Jan. 30: Gandhian Resistance by Joan Chittister

gandhiJANUARY 30, ANNIVERSARY OF THE DEATH OF MAHATMA GANDHI

Mahatma Gandhi is a strong, unwavering figure whose light has lit many a road. Martin Luther King, Jr and the Civil Rights Movement walked the way that Gandhi led and brought segregation to an end. Cesar Chavez and the migrant farmworkers walked the way that Gandhi led and made Hispanic farmworkers a power to be reckoned with rather than an invisible minority to be exploited. The peace movement around the world has walked the way that Gandhi led and forced the end of the Vietnam War, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, the fall of the Marcos regime in the Philippines, and the end of nuclear innocence.

Gandhi asked us to critique government and law according to a higher law. Gandhi reminded us to be patient with others, to do no one harm, to pursue truth with passion.

Gandhi demands that our political involvement and our personal responses be based on a spirituality so deep, a spiritual attunement so constant, a spiritual vision so broad that no personal ambition, no selfish gains, no parochial interests corrupt the depth of our commitment nor the openness of our hearts. No seed ever sees the flower, Zen teaches. Those who follow Gandhi, may, like him, never know their successes. But like Gandhi, too, they will never really know defeat.—by Joan Chittister (adapted from A Passion for Life: Fragments of the Face of God; Orbis, Devotional Edition)

Joan Chittister: The Feast of All Souls

“All across the world, plants and flowers, trees and flags, mementoes and framed photographs stand on quiet graves to mark that communion of life that one generation feels with another. Our souls stretch always forward, yes, but our hearts stretch always back. The chain of life never breaks, the shape of soul never strains beyond what formed us, what filled us with life in the first place.

We are bound to one another, each generation a link in the chain, each generation a standard for one to come. The people over whose graves we weep are not simply people we have known or who, though strangers, have had the decency to disappear from an earth already overcrowded. No, we cry tears of loss only for those whose lives touched our own and made them better. We cry both for parents and for politicians, for friends and for public figures, for anyone who has lived out “the communion of saints,” the Eucharist of humankind, the Christening of life and made it real in our own time, in our own neighborhoods, in our own world. We weep for those whose faith has formed our own.

When we visit the graves and say the memorial prayers and tell the family stories over the bodies of the dead, we tell of the Christ we saw in them. We remember how it looked in them. We know in them what it is like to be driven by the consuming power of God, to be totally oriented toward God. The communion of saints stands before us, stark witness to the holiness of God, reminding us always to leave behind us for those yet to come a searing memory of the same.”–Joan Chittister, OSB

An excerpt from In Search of Belief by Joan Chittister

Joan Chittister: ‘The Eucharist Dilemma’

mary-eucharist

The major problem of eucharistic theology in our century is not that people do not understand and value the meaning of Eucharist. The problem is that they do.

The Eucharist, every child learns young, is the sign of Christian community, the very heart of it, in fact. And who would deny the bond, the depth, the electrical force that welds us together in it? Here, we know, is the linkage between us and the Christ, between us and the Gospel, between us and the Tradition that links us to Jesus himself and to the world around us. No, what the Eucharist is meant to be is not what’s in doubt.

What’s in doubt is that the Eucharist is really being allowed to do what it purports to do—to connect us, to unify us, to make us One. The truth is that as much as Eucharist is a sign of community it is also a sign of division. For the sake of some kind of ecclesiastical political fiascos centuries ago between the East and West, we close the table between Orthodox and Uniate—though the faith is the same and the commitments are the same and the vision of life and death are the same.

What’s in doubt, too, is that the division between baptized men and baptized women can possibly witness to what we say is the faith: that men and women are equal; that women are fully human beings; that God’s grace is indivisible; that discipleship is incumbent on us all; that we are all called to follow Christ.

At the end of one presentation after another, women make it a point to continue the discussion with me. “I used to be Catholic,” they begin. “I was a Catholic once,” they say. “I’m a recovering Catholic now,” they announce. It’s a sad litany of disillusionment and abandonment by a Church they once thought promised them fullness of life and then let them know it is their very persons that deny them that.

Call it “holy” communion if you want, they tell me, but it’s not. Not like that. Not under those conditions.

So they go away to where Jesus waits for them, arms open, in someone else’s Christian church. There’s something about it that simply defies the lesson of Mary Magdalene or the Woman at the Well or Mary of Bethany or Mary of Nazareth. They go where every minister of the altar, every bishop, every lawgiver, every homilist, every member of every Synod on the planet is not male. They go where they can see “the image of God” in themselves in another woman. They go where eucharistic theology, which we’re told makes us one, is palpable.–Joan Chittister

From “Eucharist” by Joan Chittister, Spirituality magazine (Volume 18, March-April 2012, No 101. Dominican Publications: Republic of Ireland)

The “O” Antiphons

An ancient and beautiful practice of the Christian church in preparation for Christmas is the singing of the “O” antiphons. Below, Benedictine Joan Chitister invites us to join in the singing:

In anticipation of Christmas, the monastic community begins to review its vision of Jesus by chanting ancient prayers known now as “The O Antiphons.” Each of these chants recalls a different aspect of the Christ-life to which we are called.

December 17
“O Wisdom” the community prays today in its anticipation of new grace in life. It’s important to realize that wisdom and education are not the same thing. Education provides the experiences we need in order to manage our lives. Wisdom, on the other hand, is what we learn as a result of the experiences we have.

December 18
“O Adonai,” the community sings today. “O God of All,” we chant. When we build a vision of life it is necessary to realize that Jesus must be the center of it–not our institutions, good as they may be, not our plans or personal talents, necessary as they are.

December 19
“O Root of Jesse,” the community remembers today. It takes generations to build the Christ-vision in the world, just as it took generations after Jesse to prepare for the coming of the Christ. It is our task to root ideas now that will bring the next generation to wholeness.

December 20
“O Key of David,” we say at Vespers today. We’re all looking for the keys to life– the key to success, the key to happiness, the key to serenity. And we’re always looking for it somewhere else. The problem is that we already have it and don’t recognize it. What key in your present life are you avoiding, resisting, overlooking, rejecting?

December 21
“O Radiant Dawn,” we chant today. We look for light everywhere. But it was night when Benedict saw the vision of his life. That’s what usually happens to us, too. Just when we think that light will never come into our lives again, we begin to see a whole new world around us.

December 22
“O God of All the Earth,” we pray today. We get a chance today to realize that we are not the beginning and the end of the universe. We are part of a vision of humankind, seen in Jesus, but yet to be achieved in us–a vision of global sharing, universal peace and individual security. If we all want it so much, what is delaying its coming? I’m serious. What is it?

December 23
“O Emmanuel,” we sing tonight, not so much in hope as in recognition. After all, Jesus—Emmanuel—has already come. It is not a matter now of Christ’s being where we are; it is a matter of our being in the consciousness of where Christ is in life. And where He is not as well. Where is Christ for you this Christmas? And is there a place in your life that you know down deep is not in the spirit of Christ at all?

Join the Benedictine Sisters of Erie HERE in praying the O Antiphons during the seven days before Christmas. The melodies were composed by the late Erie Benedictine Sister Mary David Callahan.

From The Radical Christian Life: A Year with Saint Benedict by Joan Chittister (Liturgical Press).

Chittister: How To Pray During ‘Hot, Hazy, and Humid’

Columbia Heights Fountain (David Gaines)
Columbia Heights Fountain (David Gaines)

“It’s July when the summer begins to wear even the most dedicated of sun lovers down. Life begins to feel sticky; nights get close; days get long and dry. Everything becomes a major effort; we slow down like rusted cogs on old wheels. Time suspends. Nothing much gets done. Day follows day with not much to show for any of them. Oh, yes, monastics know all about that kind of thing. In ancient monasteries the warning of Evagrius of Ponticus to “beware the devil of the noonday sun” loomed large. Acedia they called it. Spiritual sloth.

July is the month that teaches us, as the Desert Monastics said, to prepare ourselves for the “heat of the noonday sun,” for those times in life when going on and going through something will take all the energy, all the hope we have. Then, July reminds us that on the other side of such intensity, such demanding effort, comes the harvest time of life when we see that all our efforts have been worth it.

The question in every life, of course, is how to keep on going when it seems fruitless. A Zen saying: “O snail, climb Mount Fuji, but slowly, slowly.” If we are to persevere for the long haul, we must not overdrive our souls. We must immerse ourselves in good music, good reading, great beauty and peace so that everything good in us can rise again and lead us beyond disappointment, beyond boredom, beyond criticism, beyond loss.

The prayer from Mary Lou Kownacki’s, The Sacred in the Simple, calls us all to new energy at the break point of every day. It reads:

Let not the heat
of the noonday sun
wither my spirit
or lay waste my hopes.
May I be ever green,
a strong shoot of justice,
a steadfast tree of peace.”

–adapted from A Monastery Almanac by Joan Chittister

Joan Chittister: God Doesn’t Want to Hold Women Back

chittisterWith the release of the new Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink, we learned that “if women received pay equal to their male counterparts, the U.S. economy would produce $447.6 billion in additional income.”

On FaithStreet, Sr. Joan Chittister also put out a great short essay on why God doesn’t want to hold women back and never has wanted to. It’s our human sin that keeps us from humility before God and equality among humanity.

“Don’t believe what they’re saying. The world is not in upheaval in our era because radical feminism has gotten out of hand.

No, our world is being shaken to the core and will never again be the same because its old systems are being challenged, its old certainties being rethought.

The political world has had to give up its reliance on the securities of the old geography. The social world has had to give up its notions of the natural privileges of class. The White West has had to give up its ideas of racial preeminence. And men are having to give up the old theology of male superiority.

In that old world, whole classes of people could be underdeveloped, abused, enslaved, oppressed, and disenfranchised — all with impunity. Unknown and unchallenged, local potentates, all male, declared their autocracy, and all-male institutions of every system institutionalized it. It was a world of nobles over peons, the powerful over the powerless, freemen over slaves, men over women. And all of them insisting to the oppressed that such stratified systems were, ironically, for their own good.

Most serious of all, religious people argued that God wanted it that way.

In the West, they said that the Judeo-Christian creation story taught that God designed, defined and created a hierarchical world that developed from one stage to another, from the dust of the earth to the crown of creation, Adam, the male agent of a male God.

In this world, women were not “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh,” equal partners in the human enterprise, as those words imply. Instead, women were labeled “help-mates” rather than, as David Freedman points out, ”a power equal to,” as the corresponding Hebrew term is translated in other places in scripture. …”–Joan Chittister, OSB  Read the rest.

Joan Chittister: Eucharist Unchained

mary-eucharistAs someone who regularly invites non-Catholic Christians to Mass with me I sometimes get this response afterward: “I love that the priest wears a dress and does the dishes, but why is he always a man?”

Joan Chittister writes:

“The major problem of eucharistic theology in our century is not that people do not understand and value the meaning of Eucharist. The problem is that they do.

The Eucharist, every child learns young, is the sign of Christian community, the very heart of it, in fact. And who would deny the bond, the depth, the electrical force that welds us together in it? Here, we know, is the linkage between us and the Christ, between us and the Gospel, between us and the Tradition that links us to Jesus himself and so to the world around us. No, what the Eucharist is meant to be is not what’s in doubt.

Continue reading “Joan Chittister: Eucharist Unchained”

Joan Chittister: The Courage to Try a Second Time

Joan+Chittister2“The problem with life is that it never really gets resolved. What’s more, the same issue that tested our mettle the first time we attempted it leaves us in doubt that we should ever attempt it again. The things that confuse us the first time we deal with them are just as likely to make us wonder about them the second time around as well. Certainty is a chimera. All we know for sure is that what we did last time in dealing with a problem either did or didn’t work. Will the same thing happen again? Who knows?

Faced with something that bested us the last time we met it, the whole thought of dealing with it again can make the heart grow weak. How can we ever dare to think of getting up and going on again? In fact, why even bother to try?

It is doubt that brings us to wrestle with the very foundations upon which our life is built. Can we do this thing? Should we do this thing? Why is this thing even worth trying to do? Why even try to do the impossible—to stretch ourselves beyond the normal, the average, the clearly possible?

And if we try it again and we fail, then what?

The second effort makes or breaks the average person. The second effort either deadens the soul to the rest of life or redefines us to ourselves. The second effort becomes the “I can’t” trap, the point after which we never try again, or it becomes the “I can” truth that lifts us to a new level of courage forever.

The call to live our lives to the pinnacle of truth within us, however impossible it may seem along the way, is a clarion one. We are each here to give our best and give our all in the service of the will of God for us. There is no going back. There is no staying down when we fall down. We bother to get up and try again because we said we would. There is only the answer of Isaiah, “Here I am, Lord. Send me” (Isaiah 6:8).

The very act of throwing ourselves into the wrestling match of the soul makes us a beacon of hope for those who come behind us. There is no such thing as weakness for those who are strong enough to keep on trying. “–Joan Chittister, OSB

Excerpted from The Way of the Cross: The Path to New Life by Joan Chittister (Orbis)

Joan Chittister: The Blessings of Being an Elder

Old Greek shepherd in the cafe.

“The truth of the matter is that all of life, at any age, is about ripening. Life is about doing every age well, learning what we are meant to learn from it and giving to it what we are meant to give back to it.

The young give energy and wonder and enthusiasm and heart-breaking effort to becoming an accomplished, respected, recognized adult. And for their efforts they reap achievement and identity and self-determination.

The middle-aged give commitment and leadership, imagination and generativity. They build and rebuild the world from one age to another. And for their efforts they get status, and some kind of power, however slight, and the satisfaction that comes from a sense of accomplishment.

The elderly have different tasks entirely.

The elderly come to this stage of life largely finished with a building block mentality. They have built all they want to build. It is their task in life now to evaluate what has become of it, what it did to them, what of good they can leave behind them. They bring to life the wisdom that comes from having failed as often as they succeeded, relinquished as much as they accumulated. And this stage of life comes with its own very clear blessings.

1. Perspective. Given the luxury of years, the elders in a society bring a perspective on life that is not possible to the young and of even less interest to the middle aged whose life is consumed with concern for security and achievement. Instead the elders look back on the twists and turns of life with a more measured gaze. Some things, they know now, which they thought had great value at one age, they see little value in later. The elders know that what lasts in life, what counts in life, what remains in life after all the work has been completed are the relationships that sustained us, not the trophies we collected on the way. The Elders are blessed with insight.

2. Time. For the first time in life, the elderly have time to enjoy the present. The morning air becomes the kind of elixir again that they have not known since childhood. The park has become an observation deck on the world. The library is now the crossroads of the world. The coffee shop becomes the social center of their lives. And small children a new delight and a companion it not leaders as they explore their way through life again. The blessing of this time is appreciation of the moment … .”–Joan Chittister, OSB

This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post. To read the five other blessings of being elderly: Freedom, Newness, Tale-Telling, Relationships and Transcendence, click here.

Joan Chittister: Bless the Work of Our Hands

photo by Ben Curtis
photo by Ben Curtis

“A spirituality of work is based on a heightened sense of sacramentality, of the idea that everything that is, is holy and that our hands consecrate it to the service of God. When we grow radishes in a small container in a city apartment, we participate in creation. We sustain the globe. When we repair what has been broken or paint what is old or give away what we have earned that is above and beyond our own sustenance, we stoop and scoop up the earth and breath into it new life. When we wrap garbage and recycle cans, when we clean a room, when we care for everything we touch and touch it reverently, we become the creators of a new universe. Then we sanctify our work and our work sanctifies us.

A spirituality of work draws us out of ourselves and, at the same time, makes us more of what we are meant to be. My work develops myself. I become what I practice all my life. “Excellence,” Samuel Johnson wrote, “can only be attained by the labor of a lifetime; it is not to be purchased at a lesser price.”

My work also develops everything around it. There is nothing I do that does not affect the world in which I live. In developing a spirituality of work, I learn to trust beyond reason that good work will gain good things for the world, even when I don’t expect them and I can’t see them. In that way, I gain myself. Literally. I come into possession of a me that is worthwhile, whose life has not been in vain, who has been a valuable member of the human race.

Finally, a spirituality of work immerses me in the search for human community. I begin to see that everything I do, everything, has some effect on someone somewhere. I begin to see my life tied up in theirs. I begin to see that the starving starve because someone is not working hard enough to feed them. And so I do. It becomes obvious, then, that the poor are poor because someone is not intent on the just distribution of the goods of the earth. And so I am. I begin to realize that work is the lifelong process of personal sanctification that is satisfied only by saving the globe for others and saving others for the globe. I finally come to know that my work is God’s work, unfinished by God because God meant it to be finished by me.”–Joan Chittister, OSB

Excerpt from For Everything a Season by Joan Chittister (Orbis)