Walking in beauty

No matter what the season, God helps me to find the beauty in the neighborhood in which I live.

Perhaps one of my biggest struggles as I develop my spiritual practices and prayer life is staying in the present moment. I find my attention wandering not only during prayer, but during meals and conversations with others. I can get quite busy and not notice what is going on around me. It’s easy to become distracted by technology and other interruptions. As I walk my pup Capoochino, I strive to treat the activity as an extension of my prayer. I attempt to quiet myself and notice all the beauty around me in the neighborhood, the changes in the foliage, the animals that scurry around. I try to take a lesson from my dog who is totally in the moment as we walk, delighting in the scents and smells.

Although it can take quite a bit more effort, it can also be important for me to notice and enjoy the “messy stuff” during our walks. I try to delight in some of the imperfections or oddities I see in nature. One of the pictures below was taken during an ice storm that occurred when we had hoped winter would be finally over. I was annoyed to have to go out in the messy weather to walk the dog. Yet, God showed me the beauty in the discomfort. Each thing I saw served as a reminder that God delights in the messiness of our lives while we change and grow.

Learning to remain in the present moment during my walks with Capoochino helps me to dedicate my day to God’s work; to put stresses into perspective and find those moments God was woven into my day.

Here are some of the images I’ve found myself awakened to during walks with Capoochino throughout the year:

white-dog-harness
“Capoochino anxiously awaiting his walk.”
frozen-flowers
“Frosted beauty”
trees-flower-buds
“Buds of spring!”
pink-blooms
“Waiting to bloom”
tree-flowers-rain
“Beauty in the rain”
tulips-in-courtyard
“Beauty in diversity”
st-francis-statue-flowers-garden
“St. Francis watches over our garden.”
tall-purple-flower
“Beauty in memory: these flowers were planted in memory of my dear friend Susan.”

*All photos above by Sister Shannon Fox

ABOUT THE RABBLE ROUSER:

Sister Shannon Fox

sister-shannon-fox

Shannon Fox, Sister of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis, who hails from Cleveland, Ohio, and now lives in Chicago, Illinois, became a novice in 2003. She ministers as a high school special education teacher at a therapeutic day school for students with special needs. Teaching runs in her family, as both her parents and her little sister are teachers. In her spare time (“Ha!”), Sister Shannon enjoys community theater, singing and photography. She is also a member of Giving Voice through which she and Sister Julia met.

God make us poor and nonviolent like St. Francis

Happy St. Francis Day!

In light of all that is making humanity hurt far and near—the evils of greed, economic inequalities, environmental destruction, endless war and gun-violence—on this ordinary and holy day, I find that my heart desires to emulate two particular aspects of St. Francis’ prophetic life from 800 years ago.

I am praying for all of us, for our broken and hurting hearts, that we can respond to the invitation Christ made to Francis to “rebuild my Church.” May we all contribute to the reconstruction of God’s reign of peace, justice and mercy. May we all be renewed and converted more closely to Christ, to the people Christ is calling us to be in today’s world.

First, we pray …

that we can counteract greed, materialism, pride and arrogance by totally embracing poverty, just as St. Francis did. The worst consequence of us taking more than we need is the infliction of suffering upon others; stripping them of food and shelter and other basics. Plus, our consumption and waste harm sacred Earth, causing climate change and consequential disasters; more suffering inflicted upon the little ones.

St. Francis’ experience also showed him that greed and materialism create division, cause wounds. A member of the emerging merchant class in the middle ages, his life could have been comfortable and privileged if only he’d joined the family business and become a cloth merchant. Instead, his conversion directed him to become a beggar, living with and ministering to the lepers, the outcasts, the little ones. St. Francis, like Christ, stripped himself of his wealth and made himself poor, gaining freedom in his dependence upon God. His complete embrace of “Lady Poverty,” as he came to so fondly call it, opened him to encountering Christ in the poorness found in others and in himself.

"St. Francis and The Leper sculpture at Rivo Torto, Assisi" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
St. Francis and The Leper at Rivo Torto, Assisi by Julia Walsh, FSPA

Audrey Assad’s lovely rendition of Psalm 23 “I Shall Not Want” is a song worth praying with today. Let us pray that we can all be poor and humble like Christ, so as to come to know the poor Christ in the truth of our poverty:

Second, we pray …

that we can nonviolently respond to the endless shootings, name-calling, bomb-dropping, drone warfare, torture and terrorism that destroy lives every day. As technology advances, the ways we hurt one another only get worse. In the city of Aleppo alone, daily deadly attacks continue to increase, shocking relief workers with more dire conditions, seemingly mocking their false declarations “that things cannot possibly get any worse.”

St. Francis was also familiar with the evil of war and grew into a practitioner of nonviolence. Before his conversion, he served as a knight in the battle between the warring city-states of Assisi and Perugia. Captured from the battlefield he spent a year in prison, dealing with illness and suffering. During his development into an itinerant preacher, he greeted everyone with the Gospel messages of peace, forgiveness and love of enemies in Italian: Pace è bene, Peace and all good. In response to his countercultural message he was mocked and ridiculed. Yet he persevered with love and risk, even heading into the war zone of the Crusades, begging for the wars to end. One of my favorite stories about St. Francis is his encounter with Sultan Malek al-Kamil, a Muslim leader whom he befriended and dialogued with about peacemaking and faith.

 

Francis and the Sultan
photo credit: https://fineartamerica.com/featured/st-francis-and-the-sultan-rlsul-br-robert-lentz-ofm.html?product=round-beach-towel

Emma’s Revolution’s joyous song “Peace. Salaam, Shalom” expresses the hope, faith, and celebration that I believe should be part of all acts of peacemaking:

I pray that we can all embrace true poverty and be merciful and forgiving to our enemies, according to our own call, in response to the needs of world, just as St. Francis did so well. I pray we can love authentically, for it was Francis who said “I have done what was mine to do, may Christ show you what is yours to do.”

I invite you to pray with me too, so we can all respond to the needs of today with great humility and mercy, with bold love that is provocative and countercultural, transformative and compelling. Let us be poor peacemakers for our world today, in the spirit of Francis, in the image of Christ.

Amen!

Gleanings from “The Francis Factor”

 

Question from the audience:

I am a rich Christian. What should I do?

Shane Claiborne (smiling hugely):

Ha! If only Jesus had said something about that!

Sometimes I feel that if only Jesus had left some concrete teachings, a pattern of life to follow and a community of believers to hold on to, it would all be easier. I want him to tell me what to do today in this messy life and my attempts to be a Franciscan sister in a world that feels like it is disintegrating. But the truth is that he did. Today, in the 21st century, as we look around us at problems the planet has never seen before, we see the shining witness of Jesus as lived out in surprising ways.

Last weekend I attended The Francis Factor: How St. Francis and Pope Francis are changing the world, a conference looking at the contemporary implications of St. Francis and Pope Francis. We were over 1,000 people lead in contemplative reflection by a mystic, a scientist, and an activist: Father Richard Rohr, Sister Ilia Delio, and Shane. What would the little brother from Assisi tell us today? How does Pope Francis call us to be an authentic people of mercy and love?

"Dancing Francis" by FSPA
Dancing Francis courtesy of FSPA

Shane gently suggested that Jesus gives many different models of how to live faithfully, either from privilege or without it. Jesus tells the rich young man, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor …” (Mathew 19:21).  Zacchaeus, instead, gives away half of what he has and then repays those he has cheated four-fold (Luke 19:8). Mary, Joanna, Susanna and other women contributed to the support of Jesus and his disciples “out of their own means” (Luke 8:1-3). After the resurrection followers shared all in common, were of one mind in the Temple and broke bread together (Acts 2:43-47). The Bible has a plethora of practical examples of what to do—as a Christian—with access to financial resources.

Pope-Francis-WavingAs we reflected more we realized that maybe our true poverty is in the quality of our relationships. Pope Francis and St. Francis, by their examples, break us out of the same-old same-old mold of complacency and individuality. Here are some suggestions from The Francis Factor:

  • Pray consciously for the gift to trust more. Let prayer fester inside of you, slowly changing all you do from the inside out.
  • Surround yourself with people who change your idea of what it means to be normal. Listen to the children, the dreamers and the riskers.
  • Change the patterns of your daily life so that instead of insulating from suffering, you embrace the Gospel call, cross and all.
  • Start to build communities of trust. When violence in our neighborhoods is on the nightly news, how do we reach out beyond our fear to genuinely find each other?
  • Become like the one we spend time with in prayer so we leave the fragrance of Jesus in the world everywhere we go.
  • Fascinate the world with God’s love.
  • Live from a theology of “enoughness,” where there’s enough for everybody’s need and not for everybody’s greed.

Yes, there is definitely a Francis factor going on. I can feel it in the air as the United States prepares for the pope’s visit. Something is afoot and it sure does looks like Jesus in modern clothes.

4 photos from Assisi

I have been back from Assisi for a few weeks now, after spending over two weeks on pilgrimage there. The effects of the experience are still sinking in. Slowly, I am coming to know what the after-effects of my Assisi experience actually are.

It has occurred to me, though, that certain images and experiences linger more loudly, causing my Assisi memories to stay very alive, even though my life here has built layers on top in my mind.

It’s very difficult to really articulate what I experienced, so bear with me. I hope that the photography I’ve chosen helps.

1.) The art within the Basilicas

Photography inside the Basilicas of Assisi is not allowed, so I can’t share actual images with you. I’ll just say that seeing the originals of art that I have studied and prayed with since my entrance into FSPA was truly awesome. It was a thrill for me to pray with the actual San Damiano crossthe larger-than-life and vibrant frescoes by Giotto in St Francis’ Basilica, and the beautiful, simple Porziuncola where Francis lived with many of the early brothers. Somehow, the art in each of these sacred spaces caused me to encounter Christ in a way unlike I have before. I felt connected to Francis and Clare, to centuries of pilgrims, to the shared tradition of prayer.

This image of Francis is on the outside wall, above the door into the lower basilica of St. Francis.

"The Francis who greets" photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA
The Francis who greets by Julia Walsh, FSPA

2.) The valley below Assisi

Apparently, during the time of Francis and Clare the Spoleto Valley was a marshy land where few people would venture. It contained leper colonies where members of Francis and Clare’s communities would serve. One hot and sunny afternoon, I tried to walk across the valley from the place where Francis lived with the early brothers (the Porziuncola) to where Clare lived with early poor ladies (the Chapel of San Damiano). Even though I got overheated and never made it to San Damiano that day, I was in awe about how the land felt somewhat familiar. Perhaps my Iowan roots help me to feel comfortable in any agricultural setting. Or, perhaps praying with the stories of Francis and Clare during the past few years allowed me to feel at home.

I took this picture when I was walking through the valley.

"Assisi and the field" Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
Assisi and the field by Julia Walsh, FSPA

 

3.) The dancing colors across the sky

Nearly every day I was able to take in the magnificent sunrise and sunsets over Assisi. The scenes were like bookends of the blessed days. In between the sun coming up and going down I would encounter the way that this small town of peace offered hospitality to people of all types; to all sorts of colorful characters from all over the world. Some of us were tuned into the Spirit and sacredness. Others were joyful about what was quaint and calm. No matter where we are all of us, whether we believe it or not, are God’s children sharing space under the beautiful sky.

This is from the sunset the first night I was in Assisi.

"the wonder of color" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
The wonder of color by Julia Walsh, FSPA

 

 4.) The joy of being Franciscan

I mentioned it earlier, but I am happy to say it again. In the land of St. Francis, I felt very joyful and like my truest self. I would randomly sing hymns and find myself muttering prayers, more than normal. I am so thankful that God has blessed me with this vocation and made me part of this wonderful Franciscan family. Now that I am home again with many more sisters from my community, I understand why so many eyes sparkle with deep gratitude when the talk shifts to our Franciscan roots. I suspect that my eyes do that too. I hope we help others know God’s goodness through our joy.

In this picture, one of my pilgrimage companions lifts up his arms in Assisi.

"joy in the journey" photo by julia Walsh, FSPA
Joy in the journey by Julia Walsh, FSPA

 

Thanks be to God for the way that this pilgrimage continues to enrich my life! Pace è Bene!

Power, politics and Pope Francis

It’s St. Francis day and we have a Pope Francis!

St. Francis, Pope Francis

Thanks be to God, Pope Francis is really using his time in leadership to make big changes and redefine roles.  Basically Pope Francis is doing a great job of honoring his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi.  This is really good news for Franciscans like me who take seriously what Christ said to St. Francis: “rebuild my Church.”

Pope Francis keeps emphasizing that Gospel living is messy.  (Some people have asked me if he reads this blog! Ha!)

Eight-hundred yeas ago, the life of St. Francis was a testament that Church re-building is messy activity.  Truly, discipleship is about conversion.  And, change tends to be chaotic, causing all sorts of commotion. Through Pope Francis’ leadership we are seeing how graced, Christ-guided changes can grab our hearts’ attention.

A quick study of the news exposes glaring information: democracy is failing. The government isn’t working and doesn’t have much power.  It’s not a surprise those things are breaking, they’re things of human invention.  Real people-power comes from God, not human-made institutions, systems or wealth and privilege.

Eight-hundred years ago St. Francis (and St. Clare) reformed religious life with insistence for freedom from having to own anything (called the privilege of poverty.)  Their radical reforms made big waves during their day because back then  monasteries were associated with wealth and might but they wanted to own nothing!  The radical insistence of St. Francis and St. Clare on the right stuff of Gospel living– poverty, humility, mutuality, joy, and prayerful peacemaking— rocked the Church with tension and reforms.

Today,  lessons about the privilege of poverty are being revealed in Pope Francis’ activities and what seems to be another insistence that the Church change and not be about power, privilege, wealth and might.  We’re wowed and the world keeps buzzing, a bit blown with wonder.  What would a Church be like that lives out the privilege of poverty?

St Francis got it– and now Pope Francis is showing us–  true transformations come from inclusive and peacemaking communities who are united and prayerfully protecting the privilege of poverty.  Good Gospel freedom comes from humility and not having.

Then and now, the plates of privilege and poverty are colliding. Paradigms of power structures are shifting. Coming up from the cracks, we see new creations.

We find ourselves in strange peaks and valleys and realize God is calling us forward. It’s time for us to let God show us how to remake our institutions and expectations, right with our habits and social systems.

A new type of people-power is happening. Something awesome and Christ-centered is coming!  Let’s party and celebrate as we move into new ways of being.

Happy St. Francis Day!!

3 simple ways to honor St. Francis today

Happy St. Francis Day!!!

I love this guy.


Today, I invite you to do three simple and important things to honor St. Francis and his legacy that continues to inspire people, like me, to follow Jesus in messy, authentic ways.  The three actions I propose are totally Franciscan things to do.

Join my Franciscan family and me in celebrating the goodness of God and praising him for the gift of our founder!

Help us try to build the kingdom of God through our actions, ministry, simple lifestyle and prayer.

1.) Help the Poor.  There are a lot of ways you can help those less fortunate. I really, really would like you to help me with one cause that is near and dear to my heart and causing me to have a hard week.  The people who I know at Tubman House in California are in desperate need for help right now.  Unless they get enough donations quickly they’ll have to close this weekend or at the end of the month. If Tubman closes, some amazing parents and their children will go back to being homeless and the organization will be forced to stop doing all the amazing work they doRead all about the details and make a donation here.  Sign up to become a regular donor here.

2.) Protect the Environment. Just like helping the poor, there are many, many ways you can protect the environment.  I’d love it if you checked out all the awesome work that the good people at Catholic Climate Covenant are up to. And, then, I hope you’ll sign The St. Francis Pledge!

3.) Pray and Work for Peace. I had trouble coming up with a suggestion for this one– because there are so many issue specific peace organizations- -but being a nonviolent peacemaker is totally important.  Perhaps we can all pause for at least 30 quiet minutes in solitude and silence today to pray for peace in our hearts, our homes, our communities, our country and our world.

The great thing is that if we do these three simple actions we won’t just honor Francis, we’ll honor Jesus too.  That’s the great thing about saints!

Thanks for your participation and Happy St. Francis Day!

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

Ode to St. Francis

Father

of feasting, fasting

and fun: your ecstatic love of God still

feeds us with inspiration, devotion,

commotion, communion, so we

gather up sticks and play

violins. we kneel

in the dirt praying

praising, remembering our mother earth,

our sister water, the fox our

brother Jesus a babe, born so simple

in a barn, poor- you

understood, the challenge of following

Love beyond limits, to great

extremes: mountain tops, battle

fields where we learn from lilies how to

just trust that God shall

provide. blessed are they

blessed are you

our father

our friend

our founder

Francesco!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy St. Francis Day everyone!! 

We’re rejoicing in the goodness of God today and hope you’ll join us on this special day.  May you be blessed with an abundance of joy and communion with God.

Peace and All Good, Sister Julia

in a torture chamber, remembering love

Sure, we’re Easter people and there’s a lot to rejoice about.  Yet the Christian life is no easy street. In fact, sometimes it feels like following Christ brings me right into torture chambers.

Beloved:
If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good,
this is a grace before God.
For to this you have been called,
because Christ also suffered for you,
leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.
He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.

When he was insulted, he returned no insult;
when he suffered, he did not threaten;
instead, he handed himself over to the one who judges justly.
He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross,
so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness.
By his wounds you have been healed.
For you had gone astray like sheep,
but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.   –1 Pt 2:20b-25

It’s nice that scripture says it’s a grace if we suffer for doing what is good.  But I can’t say that the words always comfort and strengthen me. Sometimes the hurt just seems too extreme.

No worries, I am not in serious pain or trouble.  No one is sending me hate mail or throwing me in prison.  But I can’t say that being committed to Christ and advocating for justice has made me an especially popular person throughout my life.  I have been teased, I have had things thrown at me and I have been called names.  Torture comes in many forms and it’s always ugly, painful and dark.

The inner torment is tough, too.  At times my bitterness bubbles like lava, burning the innocent surrounding me.  Needles of sadness and confusion pluck at my spiraling soul.  Other times, doubts stop my acts of love completely cold.  I easily wonder if I am really following God’s will and doing what is right.  I keep flopping on my face as I try to be faithful.

Still, I get up.  I don’t believe God ever wants us to suffer.  No parent ever wants her child to be in pain, especially our Great Parent who is Love Himself.  But God is always interested in our growth and uses all situations to love us dearly.  The paradox is that suffering is redemptive.  While we suffer, we grow and change and all sorts of great miracles are silently present to us.  It’s beautiful, really.

All over the bible verses remind me that receiving persecution is a consequence for doing what is good.  Plus, today’s ordinary saints and prophets affirm it.  I’ve been told by a wise monk that the things that seem like crosses to me are crosses precisely because I am walking with Christ. This is a gift; I can have joy!

Oh yeah, joy, the joy of Easter! Jesus has shown us that His power is greatest and love wins all wars.  Wow! I really am protected and taken care of by the man who has suffered more than I ever will. It’s such a sweet, good deal!

Even if the consequences of Christian discipleship have brought me into a type of torture chamber, I can still have great faith and joy. And I do.  This is what St. Francis refers to as perfect joy. I love the Bible stories of faithfulness: stories of Daniel’s persevering in the lions den and Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego persevering in the furnace.  Such ancient wisdom challenges and encourages me along in my own, less dramatic, situations.  I am trusting that with God’s continued graces I shall also persevere.

As I contemplate the truth, I remember Love.  I’m remembering that I can play and laugh and dream as Christ heals my wounds.  Jesus is the shepherd and guardian of my soul everywhere I am, no matter how ugly.  Plus, all of us are in this together.  Nothing is too bad for us, we are all God’s children. Alleluia!

I choose to rejoice in the struggle.  I choose to be grateful, not grumpy.  Singing the song called “Lions” by the Christian band, Lost and Found helps me remember and remain rooted in love.  I hope you’ll join in the singing as you watch this video and live your life.