Brother Cicada

This is a post by 瑠威 明 Francesco Matsuo. Lui is Japanese, FtM, was born in Japan and raised all over the world.  He was raised in a very conservative Buddhist family in a Shinto environment. Early in his life, he had an urge to become a Capuchin Franciscan or a Franciscan monk. However, due to his gender identity, he is still looking for any order that will accept him as who he is. Lui writes poetic reflections for the Young Adult Catholic Blog where he uses inspiration from nature to gain spiritual insights.

In my youthful days, if I was not spending time at the beach during a month long summer vacation, I was usually outside venturing in the woods.  Even though I was born in the boom of Nintendo and other TV games, my parents had forbidden me from having such toys or any toys for that matter. So my playmates were automatically selected to those out in nature, where numerous spiritual brothers & sisters reside.

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Brother Cicada

images-1The elder of the insect world
Birthed inside the dried twig
Summer heat gave embracing hugs
Fallen leaves prepared special tree saps
White blanket covered to keep warmth
Butterflies flapped anxiously for you to join the world
And in the rainy season you decided to venture out
The shell that kept you safe became too small
With a raindrop, you dove into the earth

There you suckled on the root saps
Prepared over countless cycles of four seasons
The soil was warm and soft like fleece
Protecting you from predators eyes

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A Seven-Month Honeymoon Sabbatical

unnamed-1  We got married on August 30, 2014 in a park in Duluth, Minnesota. The sun came out just in time for the service. A butterfly joined us on the altar. A flock of seagulls flew over our heads. We had a mixed gender wedding party, a blessing with Lake Superior water was given by our mothers, friends read from Job and Matthew, John O’Donohue and Rumi, and we printed a special acknowledgment in the program to the indigenous people of the area in regards to use of the Lake Superior Watershed, their home.

Two days later, I gratefully traded gown for canoe paddle and plunged my uncharacteristically golden toenails into the muck of the Boundary Waters, further baptizing myself into my new home and new chapter. We had decided to take a period of time to slow to the world, ground into our new calling in relationship, and explore who we wanted to be in the world, individually and together. It felt like an ideal time to let the ground lay fallow, and re-evaluate as we started a new stage.

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Of Heaven, Handicaps and Haecceitas

“Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:/

…myself it speaks and spells,/

Crying What I do is me: for that I came.”

Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ

(from As Kingfishes Catch Fire)

Community living includes facing together the mystery of death: saying good-bye, memorializing, and grieving – a process I experienced several times in my years of community living with adults with disabilities. I recently attended the memorial service for “David,” a former community mate who had died unexpectedly. As I grieved his passing and reflected on his life, several well-meaning friends offered as a consolation that David is in heaven now, free from the disabilities which challenged him his whole life.

I certainly understand that the idea of a loved one who has struggled with a physical or intellectual disability being freed from that disability in the hereafter can be deeply consoling. Yet somehow as people expressed this sentiment, it did not sit comfortably in me. Our own deepest intuitions as well as the wisdom of our faith tradition tell us that we are more than our physical bodies; there is a spiritual element which somehow transcends death. It is important to err always on the side of humility in the face of life’s great mysteries, of which death is arguably the greatest, and not fall into simplistic thinking or biblical literalism.

I find myself engaging in that mystery in the face of David’s death. I can’t avoid wrestling with those questions we inevitably ask when a loved one dies: how does that person remain with us in some non-physical way? What are we saying in the creed when we claim to believe in the resurrection of the body? How do we understand eternal life? Given David’s disabilities, these questions take on an added dimension.

Heaven

In my ponderings, I invited into the conversation medieval Franciscan theologian Duns Scotus with his concept of haecceitas: the property that uniquely defines an object, its “being-ness,” “thisness” or “suchness.”  With Scotus, we claim to be created in God’s image and likeness; that we – and all created things – are unique, unrepeatable, one of a kind. My sense is that our haecceitas is not some perfect ideal, but includes all of our being: our quirks as well as our passions, our weaknesses as well as limitations, our handicaps (and we all have them – diagnosed or not!) as well as our strengths.

To love and be in community with another is to know something of that haecceitas – the good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between. When I reflected on that unique “being-ness” of people with disabilities with whom I’ve shared life, their disabilities and how they deal with them are woven into that “being-ness.” Certainly, we are infinitely more than our limitations – whether they be a mental health diagnosis, an intellectual disability, a visual impairment or any of the myriad other challenges which come with this messy, beautiful experience of being human. And yet our limitations, how we respond to them, and how they shape us are undeniably a part of us, part of that unique haecceitas. The idea of eternal life is impoverished if we envision it simply as our own and others’ perfection, the attainment of all the ideals we could not fully reach in this life. The eschatological hope of God’s Kin-dom is certainly broader and more magnificent than simply our own limited vision of what our “perfect” self might be.

David’s haecceitas includes his radiant smile, his love of Top 40 music, his bright laughter, his distaste at getting his hands dirty, his concern for others, his love for sushi and aversion to salad, kindness to children, and boredom at the “long poems” I shared in community. It also includes the hesitancy with which he walked because of his vision impairment, and how that hesitancy would lead him to reach for my arm when we walked down a flight of stairs. It also includes the speech impediment that required patience from him and others which led him to learn American Sign Language and write carefully crafted notes to others to communicate his needs, wants, hopes, and gratitude. It also includes his hands which – though they appeared so fragile because of a problem with connective tissue – baked bread, created art, held a spoon to feed a community member unable of feeding herself, and performed countless other acts of creativity and service.

I celebrate and remember with warmth all these (and so many more!) elements of David’s haecceitas and trust that all of them are a part of his identity as God’s beloved. Though the challenges his disabilities created were undeniable, they are still pieces in the mosaic of this lovely, unique, never-to-be-repeated man. To imagine David in the great beyond – however it is imagined in our finite, human minds – without those mosaic pieces is, I believe, to do a disservice to his spirit and to diminish the greatness of his love-filled life.

I dare to believe that in the eyes of God all of us is beautiful – even those elements which limit and challenge us, those elements which we and others wish weren’t there. Somehow I find myself hoping that those elements are somehow included in that mysterious beatific vision. That in the fullness of time our shortcomings and frailties do not disappear but are held in that great, creating and re-creating Love and so made new (Rev 7:17).

I hold to this hope for David – and for all of us – in the paradoxical words of poet James Broughton in his poem Easter Exultet: “nothing perishes; nothing survives; everything transformed!”

photo credit: Wendy L. Wareham photography

 

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. Originally from Wisconsin, 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. She is currently a Partner in Mission with the Sisters of the Humility of Mary at the Villa Maria Education and Spirituality Center in Villa Maria, Pennsylvania.

Redressing America’s Systemic Disregard for Human Rights

Trayvon

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” -The Declaration of Independence

Acknowledging that the “American dream” is a profoundly distorted myth is a harsh reality to contemplate. The fundamental ideals that have characterized the United States since its inception are steeped in hypocrisy and deceit. Liberty, justice, and equality may be the conventionally heralded foundations of American democracy, but history, along with persistently visible demographic trends, illustrate that this perceived “dream” has remained exactly that for most people of color. Continue reading

Baptism

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“Evolution” by Holly Norton, Mellow Jelly Art.

This is a post by Lydia Wylie-Kellermann: a mother, writer, and activist in Detroit, MI. She works for Word and World: A People’s School currently organizing a Land and Water School happening in Detroit this summer.

My mom loved baptism. She had a fierce desire for theology and liturgy that was infectious. But when I was born that commitment was tested. She looked at this beautiful, fragile human being in her arms and realized the dangers she would place me in by baptizing me. Baptism was not as simple as entering a community or knowing the love of God, but about putting me on the road to the cross.

And then came the question of baptism. Water, words, community. Offering our child back to God. We would stand with Abraham at the sacrifice. We would give her to a God who models the cross. We would invite her to listen for a voice calling in the night, to vigil, to put herself at risk, to leave family and friends, to speak clearly a truth for which one can be executed. We would thereby invite her into the risks we have already elected and, by God’s grace, still will elect to take with our own lives. In the act of baptism we would wash away the possibility that our concern for her might justify a diminishing of our own obedience to our Lord’s perverse ethic of vulnerability and gain through loss.   –Jeanie Wylie-Kellermann, On the Edge 1986

I have clung to her writing on baptism. In the moments when I have felt scared and my knees shake, these words keep me steady.

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Transgender and Catholic: Nick Stevens

1bscOViayn-jumboThe following was originally posted by the NYTimes on Transgender Today.  Nick Stevens a member of the Call to Action 20/30 Community.

Transgender and Catholic. These two words often aren’t used in the same sentence (at least in a positive way), but these words best describe who I am.

Yes, I’m a Roman Catholic in an increasingly secular world. But I’m also a Catholic in a transgender community who has often experienced religion as a mask for bigotry or even violence.

So when I came out as a transgender male at my small Catholic college in St. Louis I feared my peers would not respond well. Whether it was reactions of hesitation or outright exclusion, I knew things would change. Continue reading