why i’m here

Brief bio: Hi! I’m Erin, a 33 year-old Cleveland native, currently pursuing an MTS at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley. Before returning to the classroom as a full-time student, I was a teacher for 10 years, working in 3 different schools – Saint Ignatius Loyola Academy in Baltimore (a Nativity model school), Xavier College Prep in Palm Desert, CA, and Saint Martin de Porres High School in Cleveland, OH (part of the Cristo Rey Network). In addition to teaching English and Theology, I did a lot of work with our service and immersion programs. This piece of my work – the justice in action – was undoubtedly my favorite. As you might guess from the list above, I have been deeply formed by Jesuit spirituality and pedagogy. However, in the 10 years I worked at Jesuit institutions, I never actually worked with a Jesuit. My experience of lay-led Jesuit education and spiritual formation has certainly shaped how I view both the world and the church.

Why I’m here: In January, I was lucky enough to travel with a group of JST classmates to Israel/Palestine. At the Chapel of Encounter in Magdala, we encountered this image depicting the hemorrhaging woman reaching out to touch the cloak of Jesus:

I sat, awestruck in front of this massive image for quite some time. I marveled at the way the hemorrhaging woman somehow encapsulated everything I felt about being a woman in the Church.

In the image I saw a woman on the outside. Jesus, close but far, is surrounded closely by followers and disciples, all men. Although they don’t speak to the woman, don’t tell her she’s unwelcome, they almost don’t need to. Their body language says it all. She is separated, outside, unwelcome.

But she doesn’t allow this to deter her. She knows in her heart she belongs. Trusts in God desires to connect with her. She believes that God’s love is for her, even if the men close to Jesus suggest otherwise. And once she pushes her way through, once she reaches Jesus… divine spark, Holy Spirit, transformation. She was right.

My first year at JST has been a period of deconstruction for me. During my Feminist Theology and Ethics class this fall we tackled the question: is it possible to be both a Christian and a feminist? This question ended up being much more complicated that I expected.

Because while secular feminist authors have given me a new vocabulary to describe what I see and feel about our world, a funny thing happened when I began to examine Catholicism through a feminist lens.  It started to fall apart.  The feminist theologians we studied this semester pointed to all the ways Catholicism was drenched in patriarchy, disrespectful and oppressive to women. I saw the men encircling Jesus, positioned to keep me out. And once these objections surfaced, they became impossible for me to ignore. In a new way, I was given a new vocabulary for what I had already felt.

In this deconstruction, a new question emerged: How could I reconcile my belief in the dignity and equality of all human beings (and my existence as a woman!) with the androcentric and patriarchal language, theology, and structures that I encountered within Catholicism?

I encountered a Catholicism that appeared to dismiss me, a woman, as irrelevant. And even worse, Scripture and tradition seemed to suggest that God ordained this dismissal. Like the hemorrhaging woman, I found myself on the outside looking in, blocked by a circle of men.

But there has to be more to the story, right? It can’t simply end with women’s exclusion. Because like the hemorrhaging woman, I believe that Jesus is for me. I believe that our tradition, flawed though it may be, teaches us that there is no darkness without light, no death without resurrection. I believe that if I reach through the barriers, a divine spark will appear.

I’ve had moments of reconstruction this semester as well. Undaunted, I am trying to push through the crowd to the true center of my faith. I learned that – if you dig deep enough – you can find theology that supports, validates, and values women.

I’m hungry for more spaces like these. I’m hungry for people seeking to center women’s voices and experiences and think about ways to create a Church for all human beings. And I am also discerning. My last year of teaching was HARD. I’m still healing from the burnout and frustration. As I approach my second and final year at JST, I’m listening for where God is calling me next. I’m hoping that this community of connection will help me to listen deeply and imagine what might be next.

A book that inspires me: My book would be Tattoos on the Heart by Father Greg Boyle, SJ. When I taught Theology, we started every school year by reading this text. Not only do I think Father Greg’s work is the best living example of Catholic Social Teaching in action, his ideas about God have heavily shaped my own theology.

7 thoughts on “why i’m here

  1. Dear Erin, I feel the spark within me too, small and almost out, but still there. I hope that through this space we can fan it into life to a blazing fire where we can see through its light where the Spirit is leading all of us to have a church as Jesus meant it to be! Hang in there, sister! Blessings to you.

  2. ErinMarie, I can’t begin to tell you how much your story touches me. It triggered a kind of time travel back to my own days at JST. After lo these many years, you gave me a helpful new word, “deconstruction,” for the profound experience of being disassembled, then, with substantive inner work, put back together somewhat closer to how God dreams of us. I don’t know whether you find solace in that or not. After all, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Even so, it is that for which we are made and the only thing that truly satisfies the heart. As for me, I’ve been in the midst of a new phase of deconstruction for a while. An image that works for me right now is the centering of the pot on the wheel, its final form dictated by the empty space within. It’s all a Paschal experience, though not a linear one. I’ve learned that death and life, loss and gain, are intertwined in quite mysterious and surprising ways. Sorrow and joy equally bring us to tears, sometimes at one and the same moment. This year Good Friday penetrated the entire Easter season and Pentecost. And so it continues into Ordinary Time.

    Thanks too for the powerful image you shared. Over the years, I’ve often felt myself to be that hemorrhaging woman, a quintessential outsider, diminished and dismissed, with no remedy or recourse except to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. Another image that speaks to me is the woman long bent double, brought to standing erect. There you have it, Jesus as last resort and first responder.

    I so look forward to more conversation.

    Graced be, Suzanne

  3. Thanks for sharing Erin. I too am deeply formed by Jesuit / Ignatian spirituality (Xavier – Cincinnati) and have spent most of my life trying to reconcile feminism and Catholicism. Look forward to exploring with you.

  4. Hi Erin – your experiences resonated deeply within me. And your recommendation of Greg Boyles book is just what I have been looking for. Thank you and I am grateful to be walking this part of life’s journey with you. Diane

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