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Finding God in the Holy Land

Hello, dear readers, from your recently returned pilgrim! That’s right, your traveling teacher got to take another trip off of her bucket list. When I first starting teaching almost 10 years ago now, I never realized how the summers off would open up my world so literally. Each summer (since I learned how teachers should use their summers) has been spent at a new international location: Greece, Morocco, and Australia (just to name a few).

But, you say, it isn’t summer, and you’d be correct. When I saw a trip to the Holy Land advertised in my church bulletin last year, but saw that it was scheduled for February, I was determined to make it work no matter what. Because teachers get so many breaks and weeks off in the summer, we don’t get vacation. We get three personal days and that is it for the year other than sick time. I tried to pitch to my principal that since I am a Scripture teacher and I work at a Catholic School, this should be professional development time, but it didn’t quite work out that way. Regardless, I did get the time off to go (even though it was unpaid leave) and I did get to book my trip of a lifetime.

A trip to the Holy Land bears so much weight for so many reasons. Everyone says “it’s the trip of a lifetime.” Add onto that that you are a Scripture teacher. That you used to live in a convent. And that you told your parents about it and they want to go with you. This, my dear readers, only adds to the pressure of this trip really needing to meet that expectation of “trip of a lifetime.”

I really tried not to put any expectations on the trip since there was so much weight to this trip already. Regardless of how things went with our group or our flights, I was going to see the places that I teach my students about. I was going to walk close to places that Jesus at one time walked.

Now, I am not disillusioned that these places are ACTUALLY the places where tradition asserts that these moments in Christ’s life happen. I know that a lot of these Churches were built on guesstimates. But it was still going to be good enough for me to go to the places that for 1700 years- since the 4th century when Constantine and Helena made Christianity a world wide thing- people have come to worship and honor and remember Jesus.

Our trip was a 10 day tour and about 3 of those days were spent with travel. We flew to Frankfurt (7 hour flight) and then to Tel Aviv (4 hour flight). Israel is 7 hours ahead, so by the time we got to Tel Aviv, it was just time to go to bed. We got to see the coastal city a little before bed and before we boarded our bus for our true adventure: the cities in Northern Israel around the Sea of Galilee and then making our way down to Jerusalem.

I will spare you the play by play of each day, but rather, this post is going to be about where I “felt” God during this trip. I feel like one does a pilgrimage like this for the main reason of “feeling” God’s presence in these places. And, again, that is a lot of pressure to put on a trip. There are so many factors that come into play. For example:

a.the people you are traveling with. For us, that was a doozey. Lots of old, American travelers who I wasn’t quite sure had ever left the country before. That was a lot to take in and of itself. Oof.

b. timing. Turns out February is a great time to travel to Israel. It is like their Springtime. A little bit of rain, 50 and 60 degree weather, lots of vegetation in bloom. Our tour guide made sure to get us to as many places as possible each day (despite the aforementioned American travelers who are used to being on their own time schedules that I can only assume means moving at the slowest pace possible with no regard for anyone else) but moving at such a pace meant not getting to spend as much time as I would’ve liked taking in all of these seriously momentous locations.

c. the political backdrop. We all know that the Middle East has been in conflict since biblical times and it definitely played a role while we were there. I felt safe always while in Israel, but crossing the Palestinian border meant having us switch guides to have someone from the State of Palestine show us around Bethlehem and seeing big signs and barbed wire around borders warning Israeli citizens about their entrance into Palestine. On my free day, I really wanted to return to the border to see some street art by the artist Banksy that is there, but my guide warned against it. He said no cab driver would take me there for less than $150 and even then it was a toss up as to what the climate would be like.

All of these factors I tried to not let taint my bucket list experience of seeing and experiencing the places that we have read about in Scripture for centuries. But we are human.

I said I wasn’t going to give you all a play by play of each day, but rather, perhaps describe some of my “God moments” while on the trip. On our first day, I believe we were all looking for that “God moment” right away. Some of us did get it when we arrived in Magdala, the home of Mary Magdalene. This is apparently a newly excavated city. It was “discovered” I think as recently as 2011. The skeptic in me had lots of questions. I couldn’t believe that for centuries people had walked this land around the Sea of Galilee and built churches on so many sites where Jesus was said to have walked, but we are just now discovering this land we have heard of in Scripture? I tried to put the questions out of my mind and just take in that FINALLY after 2000 years, a Church was going to be dedicated to the women in Scripture.

I will say, the priest that we heard describing this new Church that is built for “the dignity of women” was still condescending. I wish I could say that was a surprise, but we know better, don’t we ladies? The Church they have built in Magdala is very modern and has a room where there are pillars for each of the women mentioned in the Resurrection narratives which I thought was nice. There is an “empty” pillar with no name on it for the women who are pillars in our faith. Also a nice touch. It was still hard to listen, though, to a man speak about how this room and this Church was meant to “teach women about their dignity”…as if it was our fault that our dignity had been taken from us for centuries.

I was clearly too much inside of my head this first day. I was questioning the legitimacy of this place, this excavation, the intent behind all of it, judging those in my group…and then…

Bam! I fall to my knees on the 1st century rocks beneath my feet.

 

Our guides had been telling our 60+ aged travelers for hours to be careful on the 1st century stones and who is the one who takes the dive? One of the youngest ones.

I was humiliated, of course, to be in a group of 60 somethings and to be the one who took the dive that everyone saw and continued to ask me about for the rest of the week. I was also legitimately concerned about my ankle that immediately began to swell and hurt to put pressure on. But as I got onto my feet, we were taken into a chapel that is dedicated to the woman who touched Jesus’ garment in Mark chapter 5. This has been one of my favorite Scripture passages since I learned about how Mark wrote his Gospel while studying in the convent.

magdala6

Image of chapel at Magdala with mural of woman in Mark 5 touching Christ’s garment. Also note unstable 1st century floors…

 

After I had my fall and this humbling moment and the visiting of this chapel, I got my head into gear. I asked God to change my attitude, to make me physically and spiritually well, just like the woman in the story.

We ended our first day with Mass in another chapel in this Church at Magdala with an altar shaped like a boat. There were windows behind it that overlooked the Sea of Galilee. The modern altar I thought was, of course, significant and really helped us get our minds around that we are here, in Galilee, where so many of these miracles happened.

magdala5

Altar at chapel in Magdala overlooking Sea of Galilee.

The readings for Mass that day were also part of my God moment on this first day. The first reading was Hebrews 12:1-3, a passage that my personal blog is literally named after (http://hebrews121-3.blogspot.com. No joke) and the Gospel reading for that day was the woman with the hemorrhage. Our priest assured us that those were the actual readings for the day, not chosen just because we had seen the chapel inspired by that reading.

Later in our journeys, we would be having Mass and reading the passages from Scripture associated with those places we were in, but on this first day, I believe that my fall, those readings, were my first “God moments” of the trip. God was helping me to get my head in the right place and assure me that this trip would be anointed if I would get out of my own way.

Other places where I unexpectedly felt God’s presence:

– Mary’s home in Nazareth. I have always struggled with my relationship with Mary and again, my skepticism tells me that the house dedicated as “her house” in Nazareth couldn’t possibly be THE actual house, but for some reason, I felt very at peace there and didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay and pray and offer up all of my prayer intentions there.

– Pater Noster in Jerusalem. This is a church built in dedication to where Jesus gave us the Our Father. The Scripture scholar in me once again was dubious because the Mount of the Beatitudes is dedicated up by the Sea of Galilee and in Matthew’s Gospel, the Our Father is given in the same Sermon as the Beatitudes, yet here we were miles and miles away from that Mountain. But as our guide took us into a 1st century burial place on this mountain- the Mount of Olives where Jesus also Ascended from- and we said the Our Father together, I felt a connection to the place and to Our Father.

– the Holy Sepulcher. No surprise that I felt the Lord’s presence here as it is the Church where it is said the tomb of Christ and the rock of Calvary are located. I felt Christ’s presence as we said Mass next to the place where people can touch the rock said to be where Jesus died. I felt His presence specifically when we said the Creed together during Mass. It reminded me of how Christians have said this Creed of faith for centuries and to be at the place where much of our Creed takes place-“suffered, died, and was buried”- was a moment.

– Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. It may not be surprising that I felt God’s presence here, being it is the place where God gave to us a Savior, but I am much more of an adult Jesus kind of girl instead of a baby Jesus girl if that makes any sense. I was also having some very human moments as we waited for hours to see the place of the manger. I was frustrated with humanity as we waited and people around us pushed and I was also frustrated with a woman in our group, but once we finally got into the cave of the Nativity, I felt God’s presence at the place of the manger. I don’t even remember taking pictures there and was surprised later to find some on my phone because I think I had some kind of out of body experience while there.

– Church of the Visitation. Surprisingly, another Mary place! Mary was really coming through on this trip for me. I felt her peace and presence at this place where it is said her cousin Elizabeth and husband Zechariah lived. It was also the birthplace of John the Baptist. We did this on the same day as Bethlehem and it was cool to have visited the birthplace of Jesus as well as the birthplace of his precursor, John, on the same day.

There is so much more that I could say about my trip, but I am still processing much myself. One of the biggest takeaways that I will leave you with is this one:

As we were in Nazareth in the home of the Holy Family where Jesus was supposedly raised, I was letting my humanness get the best of me again. People were pushing, there wasn’t much space, people in our group were frustrating me and so then I was frustrated with myself that I wasn’t “feeling” anything there.

In that moment, I thought: “here I am in the Holy Land and I have had more intense ‘God moments’ back home.” But maybe that’s just it. And that is the beauty of our faith: you don’t have to be in the Holy Land to “feel God.” He truly is present everywhere. And for me as a Catholic, I believe He is present in the Eucharist which happens every time at Mass. That idea that God is truly present everywhere gives me much hope and I hope that it does for you, too, dear reader.

I am grateful to have had the experience of a lifetime with this trip. I can now picture and imagine geographically where much of the New Testament and some of the Old Testament took place. But our God is not limited by time and space. He is everywhere. And apparently I had to go to the Holy Land to really learn to appreciate that.

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Social Constructs

I recently came across an article that caught my eye online. The title was “I’m 36 And I’ve Been Single For 10 Years. Spoiler: I’m Fine”. I immediately clicked and scrolled.

You see, dear readers, I am what I call “perpetually single.” It has been a blessing and a curse, and as I will explain, much of my own doing. 10 years ago, I had just decided that the religious vocation that I had thought was maybe for me, wasn’t. I had entered a Catholic religious order, sold all of my belongings, quit my job, and moved across the country to try out “religious life” (aka the convent). I could write a whole blog post on my experience there or why I discerned this wasn’t for me, but this is not that post (I do have my own personal blog if you are interested, and always feel free to message me or comment with questions!)

I was 26 when I entered religious life which was still, somehow, considered “old” for starting one’s vocation. This blows my mind because after graduating college at 22, I just wanted to save the world. I had spent my college career learning about and advocating against so many injustices in our world. To be 22 and to think I would know who I would want to “settle down with” or wanting to start a family never crossed my mind. But not but a decade or two earlier, that was really all women were expected to want or capable of thinking of doing. Progress? (insert shrugging shoulder woman emoji here because I am about to explain how far we still have to go).

When the “I Have Been Single for 10 Years” article came across my feed, I didn’t exactly feel relief, because I had come to terms with my state in life years ago. But I was still glad to know that I wasn’t alone. After discerning that religious life wasn’t for me, like any break up, it took a while to “get back in the game.” I have dated over the years, but I have come to terms with the fact that I don’t enjoy dating. And so I finally had told myself, “if I don’t enjoy, why do it?” But let me explain.

This is not to say that I am asexual or not sexual. I identify, for better or for worse, as a hetero-normative, straight woman. I have been attracted to guys since I was in kindergarten and have had pain-staking crushes on men ever since. And though I bemoan the fact that I am attracted to straight men (and, as I have on occasion been known to find myself, the impeccably kept gay man), it is my reality. This is not to say that I am not open to relationships. I very much desire relationships and am open to anything that organically comes my way. Organic being the key word.

What I am not into or do not enjoy is wasting my time on games. I don’t enjoy small talk. I don’t enjoy scrolling left or right on a dating app. I don’t enjoy first or second dates that are forced. I don’t like feeling that I HAVE to date. So I don’t.

It was very freeing for me when I finally articulated these words with myself and to others. And so, again, it wasn’t a relief necessarily to read this article from another “perpetually single” woman, but it was a comfort of sorts. It is also why I have chosen to share my story with all of you, so that if anyone else who isn’t into the BS of what dating is today is reading this, you too can know you are not alone.

I am going to switch gears for a second, and I want to preface by saying I in NO WAY am equating dating with this next experience, just bear with me.  I recently attended a historic Slave Trail walk with a group from my parish, led by one of our deacons. Again, no great segue way there, and obviously, the two are NOT comparable by any ways or any means. However, listening to my deacon review the history of slavery and the systems and economics that were put into place because of the slave trade, I was reminded that so many of our social structures that we have been made subject to are based on antiquated, racist, sexist, unjust, greedy philosophies.

The Slave Trail walk where I live in Richmond, VA was moving and thought provoking for many reasons. Our African-American, Richmond-native deacon told us of Richmond’s terrible roots with the slave trade. We were one of the first cities to bring slaves to the U.S. and as the capitol of the Confederacy, tobacco plantation owners fought to keep slavery because they saw it as the means to make and keep their money. When we began our walk on the trail, our deacon had us keep quiet and made us put our hands on each other’s shoulders as we walked. He told us to imagine what it must have been like walking in a new land, in the dark (because slave traders had to have known what they were doing was inhumane and often brought slaves in at night. It also helped them keep control. If the slaves couldn’t see their surroundings, then they wouldn’t have knowledge of where they could try and escape). He told us of the economic industry that Richmond built around slavery. There were seamstresses that would make clothes for the slaves at auction; the thought being that the better dressed the slaves and better looking, the more money they would make. The fact that the city in which I live built industries based on racism and the killing and torturing of human beings is beyond sickening. (For more resources on slavery in the U.S. and in Richmond, my deacon recommended the book: “Richmond’s Unhealed History” by Benjamin Campbell).

But didn’t marriage start with inhumane economic dealings as well? I know that as Christians we like to look at Genesis and think that God making woman from man’s rib connects man and woman beautifully together (and “this is why a man leaves his mother and father to join his wife” and all that) BUT just a little further in Genesis we find Abraham sleeping with Hagar because Sarah couldn’t produce children for him. Or Jacob’s uncle giving away his daughters Leah and Rachel in exchange for Jacob working on his farm. Explaining these stories to my middle school students is always interesting. Their concept of marriage is based a lot more on romance (for better or for worse) or at least a lot more on choice, not the economic deal that it truly was. Later in Scripture we see Solomon marrying women from all nations so that he could make alliances with those countries. Solomon is heralded as a wise king! But what of the women who were merely part of the deal?!

Again, I am not trying to equate slavery to marriage, though I am sure there are many jokes in poor taste to be made there somewhere. However, I am trying to point out that our systems that still exist today are built on antiquated and unjust ideals. The racism that still exists in our world today was fed by an economic industry for white men to get rich off of. The poverty lines and the jail system and many more of our problems today can stem from this institution of the slave trade. Similarly, but not equally, our system of marriage was based off of an economic system. And even though the system has slightly changed, isn’t the way we promote weddings and bridal showers and bachlorette parties still based off of industries making money?

If I do ever get married, I really just want everyone whose wedding I have ever attended to write me a check. I want plane trips, hotels, dresses, gifts, etc. all factored in. I’m kidding. Kind of.

My point is, if marriage really is about love, why do we make it about all of these other things that celebrate the individual rather than the union? And why do we celebrate the end of that person’s singledom? The traditional feminine bridal shower in which women gather to shower the woman with kitchenware to celebrate that she will now need new items to cook for a man is archaic.  I know this all makes me the exact opposite of a hopeless romantic and probably explains perfectly why I am “perpetually single.” I also don’t want to isolate our married readers. I know that you all are progressive and don’t view the institution of marriage as such. But let me bring it all back to our faith:

We do have a loving God. Our God is the definition of love. And our God is all about relationships. The Christian belief of the Trinity is, in fact, relational. We believe in a Father and a Son and a Spirit that connects this relationship in and of Itself and with God and His other creations. It is a beautiful faith of relationships that relies on relationships to in itself exist and thrive.

It is this kind of relationship that I get my inspiration and model from, not the economic fueled constructs of our world. Take that, Tinder.

Free Blog

The Catholic Feminist Writes About Mary

Hi again, fam! I think I can speak for our other contributors when I say that we hope this summer has been treating you well and we are glad that you continue to journey with us in this safe, spiritual space. It is still so needed, isn’t it?

I am writing today at the encouragement of my blogger sisters about a woman that Catholics have long been associated with for better or for worse: Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Even though I am Catholic, I have long struggled with my personal relationship to Mary and often had to contemplate for myself why I should hold her in such high regard.

My journey with Mary probably starts with images of her around the homes of family members, around Church, and around my Catholic school. Oh, wait. Scratch that. I actually played her in a pre-school play when I was 2, so it probably starts there.

mary2

Awww. I wasn’t quite as angelic as I looked, but I was a good kid.

I have statues of Mary given to me from each of my grandmothers. One of which, I actually remember being quite taken with when I would visit my maternal grandmother’s house. I think I even asked her if I could have the small statue, and my grandmother gave it to me. I still have both statues and have accumulated more along the way, not because I had a particular devotion to Mary, but because I was Catholic and that’s apparently just what we do: collect images and icons of the Blessed Mother.

And this has gotten us in trouble in the past, right? “Why do you Catholics worship Mary?” seems to be the common outcry. She is kind of everywhere in our Churches. Even from a young age, I always knew that we didn’t worship her, but that we pray to her, because she gave birth to God’s Son and therefore, she was really special to God. She had a close relationship with Him.

But I, like many others, have had to turn that concept around in my head over and over for many years. What does it mean that Mary is special to God? That is she close to Him? Why? Why her?

As you probably have gotten to know by now, I am a Scripture girl. In my last post, I used Scripture to talk a little about my relationship to St. Paul (another problematic character to some. It seems that I have a thing for the troublemakers!) Mary is certainly not seen as a troublemaker in Scripture, though. Far from it. This, perhaps, was even my problem with her for so long. I wanted her to be flawed because I am flawed. We are flawed. And I was always taught that because she was “special”, she was without sin. I couldn’t wrap my head around this, so I simply decided that I could not relate to her.

Despite this, though, I would pray my rosaries and spend time in her chapels (I went to The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is on its campus. There are literally dozens of chapels in that basilica devoted to the different images of Mary). I will say, one thing that I learned in my Catholic school upbringing and that I liked about Mary, was that she did seem to translate well into other cultures. Catholics believe that she has appeared in a variety of ways and taken on the appearance of many different cultural women throughout centuries. Our Lady of Guadalupe, for example, is where she takes on the form of an indigenous Mexican woman. I do like that she appears as a mother to “children” of all races and seems to take on or embody the image of that race.

Speaking of race, Mary, of course, would have been a young, Middle Eastern, Jewish girl. Growing up, however, I often only saw the blond, Renaissance painting versions of her which also made her seem un-relatable to me (even though I am blond and of European descent). She still just always seemed too perfect! But interestingly enough, it has been this administration that has been drawing me closer to Mary and making me see that she is not so meek and simple and perfect, but rather vocal and complex.

Think about all of the qualities that actually apply to Mary, not just the ones that we put upon her through the Church: she was young. Jewish. From the Middle East. Pregnant, but not yet married. Poor. Female. She was pretty much as powerless as it gets both in her culture at the time AND (sadly) our culture today.

And yet, God- our God- meant to bring about salvation through someone like this, like Mary. He chose a poor, seemingly weak, powerless, culturally diverse WOMAN to begin to enact the plan of salvation on earth. AND she had a choice!
Our loving God gave a woman a choice in a time when options were limited for women.

We all know the story. (If not, go ahead and look up Luke’s Gospel Chap 1, verse 26 or so). God sends angel (not unlike many times God has sent angels or messages to women who didn’t have children before: think Sarah, Rebekah, Hannah, Elizabeth via Zechariah just to name a few) to young woman to tell her that she will have a child. The child will be special. In fact, this child is going to be the Son of God.

And here, HERE readers, is where Mary shows her boldness. She questions the angel. She asks “how can this be?” She speaks up. She won’t just take this at face value. She wants answers.

Now, earlier in Luke Chap 1, Zechariah- a man, and a man of the Temple at that- also gets bold and questions the angel sent to him (same angel, btw. Gabriel gets around) but Gabriel is not so compassionate to Zechariah. Zechariah questions the angel and Gabriel promptly mutes Zechariah so that he cannot speak until his son is born! The reason as to why I could get into in another blog post at a later time. The point of me telling this story here is that Gabriel ANSWERS Mary’s question. And then she gets to choose. She gets to think. She ponders. And then she ultimately chooses yes: “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

The more I think about Mary in THIS way- as a young, powerless girl who asks questions and gets to choose her fate- the more I see her power and her strength. We don’t hear from Mary very often in the Scriptures. We hear from her a little more in Luke’s Gospel when she prays her famous prayer to Elizabeth called the “Magnificat.” It’s a beautiful prayer, but that’s not necessarily the Mary I can relate to. I can relate to the Mary who ponders in her heart when Simeon tells her later in Luke’s Gospel that her “heart will be pierced like a sword” (paraphrasing Luke) because I would certainly ponder a weird prophecy like that, too. I can relate to the Mary who makes Jesus perform his first miracle in John’s Gospel at the Wedding at Cana. Mary as the pushy Jewish mother telling her son what He should do- the woman behind the first miracle of Jesus- that is a woman I can get behind! Not necessarily the silent, Renaissance figures I had seen growing up.

Another image we get of Mary at her strongest is in John’s Gospel when she is at the foot of her Son’s Cross. Jesus says to St. John : “Behold Your Mother” and He says to her: “Woman, behold Your Son.” We as Catholics believe that Jesus in that moment is giving Mary to all of us as our Mother. I can believe that, but what I really believe in this moment is that she was a strong-ass woman who could stand there in the face of her Son’s death and not turn away when things were really, really, really seemingly bleak and hard.

I hope, dear readers, that this gives you a little insight into the big deal about Mary for some of us. (Perhaps a missed opportunity for the title of this post is “There’s Something About Mary.” Ha!) As a feminist, I get why she can seem un-relatable if we look at her as this quiet, obedient little thing. But as I have gotten older, I have come to appreciate her not so quiet moments and that her “yes” meant yes throughout her life, even until the very end.

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In Weakness, There is Strength

Hi, again, readers! Your resident Catholic and Scripture nerd here! I know that Catholics often get a bad rap about not knowing our Scripture as well as we should, but I think people are really surprised to find that we know more than we even realize at times!

I’m not here today to talk about Catholics and their relationship to Scripture, however. I am here to talk about someone else who also gets a bad rap but happens to have written much of the New Testament:

St. Paul.

My love for St. Paul is well documented. I have a personal blog that I have kept updated on my love of him for years. I also think that I mentioned previously that I lived for a year in religious life in a convent. The religious order that I joined took their mission and name from St. Paul. So perhaps I am a little biased, but please hear me out.

Paul was certainly a man of his time and far from perfect. He was a devout Jew who did not understand or appreciate Christ early on. In the book of Acts of the Apostles, he is mentioned as consenting to the execution of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen (Acts 7-8). He also is perhaps not beloved because of some phrases like this one from Ephesians that he wrote and are very much of his time (and often taken out of context):
” As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word…” (Ephesians 5: 22-26. It goes on, but another one of St. Paul’s flaws is also his love for run-on sentences, so I will spare you some of the rest).

I see the problem with the items about Paul listed above, but I don’t consider him a problematic character myself. Paul himself is the first to admit that he is flawed. One of my favorite passages of his, happened to be read at Mass yesterday:

“Brothers and sisters:
That I, Paul, might not become too elated,
because of the abundance of the revelations,
a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan,
to beat me, to keep me from being too elated.
Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me,
but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness.”
I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,
in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.
Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults,
hardships, persecutions, and constraints,
for the sake of Christ;
for when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Paul, I believe, is one of the success stories of Scripture. When he finally encountered Christ for himself in a powerful and tangible way (as described in Acts 9), he has a complete change of heart. He completely abandons his old ways of persecuting Christians and becomes a faithful one himself. And not only is he baptized, he meets with Peter and the other early Christians at Antioch and becomes imprisoned for his newfound faith as well as instructs and encourages other new Christians with his letters. He goes on to say that it is “no longer I that live, but Christ that lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). He essentially renounces his entire self for Christ. How many of us can say that?

I want to go back, however, to the passage from 2 Corinthians listed above because it is one of my favorites. It also happens to be so completely contrary to what our idea of success and strength are today. I have many “thorns” in many “sides” of myself that humble me and I believe keep me going back to God. I, however, unlike Paul, constantly go to God and beg Him to pull them out! I am not grateful for these wounds or weaknesses as Paul is, because I am very much a product of our culture.

I think this idea of strength in weakness is so counter cultural to our world today. Just look at our government leaders and their approach to those considered to be “weak.” Instead of seeing those considered “weak”- like the poor or the immigrant or the elderly- as a strength to uphold and elevate, our approach is to keep them down so that the “strong” can appear even stronger. Those on top never want to be seen as weak.

From one perspective, I can see how Paul’s theory does not maybe play well in global politics. As a country, we don’t want to be seen as weak. But how much stronger might we seem if we were a country who embraced our so called “weaknesses” rather than exploit or oppress them?

This, of course, is so much easier said than done, and may seem complicated. I have been reading “The Holy Longing” by Ronald Rolheiser (which I highly recommend. It is amazing how a book written in the late 90s is so scarily relevant today) and Rolheiser addresses many issues with our society, but particularly pertaining to social justice. He describes social justice as differing from charity: “Charity is about giving a hungry person some bread, while justice is about trying to change the system so that nobody has excess bread while some have none.” (Rolheiser, The Holy Longing, pg 169). To enact social justice in this way, would be to admit that there is weakness. It would be to say that our system is unjust and that some are seen as “weaker” than others. Too many people right now do not want to fix our systems because they perhaps like having power or want to seem superior to others. If we fix our seemingly weakest spots, though, and help to make others strong, wouldn’t that help increase the strength of the whole over all?

I may be over simplifying things, but I think another one of our problems with our society is that we over complicate things. Justice could, perhaps, be much simpler if we didn’t complicate the system so much to begin with. Another thing that Rolheiser points out in his book is that justice has to be more than an ideology: “…for a Christian, the ultimate motivation in working for justice may never be a simple ideology, irrespective of how noble that particular ideology may appear. Rather both the truth that inspires the quest for justice and the energy that fuels it must ground themselves something beyond an ideology” (Rolheiser, The Holy Longing, pg 173). For us Christians, that truth is Christ. For others, that truth may be peace, equality, or that energy that Rolheiser speaks of.

For me, one of the hardest things about this most recent administration and state of our country has been that I have felt this divide between ideology and building the Kingdom of God. So many Christians that I know, chose an ideology, I believe, over working on building the kingdom that the Gospel refers to, which includes building up the weak.

St. Paul continues to be an encouragement for me in these tough times. As the author of Hebrews says (some scholars say that the author was St. Paul as it has a similar tone to the rest of his letters, but this is debated by others):
“Consider how he [Christ] endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.
In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.” – Hebrews 12: 3 & 4

It is true that Christ made the ultimate sacrifice so that I might not have to shed my blood. However, much blood has been and is being shed by those who suffer from injustice. I pray that we can move beyond charity, and work for true justice, even if that means admitting our weaknesses. For in our humility and weakness, we can be made strong, if we are allowed the freedom to exercise our own strength.

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“Pop Art” and the Divine

Hello again, readers! It is your Catholic, pop culture loving friend here. In addition to being a pop culture fanatic ( I crush the Arts and Entertainment category at every Trivial Pursuit game and pub trivia night!) I am also a teacher. So naturally summer is my favorite season and I am very much enjoying the fruits of my labor currently.

When I first started teaching, I had to learn how to best use my time off. Taking a week or two to do absolutely nothing is a must, but one can only binge so many shows on Netflix before it starts to get unhealthy. Something that I have a major interest in (besides all things pop) is art. And so far this summer, I have signed myself up for two art classes and have already made visits to some of my favorite museums and galleries. Experiencing art is something that engages and relaxes me, so I can think of no better way to spend my summer than learning more about it and creating it.

Visual art and faith have been linked since the beginning of human existence. Before we could write, our ancestors created cave paintings to tell their stories and communicate. Art can explain and articulate things that merely words can’t. And while I certainly consider writing an art form, this post will be mostly about visual art.

That being said, I did just finish reading Madeline L’Engle’s literary work: “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art” (which I highly recommend) and she articulated things that I understood about art but couldn’t put into words myself. She essentially asserts that art and the sacred are linked. Whether or not the artist is a religious person, the act of creating connects him or her to the Divine. This explained to me in a very tangible way why it is that I connect to art so much.

In our world today, connection seems to be “easier” with smart phones and social media. Yet, it is very evident in the way that we continue to mistreat one another and the social injustices that still exist, that we need to connect to one another still more.
Here is where my pop culture moment comes in.

In times of political stress, art has always been produced as a reaction to the climate. If you look at the movements of art in the post World War 1 and 2 eras, you get incredibly radical art movements like Dadaism and Surrealism as well as Abstract Expressionism. In times when people do not know how to grapple with what is going on around them, we create.

The same can be said of this political climate and in particularly through the art of video. I think of all of the commercials and tv episodes that have become ways for us to deal with the backlash of this oppressive climate. However, I am particularly struck by the visual art created by musical artists like Childish Gambino and most recently Jay Z and Beyonce.

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Image still from “This is America”, Childish Gambino taken from CNN.com and Google Images

If you haven’t watched “This is America” by Childish Gambino, it is violent, but unfortunately so is our society which it is reflective of right now. Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, makes several statements with this song and also his video. There have been several articles written about all of the symbolic movements and visuals featured in the video. From the Jim Crow poses that Glover makes, to the white horse of the Apocalypse running through the background, to the all too reminiscent police and gun violence scenes- Glover covers hundreds of years of African American oppression in only a few short minutes.

Similarly, Jay Z and Beyonce create visual art with a political statement with their latest video for “Apes**t”. Jay Z and Bey have separately released videos that make political statements while presenting the viewer with beautiful visual art. Take for example Beyonce’s “Formation” or Jay Z’s “Moonlight.” (the latter by Jay Z takes it’s title from a predominately black film that was an Oscar winner in 2016, but was incorrectly announced as “La La Land”- a very, very white film). Both make statements on what it is to be black in America in accessible, visually stimulating art.

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Image still from “Apes**t”, The Carters, taken from Tidal and Google Images

In this new video for this song, “Apes**t” off of their new joint album, Jay Z and Beyonce are dressed in glamorous, beautifully fashionable clothes and shown standing in front of iconic pieces of art in the Louve. First of all, the fact that this couple has the power to shut down an historic tourist attraction to shoot this shows their clout and achievement. The beautiful shots of them posing regally in front of primarily white paintings by white artists is striking and surely intentional. Beyonce gets much of the screen and lyrical time, and at some points, she also makes strong gestural movements, similar to the striking moves that can be seen in Glover’s “This is America.”

Here we have different artists- Glover and the Carters- exploring and emoting what it means to be a black artist in the political climate right now. As a white woman, I cannot begin to understand fully or pretend to explain their experience. All I can do is accept and experience their unbelievable art and attempt to analyze their meaning and what it says about our world today. And to bring this all back to the spiritual, even though these are pop culture artists and art forms, they invite us to connect to our world, our humanity, and ultimately, our Creator.

Art has always been a connection to the Divine as well as a reaction to the culture which it seeks to reflect. I appreciate these artists’ attempts to create so that we as humans might have more connection to each other. I pray that we can see reflections of our Creator in these artists and artworks as well as in one another. And I continue to pray for our country so that these artistic movements may one day be reactions to joy and equality rather than that of oppression.

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Royals Got Married and God Was There

Hello, good readers! As I am writing this, it is the feast of Pentecost- the day that the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles. It is also known as the “birthday” of the Church! It is the day that the apostles were finally given the Advocate that they needed to come out of their hiding place and spread the Gospel with the world. What better day to come out of our own “hiding” and launch this blog?!

In case you were wondering where we have been, the nine of us have been getting to know each other and forming community- much like the apostles did after Jesus initially called them together. We’ve been chatting and sending videos and praying for and with one another. I won’t speak for the rest of the ladies, but by the end of 2017- a year that seemed to take us back in time rather than progress in many ways- I was really questioning my Christian roots and state of the world. I needed a solid, strong, female Christian community. It has been a gift to get to know these ladies and I look forward to what we will be able to share with all of you!

Now let’s get down to business. Today is the day. By the time that this is published, it will not be Pentecost any longer, but it doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit isn’t any less present. We do need reminders like the Feast of Pentecost to remind us of the Spirit’s power, though. I love the feast of Pentecost because it has been a time when the Holy Spirit has moved in a very real way for me in the past. When I was in college, I celebrated this feast day by doing mission work in Guatemala and for the first time, I put together what this feast is about: the Holy Spirit moving the apostles to action. The Holy Spirit takes over them and they finally have the courage to go out and do Christ’s work (it should be noted that the female disciples came out of hiding much sooner, however. Women were the first ones at Christ’s tomb and Mary Magdalene was the first to see the risen Lord!)

A few years later, I would make the decision to enter a convent (I’m Catholic, y’all. Don’t let that scare you! I’m chill, I promise!). And after a year of giving it my best, praying hard, living in community, and surrendering much, I decided that it wasn’t for me. It was on Pentecost that God sent me out into the “world” again. It was scary, but I knew that it was right.

But this first blog post isn’t about me. It is about Pentecost and how the Holy Spirit can move in any way that we let it.

This post is also a little about another important event that happened this weekend: The Royal Wedding.

Okay, so you may be thinking. They’ve let a Catholic onto a Christian Feminist blog and now she is going to start by writing about something as archaic as a royal marriage?! I know that we don’t really know each other yet, readers. But you will find, that my forte may not be in interpreting historical feminist texts, but that I am your girl for interpreting Scripture, rituals, and pop culture. Please bear with me.

If it means anything, I had no intention of watching the thing, to begin with. What you will also learn about me is that I am an early riser (I’m a teacher and I can’t turn off my internal clock, even on the weekends. I’m super fun at parties with my ten o’clock bedtime). I haphazardly ended up watching Will and Kate’s wedding a few years back for the same reason: it was on and I was up.

I was excited to see Meghan’s dress, I will own that. I was also excited to see all of the hats. (Oh, the hats!) I think a lot of us tuned in to see those things and then got something we weren’t expecting: even though the event took place in a church, we were all “taken to CHURCH.”

I was anticipating the ceremony to be a little different than what we have seen in the past. Harry has made waves and headlines in his day as a young royal, and it was, of course, historical that he was marrying a bi-racial American.

He was also marrying a grown ass woman. She is 36. She has been married before. There was a bunch of nonsense in the media if her father was going to attend the wedding or not, let alone walk her down the aisle. When I saw her step out of the car, I thought she did look happy and beautiful. But when I saw her walk down that aisle mostly by herself (until Prince Charles came to meet her halfway), I saw an independent woman.

And then there was the sermon. This is where I believe the Holy Spirit really began to move. Bishop Michael Curry and his “The Power of Love” sermon got as much media attention as the happy couple. It was really his sermon that prompted me to write this post. If you haven’t seen it or heard it, I encourage you to google it and watch a video or read the text of it. He quotes Martin Luther King and the Gospels and African American spirituals to name a few. But the reason I believe that it captured so much media attention is twofold: 1.) his convicting delivery and 2.) it was about love. Real love.

Love and joy are what we need right now. I saw so many tweets with pictures of the couple saying things like: “we needed this.” And it’s as simple as it is true. We need to celebrate love. And we shouldn’t need an archaic royal wedding to do it, but our world, as we have found, is suuuuuper slow moving as far as the reality of progress is concerned. The Holy Spirit can move through anything, any moment, any person if we let it, even something like the Royal Wedding that may seem more like a cultural moment than necessarily a spiritual one.

In Bishop Curry’s sermon, he talks about the power of fire, which I found appropriate with Pentecost on my brain this weekend. He mentioned that fire is a life source for us. We would die from cold or starvation without it. Our industry and economy exist because of it. And to tie this all back to the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit made itself present in tongues of fire to the apostles so that they would have the courage to live out their mission.

So many people were captivated by the Royal Wedding, but I don’t think it was just for the usual reasons. I think that we allowed the Holy Spirit to break through a little bit. The Spirit was present through Bishop Curry, through the awesome gospel choir, through the breaking of some traditional boundaries. The Holy Spirit cannot be contained. We try to box so many parts of ourselves and our world in, and for a couple of hours, we got to witness that it is okay to marry the old with the new- literally and figuratively.

I could say so much more, but hopefully, I’ve just started a little spark here and my counterparts can take over and continue to fan the flame. Oh, and if you were like me and still aren’t quite sold on the feminism in any of this, do yourself a favor and google Meghan Markle’s Nickelodeon News interview from when she was like 12. Her little feminist insight gives me a glimmer of what kind of Duchess she may be!

Thank you for starting this journey with us

Peace,

Julia

*Photo credit: Alexi Lubomirski/Duke and Duchess of Sussex/Getty Images