This womb of mine will not know the pangs of pregnancy. My skin will not tighten when another body becomes part of my flesh. My inner organs will not shift to make room; my ankles will not swell; my appetite will not increase because my body is making another person.
This womb is empty, creased. That potential has been offered upon an altar, a sacrifice. “I vow to God Almighty to live consecrated celibacy for the rest of my life and into the next,” I once proclaimed in front of my Franciscan sisters, family and friends, surrounded by statues of saints, standing firm. I have vowed to keep this womb empty so that I can live a life of boundless love, devoted service and deep prayer
How do you pray?
Do you pray with hands folded?
Do you air out your words on the line? Do you clip them down one by one, and then let them dance in the breeze until they are fresh, light? . . .
A little over a week ago, I got to be near the ocean. I didn’t get to see it. I didn’t get to tuck my toe into the salty fluid; I wasn’t able to wade upon the sand and rocks and contemplate the depth beyond the shore.
(I was near the ocean because I traveled to South Carolina for an incredible interfaith retreat, which I will likely write about later. For now, though, I feel compelled to share a meditation about God as ocean.)
I was less than 20 miles from the expansiveness of the ocean, from the habitat for more species than I can ever encounter in my lifetime. I was only 20 miles away, and I didn’t get to feel the force of the waves. I didn’t get to hear the crash of the water upon the solid rock. I didn’t get to see the movement of water or taste the salty breeze. Not even 20 miles away, I didn’t get to encounter the mystery and might of the sea.
(Lament is a sacred sound, for it makes manifest our longing for the bigness that is beyond us. I am a lover of the Incarnation and I pray with my feet, my flesh.)
Although I am Midwesterner and live over 1,000 miles from the ocean, I have encountered its vastness many times before. I was born about 40 miles from the ocean, in Bangor, Maine. I have looked down into the waves from a plane 30,000 feet above the blurry blue. My travels have permitted me to dip my body in both the Pacific and the Indian. I have entered the Atlantic over and over. I have waded into the water from the west and east coasts of North America and the west and east coasts of Africa. I have walked to the tip of Spain, thought to be the end of the world in the Middle Ages. There too, I stared into the sea.
You might say that the ocean and I have been in a relationship for as long as I have been on Earth.
I have understood God as ocean for years, but it has mainly been a metaphor I’ve kept in the quiet of my heart. I really started to think of God this way when I was a new novice with my community and my contemplative life started moving me away from the shallow water and into a depth that was over my head. During those days, I found myself praying God, I want to swim in the deepest parts of your love. I wrote in my prayer journal, God, I want to swim with the creatures that glow in the dark.
On a “hermitage day,” I visited the Shedd Aquarium and sat in a dark room beside panels of thick glass, where I gazed at the beauty of bioluminescent sea creatures. In the quiet and dark, I meditated and prayed. Among the glowing life, I embraced not understanding God’s mystery.
“Artists of the world, may your many different paths all lead to that infinite Ocean of beauty where wonder becomes awe, exhilaration, unspeakable joy.”– St. Pope John Paul II
Apparently I am not the only one who knows God as an Ocean. Evidently others have experienced how many paths of goodness can lead to encounters of beauty, wonder, awe, exhilaration and joy. This, I am learning, is the stuff of saints.
This is what swimming in God’s love does: it opens up waters so deep that we can only rejoice. This is what communion with God’s Spirit is: a love so expansive that we cannot explore all of it in our lifetimes. I am not an oceanographer, but I suspect those who are would say the same about this planet’s great seas.
St. Pope John Paul II’s message is meant for everyone, not just those of us who might claim the title artist. All of us are called to be creative; we are children of God, who is infinite creativity. We all get to washed by this love, transformed by its power.
And, all of us are called to contemplate the goodness of God, to experience its expansive mystery. We are invited to dive to the depth of God’s mystery; this is a universal call to holiness. We all are invited into depths that are over our heads, where we can swim with mysterious creatures. Our discoveries and encounters in the Ocean will change us, awaken us.
I am learning that as we get farther from the shore, we will realize that we have always been swimming. No matter if we are in a land-locked place thousands of miles away from the ocean, the Ocean is where we came from and it is where we always are. The Ocean is our true home.
I nearly skipped the liturgy. I almost didn’t head out into the cold night.
After two full and exhausting days at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I wasn’t sure if I had any energy to interact with another person, especially any of my literary heroes.
Yet, I made my way through the slushy streets and into a dimly lit restaurant, with a copy of Presence clenched under my stiff arm. I found a seat, snug between strangers, tucked tight into rows of chairs facing a simple microphone and small table.
Others stood on the edges of the room, sipping wine and eating hors d’oeuvres. I looked around the space, and felt too shy to offer my customary grins and waves to any face I recognized, because my body was tight with the feeling that…
The courage and resilience of survivors of sexual assault choosing to share their stories gives me hope.
The wave of very public accounts of sexual assault and misconduct sweeping the United States, for many, has made what once seemed safe and certain seem suddenly dangerous and frightening.
For those recently opening their eyes to the harrowing realities of male privilege and power, the stories of sexual assault survivors may feel like a threat. Many may feel tempted to distrust what is being revealed about our society and opt for outright denial or compulsively blame victims for the violence they endured.
Many more may be overwhelmed by doubt and confusion, unsure of who to trust as powerful people and institutions expose their failure to protect us.
There are also many of us who have been treading in the dangerous and frightening uncertainty of living as survivors of sexual assault for some time.
But now, even if you never have before, is the time to listen to survivors.
The Gospel is fundamentally about listening to the needs of the most marginalized and the personal (and societal) transformation necessary for us to stand with those on the margins, demanding justice from the powers that be.
The challenge is learning to apply that call to our daily lives today.
When we exist within a patriarchal society and an even more patriarchal Church, it is tempting to position Jesus as the patriarchal center in our spiritual lives.
Too often we lose sight of the ways Jesus practiced dissent and favored decentralization; the ways he spoke truth to men in positions of power and listened to and supported women who were experiencing marginalization.
Thankfully, the survivors of sexual assault who are choosing to break the silence are modeling that dissent and decentralization for us today, so that we too can learn from their example and practice breaking the silence in our own lives.
As Heather McGhee, president of Demos, so powerfully explains, “This is a moment of reckoning. It is a moment of collective power for women who have felt that they individually could not speak up because men hold so many of the cards in workplaces, in industries. They hold so much of the political power in this country and the economic power. But women are discovering that there is strength in numbers and that they may just be believed. That’s a wonderful thing.” (“DemocracyNow!”)
It is indeed.
Just a few months ago, another friend of mine reached out to me to share her recent experience of sexual assault. Her experience not only traumatized her, but her whole family. And though I was filled with grief and rage as I listened to her story, I knew there were few options available for her to pursue justice. Disproportionately, legal action from the justice system and services such as therapy are much harder to access for women of color who have been sexually assaulted.
That was not the first time a friend of mine has been sexually assaulted without justice or professional support and, tragically, I doubt it will be the last.
As I reflected on the impotence I felt for my inability to offer anything more than accompaniment to this friend, I started thinking about all of the women I know (and don’t know) who have been sexually assaulted and the experiences of trauma that interconnect us.
And I started to paint.
“My Rage, My Voice” is the watercolor piece which I created while reflecting on the experiences of sexual assault that connect women from all different backgrounds and identities. The piece is about the grief and rage that connect us and the empowering experience of raising our voices to make our truth and our stories known.
Tarana Burke, the founder of the Me Too movement, uses the phrase “empowerment through empathy” to describe the process of survivors sharing their stories with one another. And since hearing that term I have wondered to myself, is there a more succinct and accurate way of describing Gospel living than “empowerment through empathy”?
It is natural to feel uncertainty and fear in response to the harsh realities of injustice, especially when opening our eyes to those realities for the first time. But the Gospel calls us to choose empathy even when afraid and full of doubt, a call much easier preached than practiced.
Fortunately, the courage and resilience of those participating in #MeToo, #ChurchToo and other similar efforts to connect and amplify experiences of survivors of sexual assault are modeling for us how to speak truth to power.
By learning from their example, we too can learn how to transform silence and complicity into accountability and justice. That gives me hope.
Annemarie (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.
Since I was a kid, good folks started challenging me to think “outside the box.”
In one case, I remember sitting in the shade on a hot day with a group of girls at Bible camp and our counselor offering a puzzle: I am going on picnic and bringing cookies and my glasses. What are you bringing? Can I bring chips? No, no chips on this picnic … The puzzle would continue all week until all of us in the group figured out that it wasn’t about objects or colors or any other typical category that defined what we could bring: we could only bring words that had double letters.
Now, decades later, I understand that playing such a game at Bible camp was not just a time-filler, not just a way to keep a bunch of girls out trouble. Rather, such puzzles were brilliant opportunities to introduce me and my peers to one of the most challenging aspects of Christian discipleship: following Jesus’ demands that we think differently.
“We Christians know that somehow or other, we are called to “think outside the box” regarding the problems that confront society and the world, but we don’t always know exactly what the box is or how to go about thinking outside it.” ~ Linda L. Clader, Voicing the Vision.
Here’s a bit about the boxes that get in the way of following Christ.
In the Kingdom of God there are no enemies because we’ve loved them all into our friends. Death and division don’t have to have the last word. We don’t have to pick a political party, wear the latest fashion or obsess over petty things. We don’t have to choose a side or declare right or wrong.
In the Kingdom of God we get to be compassionate, nonjudgmental folks and rebel against the crowds of judgmental people by loving everyone. We get to listen and love and see the good in everyone, no matter who they are or what they have done. We don’t have to fight back or run away when oppression or violence comes toward us; rather, we get to stand up for justice and peace with creativity and compassion.
To be free of these boxes means that we can let go of anything that blocks our imaginations from dreaming up a world where all human dignity is honored and protected, where peace and justice are abundant for every creature, where heaven is known and experienced in this world. To be free of these boxes means that nothing can contain the ways we work for Christ. There are no limits to how we offer mercy, kindness, forgiveness and love. There are no expectations either, for when we allow God’s power to work through us, we can be surprised again and again by what wonders can occur, how goodness can be triumphant.
May the Spirit of God help us escape the box of either/or and give us the grace we need to be active in the energy of both/and—all in the space where we see that every person (Yes, even that person!) is a sinner and a saint, where all of us are works in progress in need of God’s grace.
Then we shall be freed from the limits of our human understanding and imagination. Then we can follow the ways of Christ’s love and can live in joyful awe of God’s work in the world!
“No matter where you go…there you are,” stated the character Buckaroo Banzai in the 1984 cult film The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. This troubling truism has become a bit of a mantra for me as I stumble through life.
I frequently have too much going on. In the flurry of activity, a nagging voice hums in the background, I can do this better, I could be more efficient, I should do this, I ought to do that.
One of my greatest sins is to put more faith in my ideas than I do in God. Recently, I did this when I believed if I changed a few parts of my life—the setting, my workload, my stress level—then….
[This is the beginning of an essay I wrote for Off the Page. Continue reading here.]
If you were to ask the Sisters I live with what my favorite TV show is, they would probably say Chopped.
It’s true. I really am very passionate the show Chopped.
If you’ve never watched, here’s the premise. Each episode is a competition between four chefs. There are three rounds: appetizer (in 20 minutes), main course and dessert (in 30 minutes each). One person is eliminated each round, depending on the evaluations of the panel of three judges in the categories of taste, presentation and creativity. Besides the challenging time limits of each round, the other thing that makes the show really interesting is the major catch: for each round of cooking, the chefs are given a basket of four mystery ingredients that they must somehow incorporate into their dishes. Squid ink, day-old french fries, stale waffles, ghost peppers, pig snout — the basket almost always contains something bizarre or seemingly impossible. I become amazed with what the chefs manage to create so quickly.
It’s great television, the sort of stuff our culture just eats up (at least now). Chopped can be dramatic, creative and even informative. I learn a little every time I watch. Sure, it’s reality TV full of all types of personalities and competition. But at its basic core, it’s a cooking show that teaches me how to be a better cook.
On any ordinary day, my mind can easily wander into a Chopped daydream. I wonder if I’d be calm or frantic if I were in a timed cooking competition. I daydream about new foods and cooking techniques that I learned on the show. I look forward to my weekly cook night because then I can I can try out a Chopped inspired idea that I am excited about, or simply challenge myself to prepare a tasty, creative and beautiful meal for the Sisters in limited time.
Even though I daydream about it, thoroughly enjoy it and am inspired by it, I actually hesitate to say that Chopped is my favorite TV show. This is due, in part, to my social awareness and my desires for Gospel-centered social justice. I have some serious questions about the show. My Chopped daydreams have also found me wondering: How much food gets thrown away in a taping of an episode? How much fuel was used to get the food and the people to the studio in New York? How were the animals treated before they became food? Who were the farmers that grew the vegetables and what are their farming practices? What are the working conditions in the food factories? How has earth been impacted by Chopped? Who can actually afford to buy the fanciest basket ingredients contestants get to use? Who eats all the extra food in the kitchen’s fridge and pantry?
Despite my numerous questions and concerns, I am not going to be boycotting Chopped. I don’t think it would do any good for me to do so. Plus, I actually have found that watching the show has helped me remain mindful of some of my religious convictions.
Make do with what you have: Even with all its extravagant ingredients, Chopped inspires me to live simply. My best Chopped inspired meals were made because I took stock of what was in the kitchen and then challenged myself to make something delicious out of what we had (I remain very proud of the kale, bacon and pine nut tacos I once made!). Really, the lesson of trying to make the best with what I have applies to much of my life, not just cooking. I don’t need any more stuff in my closet or collections. I know God provides for all my needs every day and I shouldn’t worry. Even in my time management, I don’t need to be stressed about all my tasks, I just need to say “yes” to one thing at a time.
Every moment is holy: Speaking of time, on one particularly memorable episode a Zen Buddhist chef amazed me. While her competitors were frazzled and stressed by the limited time, she remained calm and peaceful. She even seemed to be working slowly, as if savoring each second’s holiness. Amazingly, she was able to get her cooking done with seconds to spare and still create beautiful and tasty food. Watching her felt like a bit of a meditation for me. Every moment God has made is holy and God is in all things — even the Chopped kitchen.
Food is sacred: I believe the reason shows like Chopped are popular and that there is such an increase of foodies, food critics, and restaurant dining in our culture is because it all strikes a chord with something very innate about our human nature. Food is how we connect as community, it is how we connect to our mother after our birth. Jesus taught us the Truth of compassion, inclusivity, peacemaking and forgiveness over meals and through stories about eating. The summit of our Christian life is also food: the sacrament of the Eucharist connects us to God and to each other as one holy body.
I challenge you to watch Chopped, face your own faith in food and create to your spirit’s desire. Happy cooking and Christian living!
If you’re anything like most humans, even if you’re talented at something and called to do it for the good of the world, you were unlikely immediately amazing at it.
This is true for our faith life too. Following Jesus is, in a way, like a craft. And this video reflection reminded me of that:
As far as discipleship goes, I am so far from being an expert. I am even further from mastery and perfection.
That’s why many of us who are religious speak about our prayer “practice” or ministry “practice” and so on. We realize we won’t start off with an expert status, and even a lifetime of this work will not perfect us. We have to persevere and remember that we really are a work in progress.
I am just finishing an online class about the theology and practice of ministry. The class has helped me feel assured that I am OK at the ministry of teaching after all. What makes me OK at it, apparently, is that I am open to learning and growing, can communicate well, and am somewhat knowledgeable. According to this book that we read in the class, those are the main charisms (gifts from the Holy Spirit) needed for teaching. This gives me hope!
I used to feel really insecure about how I lived my faith and how I ministered. I often felt like I would fall short, and I still frequently do. I know that I could always do better.
Recently my students were working on their contributions to the city-wide Compassion Project. During our discussion about the components of compassion, I was reminded of something I need to keep in mind: I must be patient with myself as well as with others. We really do learn as we go, don’t we? This is one of the reason forgiveness is such an important part of our Christian life. Certainly our main motive guides us: we want to love as God loves.
I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6
Yes, I am learning. I think I get it now. I must be patient with myself and keep persevering. For I am in God hands. Evidently, in order to becoming the loving woman who God made me to be, it will take a while and this is quite OK. I just hope I can remember this most of the time. Even if I forget, the good news is that with God I’ll have some more chances to try again!
A vivid memory has been speaking to me all summer: a sunny spring day, as the fourth period of the school day began, a few excited ninth-grade boys came to class eager to ask a question. Their energy was animated and slightly nervous (“You ask her.” “No you ask her!”) for I believe they knew, at a great depth, they were considering something powerful. Then the question came forth–maybe the greatest question I have ever been asked:
“What if when we imagine things it gives God the ability to create things?”
I was stunned. I said “WOW!” What else could I say?
I loved the idea of God needing us so much that he is practically dependent on us to help create the universe of his dreams; it is empowering to consider that God’s love can only be fully manifested if we say “yes.”
Participation and relationship is natural activity and genuine Gospel living, of course. Certainly, building the kingdom of God is work of service, prayer, community, activism, and solidarity. Good Christian activism, in particular, is a loving labor of creative problem solving so yes, I knew that God needed us and has hope for our lifelong to-do lists. Even so, this is what happened in my journal a few days later:
“What if when we imagine things it gives God the ability to create things?”
Yes, “What if!” What if God needs us so much to dream up new realities in order for them to exist?
It’s expansive stuff, really: the new realities we must imagine might be in an evolutionary metaphysical dimension, or they could be about coming up with new ways of being Church, sharing our abundance, and showing forth the Gospel goodness–ultimately revealing the solid strength of peace and justice. Christ totally has a way “of making all things new,” maybe even those things that we think are going just great.
It takes more than dreaming though. Gospel living is really about letting go and allowing God to work through us. When we let go we could end up in a place of awe, of just being free to step back and see how God wants to show up and be seen.
Amazing artists certainly seem to experience this.
Throughout the summer, I have been on a bit of a creative journey and have been learning a lot. Presently, I am very blessed to be here on a scholarship and have my first-ever experience of a writer’s workshop. I’m amazed as I listen in to other faith-filled artists disclose their process and experience. I am overwhelmed with gratitude and awe that I get to learn and be encouraged by some of the most brilliant creators I have ever met.
As I listen, I notice that each artist seems repeat a truth: it is necessary to submit to an energy outside of ourselves (God!). It may be called “letting the poem say what it wants” or “seeing what’s behind what you’re saying,” whatever it is, it’s an act of trust and trial. Basically, as we create, we must let go of judgement, be vulnerable, take wild risks and let God take us where we’d rather not go. It’s discipleship– following Jesus’ way of humility and self-emptying. Otherwise, we become journalists and not artists and end up recording what we see and not what God is trying to say.
God has a lot of truth to tell, has a lot of love to show off. Is this why God calls us and creativity compels us? What if God needs us, desperately, just as we need God for our basic existence?
“What if when we imagine things it gives God the ability to create things?”
Back in my classroom, after I said “WOW!” to the great question my students, in their 9th grade boy sort of way, then said, “I know, right Sister?! Like, what if since we can imagine a planet ruled by aliens and robots, then now God will make it?”
Ha! OK, well, that’s not really where I went with the question. Still, I just said “Wow!” with a wide smile. I felt relief that my response of wonder seemed to satisfy their young seeking souls.
How wonderful it is that youth are so great at speaking the truth without knowing it!
How wonderful God is for loving, trusting, and needing each of us, even if we don’t know it!
Trying to be a faithful Christian sometimes feels like living in God’s limitless art studio.
God is the Great Artist who is always at work creating us anew. We get to co-create and this communion brings us closer to God.
Since ending my ministry at the high school my creativity has been slightly out of control. I have felt like I can’t keep up with the energy that has been trying to express itself. My room has become more of an art studio than a bedroom. It is littered with paper scraps and my fingernails continue to be caked with glue, clay and paint. God is at work and I am working to cooperate.
Apparently, being released from a stressful and demanding ministry has had an interesting impact on me. Although little of the creativity has manifested on this blog, a lot of the holy integrations of my the past few years have been breaking loose and causing some good contemplation.
As I’ve been constructing, I’ve been thinking: Art can flower and force new consciousness. And, creativity is a spiritual path: co-creating with God implies union with God. Truly, I can testify that when I create new things with God I experience God’s presence and energy in ways that truly astound me. How does one describe feeling God’s energy?
For the union to exist with God while I create, I have to be open and trust. When I am writing, sculpting and painting I have to let go and let God, as cliche as it may be. The final product is not up to me. If I want the creations to truly glorify God, I must be empty and allow God’s creative power to be in control. Really, I’ve found that at times a meditative trance can take over and the blessed buzz of blending words, images and textures can manifest meanings that are beyond me. It’s really awesome.
Plus, good creativity is very messy. Like in a healthy ecosystem, new life breaks forth out of rotting death. The holy paschal mystery is alive and well in the chaos. Seemingly bizarre artifacts can be combined to create something completely unusual, yet totally beautiful. When I stand up and look at the big picture, the creative space can appear as if a storm has swept through. Really though, there’s an order and a clarity in the mixtures. I am often surprised. I learn a lot about God’s ways when I see the chaos of creating.
The main art project that has consumed my time and energy was building mini-grottos to pray for issues of peace and justice. These diorama-type shrines will be prayed with by my community during our Education Week gathering this week. The justice and peace committee that I am a part of hopes to increase consciousness, conversation and prayer around the issues of immigration, food, economics, education, church and health care. Here’s a preview of the art for all the sisters and affiliates who read this blog:
In the building of the God’s reign, God is the Great Artist. God is in control and we get to cooperate, often times completely clueless about the finished product. Let’s trust God in our personal development and in the complicated messes of systemic injustices. Let’s also do our part to help create new works of art. When it’s up to God, new life can create new consciousness. We never really know how other creatures shall absorb a new meaning from something we had a part in.
Alive in each of us, God is constantly clipping and creating art anew. Wow, I love living in this art studio.