Finding St. Francis and choosing to stand on the margins

It was early 2013 and I was fresh from three months of formation with Franciscan Mission Service. I had just arrived in Bolivia, South America, to live and serve for at least the next two years as a Franciscan lay missioner.

I had spent the autumn months of 2012 in daily classes learning about Franciscan spirituality and the life of St. Francis of Assisi. In those sessions, I learned about Francis’ example of living as “minority,” a spiritual posture in a “downward direction” always drawing closer to those on the margins.

St-Clare-St-Francis

I learned how Francis’ example of living as “minority” challenged his followers to live “without power over others.” They were taught to resist positions of power and instead encouraged to be “subject to all.”

He was directly challenging folks with the privileges of wealth and social status to reject their power over others and instead grow in humility and service.

As a white woman from an upper middle class family recently graduated from a large Catholic university, the challenge to live as “minority” seemed to deeply contradict the many privileges that were such integral parts of my identity: white, wealthy, over-educated and formed for years as a leader among my peers.

Yet my spiritual journey was already moving in that downward direction towards accompaniment of those most marginalized in our communities. And the example of humility in the life of St. Francis of Assisi deeply resonated with the spiritual growth I most desired.

In those first few months of transition, I had the opportunity to hear a North American friar speak about his 40-plus years of life as a Franciscan. And I will never forget the main message from his talk that day.

He said, “What is essential as a Franciscan is that every day you look at our reality from the perspective of the poor.”

I had to let that message sink in and each time I revisited it I was invited to let it go deeper, called again and again to ongoing conversion. It is a message that has since become central to my spiritual journey.

I had also recently finished reading Sue Monk Kidd’s “The Dance of the Dissident Daughter” and was immersed in reflections on my own spiritual journey as a woman as well as the experiences of the women in my life — particularly the diverse experiences of marginalization so common to women across the world.

by-Annemarie-Barrett
Annemarie’s original watercolor “You Stood With Me”

And the Church was at the forefront of my mind. I was grieving the many ways that I have witnessed women marginalized in the Catholic Church. I thought of the women who were staying in abusive relationships for fear of judgment in the face of divorce, the women sexually assaulted and/or abused who were isolated by the silence of their faith communities, the women abandoned out of the shame of an unplanned pregnancy, and the countless stories of women that constantly go unheard and overshadowed by the privileged voices of their male peers.

Whenever I gathered with other women, I was touched by the experiences of marginalization that seemed to define each of our journeys. And I was particularly enraged by the disproportionate suffering that I was witnessing among the migrant campesina women I was just recently forming relationships with in that first year in Bolivia — so different from my experience as a white women from North America.

In the midst of these reflections I began to paint what I now call “You Stood With Me,” a watercolor piece that I did not know at the time would eventually turn into a series of paintings reflecting on marginalization, solidarity and love in action.

Five years since I was in formation with Franciscan Mission Service (for which I served as a blogger), I am still living in Bolivia and the marginalization of women I witness in the United States, South America and throughout the world still devastates. And I believe that the Church’s complicity in that marginalization is a crisis worth our attention.

In following the example of St. Francis of Assisi, I believe that we too are called everyday to look at our reality from the perspective of those most marginalized among us.

Today — the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi — we are reminded of his example of humility and solidarity and I believe that we are called to examine our own call to conversion, learning to look at our reality from the perspective of those most marginalized among us.

But what does that look like in action?

Meinrad-Craighead-piece
The composition of Annemarie’s watercolor series “You Stood With Me” was inspired by this original art from Meinrad Craighead.

In my experience, it has meant first and foremost learning to listen. When I choose to listen first instead of speaking I resist the temptation to express power over others, instead drawing closer to the lived experiences and expressed needs of those facing the suffering firsthand.

When we choose to humbly listen to those who are suffering we are invited towards empathy instead of judgment, accountability in place of denial, and community and connection over fear and marginalization.

When we choose to join with those on the margins, none of us are alone. And in the face of ongoing marginalization, we are empowered to stand together.

 

ABOUT THE RABBLE ROUSER

Annemarie Barrett

Annemarie-BarrettAnnemarie (who also served as a blogger for Franciscan Mission Service) grew up in the Midwest and now lives in Bolivia, South America. Her spiritual journey has been greatly influenced by the Catholic Worker Movement and the Franciscan charism of humble availability and deep solidarity. She has also been influenced and transformed by the unique experience of spending most of her life in Western, capitalist culture and now living for years in Andean culture that is much more communal and rooted in the wisdom of indigenous communities. Today, she lives and farms with her partner and also creates and sells her original art under the name AEB Art.

The church is a home for peacemakers

In the midst of a war, I found my home in the Catholic church.

I was a college student, majoring in history. Studying history meant, among other things, studying war and the destruction and injustices that wars had repeatedly caused. The more I studied this side of history, the more passionate I became about social movements and peaceful alternatives. The truth of history convinced me that war, militarism and violence were all immoral.

At the same time, I was exploring the…

[This is the beginning of my latest column for the online newspaper, Global Sisters Report. Continue reading here.]

Peace sign
Photo credit: http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/199476

Paradox, solidarity and these Advent days

For us Christians, our life is a life full of paradoxes. Heaven is now and not yet. Jesus is with us always and is coming again.

During Advent, we celebrate paradoxes while remembering that we are people of light and darkness. Suffering and joy are both part of the fullness of the human experience.

The Nativity story also speaks of thick darkness and joyful anticipation. Quietly, Mary and Joseph move toward Bethlehem. Very pregnant and traveling through an occupied and violent land, the journey is risky and uncomfortable. Even so, they believe in the goodness soon to come through the birth of their son Jesus. Peace surrounds as well as an inescapable awareness about the darkness of oppression.

Nativity scene in Greccio, Italy by Julia Walsh, FSPA

Together, Mary and Joseph have chosen to trust in God’s mysterious plan. Going about things according to God’s way doesn’t mean that all hardship comes to an end. Quite the contrary. As the Gospels testify, discipleship usually leads one right into trouble, darkness and persecution.

It is the same with us: as disciples who chose to trust in God’s ways over our own. We journey with those who struggle and seem powerless. We don’t avoid suffering, we head right into it. We know that the power of God’s light, peace and joy can strengthen us no matter how heavy and hard the darkness of the human experience may be. We move to the ugly, polluted margins of society because we believe that is where we will encounter God.

This means we must be people of solidarity who are responding to the signs of the times. We do all we can to confront racial injustice and vigil for discrimination and violence to end. We bemoan the sin of torture and advocate for the closing of illegal prisons like Guantanamo. We are not naive about the pains of this planet and join millions in demanding more radical environmental actions to free us from the dangers of climate change.

Yes: during these Advent days we are called to be vibrant lights of hope in a dark and troubled world. Through our acts of solidarity, we embrace the darkness so to shine brightly and gleam out hope, joy and celebration.

As Shane Claiborne writes, “Celebration is at the very core of our kingdom, and hopefully that celebration will make its way into the darkest corners of our world– the ghettos and refugee camps, and the palaces and prisons. May the whispers of hope reach the ears of hope–hungry people in the shadows of our world.”

Amen!