I am in a dim hospital room, standing at the foot of the bed, a small video camera gripped in my hands. I am trying to hold the camera steady and silence my sobs while I watch one of the most incredible, beautiful scenes I have ever observed: the entrance of a new child into the world.
The woman birthing this child has asked me to be here and record this sacred moment. Before today, I’ve accompanied her to several doctor appointments and listened to her talk about her dreams. I am trying to support her through a lot of changes; she is formerly homeless and now a resident at a transitional living program, Tubman House in Sacramento, California, where I am serving as a Jesuit Volunteer.
The year is 2005, and I have recently begun an application to enter the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration based in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Doing so means moving toward a public renouncement of…
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.
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.
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?
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.
Annemarie (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.
Leading up to the Women’s March on Washington last week, I noticed a lot of #WhyIMarch and also #WhyImNotMarching social media posts. Because the spirit, style and mission of the event—seemingly driven by language of “reproductive rights” (a new expression I’ve not yet come to terms with)—didn’t resonate with me, I found my own feelings and conclusions undecided.
What attracted me was the immediate, massive response of women (and men) coming together to respond in an assertive but nonviolent way with their bodies (not just Tweeting and tagging). The ambiguity of the platform appealed to me too but also gave me pause for possible interpretation as inclusivity: many people feel wronged for different reasons and it’s necessary to create a space where all can come together and voice their concern; not in a series of separate events but in unity.
It’s not uncommon for the term unity to be mistaken as synonymous with sameness. In fact, unity requires diversity: many different people, beliefs and ideas coming together to form “a complex whole.” Unity is not clean and neat, it’s messy and complicated. (Something we readers of Messy Jesus Business should appreciate!) What finally tipped the scales for me was the presence of my family members, with varying political and religious views, joining their voices across the country. In the spirit of sisterhood and unity, I asked some of them to share their reflections of the march.
Grace, who lives in Ohio and shared her home with a family of four (while in between jobs, after the birth of her second child), knows well what it means to practice hospitality:
I entered the Women’s March in D.C. as a skeptical outsider, wanting to observe and understand even though I felt like I didn’t quite belong. I wanted to stand up for dignity: for the right to dignity for women, Muslims, immigrants—all those who have been demeaned and treated as “less than” in the rhetoric of our new president. As a Christian I take to heart the command given in Leviticus to welcome and love the stranger (Leviticus 19:33-34).
Yet because I believe dignity of life extends to the unborn, the newly formed life, I kept questioning if there was a place for someone like me—pro-women, pro-equal rights, pro-intelligent sexual education, pro-supportive and affordable health care for women and pro-life—in this march. I had a desire to stand in solidarity with my fellow women and men in a historic moment but based on the official platform of the march I felt in many ways my presence wasn’t wanted.
As I struggled I came to recognize that to remove oneself from a discussion because you disagree is to render your voice obsolete. What part can we play in inspiring change and perpetuating truth when we refuse to begin the conversation? Conversing is not to speak at someone; to spew statistics, Scripture, opinion, or fact and then write them off when they disagree. A conversation involves listening, giving and receiving. So I sought to observe and understand the varied reasons so many people felt they could stay silent no longer and among these many voices I heard and saw things that made my heart say, “Yes, I see you, I know how you are feeling. I feel the same way.”
Ann Marie is a mother of three and long-time advocate for human rights who attended the march in Los Angeles wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt:
BLACK LIVES MATTER means our neighbors live lives in which they are told they matter less than us, and we need to do something about it. At the very least we must recognize it’s true, it’s happening and it’s their experience instead of foolishly insisting “but we ALL MATTER.” Yes, WE ALL MATTER. That’s the point. We need to change society—that they matter the same as us— till it rings true.
I took my two daughters, five and nine years old, to the march in L.A. because while we each have a voice now, we may not always. I may not fear for my immediate way of life or that of my blond-haired, blue-eyed children. We are safe and comfortable in so many ways. We haven’t been attacked because of our religion, our skin color, our parents’ country of origin. We may not have been threatened by Trump and his campaign promises, but our neighbors and fellow Americans have. So we went to speak out and lend our voices to theirs.
Allison traveled to D.C. along with her husband (my brother), both compelled by dismay that a man with such obvious disdain for women, Muslims, people of color and the environment is the new president:
It felt like a momentous day just from the bodies present, the singing, the buzz of electricity. And amidst all this excitement, one thing stood out to me the most.
We had been standing in the crowd for a couple of hours when a cry started. “Karen! Karen!” My husband and I joked “You’re in a crowd of 500,000 people and you’re trying to find Karen? Good luck.” Then we heard Karen’s son had been separated from her. A little boy lost his mom. We joined in the “Karen” shouts until she was found. Then we saw a group of women encircling a young boy, spreading the sea of people with their bodies, shouting “We’ve got a lost kid!” The women marched him backwards until he was reunited with his mom.
I keep thinking about the way those women protected Karen’s son, a child none of them knew. The way ripples of “Karen!” flooded the human logjam. The way everyone worked together to solve a problem. The way I’d been skeptical and my quick change of heart when I realized a child was in need. The way we all thought of our own children getting lost and needing help. That moment was a microcosm of the world in which we march. If we all shout “Karen!” loud and long enough, Karen or peace or human rights or equality can be found. We have the power to move ourselves with the best interest of our children in mind through the masses; to push ourselves to the front, and to let our leaders know that we will not let even one of us be lost, trampled, forgotten. We walk together. I have your back.
As for me, I carried a sign my husband Ted and I had quickly assembled the morning of the march. Trying to decide upon words we could confidently stand behind and uphold, we settled on those of the prophet, Micah: “Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly.” I’ve carried these words—as a challenge and a guide—for most of my life. They indicate the spirit with which my husband and I resist the rhetoric and actions of Trump, who embodies the exact antithesis of justice, mercy and humility.
The march was one opportunity to join our voices against what was only rhetoric and obscure proposals but which, over the course of last week, became executive orders and inhumane threats. I raise my voice again—sturdy on the foundation of the millions around the world with whom I stood in solidarity last Saturday (and all the more so, those who have been dedicating their lives to truth and compassion long before) to speak a resounding NO:
NO to banning people from this country because of their religion or nationality!
NO to dishonoring treaties and desecrating sacred lands!
NO to militarizing police and marginalizing people of color!
NO to torture!
And with Hebrew Scripture and teachings of Jesus prodding me forward, I dare to proclaim a determined, hopeful YES:
YES to welcoming foreigners and sharing with those in need!
YES to reverence and care for marvelous Earth and the creatures inhabiting her!
YES to defying oppressive powers and violence!
YES to recognizing that real security comes through accepting our individual vulnerability, embracing collective connectedness and choosing to care for one another!
Amy Nee-Walker grew up in the middle of a large and lovely family in Central Florida. Living into questions about truth and love has led her to the Catholic Worker, the Catholic Church, her incredible husband, two audacious, adorable children, and (for the time being) a home in the hills of Appalachia.
I have memories of my grandma embarrassing me in church when I was a little girl. She would sing really loud and off-key. I couldn’t hear the choir or the piano; I just heard my grandma blurting out hymns like she didn’t care what others thought. It didn’t make sense to me. Being my bold little self, I remember telling her so. In her smiley, matter-of-fact way she would respond: “The Bible says make a joyful noise unto the Lord, it doesn’t say that it has to sound pretty.”
Today, December 8, is the 13th anniversary of my grandmother’s death. It is also the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today my heart honors and praises God for the power of two women who have taught me how to sing “yes” to God with the joyful song of my life.
I am amazed, today, that the psalm I most associate with my grandma is part of the liturgical readings:
Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done wondrous deeds; His right hand has won victory for him, his holy arm. The LORD has made his salvation known: in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice. He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness toward the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation by our God. Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands; break into song; sing praise.-Psalm 98
My grandmother wasn’t a Catholic; she was a faithful Lutheran woman. I don’t remember her ever talking about Mary and showing any images of her beyond the ones in Christmas scenes. Still, her faith and “yes” to God, like Mary’s, helped Goodness come into the world.
The matriarch of my big family and my rural neighborhood, my Grandmother, was a woman who had a wide open home and big, hospitable arms. She raised 10 children on a farm in Northeast Iowa and her maternal nature extended into the next two generations. In her home, children could play and farmers and neighbors could stop by for lunch and snacks. Myself, my siblings, my cousins and the other neighbor children were empowered. We would get help with our homework, collect nickels and pennies in payment for chores and learn how to cook. The house usually smelled like bread and soup and a quilting frame frequently took the place of the dining room table. The quilts she sewed were mission quilts and we knew that they were going to keep someone poor warm in a far-away land. Prayer books and Bibles were in every room. In closets there were boxes of Bibles and other treasures waiting to be given away. The home was warm and cozy and no stomach could ever feel hungry.
Like St. Paul, Grandma wrote important letters. She would send cards and notes to everyone she knew for every occasion. Tucked into every card were Bible verses that she hoped the recipient would later look up and study: Psalm 129, 1 Corinthians 13, Philippians 2, Psalm 98. Her practical, generous loving Gospel witness steered many toward faith and trust in God.
In the mystery of faith the power of another woman’s “yes” to God’s goodness lives on and changes lives. Our mother Mary was amazingly pure with Love and Light. Poor and young, she bowed to the mystery and allowed God’s might to come into her, be birthed through her and bring the universe to redemption. What she said “yes” to continues to unfold in women today, who sing “yes” to God and let God’s will be done in them.
Like Mary and my grandma, I seek to be the woman I am called to be. I wonder what particular mission I must do, how I must birth life, how I need to listen, how I need to serve and obey. I am grateful for the witness of Mary, the mother of God, and my beloved grandmother who remind me that my body is sacred and holds great potential for the spreading of God’s love. Because they said “yes” I have been formed to share and simply give all I can.
In all of our lives and in every place, women continue to sing joyful praise. Amazingly, diverse languages, tunes and rhythms somehow unite into harmony that helps free us all. Thanks be to God for the witness, the power, the love. May God bless women everywhere who work so hard to be free so they may sing more loudly and joyfully, even if it seems out of tune. May God help us all, women and men, sing our own joyful song!
This is Mary’s song:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
“Tell them to come and see who we are.” Almost every Afghan we met said that. Tell them to come and see. While my mind flashed to nightly news programs that portray all Afghans as dark, bearded men with big guns, ordinary Afghans told me that they want Americans to see them as just that: ordinary people. In October, I participated in a Voices for Creative Nonviolence delegationto Afghanistan. Kathy Kelly, David Smith-Ferri, and I spent almost a month in Afghanistan, joining the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers in Bamiyan for a week and spending the rest of the trip in Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul. The purpose of the delegation was to make human connections with those people who are bearing the brunt of our country’s policies of warmaking. Entering the 10th year of U.S. occupation, and after 30 years of almost constant war, ordinary Afghans want the 43 occupying countries and the greater international community to stop the fighting. Come and see, the Afghans would ask wearily. We are human beings.
We were welcomed into the country by the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers (AYPV), a group of young men in Bamiyan, an Afghan province directly west of Kabul. Bamiyan is a relatively stable area of the country with a large population of ethnic Hazaras and Tajiks. While we were there, the young men invited us into their daily lives. They work at small shops and in the fields, harvesting potatoes or hauling water by donkey. Their large families welcomed us into their homes with smiles and nods and messages of peace. We shared simple meals over food and with laughter, and seemingly insurmountable differences grew negligible.
All of the families in the surrounding villages of Bamiyan share memories of fleeing the Taliban during their reign in the late 1990s — stories of large groups running down mountains in the dark, clutching small children and any possessions they could grab. Many of the very young and very old didn’t survive. Countless women and men in Bamiyan suffer from depression after experiencing the ravaging nature of war. “We age very quickly here,” reflected the mother of one of the AYPVs. Noting her weathered hands and worn eyes, I assumed she was in her late-50s. But the translator, after explaining that most women there suffer from anemia, persistent headaches, and debilitating depression, told us that the mother was only 38 years old. She went on, concluding: “I have experienced 30 years of war in less than 40 years of life.”
As the days passed, we started to weave together each young man’s story — stories experienced in the midst of lifelong war that have forced these teenagers to age quickly, too. Abdulai, a bright-eyed and generous 15-year-old member of the AYPV, lived through the Taliban’s abduction and murder of his father. Others told stories of witnessing their loved ones die, seizing the bullet-ridden bodies of their uncles and brothers. Faiz’s parents both died from illness before he turned 7. “When I remember my childhood,” he said, “tears come to my eyes.” But still, their hope was infectious. During a phone call with a young Gazan, 12-year-old Ghulamai, we heard words of encouragement that bridged the miles between these two occupied lands. “Please remain strong and brave,” pleaded Ghulamai. “We will endure this together, with you. If it’s beyond enduring, please call us. Life will pass, but if it’s beyond enduring, call us.”
The history of Afghanistan, I am learning, is a complicated web of interlocking systems of violence — a murder mystery-like story with warlords, ethnic oppression, drug rings, shadow governments, and corruption. But I am struck with the wisdom that was shared with us over tea in a Kabul café from a Western woman who has lived in the country for the last decade: There is not a military solution to the problems of Afghanistan. Forty billion dollars of U.S. humanitarian aid since the invasion in 2001 has done nothing for the poor. Policies to pump the country with even more weapons will never result in lasting peace. Young men with little education and no opportunity to provide food for their fatherless families will continue to join the Taliban for a meager salary. Come and see, the boys beg us. As they continue to bear the brunt of our military machine, may we hear them.
This week’s guest blogger, Jerica Arents, is a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence and is a recent graduate of Loyola University Chicago’s Institute of Pastoral Studies. Jerica lives in the White Rose Catholic Worker in Chicago where Sister Julia loves to hang out to play games, sing songs, pray for peace and justice and eat dumpster-dived food.
All photos are the property of Jerica Arents. For permission to reprint please comment on this blog entry.
“I’m nervous because I’m here illegally.” Marta held out her arm for a blood pressure check. The nurse in the free clinic and I quickly reassured her that everything was confidential and she had nothing to fear. Marta continued, “I’m nervous because I am illegal and when we were crossing the border I was gang-raped by robbers. My husband convinced me to come in and get checked for STDs. I am nervous to find out the results. I don’t know if I got sick.”
We stopped in our tracks. Here was something no one should ever have to worry about. Marta sat waiting for the doctor with courage.
America—Land of Maria
I came to the Catholic faith in Mexico. The Virgin Mary was everywhere and she completely confused me. Why did she have so many names? Why did women gather in the street to pray the rosary? Why did teenagers carry her face on everything they wore?
And why did I have to wake up at bloody 5 o’clock in the morning to blaring trumpets on December 12? I walked with sleep still in my eyes to the church. The smell of roses hit me like a wall that almost knocked me over. The church was packed. Guitars and mariachis led our songs. Welcome to the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe!
The priest proclaimed the Gospel.
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? Luke 1:39-43
Mary travelled to her cousin Elizabeth to help her prepare for childbirth. She came to comfort her and be of service.
Mary has done the same for us. She came to the people of the Americas in 1531 through the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe, except this time instead of staying for three months she has stayed for almost five hundred years! Mary came to the Americas speaking Nautl with the face of a Mestiza. After her appearance eight million native Mexicans converted to the Catholic faith. She knew that we needed her to be our Mother. She was not a Goddess, but a woman of service and a face of compassion.
My friends patiently explained to me the meaning of Guadalupe. She came to us when we needed her and she has not left us alone. At the same time, she is a poor woman who suffered and opened her heart. As the Mother of God, she can come to us as no other woman can. As a woman she understands us as we are.
I need Guadalupe because I need to draw closer to Jesus. I need my heart to be busted open by the injustice around me, but before I drown in despair I need the hope of roses and guitars in the middle of the night.
I thought if I learned Spanish that I could welcome Mexican migrants in the United States the way they embraced me in their home country. Instead, I found it to be the opposite. In trailers, in farm labor camps, and in churches, they welcomed me. Even here, where they are strangers in the culture and face discrimination and deportation, I found hope. Last week a migrant was stranded here in Minnesota and our parish gave him a gas card to get to some family members. Tears in his eyes, he looked at us with confidence, “If you are ever in Guanajuato, my home is your home.”
After being examined by the doctor, it turned out Marta had no STDs. Her wounds were more intangible: the long road of healing before her, the daily insecurity of migrant life, and the challenge of feeding and clothing her family. Standing beside her is another woman who took a dangerous journey to help her family, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.