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.

Enough or not

I live on the cusp of enough and dreamy desires; in the liminal land of paradox.

I am always trying to make do with my limits, to authentically live my vow of poverty and get re-rooted in simple living.

Yet. I am always longing for more.

Desire, dreams, faith and hope fuel my energy. Even when I am overwhelmed or exhausted, a vision of justice-prevailing and the Kingdom of God coming into full fruition remains my impetus for laboring and loving. I believe that the peace Jesus proclaimed is possible.

 

Honestly, my yearning for more-than-is/more-than-I-have-right-now isn’t always about the ideals I hold close to me. Some of my dreams are embarrassingly superficial, completely basic and ordinary. Like Oh, how I wish I had a panini maker to cook this sandwich or This hairdryer is too loud and clunky, I should get a new one. I am regularly creating mental lists of objects that I think will create more convenience and efficiency in my busy life, just because I too fall for the lies of American commercialism and capitalism. I have to catch myself. When I find myself thinking that more stuff will be a solution, I must gain new consciousness. I must recommit myself to my vow of spiritual and material poverty, to my “Yes” to trusting that God has always given me enough. I really know how to make-do with what I have, I just have to remind myself of this frequently.

Every day, every moment, I have enough. I have enough time. Enough materials. I have all that I need. I have passion and potential. I am loved and supported. God’s abundance is infinite and as a child of God, I have access to the graces and strength and power and love that is enough for me. We all are children of God and we all have access.

Some days–in some moments–this means I must truly honor my limitations and needs. I am tired, I need to rest or I will kill myself if I try to meet this deadline, I must ask for an extension. This is an element of honoring my own dignity as sacred, of caring for the vessel of the Holy Spirit that I aim to be.

I am limited. I am weak. And, amazingly, by God’s grace when it comes to what matters most, I totally have enough. I must trust and allow myself to remain in God’s loving hands.

 

But then.

God calls me to continual growth, to be a steward and foster the gifts I have been given. Just like the rest of you, I am invited to expand the reign of God and contribute to a better society, to a more just and peaceful humanity.

I really am heartbroken about the ways that we don’t honor every human life as sacred in our culture. Unborn babies are killed and criminals are executed. Street shootings are common. Prisons practice torture and remain open and funded. Drones are still flying and people are still starving to death.

I have a responsibility to contribute to positive social change. I can develop my own talents and abilities so to better glorify God through all my choices.

 

Do I have enough or not? I don’t know. I do know that I don’t want to be greedy.  I want to be a person who creates, not consumes. I do know that I am on the edge of satisfaction and healthy discontentment. A Gospel tension is alive within me, a Spirited realization that the world is not the way God intended, because we truly are sinful creatures.

I am slowly learning that this tension is holy ground. It turns out that this dilemma of desire is actually our God-given nature. Though limited, we all are on a journey of growth and self-improvement. By God’s design satisfaction and contentment are fleeting; we constantly yearn to know, feel and experience more.

Ultimately though, when we yearn in the in-between space of Hope for a better world and This is enough, we are yearning for God; for the simple, loving Way of Jesus. We desire God–for the source of all the justice and goodness that we believe in–to prevail and reign. May it be so, Amen, Indeed!

 

"Changing" Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Changing edges” by Julia Walsh, FSPA

 

Old-fashioned trunk-centered simplicity

I admire my sisters’ tales of trunks.

Long before I entered the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration – and long before Vatican II for that matter – the common, communal practice was that every sister had to fit all of her personal property into one trunk.

Our Franciscan lifestyle is an itinerant one. As sisters we frequently move for ministry. For much of our community history, sisters moved from one ministry site to another after just a year or so. They’d move by train, and all of their possessions would move with them in the one trunk. It was an economical and practical way to do things, and such a practice permitted ease for living a simple life of Franciscan poverty.

The trunks contained three black and white habits, an extra pair of shoes, undergarments, and some prayer books. The trunk also held whatever supplies needed for…

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