Circling Up

This post is by CTA 20/30s Member John Noble and was originally published on Dr. Jennifer Harvey’s blog livingformations.com.

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“Malcolm X was a freedom fighter, and he taught us how to fight!”

“Sandra Bland. Say her name!”

“Black. Lives. Matter!”

The New York City subway rang with chants and songs echoing off the tiled walls. Our coalition, gathered in the city for Union Theological Seminary’s Millennial Leaders Project, had just returned from Union Square where we were protesting the killing of Sandra Bland at the hands of the state. As we moved from train to train, we sang these freedom songs, our grief and rage filling cars and stations.

The responses that our group received were varied. Some passengers expressed encouragement. Some sang along when we invited them to, while others actively mocked our chanting and muttered “what is this actually going to change?”

At each station, we had made the decision to have a member of the group bless or pray over the space. I decided to initiate a prayer at the final station, but I was quickly interrupted by a local activist, who instructed me that I needed to stop. Concerned that I had done or said something wrong, I began talking to him to clarify the situation. However, before the situation was resolved, a stunned silence fell over our group of freedom fighters. As we looked around the crowded subway station, we saw that police officers, who slipped in unnoticed, had filled the station, and more were coming down the stairs.

I quickly looked around to find our group surrounded. There was at least one officer for every protester, if not more. I became very anxious, and noticed this anxiety spreading through the rest of the group. The train was nowhere to be seen. As we frantically looked to each other, trying to decide the next steps, someone shouted “White people circle up! Outside barrier!” Continue reading

Of Birthdays, Blood, and Blessings

Jacob wrestling with God (image: http://thefunstons.com/?p=6601)

Jacob wrestling with God
(image: http://thefunstons.com/?p=6601)

Earlier this month I celebrated my 35th birthday, which coincided with a return to my native Midwest after many years away. I reconnected with many friends – some whom I have known for over 20 years since we were fresh-faced (or pimple-faced!) high school freshmen. We shared highlights of our lives: marriages, children’s births, graduate studies, job promotions, travels, and other joys. In each of these conversations, there was also the acknowledgment of wounds – miscarriages, divorce, untimely deaths of loved ones, depression, medical diagnoses, and job losses. You don’t get to 35 without wounds of one kind or another. In our conversations on post-high school/post-college “real world” lives, there were both joys and wounds to name.

In the midst of moving I came across a prayer card, given to me years ago by my friend Catherine, a fellow undergrad French major. The prayer card included a French mistake that was at once ironic and illuminating: she had written “Que Dieu te blesse” instead of “Que Dieu te bénisse.” Instead of saying “May God bless you,” she had inadvertently said, “May God wound you.”

“Blessing” and “blood” share the same Germanic/Old English root which etymologists speculate reflect the ancient practice of consecrating a place or a thing with the use of blood. Think of the marking of the lintels with lamb’s blood in Exodus, or Christian language of being “washed in the blood of the lamb.” While the word “blessing” has been sanitized and prettied-up by Hallmark cards or Christian bookstore merchandise, the etymological connection between “blessing” and “blood” remind us of an uncomfortable truth: blessings aren’t all warm and fuzzy. Encounters with the Holy might change us in difficult – even wounding – ways. This truth is reflected throughout scripture – from Jacob/Israel wrestling with God in Genesis to Zacharias being struck dumb in Luke to Saul/Paul being blinded in Acts. This truth is reflected in our own lived experience – as I clearly saw in the faith journeys of my age peers. Continue reading

(A Bit Of) My Story

Julia M. is a new writer for YAC Blog! She loves to take her dog for walks and on them you can often find her stopping to smell the flowers and take pictures of the beauty around her. Currently, she serves as a Campus Minister at a Catholic college in the Midwest. She’s learning what it means to minister to a community while also questioning many of the unnamed-3practices and traditions of the Church; sometimes it’s quite a challenge! She’s especially passionate about feminist theology and story-telling, particularly as they relate to the integration of sexuality and spirituality. 

Today a student came into my office telling me she is confused about her faith life. She had a challenging experience lately and isn’t sure what to think anymore. So I begin by talking about the imperfect journey that we’re all on and how we all desire something more, something greater than what we currently have. I say this to reassure to her that the path to finding this is confusing and sometimes even frustrating. And then I ask her to tell her story. And as she talks, I realize that there’s much more than just a questioning of what she believes and how to practice it; her questioning stems deep into her childhood. What she was told in CCD classes and read in the Biblical stories of how she ought to be as a woman are coming back to haunt her. She doesn’t want to be just Eve or Mary. She doesn’t want to understand her sexuality in terms of “no’s” and “don’t do that’s.” She wants to be able to embrace her full self as made in the image and likeness of God and she’s not quite sure if the Catholic faith is enough to do that.

And as she’s talking, I realize that her story is my story. And our story is many other Catholic women’s stories. We need to be able to tell our stories, we decide at the end of our talk, to be heard as believers that deeply care about things, not just as “girls” divided into the “faithful” or “unfaithful” based on our sexual experiences.

So, I come here searching for a place to tell my story. And the story of other women I encounter. But for now, I’ll start with me.

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Confessions of a Non-Binary Catholic Parent

This is a post by Angelique Goldor, a brand new writer for the YAC Blog!  Angelique is a proud mother to a 6.5 month baby girl and a recently confirmed Catholic from Bellingham, WA.  Angelique is a musician, outdoor-enthusiast and has an interest in the works of the Saints and writing poetic meditations inspired by those writings.  

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There are so many aspects of the sacraments that I find wholly sanctifying and life affirming. Each one branded with its own timbre or mood, which without a doubt, shed light on those traveling in the dark. To me, the Catholic Church speaks this evident truth to all who share in her blessings via liturgy, meditation, music, social justice and so on. Now, with all that gushy stuff in mind, I want to veer down the aforementioned notion of darkness. This kind of darkness is something I am still attempting to claw my way out of. For awhile the writings of Thomas Merton and C.S. Lewis gave me a temporary solace, in that Merton’s works conjoin and embrace the Eastern traditions of Buddhism and Taoism with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; while Lewis writes effective apologetic commentary that often leave us a tad perplexed, but in a truly-good way (take for instance the Screwtape Letters or his rhetoric on Psalms). Yet, despite said solace, there’s a hole gaping within me, gnawing in desperation for a doctor to come by and sew it shut. That doctor can be found as the primary subject of the Gospels. But what made this hole so big to begin with?

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Localize the Liturgy!

This is a post by The Abundant Table Farm Project‘s Sarah Nolan and was originally found on chedmyers.org.  The Abundant Table and YAC Blog editor Sarah Holst are working jointly to create resources that support an Earth-to-Altar movement to Localize the Liturgy. Sarah Nolan is the Director of Programs and Community Partnerships at the Abundant Table and is the recipient of the Environmental Stewardship Fellowship through the National Episcopal Church.  “Localize the Liturgy!” is posted here in a spirit of ecumenism. 

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Every week, our little house church in Ventura County, CA practices a ritual ceremony, along with millions across the globe, that calls us to touch, taste, smell, see and” re-member” the life and work of a man who equated his body with bread and his blood with wine. Along with these central elements, other powerful symbols such as candles, water, flowers and oils make up these rituals that provide texture and life to the liturgy.

As we participate in liturgy, we are engaging in a cycle of reconnection and re-membrance that draws us closer to God and ourselves, while at the same time pushing us out into the world and towards our neighbor. The ceremonial elements serve as reminders of and guides to this ongoing journey deeper into the divine and into the created cosmos. It is with this journey in mind that we must ask ourselves about what these rituals elements say about our how we relate to the world and, in turn, to God.

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Of Whales and Wonder, Water and Webs

“Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” – Mary Oliver

Lime Kiln State Park, San Juan Island, Washington State – mid-summer evening. Waves of the Haro Strait are punctuated by the jumping of pink salmon – sudden silver streaks against the deep blue of the water. Beside the old lighthouse, people congregate on rocks or picnic tables for the daily performance of the sunset. As the gold sun slips slowly behind Vancouver Island, the mountains on the horizon become blue and brilliantly silhouetted.

Lime Kiln State Park sunset (photo credit: Rhonda Miska)

Lime Kiln State Park sunset (photo credit: Rhonda Miska)

Suddenly, silently, the elegant black dorsal fins of the two Southern Resident orca whales slice the water, submerge, and then reappear. Around me, I hear gasps of delight. From where I am perched on a rock near the shore, a seven year old boy – who up until this point had been more interested in teasing his younger sister than in the natural spectacle – is transfixed and big-eyed as he takes in his first views of wild orcas.   It is a collective, spontaneous experience of wonder.

Whales have captured the human imagination for millennia – likely because they are similar to us in so many ways. They are mammals, social beings with strong family ties, intelligent, affectionate, exhibit a range of emotions, and use language to communicate. Due to their enlarged limbic system and high number of spindle cells, a case can be made that whales are capable of empathy. Some even assert that whales are “non-human persons.”   Whales are revered in ancient cultures from around the world, sometimes seen as kindred spirits to humans.

Our kinship to orcas makes the threats they face – among them, acoustic trauma due to noise pollution, bio-accumulations of toxins like heavy metals and flame retardants in their blubber, hunger caused by declining supply of chinook salmon – seem pressing and personal.  The movement to “save the whales” has led to some significant wins, mostly recently bringing down Elwha and Glines Canyon dams to restore the salmon population. Organizers and activists continue to call for and end of captivity of orcas. Out of our wonder at and appreciation for orcas, we humans have taken sustained and consistent action.

As I sat on the rocks at Lime Kiln State Park watching the sky turn from blue to pink to lavender, I remembered the Web of Life station in the Meditation Trails at Shepherd’s Corner in Columbus, Ohio. The web invites visitors to experience interconnectedness visually and physically. No matter which strand of the web you are holding, you will feel it if someone pulls on any other strand. It is a kinesthetic way of experiencing the truth Dr. King articulated: “We are caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny.” The orcas are a strand in that web. We are a strand in that web.

Web of Life at Shepherd's Corner (photo: Dominican Sisters of Peace)

Web of Life at Shepherd’s Corner (photo: Dominican Sisters of Peace)

There are many other strands in that web that we humans find much less compelling. The Southern Resident orcas who graced us with their presence at sunset primarily eat chinook salmon. Chinook salmon eat – among other things – amphipoda . They are shrimp-like crustacean scavengers who eat detritus (read: feces). Now, let’s be honest: even with the best PR campaign, “save the amphipoda” will never take off as a rallying cry. We will never see amphipoda-inspired hashtags in social media organizing. There will never be the amphipoda cinematic equivalent of “Free Willy.”  Yet amphipoda are a part of that web. To use Thomas Berry’s language, the amphipoda – no matter how humble by human estimation – are among that great “communion of subjects.”

Amphipoda (image: Wikipedia)

Amphipoda (image: Wikipedia)

I’m going to keep pushing beyond orcas and amphipoda: perhaps the circle of communion and concern has to extend even beyond “all sentient beings.” Can our web of “all our relations” (to borrow the Native American term) exclude trees and mountains, watersheds and air? I lived for one year in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania where 90% of the land has been leased for non-conventional natural gas extraction (read: fracking). I had a conversation with a local man who had leased his land. When I asked if he was concerned about potential contamination of the ground water, he responded matter-of-factly:

“Well, if the water goes bad, then HillCorp promises to ship in water for as long as I need it!”

I struggled to understand his cavalier approach to accessing clean water and to articulate a response that was respectful and honest.  Centuries ago, Francis of Assisi spoke of how Sister Water praises God – intuiting the connections of the web of creation and their praise of the Creator. Our current Pope Francis, in Paragraph 30 of Laudato Si, speaks of access to clean water as “basic and universal human right.” Beyond valuing water for the way that it serves human beings, might we even embrace a “deep ecology” that sees water itself as having a right to remain inviolate?

How do we get from here to there? How do we expand our embrace and understanding of this web from orcas to amphipoda to water itself so that nothing is seen as expendable and there is no part of life that we are willing to desecrate and destroy?

Perhaps we come back full circle to wonder, to the movement within that seven year old boy at Lime Kiln State Park that caused his eyes to widen, his jaw to drop and an astonished “wow” to escape his lips. Awe and wonder are named as gifts of the Spirit in our Catholic tradition. It is a grace to pray for – and we cooperate with that grace by opening our eyes to beauty. Laudato Si speaks of the world as “a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.”

Orca at sunset (Photo credit - www.hickerphoto.com)

Orca at sunset (Photo credit – http://www.hickerphoto.com)

Dorothy Day was fond of quoting Dostoyevksy’s line that “the world will be saved by beauty.” If we are to move into the ecozoic era, at least one step in the Great Turning is to see beauty in all strands of the web – from the graceful orca to the bottom-feeding amphipoda to the vast expanse of water that acts like a circulatory system for our planet – to open our eyes and hearts enough to utter our own “wow” of wonder.

Wendy L Wareham photography

Wendy L Wareham
photography

About the author: About the author: Rhonda Miska (rhonda.youngadultcatholics@gmail.com) is a former Jesuit Volunteer (Nicaragua, 2002-2004) and a graduate of the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. Her past ministries include accompaniment of the Spanish-speaking immigrant community, Muslim-Christian dialogue, social justice education, direct outreach to people who are homeless, congregation-based community organizing, and coordination of a community with adults with intellectual disabilities. Her writing has appeared in appeared in various print and online publications and she is a contributor to Catholic Women Speak: Bringing Our Gifts to the Table which will be published by Paulist Press in September.

Like Water

This is a post by Nathan Holst.  Nathan is a youth director, environmental and racial justice organizer in Duluth, Minnesota.  The following reflection was given as a sermon for a celebration of Lake Superior Day.  Nathan wrote this reflection using Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56.

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“Pondly” by Mauro Cano

“Come like water, go like water.”  That’s a wonderful phrase I learned from a friend of mine in the Church of the Brethren.  When he used to go off on trips to do peace activism with other church members, they always used to go to this particular elder’s house before they left to get a blessing.  The elder would simply come out of their house with a glass of water, say the words “come like water, go like water”, and splash water all over the car as a blessing for their trip.  It’s a beautiful ritual with so many different layers of meaning in our tradition—it’s baptism, it’s healing, it’s liberation and justice, it’s life.

It’s no wonder that in our gospel story today, Jesus seeks out healing rest for the weary disciples by traveling on the water to a wilderness space.  Jesus started his ministry with baptism in the waters of the Jordan and went through intense spiritual transformation in the wilderness of the desert.  Even if he didn’t use the same language, he knew the meaning of “come like water, go like water”, and he knew the sacred power of the natural world around him.

It’s that same sacred power that leads us here in Duluth to celebrate Lake Superior Day, a day to be thankful for the Lake, and to give special attention to the Anishinaabe women who have a traditional role as keepers of the water.  A number of years ago, a group of Ojibwe women from Bad River Wisconsin walked 1,300 miles around Lake Superior to bring attention to the sacredness of water and keeping our water clean for all the generations who come after us.  How might our view of these women change if we started to see them in our biblical stories, perhaps as John the Baptist figures calling to all of us who would listen to repent of the pollution that we have created and turn toward Jesus’ way of healing, both our water and earth, and all the people who suffer from illness related to pollution, often people living in poverty?

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