Redefining faith on El Camino

Since high school, I’ve been teaching the Christian faith to others. In parishes, classrooms, and while camping in the woods, I’ve taught songs, explained Bible stories, instilled virtues and asked students to memorize definitions and lists. And, occasionally, over the years, a thoughtful youngster in one of those settings would interrupt my enthusiastic lectures and ask an appropriate question: But what is faith?

Oh, it’s a theological virtue along with hope and love, I’d say. “Faith is the realization of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), I’d recite. Or I’d offer a paraphrased combination of the words from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: Faith is belief in God and all God has revealed through the church.

And even though I have confidently spewed out strings of words attempting to define the virtue, I honestly don’t understand what faith is. Yes, I know: Faith is a virtue. Faith is a principle. Faith is a force. I know all this, and I experience its power over my life.

But define it? My mind might as well be put into a blender of abstraction, turned to high and left on for a solid hour. I hate to admit it, but the racket of me aiming to contain the power of this word into a string of more words has likely been inadequate, and even possibly destructive over the years.

I only realized this recently. A few weeks ago, while…

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

Camino marker on the sidewalk in Ferrol, Spain. Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

Holy Week is here

Here we are!

The Lenten journey is ending and it is time to emerge from the desert and enter into the Paschal mystery.

Holy Week has arrived! Here’s a quick background on these sacred days in the Church year:

 

photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA

 

For your prayer and mediation this week, I’d like to share with you a couple of poems written by a fellow Franciscan and my friend, Br. David Hirt:

Bethany

(For Monday of Holy Week)

You came into our life on feet
like dusty heartbeats, beating bare,
your human heart out-pouring love
and life for one whom even death
itself could not keep back from you.
And I have nothing worth your gift;
incomp’rable, to place into
your hands but my most costly thing;
a poor excuse compared with All.
This earthen vessel, feminine,
I break before your dusty feet
and pour its oil, perfumed and rich,
to cleanse the dust from calloused toes
and wipe them, intimate, with hair
that just a spouse should see and fear
I intimate your death. This gift,
this chrism meant for you alone
lifts up its heady scent and fills
this house like prayer, confirming dust
with sanctity and all because
you came into my life on feet
like dusty heartbeats beating bare.

 

 

“water into wonder” by Julia Walsh, FSPA

Upside Down

(A Poem for Holy Thursday)

And everything is upside down,
like faces mirrored in a bowl:
an earthen vessel, roughly formed,
that’s full of water while the one
who once was robed, incomp’rable,
in light removes his outer robe
to tie a tow’l, a servant’s garb,
around his waist and stoops to wash
his foll’wer’s feet of traces from
the dusty Roman roads they’ve walked.
Yes everything is upside down
for whom in all this world would like
to think that him whose praise we sang,
“Hosanna to King David’s son,”
should stoop to take a servant’s part.
Oh we would rather he should reign
on high with us at his right hand.
But Servant Lord, incomp’rable,
you call us to remove our pride,
an outer robe, and stoop to wash
all others’ feet: humility,
and thrust down deep our dusty feet —
to take the love you offer us —
into the bowl reflecting you.

 

Read the rest of  Friar David’s poems for Holy Week here

“look up to the cross” photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA

Holy One, Open me to your mystery during these sacred days. Change me and renew me, so I may enter into the Easter season prepared to celebrate and proclaim your Good News with my life. Amen.

 

Holy Week in images

This is a Holy Week, a week to review all of salvation history. This is a week to enter into the story of Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem.

Jesus, who is our love and savior, has experienced the grit, the suffering, the mystery and mess of our human living. With active imagination and prayerful hearts, we remember how Jesus is a God of the material world.

We ponder the beauty and simplicity of the materials we encounter each day. And, we pray and wonder. Did Jesus know things like these too?

"Palms" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“palms” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
"ancient steps" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“ancient and modern steps” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
"stones" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“something like upper room stones” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
"a way in the woods" Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“in the garden” Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
"cross in the colosseum" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“cross in the colosseum” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
"to warm us" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“to warm us” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
"the cock crowed" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“the cock crowed” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
"open tomb" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“open tomb” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
"joyful, beautiful life" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“joyful, beautiful life” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

Have a blessed Triduum and Happy Easter everyone!

Holy Week Soundtrack

During this sacred week there are certain songs that, without fail, end up on repeat in my head. Perhaps you’re interested, as the music could enrich your Holy Week too.

Palm Sunday

“Hosana” from Jesus Christ Superstar

Holy Thursday

“Stay With Me” by the Taize community

Good Friday

“Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord)?” Sung by Johnny Cash

Holy Saturday

Actually, this day does not have a song.

It is a day of silence, listening, waiting, and hoping. For me, this can is only done well without an agenda and with a lot of openness and trust in God. This will actually be the main thing I’ll tune into during Triduum this year.

From: http://virtualmethodist.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-sound-of-silence.html

 

 

Easter Sunday

“Christ the Lord is Risen Today” Preformed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

 

Hope you have a Blessed Holy Week & Happy Easter, Messy Jesus Business readers!

Peace, Sister Julia

Who will save the hunger striker?

"Witness Against Torture: I am Still Waiting" Photo by Justin Norman
“Witness Against Torture: I am Still Waiting” Photo by Justin Norman

“Eternal God…You know that these men have testified falsely against me.  Would you let me die, though I am not guilty of all their malicious charges?”

This week the daily mass readings begin with the cry of Susannah, unjustly accused by corrupt officials, sentenced to death in the presence of the people.  We read that God hears her.  But Susannah is not saved by a bolt of lightning striking down her foes, or by being mysteriously transported to safety.  God arouses the Holy Spirit stirring a “young lad,” Daniel, a witness in a crowd of impassive witnesses, and this small person shouts, “I will have no part in the death of this woman!”

People in the crowd are startled.  Many had been grieved by the proceedings, but this was out of their hands, the elders, the leaders had decided.  Yet here is this stirring, “What did you say?” they ask.
And Daniel says to the people, “Have you become fools, you Israelites, to condemn a daughter of Israel without due process and in the absence of clear evidence?”

In this story, the people respond, turning the tables by turning the accusers over for questioning.  It is now they who must prove their case, which they fail to do.  So Susannah is delivered, back to her family, and the accusers take her place in receiving the full penalty of the law.

I am struck by how clearly this story illustrates that God moves by moving people. Would this providential delivery have been possible had Daniel not responded to the spirit stirring him to speak?  What if the people had not listened?  What does all of this mean for us in our time?

Hearing this story for the first time, my thoughts immediately went to an outcry that is currently falling on deaf ears.  There are 166 men being held at Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba.  They are held there without due process, accused in the absence of clear evidence.  Their detention is indefinite, a torturous reality.  Adding insult to injury, the sacred texts of these men of faith are being tampered with and desecrated, letters from their wives and children are censored or withheld.  At Guantanamo, more men have died (9) than have been convicted of a crime (6). The men are experiencing a living death, confined to their tomb until the day that their corpse can be released to their family without fear that it will speak of what it has suffered.

Yet the men there are finding ways to cry out, to God, to their captors, to this crowd of people in the United States, to us.  They are using the only tool they have left, their own body, hunger striking.  They are not demanding release, only humane treatment, just procedures.

As a woman of faith, I sense the Holy Spirit seeking to arouse a voice in the crowd.  We are given the example of Daniel for a reason.  God desires compassion and justice and these divine gifts come through people who respond.  But what can we do, when the prisoners are not standing directly before us, when the crowd is not crushing about us?

We can still adopt and adapt Daniel’s words, “I will have no part in the death of these men,” “Have we become fools, to condemn men without due process and in the absence of clear evidence?”  And we can find the crowds to speak it to, and draw a crowd to speak it with us.

Witness Against Torture (WAT), a group of men and women from across the United States, has been seeking an end to indefinite detention, due process and resettlement for those detained, and the closure of Guantanamo Bay detention center since 2005.  Together we are responding to the hunger strikes with tangible actions.  Beginning March 24th (Holy Week, for those in the Catholic tradition) we will hold a seven day solidarity fast.  Throughout that week we encourage people to call the White House; send letters to the prisoners acknowledging that they have been heard by the public, even if officials have yet to respond; join us for vigils (see witnesstorture.org to find out if there are any happening in your city, or start your own); participate in the fast for a day or more; spread the news in any way you can.

Adnan Latif, a Muslim man who, after eleven years of detention, died at Guantanamo wrote a poignant poem in which he asks, “Who will save the hunger striker?” He died, without ever having been proved guilty of “all their malicious charges.”  How many deaths before the cry is heard?

You can participate in advocacy events with Witness Against Torture.

Censored letter to Moazzam Begg (a former detainee) from his daughter

adventures in the Spirit, part 3

A wise priest once helped me understand what Spirit means.  Spirit, he said, is all that relates beyond boundaries.  Our Spirits can transcend time, place and bodily nature to relate to our God, the Great Source.  Jesus said His Spirit would be with us always.  At times, it seems as if the spirits of those who have died are close to us.

And, here and now, in our daily Gospel living, our Spirits can relate across the borders of culture, race, social class and place.  It is the work of service, ministry, and real, messy, Gospel-living to move across borders and interact with those who are different from us.

As our Spirits relate in new environments, we learn the Truth. We gain awareness and compassion.  We become more interconnected and united.  We build the reign of God and become more holistically the body of Christ.

This is the continuation of the story of 11 people moving their spirits across borders and relating to difference.  It’s a great adventure to live in the Spirit.

Day 3: Loving God’s Creation

Wednesday.

We’re beginning to get sleepy from all the fun and activity and it’s a little harder to be ready on time this morning, but we still get up and enjoy another wonderful homemade breakfast served by our hosts.  Afterward, we gather around our painted candles for morning prayer and reflection. We are reminded that we can rejoice, as God loves the poor:

I will praise the name of God in song,
and I will glorify him with thanksgiving:
“See, you lowly ones, and be glad;
you who seek God, may your hearts revive!
For the LORD hears the poor,
and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.”   Psalm 69: 31, 33-34

The first place we visit is the Postville office of Northeast Iowa Helping Services.  We are overwhelmed to hear how domestic violence and poverty harms people in rural areas.  We learn how hard it is for victims to leave abusive situations when there are so many dual-roles in small communities.  We have to think about how hard it is to run-away from violence in the country where there is no public transportation and everything is spread far apart.  In the country, there may not be fears of gang-violence, but violence is still damaging lives.

The sad stories of sin sink our spirits and we struggle with learning the Truth.

After an intense start of the day, we venture out to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation.  We head to Effigy Mounds National Monument in the river-bluffs by the Mississippi River near Marquette, Iowa.  In the woods we get to contemplate how to respond to injustice in loving ways and have fun learning about Native Americans and nature.

We enjoy a picnic and explore the museum and woods.

The views of the Mississippi River from the bluff tops are remarkable.

We still need to do something to make a difference.  We go to Osborne Nature Center near Elkader.  Before working we get to see some wild animals up close.

Then we help to clear an invasive species, garlic mustard, from the woods to help the natural wildlife thrive.

The next thing we do is attend Bible Study.  We’re nervous and excited about joining the youth group from First Baptist Church in Elgin for their weekly meeting.  After eating pizza and playing get-to-know-you games, we become comfortable with each other even though we seem different.  We pray and contemplate scripture. Then we have a lot of fun playing in the dark on a trampoline with the local Iowa teens.

Back in Gunder, at evening prayer and reflection, I asked the students what the most important things were that they learned that day.  One student said that he learned how important it is to stand up against violence and abuse.  Another said that he learned that the woods can be a lot of fun.  A third said that he learned that there are good people everywhere, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or the color of your skin.

Day 4:  Broken Systems, Breaking Bread

Thursday. Our last full day in Iowa.

We’re getting weary but yet we wake up excited for another day of adventure.  After breakfast, our morning reflection reminds us that it is Holy Thursday.  This night, Jesus gathered with his friends and broke bread and taught about communion.  We pray that we can unite through the brokenness of humanity.

Our first site today is Decorah.  Decorah is interesting because it is the closest major town to Gunder.  It’s 40 minutes away and where you can find the nearest McDonald’s and Wal-Mart.  We are warmly welcomed to the Luther College campus with a presentation, gifts and a tour. We learn that Northeast Iowa was settled by immigrants from Norway and Germany in the 1800’s and that’s why there’s a Norwegian ELCA Lutheran college in this town.

Our excellent host at Luther, Pastor David Vasquez, has arranged for us to enjoy the college’s climbing wall and enjoy lunch in the college cafeteria.

We all feel pretty successful after the experience.

Well fed, we go to help feed the hungry. At the First Lutheran Church food pantry we help unload the truck from the Northeast Iowa Food Bank and learn how the church helps provide food and free health care to people from all over Winneshiek County.

After a break for shopping in downtown Decorah, Pastor Dave helps us reflect about everything we have experienced on our trip.

And, Pastor David grounds us in the stories of God’s people.  We are reminded of Joseph in the Old Testament and how he and his brothers immigrated to Egypt.  We learn about the push and pulls that have caused people to move for centuries.  We hear about horrors of the Postville Immigration raid of 2008 and watch this trailer:

And, we hear how God’s law of Love tells us to work for justice:

You shall not oppress a resident alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.-Exodus 23:9

The Spirit has moved people across many borders.  After the presentation, we learn about the Norwegian Immigrant Experience to the United States in the 1800’s at the Vesterheim Museum.

We are learning about human struggle, but we still enjoy a break at The Whippy Dip before we go to Postville.

In Postville we hear about the horrors of the 2008 Immigration Raid right where it happened. We visit the tiny St. Bridget Catholic Church where hundreds sought refuge during the aftermath of the raid.

We see the meat-packing plant that was once called Agri-processors. In both places, Pastor Dave tells us the true stories about what his friends lived through.

Our Holy Thursday dinner happens around a giant table at the Mexican restaurant in Postville with the stories of brokenness stirring in our spirits.

Afterward, we go to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Elkader for mass and hear how Jesus washed the feet of his friends, pray, break bread, sing songs and feel a little uncomfortable because we really stick out for being different.

Back in Gunder, we try to reflect on all that we learned throughout the day.  One of my student says “What happened in Postville was a really big deal. Why doesn’t everyone know about it?”  

We give thanks for the ways that the others in our group have blessed us throughout the week. Around a fire we are commissioned.  We will return to where we came from, but we’ll keep living by the Spirit.  We shall continue to relate beyond bounds.

Stay tuned for the conclusion of adventures in the Spirit.

Visit here for Part 1 and Part 2.

adventures in the Spirit, part 2

The Spirit of Truth has a lot to teach us when we open our minds and hearts.  No matter what our motivations are, God is alive and hard at work.

God speaks to us through the stories of our lives and through the adventures we live through.  As we move, we do the work of trying to pay attention to God and cooperate with God’s ways.

God’s ways are surprising, just, peaceful, loving, challenging, encouraging, uniting, hard-working, open, holy and adventurous. God’s ways are good.

This is the story of how 10 people from Chicago (8 of my students and another chaperone and his son) went a new way.  They followed God (and me!) to a “foreign land” where the population is small and the skies are wide.  In this foreign land there are few people, a lot of peace and quiet and a lot to learn and do.  This is the the story of the Hales Franciscan High School Service-Learning-Rural-Immersion Trip to Northeast Iowa during Holy Week, April 2-6, 2012.

Day One: Community

Monday.  We finally leave the high school around 9:30 a.m. Our principal prays a blessing over us before we go.  Very quickly we’re forced to get comfortable with each other and be very close together. A 12-passenger van is not as big as it seems.

After about three hours, we finally cross over the Mississippi River and into Dubuque where our first stop in the foreign land of Iowa is to get a simple lunch.  Then it’s time for our first real challenge. We must become a team.  We must unite as community.

Our first great challenge was the Ropes Course at EWALU Bible Camp near Strawberry Point.  We learned how to trust each other, communicate and be encouraging.  We worked together as a team on low-ropes challenges. And we encouraged each other as we climbed up high, took a leap of faith, and flew through the woods on a zip line.

As a new team we went on to Gunder.  Our base for the trip was The Gunder Inn, the bed and breakfast owned and operated by my parents, Kevin and Elsie Walsh.

My parents also own and operate The Irish Shanti , home of the world-famous one pound Gunderburger.

All students tried to eat an entire sandwich and the first one done was one of the skinniest students in the group.

After dinner we played outside.  Students enjoyed football on the lawn, playing ghost in the graveyard in the real dark, under the star-lit sky, and a couple of them even tried driving a tractor!

Before bed we said our prayers, discussed the highs and lows of our day and painted candle holders to represent who we are and how we were to shine our gifts through our experience.

Day Two: Meeting the Stranger

Tuesday.  After a delicious homemade breakfast served by our hosts, we gathered in a circle for morning prayer and reflection. We heard the word of God proclaimed:

“When Jesus and his disciples drew near to Jerusalem,
to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives,
he sent two of his disciples and said to them,
“Go into the village opposite you,
and immediately on entering it,
you will find a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat.
Untie it and bring it here.
If anyone should say to you,
‘Why are you doing this?’ reply,
‘The Master has need of it
and will send it back here at once.'”
So they went off
and found a colt tethered at a gate outside on the street,
and they untied it.
Some of the bystanders said to them,
“What are you doing, untying the colt?”
They answered them just as Jesus had told them to,
and they permitted them to do it.
So they brought the colt to Jesus
and put their cloaks over it.
And he sat on it.
Many people spread their cloaks on the road,
and others spread leafy branches
that they had cut from the fields.
Those preceding him as well as those following kept crying out:
“Hosanna!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come!
Hosanna in the highest!”        – Mark 11:1-10

We contemplated how we could respond if someone were to ask us “Why are you doing this?” upon entering their villages.  We thought about what we bring and what “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” could really mean.

We then made a giant diagram and played a game to think about the challenges and experiences of people who live in rural areas.  We thought we were ready to go and meet some strangers in villages and try to bring blessings to their lives.

Our first stop was a visit to Valley Community Schools, in the middle of the country between the towns of Elgin and Clermont.  This is my alma mater.  Now the entire school district- preschool through grade 12- is in one building. Many of the young children stared at my students. I was impressed with how they helped each other through the awkward experience by reminding each other that many people may have never seen black people there before.

Next, we went to Gilbertson’s Park in Elgin for a picnic lunch and a service project.  A couple of us helped the Naturalist build a fence, which was a thrill.  Most of us helped clean mud, sticks and rocks off a paved trail to improve accessability for people with disabilities.  It was hard work on a beautiful day.

From there we went to the Shepherd of the Hills Food Shelf in St. Olaf.  We had fun working together to stock the pantry’s shelves.

We were amazed to learn that all the food put on the shelves would be gone in about a week.  For a county with a small population, that’s pretty fast!

Speaking of food, the next thing we did was learn where some of our food starts.  First, we visited a fish hatchery tucked into the woods along the Turkey River.  If you look closely at this picture you can see the fish swimming in the water.

Then we went to my aunt and uncle’s dairy farm to help with milking chores. For some of us, this was the highlight of the entire trip.

My uncle helped some students milk cows.

And my aunt helped them feed the calves.

One of the calves had been born the morning that we visited and was named after the youngest person in our group.

We also got to have the experiences of playing in a hay mow and jumping in a corn bin.  Before leaving, we learned all about the expensive farm equipment and tried sitting in the machinery.  As we were leaving I heard one of my students say that he was never again going to let people bad talk farmers, as they are some of the hardest working people he has ever met.

Afterward, we played basketball in the town park and had pizza and root beer floats before evening reflection and prayer.  It was a great day!

Stay tuned to hear about the adventures in the Spirit over our next three days!

 

seven days of salvation

strangers grip palms, bond at bus stops

grins by glory, pilgrims unite

onward, hosannas and hellos true

buzz on the street: whisper, plot, might

centuries of destruction and war ring doom

age the days of tension, hoping

who can save us from our plight?

bright spring moon, free, feasting

friends wash feet; bread, wine multiply

garden ghosts stir; children play, pray

crowds of citizens chant, cheer “crucify”

believe deceive, turn Love a bloody way

nails, thorns, swords and thirst all killing

three men suspend on wood beams die

friends, followers help Love, crying

into tombs of time, sabbath, vigil, praying

God’s goodness shakes ground, surprise

into churches, candlelight, stories, singing

Jesus has come back! He Lives! Arise!

loving to death

My holy week began in a simple rural church in Iowa. With crowds of farming families I chanted “crucify him, crucify him.”  My voice shook with shame.  It’s not pretend, it’s prayer.  Tears welled up within.  Why did the Church design it that I have to be the one who sentences my love to death?

Stone-cold statues of the stations of the cross lined the peaceful church.  In each, I see a face of Jesus etched with history and sorrow.  Jesus leans over an angel and looks at me in the pew, praying with questions.  Suffering is redemptive, I’ve learned.  Emotions stew within as I think of my love beaten, bruised, bloody, broken.

I sang “Hosanna” and held crisp, spring green branches but knew where the story was going next.  I knew about the cross, the death and the resurrection.  Except for the cooing children, I think we all did. Yet, we’re intense.  It’s ugly to face it: Love nailed to death.

As I gaze upon the cross this week, I shall consider all the hurt that I know.  I have been hurt and I have hurt others, at times I have even hurt myself.  The hurt of all humanity and creation stares back at me from the wood of the cross.

It’s personal and universal.  Personally, I have turned away from my love every time; I’ve allowed my good intentions to get clouded by pride, selfishness and lies.  Together, our social sins continually crush earth and community onto bloody boards.  The body of Christ is wounded.  We are that body.

Our eyes sting with the truth that love hurts.  I ache and I remember that the journey of the cross is the story that we live everyday. These are the moments of our community.  It’s not tidy at all, nor crisp with clarity.

The dust stirs on the statues. Chipped memories acknowledge that redemption began with the incarnation. He came to love, live, set free and therefore die. It’s because His love was so bold and non-violent that he was killed.  I am stuck in the story.

Hurt throbs through the questions.  Do I really understand?  Am I willing to die for what he lived?  Can I? Am I?