in God’s time

We can’t really know what God is up to.

But we can wonder, and we do.  Wondering about what God is doing makes me feel like I am the size of an ant in an expansive universe.   Actually, I am, in a way.

Somehow, though, I am part of it all.

Paradigms of planet, church, religion and humanity are shifting all around us.  Sometimes, these shifts are gradual and gentle, like water flowing silently downstream.  Other times, though, the societal changes are so shocking we almost feel damaged.  We collapse on crosswalks and sprint down the streets of tomorrow while the statues of our ancestors laugh at our blindness.  Can we see the beauty that surrounds us today?

As we listen to the news and hold it up to what we’re working for, we can become discouraged and worried.  What’s happening to our democracy? What’s going on in Christianity? Passions and power quake the church and government and we wonder what to have faith in.

Since I am a young woman religious I keep finding myself on the edge of great movements. Feeling the movements on the edges help me gain confidence in the goodness of God’s guidance.

Over a week ago I was a participant in a wonderfully strange conference.  Giving Voice, a national organization for young women religious, sponsored an inter-generational conference in Chicago to discuss what is happening in this life of ours, religious life.  We came with a sense that God is up to something new and different.  Together we wondered what that was.  The wondering was strange because we were talking about something that we didn’t know.

In Madeleine L’Engle‘s book  A Wrinkle in Time, Mrs. Whatsit sighs and tries to answer the questions of children.  “Explanations are not easy when they are about things for which your civilization still has no words.”  I desire to explain what I’ve experienced and sensed, but what is emerging seems to be beyond anything we have ever known.

I know it though, God is up to something. Paradigms are shifting; the world is changing right under our feet.  When the earth moves, it can feel dangerous.  We don’t know what will break around us.  We grip to reactions based in fear and power and doubt survival.  We crash and forget what we most need to move on: each other.  As tumultuous as all the crashing and changing may feel, we can trust God and have hope.  God is in control and shifts can be good.

At the “young nun” conference we sought to contemplate the goodness that vibrates through the groans.  The process was deep and profound.  We listened, prayed, shared, played, questioned, connected and organized.  We learned too.  We were blessed to be with Sandra Schneiders, who is a great historian and theologian.  She’s pretty much the expert on religious life and what is has been, is, and could be.  In other words, Schneiders is a woman who can speak quite well about how God has worked with people throughout time.

We pondered what it means to be religious women in this time of unknowing.  We leaned in, all 150 women religious seemingly stuck in 2011. We felt connected to the deep roots of our ancient tradition and movements toward the future.  In these moments, I pondered how our human minds limit understanding what time really is.  Science agrees with what my spirit senses, too.  Time, as we know it, is an illusion.

So, we’re a part of this illusive time and God needs us to work.  Schneiders’ analysis of this Kairos was based in her insights that the signs of these times are globalization, secularization, pluralization, and de-traditionalization.  We are called to respond to what’s going on and how it impacts spirituality, politics, service and poverty.  We really need to be involved.

I keep wondering.  How are we supposed to respond to God’s call?  If the needs of this time are so great- and they are- then how are we supposed to be present to the suffering and bring life to the future?  What actions do we need to take to birth a new paradigm and way of being?

As we ponder the power of Now, we get to listen to the whispers of the Spirit who always compels us to grow and change.  At the end of the conference, consciousness brought forth the art of poetry.  In peace, we walked through the shift and blessed the words of wonder.  There was silence as we gazed at what the time had emerged.

In art there are answers.  We need not worry about how to bring forth a new paradigm, after all.  We can just focus on living the reign of God.  After we do this for some time, then we’ll be able to look around and be awed that God has used us to help create something new.  Thanks be to God!

Originally from Northeast Iowa, Sister Julia is a  Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, based in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  Her love for God and God’s good world is manifested in her attempts to be an educator, a youth empower-er, an earth lover, and a peacemaker.  She ministers at an inner-city Catholic high school in Chicago.
Sister Julia also blogs at http://messyjesusbusiness.wordpress.com/. 

A version of this post was previously posted on the Messy Jesus Business blog.

A young nun’s response to “For These Young Nuns, Habits Are The New Radical”

I am fascinated by how the season of Advent/Christmas tends to be a time when the secular media tells stories about how people live their faith. Sometimes it makes me sigh out, “Hey! We don’t just do this faith thing on holidays!  How about some Truth during ordinary times?”

Nonetheless, I appreciate the attention, especially when the stories focus on how our generation keeps the good faith.  Yesterday I was able to catch a story on NPR’s “All Things Considered” called “For These Young Nuns, Habits Are The Radical.” The story gives nine minutes of good attention to a lively congregation, the Nashville Dominicans, who have many new, young members.  Please listen to the story, and tell me what you think.  It’s a conversation worth having for all of us who desire to discern how we are each called to live the gospel radically in our own ways.

I really loved the story.  Everything that was described and stated resonated with my own reasons for becoming a young nun.

My only disappointment is that the story failed to mention that communities like mine are still receiving new young members.  Although we don’t come in as crowds, we count.

While I was discerning the sisterhood in college, some of my friends recommended the Nashville Dominicans to me.   I remember requesting materials and considering them. I also remember being attracted to some things about their life, like how many new young members they have.  I don’t remember why for sure, but I decided to eliminate them from my list of possible communities.  Afterwards, I joined my community.

Today I have no doubts that God called me directly to my community, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.  I am very confident that I am right where I need to be and living the way that God needs me to.  I am grateful and honored to be a member of a holy community of praying, steadfast women of social justice and service.  I am inspired by the wisdom of my elder sisters and the actions of my peers.  I believe that the light that comes out of the adoration chapel in our motherhouse energizes the globe with peace and healing.  We don’t look too traditional, but our motto, “modern lives, sacred traditions”, rings true.

I believe I belong with the FSPA because I fit in, and they support all that I am about. Without having met the Nashville Dominicans I can’t really be sure, but I suspect that they are more concerned with being faithful to the magisterium and upholding church doctrine than I am.  I can’t say that I am not concerned with those things; I believe that it is the call of some parts of the church to do that work.

I have never felt called to dissent against the church.  I do feel called to challenge, however.

As I challenge, I am inspired by the courage and the approach of some of my favorite church reformers: St. Francis of Assisi, St. Clare of Assisi, St. Catherine of Siena, and Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA.  With great reverence and deep connection to God, all four of these holy disciples stood before church authority and asked for changes.  They pointed to the gospel of inclusivity and stirred the hearts of the powerful.  They stood for and with the powerless.  They prayed, and the changes began.

The reformers of the past have taught me that it is important to ask questions.  We are a church defined by conscience, so we must always offer safe spaces to authentically discern the ways that the Spirit uniquely tugs at our hearts.  As we keep our faith let’s remember that the reign of God in its fullness is unlike anything we have ever seen or experienced before, it’s much better.  I am pretty sure that God’s dreams for us will only come true if we remain open.

I love the diversity within our church.  I am grateful for the witness of the Nashville Dominicans and communities like theirs.  Nonetheless, I don’t think my own gospel witness is any less valid.  The division in our church is very painful and slows us from showing our love.  I scramble for more ways to commune with all types of Catholics, and I want to build bridges.  I believe we need to be diverse because it enriches us, and I pray that we can love and listen to each other through our differences.

I celebrate Christian diversity as Christmas comes closer.  As I sing songs of hope, I am moved to make a proclamation:

Dear journalists who love stories about young nuns,  I hope you’ll notice me too.  I am 29 and I am also a young nun.  I don’t wear a habit and I don’t go to mass at 5:30 in the morning, but I go as often as I can.  I love the pope and I love my gay brothers and sisters.  I pray a lot and I serve the poor. I witness the gospel through my ministries of teaching and writing.  I love Jesus and I proclaim the Truth.  There’s other sisters like me too, and we are also radical. Thank you.  God bless you, Sister Julia

Originally from Northeast Iowa, Sister Julia is a  Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, based in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  Her love for God and God’s good world is manifested in her attempts to be an educator, a youth empower-er, an earth lover, and a peacemaker.  She ministers at an inner-city Catholic high school in Chicago.
Sister Julia blogs at http://messyjesusbusiness.wordpress.com/ and https://youngadultcatholics-blog.com/.

The Difficult “Thank You”

Perhaps because this is the first Thanksgiving I will not spend at home in Seattle, I have been particularly struck by how much of a “family” holiday this occasion really is in our culture.  People endure busy airports, expensive travel costs, and many miles to gather together on this special day.  Embarrassing or sentimental memories of family and friends are as much a part of the American image of Thanksgiving as mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie.  And whether one’s family is big or small, unusual or ordinary, biological or adopted, dysfunctional or thriving, this holiday challenges us to celebrate what we’ve got.

This year I’m reminded that I need to love my Catholic family, too.  In the left-leaning Catholic community where I live my day-to-day life, it is easy for me to avoid certain branches of my religious family tree—certain individuals with doctrinal interpretations I don’t like, or with priorities that conflict with my own.  Even when we gather for our weekly family meal at Sunday liturgy, it is easy enough for me to wave and smile, never engaging them in a loving, personal, familial way.  Yet our common faith in and commitment to this Catholic faith makes us family, in a sense.

This year, Thanksgiving has made me wonder: What if I treated the Eucharistic meal like a Thankgiving meal? Like a holy-day meal during which we gather to celebrate one another, regardless of how colorful and difficult our Catholic family is?  “Thank you” can be reduced to easy words–but I think the Thanksgiving holiday, an occasion when many of us go out of our way to spend quality time with one another, can challenge us live out “thank you” in our interactions with other Catholics. How can we live out the difficult “thank you’s” in our Catholic family today?

Jessica Coblentz is a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School.  Follow her writing on the Web at www.jessicacoblentz.com.

A Contemporary Pilgrim’s “Progress”?

Recently, for the first time ever, I read the English theological classic Pilgrim’s Progress.  The book, presented as an allegorical dream experienced by the author, follows the protagonist, Christian, in his journey to the gates of the Celestial City.  Along the straight and narrow way, he encounters numerous characters who personify various virtues and vices that one commonly comes across in life’s journey—folks like Hypocrisy, Patience, Hopeful, Ignorance, to name a few.  Time and time again, these characters distract or encourage him along the pilgrimage, but in the end Christian preserves nonetheless.

While it is a brilliant, multi-layered text that presents a reader with plenty to ponder, the book’s title and even the simplest consideration of the allegory inevitably begs one to consider: What counts as progress in Christian life?  What is the ends toward which a Christian should progress?  How can one tell if he/she is making progress?  Continue reading

Virgin Mary Weeps

Picture 131

After seeing a story that believers sighted the Virgin Mary statue in Ireland weeping, I again wonder – what is the place in the post-post Vatican II church for such miracles?  And where do I fit on the macro scale of Catholicism?

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, it’s hard for me to consider myself a progressive Catholic.  This is partially because I am very old-fashioned about rituals and holy matter.  Part of me even likes Mass in Latin – except for the not integrating community part.  Socially, I subscribe to a lot of tenets that progressive Catholics hold dear.

I actually think that medieval Catholic thinkers had a lot more figured out about gender, sexuality, and identity than us modern or post-modern Catholics.  Medieval Catholics did not shy away from writing about Heaven as a sexual experience that is well within Church theology.

I think many modern or progressive minded Catholics have gotten all rational Muslim over our asses (God bless rational Muslims, God bless progressive minded Catholics).  In playing down central tenets of Catholic faith and Catholic folk life – Virgin Mary tears (you mean it’s not just about sexism?), transubstantiation (no, it doesn’t just mean community! Although community is good!), apparitions, blood relics,

Oh, the blood relics – as just trappings and baggage that have held the Church down.

As we look for new metaphors to express our frustrations with the Church, let’s not knock conservative Catholics or so-called conservative practices.  Because then we get into this mind warp of thinking like secular folks – oh, the only way to be is progressive Catholic.  And this can get in the way of dealing with other religions, especially Islam, because progressive Catholics tend to romanticize progressive Muslims as the “right” way to be.

And yes, medieval Catholics had those rather big problems with Islamophobia and crusades.  But really, progressive Catholic community, are we any better?

I Couldn’t Stay

“After I had put on the robes and a stole,” she said,  “I just sat there and cried. I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy…”  I had been casually listening-in on a conversation between two fellow Divinity School students for some time before I heard the young woman describe this moment.  From what I gathered, she is preparing for ordination in the Unitarian Universalist (UU) tradition, and currently working as an intern at a local UU church where she had, for the first time, tried on the pastor’s robes she would wear while preaching during some upcoming Sunday service.

For the first time in my life I am surrounded by women who talk openly, almost unthinkingly, about their calls to ordained ministry. Continue reading