THE WEAVING OF A STORY
Story telling is hard work! It is especially challenging when it is semi-autobiographical, because the story of the character is your story, but at the same time, the character you have created becomes its own individual, something external to its creator.
Who is this Christine, I ponder? Is she truly a representative of who I am, or a different and sometimes better version? When people read this, do they look at me and go, mmmmm, she’s an interesting one?
Yet, her struggles were and are mine. And central to these struggles is the narration of her particular and unique story: being a woman in a patriarchal culture, being an ethnic woman in a racist country, being a strong woman in a church that demands submission and silence, being an educated woman in an institution that has distorted the role that women played in the history of the church/society as a whole.
This is not a feminist whinge. I am not playing the victim; my insistence on telling my story, my determination to study and research across a wide range of topics and narrate despite the mocking and the looks of incredulity, illustrate that I won’t allow myself to be a victim.
Christine struggles to belong. She doesn’t belong with her friends, for they betrayed her. She certainly doesn’t belong to the colonial nation of Australia: it suffocates her, mocks her humanity, degrades her as an ethnic woman into something hideous and vile. And eventually, she comes to believe she doesn’t belong to the Greek Church she sought solace in.
In one of the scenes in ‘Daughter of Odysseus--Ithaka Calling’ Christine is with a male friend from her local parish. Andrew, a great intellectual, a fanatical Orthodox Christian and a cantor. He is privileged and exalted in this ancient and very male-dominated institution.
Christine looks at him from the pew, as he chants a hymn to the philosopher St Catherine; this woman with intellect, studying history and theology and literature, passionate about making a difference to her community. Yet Christine is but a phantom—one of the shades from Hades itself: she remains in this land of the dead, together with all the other women, all those oppressed from the power structures of their day, rustling about in a pandemonium of whispers, to quote The Odyssey.
Yet amidst this darkness and shadows, she searches for the light. She looks back to a different past now concealed by the male cantors, by the incense and the bishop’s throne, by those voices telling her women are the destroyers, and sees a diverse world of great Christian and Pagan women teaching and exhorting and making a difference to their societies:
‘Ah, Catherine of Alexandria,’ Christine mused, ‘you were brilliant, witty, and courageous; you shamed the wisest men in Alexandria at a time when women accounted for nothing, and you were murdered because of this.’
Just accept the status quo, Christine, a voice whispered in her mind. Stop thinking too much; stop grumbling about the place of women in the church; stop being difficult. Perhaps Father Nectarios is right: women should know their place, must not have too much freedom. Must submit to men in humility . . . (Pages 93-94)
Thus, the battle within her begins. Does she choose to submit, or does she choose to narrate her own story, weave her own work of art? Engage in her own contest, as if she were Arachne who contested with the goddess Athena over the loom? Use the power of weaving in the same way Penelope did, Odysseus’ wife, as she wove then unloosed the thread secretly in her chambers, fooling the men who had gathered in her palace? ‘Once I complete this shroud, I will choose my husband.’ And the men wait for this to be completed, whilst Penelope chooses the thread and the patterns, working diligently with the loom, completing the masterpiece only to. . .unthread it and do this all again.
This is her power; this most feminine of arts.
Christine wanted to smash that voice, to smother it with the tapestry of her own Wisdom. To weave and unweave. To reweave her own story, to declare that the attempts to humiliate and belittle her had not won. That she had the right to choose the fibre and the colours and the patterns and designs. That hers would be a story that expressed her right to find fulfilment in her Church and her community. The story had a beginning, somewhere in the historical past . . .
This was the story of a Gentile woman of Palestine some two thousand years ago—a despised Canaanite woman who was the lowest of the low. . .She approaches Jesus with the request that he heal her daughter. Jesus disregards her request at first—even insults her! Yet she does not give up. She defends her rights, her God-given rights to have a share of Jesus’ life-giving ministry. . .She is an assertive female who challenges the Lord himself, and her daughter is healed.
A woman is led to a theatre as a sacrifice to appease the wrath of Rome. Her name is Thekla of Iconium, and she is the first female martyr for Christ. Thrown to the wild beasts, she is protected by a fierce lioness whilst crowds of women lament her fate. She is rescued, to preach and to eventually find solace within the embrace of the mountains. . .(Page 94)
There are far more stories to tell, but the last one takes on a sinister tone. Of the last great Greek philosopher Hypatia, murdered by fanatics of the Christian world. Voices echo through the streets below: ‘Hypatia is dead; Hypatia is murdered by the fanatics of the new religion.’ Like the scrolls her followers tried to save—she is torn apart and destroyed.
Thus, the weaving takes another ominous shape. . .
The weaving becomes haphazard, confusing, as the voices of women within Christine’s tradition are smothered. A work of symmetry and continuity becomes disjointed, twisted, and ugly—at variance with the stories of the Gospel. The fibre seems to disintegrate within her hands as she attempts to weave the yarn over the warp threads of the loom. The loom itself becomes a heavy burden to her, a boulder bearing down on her, attempting to stop her story telling (Page 95)
Is that the end of the story? Should we now toss the thread into the bin, throw the loom out? Remain silent and just accept? Should Christine? After all, nobody is listening to her; nobody cares.
Christine yells a resounding NO. The stories continue after all. The end has a beginning. The beginning has an end. The women at the tomb of Christ were to ‘Go to Galilee’ after all, to the beginning of the Gospel narrative and look at the story through new eyes. . .
But there are always new beginnings, for the Holy Spirit too weaves herself through the great loom that is the universe, infusing all with life.
New fibres—new colours—a new repetition to create Christine’s own unique pattern while still reflecting that continuity from ancient times. A new story that now flows with ease. Over and under the warp thread does the needle move in her hand, as if it were a part of her soul—as if she were the goddess of fate spinning the thread of her life and therefore of her destiny (Page 95).
“Over under, under over . . . yellows, blues, reds, blacks. The loom feels like a feather in her hands—the yarn like silk, gliding with delight despite the bleakness of the tale she weaves.”
The story has now been told, has been retold. . .and will be retold through the eyes of the reader.
This story of a daughter of Odysseus; for she is but one daughter. And he has many more.
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