will make an offering of your life as you know it for this sin. You will learn the true meaning of the cross. You will learn what it means to give up everything, everything for God. You will become like us, despised and rejected.”
As the queen finished speaking, Benedict felt his old self coming together again and he began to cry. He never did get a chance to dance. A short woman with a South African accent walked up to him and gently wiped his face with a towel she removed from around her shoulders. A tall woman with short dark hair gave him a bear hug and kissed him on both cheeks. Then the tiny woman with the green eyes placed her hand on his chest. “I have put a seal upon your heart, Joseph. I love you and you are mine.”
Joseph felt a burning sensation in his chest as if he had just drunk a glass of schnapps and woke up.
To be continued.