crossing shadows

No matter where I am in the world- where I am in my life- I continue to be fascinated with how light and dark dance together.  As I journey with Jesus through transitions and changes, I continue to be in wonder and awe of how I experience Christ’s presence in the shadows, the cracks, the hidden, silent places.  As my faith deepens, it seems that God is not a God of only what is black and white and crystal clear; rather, God is fully alive in the places made of the energy of grey.

Here’s a collection of some of my photography from the times when I have been mesmerized with the glory of God in the silent spaces as I follow Jesus; the beauty of crossing shadows.

“hush” KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation Synagogue, Chicago, Illinois, USA; photography by Julia Walsh
“wild wonder” Wisconsin, USA; photography by Julia Walsh, FSPA
“in adoration” St. Rose Convent, La Crosse, Wisconsin, USA
“upon effigies” Effigy Mound National Monument, Marquette, Iowa, USA; photography by Julia Walsh FSPA
“holy ground” Avila, Spain; photography by Julia Walsh FSPA
“ways to go” Chicago, Illinois, USA; photography by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Christ of colors” Reading, Pennsylvania, USA; photography by Julia Walsh FSPA
“blooms” Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe, Illinois, USA; photography by Julia Walsh FSPA
“in the shallows” Sparrow Lake, Ontario, Canada; photography by Julia Walsh

Sometimes, when such silent shadows stun me I remember this song, by Jars of Clay called “Fade to Grey.”

Little Resurrections

Since Sunday, I have been trying to pay attention to the little resurrections in the world around me.  How is God at work around me? How do I say Yes to the Risen Christ?  What is happening in my heart?

I feel renewed. I have been transformed by God’s grace. Each day God is working, letting Life have the last word. Alleluia!

the weirdness of witnessing

It’s not easy living a public life. Sometimes I’d rather be anonymous or just completely unnoticed.  It’s a lot of pressure because those who know that I am a Franciscan sister, a Christian and a modern follower of Jesus are paying attention to my moves.  What type of picture am I painting about what radical Christian living looks like?

When I was a teen in the 90’s I listened to a lot of DC Talk.  On some recorded versions of their song “What if I Stumble?”  there is a really profound and challenging statement for all Christians to heed:

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, and walk out the door and deny Him with their lifestyle.  That is what a unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” 

It’s lent now.  I am going to be honest with you, because lent helps me feel like I can be.

I stumble as I try to follow Jesus.  I am concerned about what my lifestyle says about Christians.  I am totally aware that I am a sinner.  When I am really honest about who I am I can quickly see that I am just as messed up as everyone else, in my own Julia sort of way.  I can be mean, selfish, lazy, rude, and prideful.  I have bad moods and don’t always show up to serve with a joyful spring in my step.  Just because I am a sister doesn’t mean I am better at living a Christian life than any other Christian.  Maybe God called me to be a sister because this lifestyle personally helps me do a little better job at being a Christian that other life options would.

One of the criticisms I receive about this blog is that it is too much about me.  If I were really dedicated to the poor and the suffering maybe I’d tell more stories about them.  Do I think that I am so great that I need to show off what I am up to?  I am not a journalist and it is not appropriate for me to tell the stories of other people.  My job is to be true to who I am.

No, this blog isn’t all about me.  It’s about Jesus and how Jesus is living today.  This blog is supposed to be about how young Christians follow Jesus in today’s world.  I suppose my life is an example.  I hope that it’s a good one.  I am really not that great and my message isn’t original.  I am one voice in a big, beautiful, diverse community of disciples.  I am one woman who is trying to be faithful and is struggling on my walk with God just like everyone else.

The thing is, I feel called to witness.  For as long as I can remember, I have been in love with God and I am eager to share my Love.  I believe Christians are supposed to act and live differently than the rest of the world.  I feel called to live a more public life of faith that shows others an alternative Gospel lifestyle.  I feel like I need to give a testimony about the greatness of God with my life.  St. Francis directed his earliest brothers to “preach the gospel at all times but only use words when necessary.”  I’ve been taught that the boldness of testimony is part of Christian living.

It’s a big job to be bold and put myself out there all the time.  I can’t say I love it.  God and I get into little arguments about it sometimes.  I complain that I want to be a “normal” woman and I am sick of the standards that attention gives me.  Sometimes I cry about it and sometimes I get really crabby.  (See?! I told you I am not that great! A holy woman would serve her Love with pure joy!)

God keeps inviting me and encouraging me.  God shows me that the world is hungry for people who are being alternative and radical with their faith and devotion.  Jesus is like a coach who brushes the dust of my sin off my uniform and shoves me back in the game.  He seems to believe in me and totally fills me with the graces I need to keep going.  I gotta try to keep loving.

I am so grateful that I am not in this alone. I couldn’t be and that’s the whole point.  Christians are community people. We have to be. If we weren’t community we wouldn’t be anything.  We need to acknowledge our weaknesses and cry out to God and one another for help.  Even when the worst of us comes out, we’re still one body.  It’s the life of community that helps shine us up- like jewels- so we can be more beautiful.  Rough edges get worn down and we help each other be holy.

So, if I do stumble and mess up, I am sorry.  I pray that this season of Lent helps convert me- and all of us- a little closer to Christ. I pray that my time in the desert helps me become more enlightened about what my growing edges are.  Once I am enlightened, I trust God that I will grow.  I pray that I can be a good sister to others who are struggling in their discipleship.  I pray that how I live helps Christians look good in this world and inspires belief.  And, I am so thankful that we’re all in this together. Let’s pray for each other. With God’s grace, we’ll move the right way.

"desert way" by Julia Walsh, FSPA

“What if it’s too hard?!”

My students are brilliant.  They endure so much and remain hopeful and faithful.  Prayers of gratitude pour out of them easier than on-time assignments.  Every day I hear praise that God gave them another day.  It’s amazing to me.  But, it shouldn’t be. They’re teenagers and they know they have a life of greatness ahead of them.

In this part of the world there is abundant chaos, confusion and distraction from what is true and right.  Gang warfare, poverty and drug addictions are thick.  We know people who are in jail and people who have been shot.  I shudder at the violence, racism and sexism I have been exposed to around this city.  It seems to me that the common culture tries to convince the youth of today that consumerism, sex, drugs, violence and selfish living are the meaning of life.  The teens are beginning to believe lies:  success is about fame and money and freedom means you aren’t locked up.  It’s an awful, tough world indeed.

Yet, the young come.  No matter that they’re required because they’re in a Catholic school, they still come and are very good.  My students arrive in religion class and argue about whose turn it is to lead prayer because many of them want to do it.  They love to meditate together and have no problem being silent and peaceful.  They listen and work hard.  They ask me tough questions.  Their silliness and playfulness helps me laugh and lighten up.  Their reverence is deep: a hush falls over us as we gaze into the sacred, living words in the Bible.  They want to believe and understand.

In my classroom I preach a lot. I preach that God is good and God is with us.  My students seem to be convinced that they have dignity and they are children of God.  The struggles begin when I start to talk about action.  I preach a lot about how we are called to treat all people in a way that honors their dignity, so they also know they are children of God.  Because we are Christian, I say, we must be different. We must act differently. We must live and love differently.  We really can’t fit into the popular ways of the world, because the world’s ways don’t fit with God’s ways.  We need to act like we believe that Love is the most powerful force in the world.

This week I’ve been teaching about forgiveness. I explained that because we are children of God, we are supposed to forgive like our loving Parent does.  I said that when we wonder how to forgive we can look at Jesus on the cross and see that it takes great sacrifice. I asked them that if we believe it, then what are we supposed to do?  In a world where pride, grudges and even violent retribution is as normal as nonsense, how can we act like children of God?

"cluttered stations" Art by Julia Walsh, FSPA

We read God Has A Dream by Desmond Tutu last semester and we remember that it’s up to us to help God’s dreams come true. Tutu has a lot to say of smart things to say about forgiveness:

I keep challenging my students (and therefore, myself!) Their exam essay question asked “what attitudes and actions could you take to help create a society that values forgiveness more than retribution?”

One student raised his hand and said “Sister, what am I supposed to say if I really don’t think it’s possible?”  I said that just this one time, I’ll give a hint about what he could write about.  The first step might be to try to have faith.

Faith isn’t easy in this messy world.  I understand that the world is not sending the same message of God’s goodness and might plus there’s a lot of evidence pointing to other ideas.  I understand that Jesus is asking a lot of his followers.  So, when I preach about the real, un-cozy and uncomfortable challenges of living the Gospel the reactions I hear make a lot sense:

“What if I don’t agree with the Ways of Jesus?”

“How am I supposed to believe this?”

“How can I possibly do this?!”

“Sister, what if it’s just too hard?!”

In my witty way, I tell them that they can take it up with Jesus. I gesture at the cross and tell them that I blame God that it’s so tough.  We can complain but we don’t need to give up.  Jesus made it simple, but not easy, so let’s take it up with him.  “Sit down with Jesus,”  I say, “and have a little chat.  Ask him for some help and grace and understanding.  Let him know how you really feel about it all.  If you really want to believe and be a follower I’m pretty sure God will help you.  You might be surprised.”

I sure hope I am right. I hope they’ll be surprised by the graces God gives and how they’ll be able to do great things with God’s help.   I hope that as my students mature they’ll discover that Jesus’ Way is the best there is.  I hope that it can be the only Way we’ll know.

cooking up the goodness of abundance

Did you know there is enough food in the world to feed everyone?  Yup, it’s true.

Yet, we’re in a major global food crisis and people are dying of starvation while others waste food and have health problems from obesity.  Certainly, a lot of what is wrong with the picture has to do with infrastructure, power, distribution, processing and policies.  Plus, we are not farming very well.  And our love for the game Farmville isn’t helping!

Unfortunately, if we don’t change our sinful ways, we won’t have enough food for everyone in just about 40 years.  This past week I learned from NPR what vices are causing us to run short on food.

The main problems, apparently, are due to the way we farm more than the way we distribute the food.  We need to remember, though, that our consumer culture influences the way things are farmed.  What we buy, cook and eat impacts what farmers grow and how they grow it.

No one wants anyone to starve to death.  Christians understand that Jesus is the Bread of Life and the Eucharist is a Blessed Sacrament that unites us together as a body of Christ.  Farming, cooking and eating are very sacred, holy acts.  These basic, ordinary, life-giving acts are powerful and rooted in the Gospel.

We the people, have some good, God-given power. We don’t have to despair that things will only get worse for humanity just because some scientists have predicted that they will. The Gospel gives us great solutions (feed the hungry, share the loaves and fishes, pray, trust, listen, include everyone and invite others to our tables) and we are graced to be real instruments of peace while we live the Good News.

Plus, as stated in the NPR story, the scientists have suggestions too:

“First, stop cutting down forests to grow crops. Second, instead of that, focus on land that’s already being used to grow food but isn’t very productive… Third, use water more efficiently, also fertilizer. Fourth, in rich countries, don’t throw away so much food. In poor countries, keep it from spoiling before it gets to the people who need it. Fifth, and this may be the most controversial thing in this paper, eat less meat.”

I know I have written about all this food stuff many times before.  Food justice is something that is very important to me, however.  I even make it part of the curriculum in my teaching and work to connect my urban students with rural farmers.  My Eucharistic community works to educate and advocate for food justice.  And, today is a global Blog Action Day and bloggers all over the world are writing about food in order to encourage conversations and actions.  I am honored to participate.

http://blogactionday.org

Plus, it’s harvest season- the season of abundance- so we can be grateful for the great labor of farmers and how they bless us all.

I am excited to be spending some time on my younger sister’s farm this weekend.  She’s a great, young, organic farmer and food activist in Iowa who is modeling for all of us how we can work for change in these systems.  In celebration of her great witness, she has even been featured in the Oxfam World Food Day campaign.

When I return to the city from the farm on Sunday I hope to carry with me some good fruits and veggies.  I’ll be using my favorite cookbook, The More-with-Less Cookbook, to prepare meals for the next week and avoid buying any extra food.

I was thinking it might be nice, though, if we did a little recipe sharing right here on this blog.  What dishes are the rest of you planning to cook up using your fall  harvests?  What cooking tips do you have for me?  I’d really like a yummy, non-conventional way to cook up a big pie-pumpkin.

Sharing recipes is fun because it builds community.  For me, one of the great joys of eating is the experience of building relationships.  With every bite we can celebrate the relationships we have with other parts of God’s creation and with one another.  Together we get to work to create the world, the meals, and the unity that God intended.

While we do all this together, let’s remain mindful that we need to be able to live within all extremes and limitations.  We need to balance.  We need to love and help everyone- no matter how hungry they are- know the goodness of abundance.  As we eat, let’s be grateful and celebrate Life.

St. Paul did it quite well, and so can we:

Brothers and sisters:
I know how to live in humble circumstances;
I know also how to live with abundance.
In every circumstance and in all things
I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry,
of living in abundance and of being in need.
I can do all things in him who strengthens me.
Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress.

My God will fully supply whatever you need,
in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen.  –Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20

surrendering

Lately my spirit has been contemplating what it really means to be poor and surrender all. If I admit that nothing at all is mine, and truly everything is God’s, then what will become of me?  If I give up my possessions and follow Jesus, certainly my life shall be transformed. But, what if I also give up my dreams, desires, hopes, pride, ideas, time, preferences, feelings and thoughts?  Nothing at all is mine, all is gift that is temporary and belongs to God. I am asked to pass the gift.

Maybe the the surrendering will  transform me.  Can I stop clinging from the outcomes that I desire too?  Can I truly be open and trust? Will I let Love lead the way?