About Theodora Ranelli

I'm interested in progress. Contact me at movingworms@gmail.com


This love affair is a flat mirror. My spiritual process calls for you, God and just when I get goosebumps from prayer, you’re emotionally unavailable. Which you say is MY flaw, because you’re manifest and non-manifest and you can just go waltzing around – through nearness far, through farness near. You’ve drummed all that into my head – and when you’re gone from my life, it’s like you’re not gone. And it’s because I’m not appreciating the long-distance relationship thing. Of course, you’re always right, but often you’re receptive to my concerns.

Still, I want to know where you were when I was openly angry. And when I was openly sad. And I know, darling, that I look forward to meeting you when I die, and that’s when this relationship is lifted up, but what if for an instant I feel those in the Nation of Islam and go, totally pie in the sky theology there? What if I’m not ready, or if others are not ready? Harmonious God, it’s glib to just reassure me that everything will be o.k. so long as I get to Heaven.

But now I have that lump in my throat and my breast that tells me, yes, I believe in an afterlife, yes, please reassure me, please – you were a Hidden Treasure and I know you, I love you. After I raise my voice in a why?, oh Lord I have to offer a bit of praise. Because you abandoned me, yes, you did, but you came back. And in that moment of abandon, I felt a stronger need. And I can still use my rights to stand up to you and say – no, you haven’t always been there – but then you counter and said if I had just been paying attention on Tuesday or when I was off trying to do the spiritual, but not-religious thing, I would have noticed something, so I have to tune myself to notice you. And it’s o.k. for people to be comfortable and at peace when they die, you say. So that’s why we talk about it. Now I want religion, you say, and you don’t want the pain, tcchhhhhh. But where were you when Jesus said you abandoned him? I asked. And Job, yeah? It was hard with Job, you say. I love him, you said. And shouldn’t you be picking on people, not me? But don’t you get it, I told you, I’m giving you anger and love – that makes this relationship complete, man. You don’t even know me, you said, go be less of a Raskolnikov and get out of the house. I know your heart leaps, you say.

Inside the Prayer, pt. 2

I called a Sufi order in New York today in my ongoing journey regarding prostrations. The general manager there mentioned something that I have heard elsewhere — that even your heart has to prostrate. And you can do physical prostrations, but your entire heart must prostrate. It is the state of prayer without ceasing. I feel like when I am aware of God’s all-encompassing power, that all love ends up back to God, it is a state of copulation with this power. Copulating with God, if you will. Without being sexual, just by walking. By the state of always being in-between.

I have been feeling guilty lately (I know, the Catholic guilt sucks), that I haven’t been a good enough Catholic, or not as involved with my local parishes…or not an oblate…or not as active in some of those circles. It’s silly, I know, but it’s valid. If I don’t have my external religious identity (I’ve tried going to services that are not Catholic masses, and they are powerful, but not like Catholic masses), what do I have? I wear a headscarf when I am out and about to remind myself of this Godly copulation, that there is something higher than me, and that I am in connection with God.

But it’s something I’m always struggling with. How do I remember God in my busy life? How do I do the externals, but continue, in my journey, to find this love that pertains to all — which pertains to God? I know the external shape of my prayer, I know the internal feeling — but I have a calling that reminds me to remember God. To not forget God. Maybe everyone has some sort of calling like this, in some aspect. My puzzle is remembering to remember when I haven’t already recalled.

And like the term Toni Morrison coins, rememory, I must figure out what to do once I’ve remembered.

Day By Day

I’ve been thinking a lot about the shape of a prayer. What does it mean to pray without ceasing? And what does it mean to remind myself of God, through the practice of prayer? I’m the kind of person who does yoga and feels stressed out doing it. Yeah, a regular caffeine nut.

Much of my life is intellectual jibber-jabber. I like bodily prayer because I can surrender to God in ways that I cannot do when I talk about prayer, circling around the body part of the practice. I have recently started practicing simple prostrations along with my usual sample of rosaries, novenas, and the like. This has been a lot like journal writing in that I will feel a rock in my stomach having to do with sadness or anger that I ignored through intellectualizing – or elation, magical, yummy feelings that take my into a high-fly zone. I like the surrender the prostration provides. I like the repeated movements. I feel like if I bring up prostration prayer I should be prepared to talk about the history of prostration, but really, here’s what I got: Jesus prostrated. Christians still prostrate. And an American Sufi showed me a Catholic prostration and gave me the tape of a rosary. So that is to say that the civilized Catholics shouldn’t do that isn’t the point of this. And besides, I said informal prostrations, so bah.

These past few months it has been hard for me to journal and work on creative writing because I am reminded of events I don’t want to remember. For a healing class I am taking we had to journal all week about sadness. I didn’t do the assignment – it was too much.  To sit down and THINK about sadness??? Yet through my work in the Writing Center on campus, I remember that we model practices for taking care of your writing in a healthy manner. A mentor this summer said that it is good to have multiple projects, so when one drain is plugged up, you’ve still only got one drain. I guess it’s good my drains aren’t blocked completely and I am working on many projects. I remember to pray and it is release, a bodily giving-up – and knowing that, I am going to do my journaling for next week – just dive in. It is on happiness, perceptions of happiness, expectations of happiness, and…happiness.

An Open Letter to Fellow White People Who Are ‘Anti-Racist’ Allies

(or really, my letter progressive to progressive, as I go to college in a radical bubble. Yes, this letter has a specific audience — meaning white progressives steeped in antiracist discourse. I realize this is a very specific audience, but bear with me.)

Once, there was a paradise where white people coexisted equally in social justice groups. Then, two people wanted to know more and become better than anyone else. And a snake told them they were white and that they already had conquered the world. So they ate the fig. And they discovered their whiteness. And they were very ashamed and tried to say that they were actually people of color, that they had cookie cutter parents who oppressed them, and that they’re misunderstood. And they discovered the snake was an Arab, who is undoubtedly evil. But then they tried to be best friends with the snake. God placed a curse upon the white people:

Their babies will be born with the curse of whiteness unless they ritualistically participate in the sacraments, for which they will be forgiven and be liberal, so therefore more accepted among people of color such as Arabs. So thus became a fetishization of the snake. We are from dust and to dust they shall return.

Sound offensive? I’ve come to realize that white antiracist discourse readily available to white people mirrors aspects of Catholicism. I say this as a Catholic and a white person, so if you’re going to yell at me, yell at me for not elevating the role of the snake, but I know if I did that someone would harp on me for not writing about what I know. This is a valid critique because I wouldn’t want to be John Updike. I’d love to write about this from the perspective of many faiths, but again, someone will harp on me for daring to venture out of my personal spectrum. This is a valid critique, because you wouldn’t want to be John Updike. Still. Continue reading

Turning the Other Cheek

Turning the Other Cheek

Jesus was nonviolent. Jesus was the first feminist. Jesus was the first anti-racist. Jesus welcomed all people. The Catholic Church is the face of Jesus, the non-violent Revolution. We are gently bringing a new Church into being holding hands and singing.

Jesus is nonviolent, yes. Jesus is a feminist, yes. There is NOTHING wrong with non-violence. What I am calling out is nonviolent arrogance. Trumpeting Jesus’ non-violence goes hand-in-hand with dismissing other religions and movements as violent. Christianity is non-violent, with groovy flower power – and Islam is an oppressive faith. Christian women are feminists, modeled after Jesus, while Muslim women are ‘not given a good example, the poor things.’ (I just read about it in the paper!) (Even though Jesus is a prophet in Islam, people don’t know this). “It’s too bad,” a Catholic woman said, “that Muslims don’t follow Sufi mysticism more, which is similar to the teachings of Christianity, and more loving.” (Not to mention that Sufism is not this monolithic force that is in perfect alignment with that universal phenomenon some say transcend religion, called mysticism, but that’s another post). The white Christian woman in The Faith Club (which is a book I loath, and that’s another post, but I’ll use the pop culture reference here) – feels very smug about Christianity going into interfaith dialogue because she believes that Jesus is the perfect, non-violent model. It is easier for nonviolent arrogant leftist Catholics to buy into “Under the Burqa” or Three Cups of Tea. It is easier for nonviolent arrogant leftist Catholics to be accepted in feminist movements (because radical, woman-centered Catholicism is in line with mainstream peace-loving feminism). Liberal Catholicism and nonviolently ending the oppression of women, especially if that woman is wearing a veil, is feminist chic. (The caveat here is that I know it is hard to be both Catholic and feminist, especially in secular circles, but I think it is easier to identify as Catholic and feminist than Muslim and feminist. Muslim and feminist implies contradictions to a lot of mainstream feminists. I think this also comes from, as many women have said before me, the word ‘feminist’ having a very narrow focus. The word feminist implies a white woman who will yell at you if you say the b-word, desire liberation for all women on her standards, and want women’s ordination or contraceptive freedom NOW! But there are no issues that are not feminist issues. Granted, Catholic and feminist is also a regular wtf, but the ease that Catholicism fits into a Western feminism that still gawks at Islam begins with saying “Jesus was sooo nonviolent and feminist!”)

Continue reading

The Wilderness

Moses took Joseph’s bones along when they left Egypt. Moses could have left — Pharaoh let them go, he was keen to change his mind, why not get out fast – take gold or food. Ahead is the wilderness– why look back on the past? God promised Surrender all your dreams to me tonight, they’ll come true in the end (Pat Benatar), but God didn’t reveal the place of the bones. As Lawrence Kushner points out in Honey from the Rock (and I’m sure others have, too) – Moses had to LOOK for Joseph’s bones. It wasn’t that he could simply open a chest and say, voila! There they are. No, he had to dig deep, a sort of archaeological, memorial, liberational dig, for his baggage. His past that he was taking with him.

Into the wilderness. He was already there. There was a greeting card I came across several years ago that said, hey, I’ve got baggage, but at least it’s cute and matching. Moses’ past didn’t match – it was uneven, there was redemption for Zulaikha (Potiphar’s wife), but was that recorded in the tradition that was carried from Egypt? Do you believe in life after love? And whose bones did he carry? I think about this – I really don’t think you’re strong enough, was this the Joseph We believe in – those bones, or the Joseph you believe in – oh, those bones, over there – conflicting information. Is this man a great proponent of prison reform, or too passive-aggressive? And does he believe in free love? And was the shirt torn from the front or the back? — your candle burned out long before his legend ever will…

Into the wilderness. Some of this is our own baggage about Joseph/Yusuf now that there are claims about which tradition he belongs to. But some of these questions arise in Moses as he is trying to remember his past, grasping. A mighty task has come before me. (Native Deen) Into the wilderness.

Dreams, howling, in the wilderness. Revelation. Scarcity. Present. As Lawrence Kushner explains,

Go forth from your land and from your kindred And even from your father’s house. To the land I will show you.

This is the setting out.

The leaving of everything behind. Leaving the social milieu. The preconceptions. The definitions. The language. The narrowed field of vision.

The expectations. No longer expecting relationships, memories, words or letters to mean what they used to mean. To be in one word: open.

And Moses fled… Leaving behind his people.

Again, another one alone in the wilderness.

Then there is being alone.

In the most God forsaken place.

Where God visits after all…….

Somewhere where I will learn what I will learn.

Where I can “see” what I will be. The past helped cool the fire of revelation and destiny. Calling, the tide is high but I’m holdin’ on (Blondie).

When receiving insight, there is another piece, and that is taking care of the present. It is hard to get through any kind of wilderness without support. Moses must not have been thinking about the past, he was thinking about his crew. And what to do in the wide expanse. When the Prophet Muhammad was told to “Recite!” He was afraid that he was insane. He went back to his wife, Khadijah, crying ‘Cover me!’ His wife comforted him and helped him understand his destiny. She comforted him after each of his revelations and the place he would get into during each of them – so close to God and so intense, “Never once did I receive a revelation without thinking that my soul has been torn away from me,” he said. “By the pen and by the record…you are not, by the grace of your Lord, mad or possessed,” (The Pen: 1-2) God revealed to in another encounter, you are a prophet, a man of God, “soon you will see and they will see which of you is afflicted with madness.” (The Pen: 5-6) The mother of Moses understands this. She kept her child hidden for three months and God said: “suckle your child, but when you have fears about him, cast him into the river, but fear not nor grieve….” (The Narration: 7) Filled with milk, she put him in the stream and continued into the wilderness. A wild, wilderness of love. Close your eyes and give me your hand Do you feel my heart beating, do you understand? Do you feel the same, am I only dreaming? (The Bangles).

In the present, we mix nearness and farness. For the sword outwears its sheath. And the soul outwears the breast. And the heart must pause to breathe, And love itself have rest. (Leonard Cohen). The wilderness is an expanse as far as you can see, and it is inside your head. God is on a throne in the sky and is “nearer to you than your jugular vein.” (Qaf: 16). “Here,” according to Lawrence Kushner, “the wanting to be close is the reason for distance.” (44) The bones are farness and closeness. The connections of Moses and Joseph are farness and closeness. The connections of Muhammad and Khadijah are near, dear, and outward. The Mother of Moses waits privately and publicly. The exact ways of the wilderness are left up to God. But the reasons why Moses dug for the bones, Moses’ mother trusted more than enough, Khadijah loved more than enough and Muhammad had more than enough faith are because there are reasons for the wilderness. And there are reasons why you meet the people you meet out there and in there and inside. Bound by love, by “some word or deed or just by your presence the errand had been completed. Then perhaps you were a little bewildered or humbled or grateful…..Each lifetime is the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle (or bones? Baggage?)…And when you present your piece, which is worthless to you, To another, whether you know it or not, Whether they know it or not” In the wilderness, you make a connection of divine nature. You can find the honey from the rock to help the journey – or you can ignore it and stumble around. But there are gifts. There are gifts if you look – if you remember to go back for them. Then it is up to you to decide what to keep and what to lose. You can only move on once you have pointedly remembered, and cared for your memories. And remembered to love.

Seeking Mary, pt. 3

Relationships to the ethereal exists on borderlines. God binds and unbinds us like that Madonna song, “borderline, feels like I’m goin’ to lose my mind.” We can use purity in a broad sense to navigate this borderline. Purity has gone too long as images of young, virginal schoolgirls. The Virgin Mary is the perfect picture of purity of a kind that folds and peeks – a kind of purity that Ignatius Loyola, St. Teresa of Avila, Marquis de Sade, and Annie Sprinkle all might have a stake in. The Virgin Mary experienced the purity of life. To be in a pure state is to embrace the world; to be open and ready – as pornographic as it sounds, to be like Juliette in the Marquis de Sade’s book Juliette – a body and soul open for Godly exploration. I’m not suggesting that the Virgin Mary was raped by anyone, or that she engaged in sexual contact with the angel (NO!) – or that you have to engage in sexual contact to be pure (but as long as it’s consensual and in a loving relationship…). I’m saying that the Virgin Mary was open to God in a state of transcendence. I’m saying that through experience, the Virgin Mary was practicing the kind of purity embodied in The Big Night, where the main character is told to “go out and grab life by the asscheeks.” (of course, it’s the villain saying that, but I still think it’s a good line). That kind of purity and submission is a fire in the heart (and the heat).

Although submission has a negative connotations in some circles, I think one of the most powerful things you can do when riding the borderline is to ‘submit.’ It is like Mary’s ‘saying yes,’ and giving herself up to her weakness. I am not saying to become a complete peacy peacy passive/passive aggressive person (I think some violence is necessary) but in the submission, maybe we’d discover assertiveness. Mary’s submissiveness, in its times of love, can be modeled by shooting lightning bolts from our finger tips and singing melodramatic songs – and in times of hate, causing dust storms or uprooting trees. It is tapping in. Annie Sprinkle calls it Metamorphosex (yes, I have problems with Annie Sprinkle and her take on sex work, BUT I still love some of her theories). It might be called personal sadomasochism (and yes, I am still completely turned off and revolted at the Marquis de Sade’s work at the same time I am fascinated). Or ecstasy. Spiritual retreat. A state of mind where the soul has a considerable share, and the body has a big part in it also. A kind of pure, eager, open readiness to perpetual binding and unbinding because You “just keep on pushing my love over the borderline.”

edit: lines that have inspired that post include the chapter on celibacy in Thomas Moore’s The Soul of Sex, and Reshad Feild’s The Last Barrier.