In this time of great distress

The book of Revelation is a profound example of resistance literature.

The author, a disciple named John, is responding to a crisis: the severe persecution of the Church in the late first century. He himself is in exile, in Patmos, a Roman penal colony and island located between Greece and Turkey. The vision John receives and shares with us assures us that God has already triumphed, and will triumph, over the forces of evil. Revelation is a book of hope and consolation and challenge for believers to remain faithful – as God is faithful – to the end.

The book of Revelation begins with a blessing, a special message for all of us: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud this prophetic message, and blessed are those who listen to it and heed what is written in it, for the appointed time is near.” (Revelation 1:3)

This reading from Revelation refers to “the time of great distress.”  We live in this time. Previous generations have too, but we can certainly claim it.

I’ll suggest a few signs of this “great distress,” but I also invite you to think about this reality from your own perspective and social location. A few examples: climate change and ecological destruction; mass migration and forced displacement (now involving 250 million people globally); violent conflicts and even the increasing threat of nuclear war; and the widespread presence of sexual violence, from body shaming to sexual harassment to rape, especially against women and girls.

three-fists-#metoo

The statistics are harrowing. I’ll offer one as an example. How many girls alive today have experienced forced sexual acts? According to United Nations, 120 million girls. The #MeToo campaign has effectively spotlighted – in a personal and compelling way – how sexual violence affects those closest to us: sisters, daughters, friends and colleagues.

“It is the time of great distress.” I have named a few examples. There are many more.

I invite you to consider: What parts of the “great distress” touch your heart, your conscience? Whose cries do you hear?

In Revelation, the destructive forces are symbolized by the four winds. We need no such symbol today. We know that this time of distress is our own making.

In Revelation, the great multitude cries out “Salvation comes from our God and from the Lamb.” Our hope is in God. And God has mercifully shown us the path of salvation: it is the way of the Beatitudes.

How must we walk together in the time of great distress? To be poor in spirit, meek, merciful, and clean of heart. To mourn, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to make peace. It sounds like more resistance literature in our time of crisis.

The saints walk this path. Some are canonized, many others unrecognized, even more living among us. I invite you to consider: Who is a saint in your life – among the living or the dead – who has taught you the path of the Beatitudes, and how to live as a faithful disciple amid the great distress?

John describes these saints as a “great multitude,” too numerous to count, “from every nation, race, people and tongue.” They “wear white robes,” and their foreheads are “marked with a seal.” The seal is a mark of property, of belonging, and of protection.

We are among this multitude. We come from many nations. In our baptism we are marked with the sign of the cross; our heads are anointed with chrism, the oil of salvation; and we are “robed in white” as a sign of our Christian dignity. In our baptism God claims us, we become children of God (1 John), and we belong to God. And each time we share in the Eucharist, we too are “washed in the blood of the Lamb.”  We are made one in Christ.

So, in this time of great distress, let us always remember our identity as children of God, sinners loved by God, called to walk the path of the Beatitudes, knowing we are among saints who cheer us on (Hebrews 12:1). This is the path of resistance that we walk together.

Note from the editor: This blog post is a version of a homily that Father Luke Hansen, SJ, preached October 31, 2017 (Vigil of the Solemnity of All Saints) in Rome.

ABOUT THE RABBLE ROUSER

Luke Hansen, SJ

Luke-Hansen-SJOriginally from Kaukauna, Wisconsin, Luke Hansen, SJ, has been a friend of Sister Julia’s since 2004 when they met at an airport on their way to serve in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in California. Passionate about justice and peacemaking, much of his experience in ministry has been centered on serving adults and adolescents who are incarcerated. He now is studying in Rome at the Pontifical Gregorian University. (Photo credit: www.jesuits.org)

 

Thanksgiving in the midst of this mess

“It’s getting ugly!” “Society is starting to collapse!” One might be tempted to scream and cry when the headlines are scanned; when turmoil bubbles up and splashes upon any sense of security and comfort that has been shielding our privileged lives.

The mess of injustice can burn us or it can mobilize us to be who we are made to be. This is the time for us to give of ourselves; to share compassion, kindness, solidarity and prayers—we have been practicing for this since the time of Jesus Christ. Yes, we Christians must indeed stand with the vulnerable and weak right now; we must protect and care for those who are oppressed and suffering with all our might. We must pay attention and help all people unite as peacemakers, as people who nonviolently resist the hate crimes and violence that are ripping communities and our nation apart. Yes, we must resist nonviolently, even willing to do so to our death–Jesus already showed us the way.

The heartache is real, the challenge is intense; the truth is disturbing and can mess up our comfort zones and our temptation to avoid. And it should. We have a lot of work to do.

But, tomorrow is THANKSGIVING. A day to feast, to pause. A day for loved ones to sit around tables and eat, eat, eat; play games and laugh, and tell stories. Can we afford to take a break?

Yes. We must. We absolutely must.

Thanksgiving is a day to practice the essentials; to lean into those we love and gain strength, to connect with our roots and remember who we are and how we’re meant to be.

Many of our families are likely to be split over the issues, to be a collection of folks who sit at different spots on the political spectrum. This day of thanksgiving—no matter who we spend it with—is a day for us to practice what we believe it will take to heal our hurts and mend the broken, messy society. We can avoid controversial topics and keep all things light and cheery (and that’s OK; that is healing and important too) or we can look into the eyes of those who are near us and try out those dialogue skills, even awkwardly. We can ask, “How are you doing, really?” and “What are you worried about right now?” and “What do you believe will help us be better?” We can listen (with compassionate curiosity), love unconditionally, tell true stories, and imitate Christ. We can practice self-sacrifice.

Thanksgiving is a day for gratitude. We can closely examine the beauty that surrounds us in faces, in food, in the dance of color and light. We can think about all the things we have learned, that have been exposed and broken open. We can consider how we’ve grown since last Thanksgiving and how God is guiding us through.

We can make “thank you” our mantra of love. A lot is good and we really are blessed, abundantly. To pause and celebrate the goodness is not only healthy, it is necessary; only in our gratitude and relationships shall we have the strength for the mission we are made for, a mission of love and joy.

There’s a lot of beauty in the endless opportunities of this sacred feast. This is an important time and by God’s grace we are ready. For this we can also say “thank you.”

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

"evening light" Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Evening Light” by Julia Walsh, FSPA

 

 

 

From farm to city and back again: Listening and loving on the margins

Decades ago, as a child growing up in the rolling hills of Northeast Iowa, I would daydream of simpler times, of the days when people were pioneers and steadily establishing their families and homes and building communities upon frontiers.

My younger sisters and I would gather in groves of cedar trees tucked into the hills and pastures and play “Little House,” inspired by the novels by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I would thumb through books tucked into my parents’ shelves, books like Back to Basics: How to Learn and Enjoy Traditional American Skills and 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do To Save The Earth, and ponder what it would have been like to live in the “olden days.”

On steamy, sunny days in July, my younger sisters, cousins and I would put on pants and long-sleeved shirts and carry buckets half our body size into the deep woods. We’d crawl underneath berry bushes, pluck juicy deep purple blackcaps off thorny branches, rapidly fill our buckets, and scratch up our arms. Later we’d…

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

"In Wisconsin's Northwoods" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“In Wisconsin’s Northwoods” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

love at the life lines

I am Pro-Life.

I tweeted this to the world a couple of weeks ago: I am #prolife! I want abortion, war, executions, gun violence, discrimination, poverty, hunger and euthanasia to end–honor all dignity!

Also a couple of weeks ago a few of my students participated in the March for Life in Washington, D.C., a peaceful march protesting the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision. I was also aware that mothers were protesting against gun violence at the same time. I wanted to support both movements with one big tweet. Yes I know, I really emphasize non-violent peacemaking and write about opposition to war, torture, violence, poverty and the death penalty in a lot of my blog posts.

The thing is, when it comes to issues of life (and death) I really subscribe to the seamless garment morality. Life is always sacred.; holy; precious gift from God that must always be honored, cherished, and protected from its very beginnings to its natural end. In my walk with Jesus, I continue to feel very clear and confident about those convictions.

Pro-life, in the messy business of Jesus, is not really that simple.

First, life and death matters aren’t always as black and white as we’d like them to be, yet I try radically to state that violence and killing are always wrong. I despise the use of guns, even in self-defense–always to hurt others, always in violence. In many respects I’m a pacifist–willing to radically state I’m opposed to militarization. But then I have to live with unresolved questions: am I okay with the police protecting me by using weapons? Can I accept how butchers slaughter the animals I eat? Do I respect the constitutional right to bear arms? What do Jesus and the Gospel teach me about national defense? Is war always wrong? Being pro-life is not just about expressing an opinion, it is also about grappling with questions.

Secondly, what if it seems like I’m being judgmental when I stand up for my beliefs? Isn’t it God’s job to do the judging and my job to help with the loving? I know there are stories behind every life that must be protected–in the hearing and the protecting we must have compassion and leave the judgement to God. When it comes to standing up against legalized abortion these stories, somewhat like war, get especially complicated. Being pro-life is not just about opposition to killing, it’s also about listening lovingly and providing healthy, just and safe options for all. I’ve worked with women who are very poor and witnessed their struggles in a world with few choices.

Lastly, I feel afraid. I worry that I’m going to offend someone, create more division or simply invite conflict with people who are mean. I don’t like feeling uncomfortable–I love peace and serenity as much as anyone else. I’m not usually afraid of being bold, but I am often afraid of the consequences. Will I be misunderstood? Am I strong enough to love people who are unkind to me? Can I have compassion and be patient when defensiveness explodes out of others? I can become frozen in my fear.

Being pro-life is about recognizing strength in the context of a loving community that holds and encourages us when we tremble. And it’s about being bold.

“Now who is going to harm you if you are enthusiastic for what is good? But even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you. Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.”  –1 Peter 3: 13-17

Maybe pro-life is excitement and promotion for what I believe is good more than declaring what I believe is wrong! True, there’s a certain amount of clear-cut morality behind life and death issues and we need to share the truth. Like I tell my students, commandment five is pretty straightforward–Jesus was awesomely clear about the meaning of “thou shall not kill.” History and theology even prove that Jesus’ teachings on non-violence are right on. I love–and follow–Jesus a lot for that.

I guess I’ll keep moving through the mess as I try to live by Jesus’ life-preserving ways, even when it comes to standing up for what is right and wrong. Help me Jesus. Amen!

“I am the way and the truthand the life.” -John 14: 6

"Times Square Church God Sign"
“Times Square Church God Sign”

hot desert heartache

"Dry Land" by Julia Walsh, FSPA

It’s confusing in this lenten desert. It’s not my home, but yet here I am.  It’s hot, bare and dirty.  My desire for lenten thirst and contemplation drew me here, but now I don’t know what to do with myself.  The creatures are unfamiliar, the thorns scare me.  I don’t even know how to sit comfortably.  How can I know God in this strange place?

I try to listen to God in the strange seeming stillness. But, really, I find that I can’t sit still.  My gaze and my movement is away from God in the quiet. Or, is it?

I find that it’s impossible to contemplate God’s presence and ignore the cries of the world.  I worry about the destruction and despair in Japan.  I learn of more bombings and gunfire in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Palestine and between gangs in the USA.  I know too many young people whose dreams are and growth is  impacted by instability within their homes.  I am flooded with prayer requests for people’s health, relationships, job-searches and economics.  I know that many people are desperately struggling for their survival.  I feel overwhelmed with the truth of injustice, suffering and pain. Tension flares within me as I hear that our government is about to shut down.  How can this be okay? How many people will suffer even more just because our elected leaders can’t come to some sort of compassionate compromise?

What caused us to get into this great big mess?  What has happened to our global interdependence and national unity?  I’ve studied the causes of social problems and I can’t say that the fact that we are driven by fear, greed and power-struggles gives me any hope.

I’m getting kind of grumpy in this desert.  In prayer I whine about how the lenten challenge of facing the ugly can help me gain faith.  It doesn’t make sense and the confusion gets thicker.  I listen a bit more.  Then God reminds me of the Word.

Will not the day of the LORD be darkness and not light, gloom without any brightness?  I hate, I spurn your feasts, I take no pleasure in your solemnities; Your cereal offerings I will not accept, nor consider your stall-fed peace offerings.   Away with your noisy songs! I will not listen to the melodies of your harps. But if you would offer me holocausts,  then let justice surge like water, and goodness like an unfailing stream-Amos 5: 20-24

Oh yeah!  This desert is a place of remembering, and I finally am.  We do all this- all this tough Gospel stuff- because our message shall shower the land with freedom.  Streams of great water flow through the land and renew and restore all.

I feel like I am trying to see in the dark but the sun is shining.  It’s not really that gloomy and ugly, it’s just not my ordinary.  I begin to notice the life that is blooming through the dusty landscape.  With God, the darkness and the light are one.

I am not to drown out the pain with cheerful music or simple sacrifice, Amos said.  Instead, I am to dance in the dark to the beautiful songs of justice and goodness and let those waters wash me clean.  The sacred desert is engaged with the world, all my actions there matter.  This desert is my home, after all.