Six minutes of truth-telling from the awesome team at Sojourners: Where’s the Body of Christ when Bodies Go Missing? This is the nascent short podcast series that Sojourners is developing called The God Beat.
This story about missing black and Latina girls in the D.C-area speaks to me because of my work on the Donte Manning story (see Who Killed Donte Manning: The Story of an American Neighborhood) and because of Ebony Franklin, who was murdered a few blocks from my house. There are hundreds of unnamed and disappeared girls in our country.
My Sojourners’ colleagues, Dhanya Addanki and Da’Shawn Mosley, get to the root of the Christian question in their podcast.
“Mary Magdalene’s official recognition as an apostle, chosen by Jesus, affirms women’s rightful capacity to act “in persona Christi,” and restores her, often maligned, legacy as someone instrumental to our faith and equal to her male counterparts.
Claims of male clerical superiority based on a physical resemblance to Jesus have never convinced nor served the wider Church.
WOW calls on the Church to rid itself of the sin of sexism and model unconditional equality by opening up all ministries to Catholic women who have the talent and vocation to serve their communities as St. Mary Magdalene did.
WOW also celebrates its 20th anniversary in July and will hold their annual gathering in Krakow ahead of Pope Francis’ visit for World Youth Day. During the past 20 years of campaigning, WOW has worked to challenge all remaining arguments against women’s ordination. The official recognition of Mary Magdalene’s role makes an exclusively male leadership model impossible to uphold and strengthens the case for gender justice.
We are calling on Pope Francis to recognize that a “discipleship of equals” and renewed church will only be possible when women are accepted as equals and are able to participate alongside men.”
“And he made the basin of bronze, and its pedestal of bronze, from the mirrors of the women assembling, who assembled at the door of the Tent of Meeting.”–Exodus 38:8
One day ahead of the opening of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, artist Spencer Tunick orchestrated hundreds of women for a public art protest.
The art installation is titled: Everything She Says Means Everything. It involved 100 naked women holding mirrors facing the Quicken Loans Arena, where tomorrow the Republican National Convention will begin.
Tunick described his inspiration for the installation this way:
Republicans, Democrats and all other political parties were welcome to take part reflecting their anger through art against the hateful repressive rhetoric of many in the Republican Party toward women and minorities. Trump and Pence are giving many in America the belief that is OK to hate. Over 1800 women signed up for the 100 spaces to bare all in this heightened arena of politics and protest and this number alone is a testament to their bravery and desire for change. They did not know where they were going to pose when they signed up to be part of this art action, it could have been in the epicenter of the security zone, but they still wanted to participate. Our concept was for 100 women to pose with 100 mirrors. Our location was secret to keep the women safe and would only allow for a small number of participants. But 1800 women would have shown up naked in front on the steps of the convention to make art with what may be the most controversial subject in this presidential race, a woman’s body.
I was struck by how biblical this image is. Women and “mirror play” is central to the survival of the Israelites after the Exodus from Egypt. The women’s mirror-play is a way of extending the grand narrative of liberation and shining it into every generation. The midrash says that in slavery the men were beaten down, forbidden to sleep with their wives and families. They lost generative power because of the weight of their oppression. The brief mention of “mirrors,” which the women offer as part of building a basin for the Temple is expanded in the midrashic process to illuminate a backstory of defiance against Pharaoh’s impossible decrees and the liberating energy of multiplying the Israelites.
Avivah Zornberg describes, “Subtly, the midrash yields its meanings. The mirrors are not simply the means by which women adorn themselves, set in motion the processes of desire, procreation, the creation of a nation. A much larger claim is being made: through these mirrors, each woman conceived six hundred thousand babies at a time” (Exodus: The Particulars of Rapture by Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg).
When the body politic is so flaccid and desiccated as it is now, producing more death than life, then a generative desire must be cultivated so that the people can remember what it feels like to be alive, to choose life. In Zornberg’s book on Exodus, she says “the mirrors … remain for me the most evocative symbol of redemption.”
From a field in Cleveland at dawn, may this midrash bear fruit.
Rose Marie Berger is a Catholic peace activist and poet.
As we celebrate the final defeat of the Keystone XL pipeline, I’ll repost some of the spiritual power that led to this day.
[Originally published Oct. 9. 2013]
I had fun this summer with a great group of folks who came to be known as the ERM 54 (explanation below). After getting arrested, three court appearances, peeing in a cup, negotiating the D.C. community court system, and promising not to get arrested again before Valentine’s Day, I’m ready for the autumn to begin. But that’s not to say that the summer wasn’t fun!
Here’s an excerpt from my most recent column in Sojourners:
OFFICER MARIO normally worked for Homeland Security. On this Friday night he’d been seconded to the Washington, D.C. Metro police, who had their hands full. Not only did they have the usual “drunk and disorderlies,” but now 54 people who looked like card-carrying members of the AARP were filling up their holding cells. Officer Mario, of retirement age himself, was feeling fortunate. He’d been assigned to the women’s side.
“Ladies, ladies, ladies!” Mario said, sauntering in with a mischievous smile. “This must be my lucky night.”
The evening before, we’d all been at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church running role plays on how to “flash mob” the corporate headquarters of Environmental Resources Management (ERM), the firm hired by the U.S. State Department to provide an environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL pipeline. To the disbelief and concern of climate scientists, ERM claimed that TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline would not significantly contribute to climate change. ERM was suspected of “misleading disclosures” regarding conflict of interest and material gain from the pipeline’s completion.
Our white-haired mob of mostly grandparents converged on ERM headquarters at noon to shine a light on such shady dealings. While six silver foxes blocked the elevators by chaining their arms together inside a PVC pipe, I watched two D.C. police lift Steve, age 70, and toss him into the crowd behind me. I knew this nonviolent civil disobedience wasn’t going as planned.
For the next hour the police threatened us with felony charges, and we chanted complicated ditties on Big Oil, Mother Earth, and the merits of transparency in a democracy. Then they slipped plastic cuffs over our wrists and charged us with “unlawful entry.” …
Read the whole essay here (Sojourners, November 2013, “Unlawful Entry”).
44 women from around the world speak to the Synod on Family in a new book, Catholic Women Speak: Bringing Our Voices to the Table. Many perspectives, e.g., Italian historian Lucetta Scaraffia (an appointed non-voting auditor at the Synod) says the absence of women in Church decision-making is like “breathing with only one lung.” Order through publisher Paulist Press, Amazon, etc. NCR reviews book as “compelling, expansive, diverse.” One of the authors is Rhonda Miska, who led us in song at our 2014 Spiritual Leadership conference.
Want an evening of spiritual refreshment with people nationwide? By phone or in person, be part of the monthly hour of communal contemplation on Mon., Oct. 12, 7:30pm, with the Women’s Alliance for Theology and Ethics (Silver Spring, MD). For me, it’s like that drink of fresh spring water that Sister Janet Mock described at the LCWR Assembly in August.
Theologian Mary E. Hunt, in Baltimore Sun Op-Ed on Pope Francis’ USA visit, sees “disconnect between the pope’s rhetoric about equality and the…virtually all male-led [institution]…. To be a decision-maker in Catholicism requires ordination.” Also calls for strong Papal action on sex abuse, and an end to the “gay charade” in the Church.
Powerful Carmelite and Ignatian insight into “Christ Consciousness: Part 1” in video (57:22) with Carmelite Sister Constance Fitzgerald and Jesuit Father Brian McDermott, part of Baltimore Carmel’s day of recollection for its 225th anniversary.
Note from Rose: I’ve issued a challenge for Catholic women to purchase 5 copies of the book Catholic Women Speak: Bringing Our Gifts to the Table and give them to 5 pastors of Catholic parishes. (The first run of this book from Paulist Press sold out almost immediately. So you may have to pre-order it on Amazon.)
Pope Francis’ press conference on the plane returning from the Philippines was lively as usual. Regarding the Charlie Hebdo murders, he elaborated on the nuances of “freedom of expression” tempered by the virtue of prudence. He also expanded his comments on “responsible parenthood” and what it means for Catholics today. As always, he set the “birth control” issue in the wider context of certain prevailing spirits of the age, in this case Neo-Malthusianism (whaaaa?): population control that is enforced or overly encouraged by governments or corporations.
However, what jumped out to me was his response to a question by La Nacion’s Elisabetta Pique:
Elisabetta Pique (La Nacion): … This was a moving voyage for everyone. We saw people crying the entire time in Tacloban [Philippines site of the Supertyphoon Haiyan], even we journalists cried. Yesterday you said, the world needs to cry. … What was for you the most moving moment, because the mass in Tacloban was such a moment and also yesterday when the little girl started to cry?
Pope Francis: For me the Mass in Tacloban was very moving. Very moving. To see all of God’s people standing still, praying, after this catastrophe, thinking of my sins and those people, it was moving, a very moving moment. In the moment of the mass there, I felt as though I was annihilated (“wiped out”) [devastated], I almost couldn’t speak. …
The other thing is the weeping. One of the things that is lost when there is too much wealth or when values are misunderstood or we have become accustomed to injustice, to this culture of waste, is the capacity to cry.
This is a grace we must ask for. There is a beautiful prayer in the ancient missal, for crying. It went more or less like this: Lord, you who have made it so that Moses with his cane could make water flow from a stone, make it so that from the rock that is my heart, the water of tears may flow.
It’s a beautiful prayer. We Christians must ask for the grace to cry, especially well-to-do Christians. And cry about injustice and cry about sins. Because crying opens you to understand new realities, or new dimensions to realities. This is what the girl said, what I said to her. She was the only one to ask that question to which there is no answer, why do children suffer?
The great Dostoyevsky asked himself this, and he could not answer. Why do children suffer? She, with her weeping, a woman who was weeping. When I say it is important that women be held in higher consideration in the church, it’s not just to give them a function as the secretary of a dicastery, though this could be ok too. No, it’s so that they may tell us how they feel and view reality. Because women view things from a different richness, a larger one.
Another thing I would like to underscore is what I said to the last young man (at the meeting with young people), who truly works well, he gives and gives and gives, he organizes to help the poor. But don’t forget that we too need to be beggars, from them, from the poor. Because the poor evangelize us. If we take the poor away from the Gospel, we cannot understand Jesus’ message. The poor evangelize us. I go to evangelize the poor, yes, but let you be evangelized by them. Because they have values that you do not.”
The prayer Pope Francis refers to is from the Missa ad petendam compunctionem cordis, for begging compunction of the heart, or a Mass for the Gift of Tears (1962 Roman Missal). The prayer says:
Almighty and most merciful God, who, to quench the thirst of your people, drew a fountain of living water out of a rock, draw from our stony hearts tears of compunction, that we may be able to mourn for our sins and win forgiveness for them by your mercy.
But see how he sets this moving and eloquent prayer as a jewel in the crown of justice and compassion!
A new model of leadership that’s been refined in the fires of change and conflict is emerging from U.S. religious women.
In June, the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies, along with Solidarity with Sisters, invited 150 people to Catholic University for an opportunity to discuss the model of leadership that has developed in Catholic women’s communities around the world over the last 50 years since Vatican II. The event coincided with the release of Spiritual Leadership for Challenging Times, an anthology of 10 addresses given by Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) presidents.
Catholic sisters are emerging as leaders ahead of their times. From Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, and Nuns on the Bus to Catholic Health Association CEO Sister Carol Keehan, DC, who helped pass the Affordable Care Act, to former LCWR president Sister Pat Farrell, OSF, who practiced authentic spiritual leadership in the face of the Vatican’s ongoing investigation of that organization (an investigation that Pope Francis should have laid quietly to rest, but has not), religious women are getting notice for their thoughtful, faithful leadership in the face of withering criticism and their own communities’ dramatic changes. ….(Sojourners, Sept-Oct 2014)
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, OSBRead the rest.
We followed up yesterday with Sojourners’ first 50-minute Google Hangout. I moderated and Jim Wallis and Michelle Gonzalez led the discussion. We had about 70 people join us for the live portion and lots more are watching the video. Check it out.
PS. If you are looking for adult Sunday school material, then show this video and lead a discussion about it.
“February 10 is the feast day of Saint Scholastica, the twin sister of Saint Benedict. She’s the patron saint of women’s Benedictine contemplative communities.
Saint Benedict had a sister named Scholastica who also dedicated her life to the pursuit of God. She, too, founded monasteries and became an abbatial figure. The only story we have of Scholastica is told when Benedict was already an abbot of renown. The incident demonstrates clearly that the brother and sister were emotionally close and a spiritual influence on each other till the time of her death.
During one of their annual visits, Scholastica, inspired by the depth of their conversation, asked Benedict to remain overnight in the place where they were meeting in order to continue their talk and reflection on spiritual things. Benedict wouldn’t even think of it. It was getting dark; it was time to get back to the monastery; it was time to get on with the regular routine of the spiritual life. Unable to persuade him with words, Scholastica put her head down on the table in deep prayer. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a great storm brought with it flash floods and Benedict realized that he could not possibly return to the monastery that night. And the Dialogues say, “he complained bitterly.” He said, “God forgive you, sister! What have you done?” Scholastica answered simply, “I asked you for a favor and your refused. I asked my God and I got it.”
The story is a vein worth mining for a lifetime.
• It tells us that law is never greater than love
• It tells us to be intent on pursuing the values of the life, not simply its rules
• It tells us that discipline is necessary in the spiritual life but that religious discipline is not enough, that depth is a process and that depth costs
• It tells us that God lurks in strange places. And waits for us. And puts in our paths just what we need in order to become what we are meant to be
• It reminds us that a woman has as much power in the eyes of God as any man and that we must recognize women, too, as spiritual guides.”–Joan Chittister, OSB