Honored Guests

 This is a post by Jay Aquinas Thompson: a poet, activist, parent, and an adult convert to Catholicism. He lives in Seattle with his family, where he attends St. Mary’s Church and teaches creative writing to women incarcerated at King County Jail. He keeps a blog at downdeepdowndeep.wordpress.com.


pharisee and tax collectorSimplicity, simplicity. I subtract the wisteria breeze and Miles Davis and the smell of hot carpet and my saints and the cold lentil soup I just ate from this moment, and see if simplicity remains. I decide: this is as good a moment as any to be simple.


What if what I needed to be happy and well and full of meaning lay entirely inside me? Maybe this is what Emerson meant when he offered that “every man’s condition is a solution in hieroglyphic to those inquiries he would put. He acts it as life, before he apprehends it as truth.” The challenge of this, of course, is that you can really wait for something only if what you’re waiting for has already begun.


What if what you needed to be happy and well and full of meaning lay somewhere in between the Federal Housing Authority, the people whose job it is to arrest you for missing a probation hearing, the Department of Social and Health Services, the state appointees who take your kids away to the house of your aunt who won’t return your calls, and your own being, with its will to declare and defend itself? T. with the chipped tooth who spent high school living out of her locker and first shot black tar into her veins at twenty-five; M. who lost a grown son to a gang killing, began studies to become a minister on the inside, and then lost a second grown son the same way; K. who in a drunken punch-up stabbed her husband, accidentally fatally; E. who never had an educational experience that wasn’t trauma. What size is my students’ I when life is a series of things done to them? What hieroglyphic is visible in their life, the answer to the questions they would put? Continue reading

My journey with Islam as a Catholic woman

It’s not every day that you hear a proclamation of a “theological state of emergency.” Yet that is precisely the term employed by theologian Mary Hunt in her December 14 Religion Dispatches article calling for “theological first responders,” that is, “scholars and activists…to step forward in concrete, educational ways” in light of recent political rhetoric about Muslims. The words that follow are my modest attempt answer Hunt’s call for “strong and constructive countermeasures” and in union with the Women in Theology statement on anti-Muslim sentiment, out of my own experience as a Catholic woman enriched and blessed by dialogue with Muslims.

For several years, I was part of a Muslim-Christian women’s group in Central Virginia. We are Catholics, Quakers, Mennonites, and Episcopalians as well as Sunni and Shia Muslims, from the United States, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, Jordan, Bosnia, Nigeria, Germany and Luxembourg.

We met monthly for two hours, initially with a focus on building friendships. Though we would sometimes invite a guest speaker, generally a Muslim member and Christian member would speak on a topic from her own perspective. Some topics we explored were Mary/Maryam, creation, concern for the poor, the binding of Isaac/akedah, fasting, patriarchy, prayer and pilgrimage/hajj. We didn’t get into potentially divisive topics until we had spent many hours building relationships over cups of tea and plates of cookies.

In addition, we celebrated and broke bread together. We shared the iftar meal during Ramadan – feasting on fattoush and lentil soup. We attended an evening of Las Posadas with the Spanish-speaking Catholic community – feasting on tamales and arroz con gandules.

Since both faith traditions emphasize concern for the poor and vulnerable, we did service together. We spent Saturday afternoons creating a quilt that was presented to the pediatrics department of hospital in Turkey by a member during an interfaith delegation. We served a meal together at a homeless shelter and attended congregation-based community organizing meetings. After we had been meeting for several years, we hosted a “know your neighbor, love your neighbor” evening with the goal of sharing some of the fruits of our community-building.

MC quilt with members

Group members presenting the quilt

correct MC quilt label

English and Arabic dedication of our quilt (photo credit: Judy Sayed)

I’ll let the testimonies of two group members speak for themselves.

“Being a part of such an amazing group of women has really enriched my life. We all come from different backgrounds and have different experiences and views but we all share an open-mindedness and a passion for listening and learning that….this group gives me so much hope because it is a movement towards that change we desperately need, a movement towards appreciating and respecting our differences while working together to achieve shared goals.” – a Christian member

“Because of the colonial mindset, at first I had the fear that everyone would try to convert me, but the more we are together, the less I have that fear. We share so many values, and the spiritual connection is the same.” – a Muslim member

Christians, Jews, and Muslims share similar practices and common Abrahamic roots. Without minimizing significant differences in beliefs, we sought to explore honestly places where our faith traditions converged and diverged. These conversations often led us to see familiar stories in new ways as we sought to look at them through the eyes of the other tradition. Reflecting on the various names/images for God found in the Christian Scriptures and the 99 names for God in Islam was a rich and challenging exercise. Knowing that God/Allah (which is simply the Arabic word for God) is infinitely beyond our capacity to describe in finite human words, how have the respective traditions layered images and words on top of one another to communicate something of that mystery?

Another insight shared by a Christian member after our discussion of Mary/Maryam: “In Catholicism, we have so many names for Mary, but I was struck when a Muslim woman told me that one of the most common titles for Mary is Islam is that of ‘prophet’ and that Mary is considered to be in the line of prophets which includes Abraham, Jesus and Mohammad. Thinking of Mary not only as ‘Mother of God’ or ‘Blessed Virgin’ but also as a prophet was a real shift for me.”

Our conversations also led to debunking stereotypes for both Muslim and Christian members. One Muslim member shared, “I never thought I’d see Christians who take their faith so seriously. I had a stereotype that church was just a club where people got together socially – I still thought that even though I’ve lived in the United States for so many years. These meetings have opened the window to meet Christians who share some of the same practices and values, with the same depth of commitment.”

For me personally, participation in the women’s group was only one aspect of engaging deeply with the Islamic tradition over a period of several years. I began studying Arabic, purchased a good English translation of the Koran, devoured books of Sufi poetry, took a course in Islam at the University of Virginia, read everything I could get my hands on about Islam and Muslim-Christian relations, and even traveled to Morocco where I visited mosques and heard the call to prayer five times a day.

My academic study and personal relationships led me to create a narrative about Islam and Muslim-Christian relations that is infinitely more nuanced than the oversimplified, fear-based portrayals we are all too often peddled by pundits and politicians. I was deeply encouraged to learn about the years of cultural flourishing and interfaith engagement during the Caliphate of Cordoba in Andalusia, Spain. The 1219 encounter between St Francis of Assisi and Sultan Malek al-Kamil in the midst of the Fifth Crusade is another hopeful example from the past. There is a history of not just co-existence but collaboration between Muslims and Christians (and Jews); there is fertile ground for learning and dialogue. There are also hard truths to be faced – and mistakes to be learned from – about violence, intolerance, and fundamentalism present in the history of both traditions.

st francis and the sultan

St Francis of Assisi and the Sultan

It was on an airplane from Richmond to Boston that I realized how deeply I had been impacted internally though my years of engagement with Islam. While I’m not a nervous flyer, I was startled by the unexpected turbulence that hit shortly landing at Logan Airport. The plane lurched and rocked, and flight attendants gripped seat backs and wobbled precariously in the aisles. The turbulence worsened and I heard several gasps from nearby passengers.


La ilaha ilallah are the opening words of the Shahada (Muslim proclamation of faith). The Arabic words mean: “there is no God but God.” I had heard my Muslim sisters recite these words, seen them inscribed in beautiful calligraphy in mosques, and heard them repeated as dhikr, mantra-like, by Sufis.

Steeling myself against the bumps and dips, these were the words that rose up from somewhere deep and unexpected inside of me. I took a deep breath in, silently reciting: la illaha il allah. And exhaled: la illaha il allah. This carried on for the fifteen turbulent remaining minutes, until the plane landed at Logan and relieved passengers applauded.

It is said there are no atheists in foxholes: in life-or-death moments, our true spiritual colors are revealed. Safely on the ground and waiting at baggage claim, I felt a pang of guilt. Did this make me a bad Christian? Shouldn’t I have found consolation in the words of a psalm or traditional Catholic prayer? After all, I was on my way to study New Testament and ecclesiology!

Yet the shahada’s monotheistic statement of God’s oneness is just as Catholic as it is Islamic. Grace comes as God offers it, not as we would dictate. The grace offered to me during the tense moments of that flight came in the form of an Islamic spiritual practice. This revealed how my heart and soul – not just my mind – had been touched through my years of engagement with Islam. Something in my internal landscape had changed. Engaging deeply with the beliefs, practices, sacred text, and history of Islam alongside Muslims has altered my spiritual fingerprint. For this I am grateful to God. I believe am a better Catholic for it.

A Muslim woman in our group sent us a thank you email after we had gathered for a celebration. I share her words as a benediction for each of us who deeply engage with our own and other religious traditions for the sake of peace with justice in our world.

Alhamdulillah, this was a precious evening, and one that I will treasure and relate over and over to my friends and family. May God bless us, and may He allow our work together to radiate like a thousand suns the world over, until our earth is filled with spaces like those we shared this blessed evening, inshallah.”

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. 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 (Paulist Press). A native of Middleton, WI, she lives in Dubuque, IA.

My Advent in Review

Wichern_Adventskranz_originated_from_GermanyAs someone who writes for this blog once per liturgical season, I’m always on the lookout for an overarching theme for the current season. Sometimes finding this theme (or understanding what I’m taking away from a given chunk of the year) feels like hard work, and sometimes it just stares you right in the face. Guess which one this Advent has been! Let’s take a look at a few examples:

  • I was leader for the second week of Advent at the MCC church. Our keyboard player kindly pointed out to us that that week’s theme, according to our Advent song, was “peace.”
  • One of my choir directors at my Catholic church picked this year to dust off “Peace, Peace”
  • Fast forward to the third Sunday of Advent, and I can’t get the line from Paul’s letter to the Philippians out of my head that talks about “God’s own peace, which is beyond all understanding” (4:7, The Inclusive Bible)
  • One of the Norbertines asks if I’d be willing to do the Christmas proclamation for Christmas eve at a rural Wisconsin parish, and I shoot back to him the only line I can remember: “Is that that ‘the whole world was at peace’ chant?”

Clearly Advent is trying to tell me something! Admittedly, I never seem to have much time for Advent – it always comes at the end of the semester, when there’s a big rush to turn everything in before it’s too late. And just when I’m done with that, it’s time to make sure that everything is in order for Christmas. Therefore, I’m grateful for the reminder to slow down and experience some peace.

Thinking about it some more, searching for peace is quite an appropriate Advent thing. Every Mass, we are reminded that we need to be at peace with those around us before we can receive Jesus – that’s why there’s the sign of peace immediately before communion. As a precursor to Christmas, Advent should function the same way.

In an effort to “let peace begin with me,” as the famous song says, I’ve been more observant of my own inner peace. There have been a couple times when I’ve done well: I’ve had a few days at work where things that would normally get to me just haven’t bothered me, and I’ve been able to take a couple moments when I’m not singing during my choir rehearsals to simply sit back, relax, and enjoy the music. Yet at other times, I’ve still let stress and frustration get the better of me. (I’m still not any good at Mondays!) I am certainly open to your suggestions for finding inner peace. In any event, I am grateful to have not completely missed Advent this year. And since half of my examples were Christmas songs anyway, maybe Christmas can be about peace, too. As we wrap up Advent and move into Christmas, I pray that the peace “beyond all understanding” is with us all during this season and beyond.

About the author: Francis Beaumier is on the leadership team for the Dignity Young Adult Caucus and an active member of the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Family as well as Angels of Hope Metropolitan Community Church.  He currently works for Brown County Library as an IT Specialist and is pursuing a Master’s in Liberal Studies at St. Norbert College.

Mary and Elizabeth

This is a post by Lydia Wylie-Kellermann: a mother, writer, and activist in Detroit, MI. This post was originally published on www.radicaldiscipleship.net.



mary and elizabeth.jpg

Luke 1: 39-56

I wonder about the beginning of this reading. “Mary went with haste….” It seems like there are three possibilities for this. First is that she was so excited and filled with anticipation that she fled to a friend she loved. I think this is our most common interpretation. But I think it more likely the second or third possibility. Either she was sent away out of shame and embarrassment for three months. Or as I did more reading, it seems likely that being pregnant and not married with her status was actually cause for being stoned to death. She may have been fleeing for her life.

So, it is perhaps in that place or urgency and fear that this reading begins, but, after that it is nothing but delight. The reading is beautiful.

As I was sitting with this story, I realized how much I WISH that this was the Christmas story. That this was the birthing scene that we read together Christmas Eve. It is filled with the intimacy of friendship, the wisdom of women, longing, rejoicing, honoring one another, singing, and just a good long chunk of time to be with one another.

I love how it ends with “Mary stayed for 3 months before she went home.” Though that is cut from the lectionary. You can just imagine how they spent that time. Both pregnant. Two women- one old and one young. Resting, imagining, praying, cooking for another, massaging their bodies, and in the midst of it all talking about God and a radical new social order. Speaking dangerous politics. With those two women for mothers, no wonder Jesus and John turned out to be badasses.

It is just a beautiful scene. As I reflect at thirty-six weeks pregnancy today, this is what I hope for- circles of women, children leaping for joy, feeling that birth can be a shift in the status quo, and feeling honored and blessed by love and by God.

But that is not the scene we get this Christmas. While in so many ways, we have romanticized the Nativity story, it really is not a great birth story. It begins with them being ordered to leave their homes. Deported. To be counted. I imagine the relationships Mary had to leave behind. She would have known the midwives that would be at her birth. Perhaps she would have given birth the same place her mother did. Perhaps her mother and sisters would have been there. But instead, she is forced to leave, alone.

Then they have a long journey…on a donkey! This year, we have a strict NO Christmas travel policy in our family. Travel is hard work on these pregnant weary bodies. I remember how painful it was to be in labor traveling in a car on bumpy pavement. The idea of traveling by donkey on dirt roads while close or starting labor, sounds pretty horrible.

Then, she feels the contractions and is ready to have this kid and they have to try to find a bed! There is no room in the inn. I think I have always felt like “I cant believe they wouldn’t let her in! All would have been fine.” But an inn is no place to have a baby either. Alone. With no midwife. And instead she ends up in a barn. On the cold ground. With the smell of animals. Did she catch the baby by herself? Did Joseph catch the baby? I imagine that would have been culturally unusual. Was it a scary labor?

Then, after all that, according to the stories we hear, she is surrounded by NO ONE but MEN! Joseph, an Inn Keeper, shepherds, kings. Maybe there are some women angels? But even those that are named are men! I ache for Mary. I think of the reading of Mary and Elizabeth and the time they shared together. How different that feeling is. Intimate, sacred space for women is so important. In a time when women were not given space or honored, birth would have been one of those few places women had space together. It was systemically taken away from her.

Things don’t get much better after that either. An order is given to kill all boys under two. She births a son right into a world that wants to swallow up her son. It is similar to the other birthing stories we know in the bible. Moses who escapes death multiple times after Egypt demands all Hebrew baby boys killed. And the women in Revelation who birth right in the face of a dragon who plans to eat her son. Birth is not beautiful in the bible. It does not feel like Advent pregnant hope, but rather pregnancies filled with fear and the slim hopes for the chance of survival for their children.

So, knowing all that is to come, I delight in today’s reading. I give thanks that those friendships and spaces find their ways into Mary’s life despite all the barriers. I give thanks that it was powerful enough that amidst all the other stuff left out about women in the Gospels, this makes it in. It is certainly a story that models discipleship for me. That calls in us to be human, to rest, to sing, to hope, to speak justice, to find intimacy, and to leap for joy in the face of all that is happening and all that is to come.

The other thing that strikes me in Luke and Hebrews is the reality of bodies. So often in our faith we separate mind and bodies. We intellectualize the readings and our spiritualties. But here, God is choosing to be incarnate in a body. “You have prepared a body for me.” We feel Jesus and John jumping in the womb. Pregnancy and birth are real physical, bodily things. It isn’t pretty or neat. It is painful and bloody and earthly. In fact, I’ve never felt so much like an animal than when I was giving birth. It wasn’t my mind or my heart that birthed that child, it was the instincts in my body.

I remember a friend saying to me, “It wasn’t until I gave birth and I was breast feeding, that I really understood, “This is my body, broken, and given for you.”

I remember so clearly the moments before I started pushing Isaac out, when he is coming down between my hips, and it literally feels like my body is being split in two. And in a lot of ways it is. My hips come apart. And something that is flesh of my flesh is given into this world.

As we take communion today, my mind and heart will be preparing to break again. As we count down the days til he arrives, I offer my body again as gift- giving life to another human being.

Indeed, “this is my body, broken and given for you.”

Let’s pray.

I invite you to close your eyes
To be still.
To breathe.

Oh God,
We give thanks for the stories
That encourage our hearts

May we too be like Mary and Elizabeth
Who in the midst of darkness
Delight in their friendship
Feel the movements in their bodies
Speak of a radical hope for the future
Sing, rejoice
And rest.

May we carve out those spaces
Of sacred, intimacy
Despite the powers that be
Trying to swallow them up

Oh God, you call us into our bodies
Honoring the earthly, ordinary, and miraculous beings that we are
To feel their heaviness on the ground
And to let the earth carry us
We pray that our lives embody the Gospels
Giving them to the work of creation, love, and resistance.

For all of this and so much more on our hearts,
We lift it to you
Who holds us like a mother’s womb,
who became embodied in Mary’s womb,
and was birthed from the womb into this world.

And God Came Down on Christmas Night…

This is a post by Sarah Nolan and was originally posted on the The Abundant Table Blog.  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 Farm Project.

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On the Solstice I joined Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries and friends for an evening of pause and reflection upon the turning of the seasons and the welcoming of winter. Ched Myers reminded us of the importance of developing an attunement with the natural seasons (as opposed to consumer or cultural timelines). The Equinoxes and Solstices are gifts that invite us to take the time to connect with the created cosmos, and to connect with our own journeys and the different seasons we experience personally.

The same kind of alternative rhythm is found in the Christian Liturgical Calendar. Walking closely with the natural seasons, the Liturgical calendar also challenges us to go deeper into the cycles of life, and creates space for pause and attention. I am neither an expert in the church calendar, nor a purist in its practice, but am still significantly formed and guided by its seasons that call us communally and individually to both reflection and action.

For the past week, I have been pondering the relation between Advent and Christmas. I prefer Advent and Lent to Christmas and Easter, for example. I wonder whether this might have something to do with the fact that we humans live a majority of our lives in expectation (Advent) and suffering (Lent). We are constantly anticipating (and craving) the coming of the Divine to break into our hurting world. We spend more time talking about the coming of the Risen Christ or the Beloved Community rather than experiencing it. I think this may be why the Christmas and Easter seasons are so short. They serve as reminders that God’s radical love does break into our lives and communities… but often in momentary and unexpected ways.

God comes to us as the infant of a family suffering from displacement and forced migration. The great message of hope and deliverance is given to the nomadic (and likely dirty and exhausted) shepherds. It is a young girl with a complicated story who carries the salvation of the world in her womb.


A few years ago, a dear friend shared with me the chorus to Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem”:

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

We live in a broken world, which is why we need Advent and Lent. However, it is in these cracks in the system, the places of both the creative and the mundane resistance, in which Christmas resides.

This Christmas season (liturgical, consumer), I am challenged to spend time recognizing and celebrating these “cracks” in order to see the light that is breaking in. We may never know what impact our daily work holds, the power of perseverance in the midst of adversity, or the moment when we will recognize God’s love in action. But when we do catch a glimpse, let us remember to let the light in and savor it.

Circling Up

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


“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

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. 


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.

Continue reading