Patterns of Call (Week 2)

Multiple life experiences shape my coming to know my sense of call(s). I realized I have call stories regarding my call to teach, to write, to dive deeply into scripture, to religious life, to transform the church from within, and to share my resources with lay women.  For me, these calls are layered and overlapping.

I trace my love of scripture to an hour during my high school Confirmation retreat when an over eager seminarian gave an utterly inappropriate talk (age level wise) about the Bible to a group of bored teenagers. I, however, was transfixed and had my hand in the air with an endless stream of questions. I based my undergrad major in theology on that experience.

Sometimes when I teach, I have a sense of time speeding up and slowing down at the same time.  It usually happens when I’m tackling a subject that will be difficult for my students (or parishioners).  It is like time slowing down allows me to read the crowd and teach to multiple different people’s needs simultaneously. In those moments, I’m conscious of interacting individually with people even as I’m addressing the group as a whole.  I experience energy moving up through me and pouring outward. I’m always quite warm, tired, and thrumming with life after those experiences of teaching. This is not my experience every time I teach. I cannot plan or predict when it will happen, but I’m ready for it when it does.

My five years in faith formation in a parish in Texas were the most difficult experiences I’ve had so far in my life. I struggled with a coercive and abusive priest for a year and a half before I was able to report him.  Every time I had to deal with this priest, I felt time slow down. It was as though I could suddenly see the trap he was trying to lay for me, and the right words popped out of my mouth, allowing me to sidestep the trap.  I documented everything, but waited until I had a witness, so that I was protected when I reported him. 

I had an incredible network of support who helped me discern how to respond to that priest—primarily made up of my sisters and spiritual director. I felt guided and protected by the Holy Spirit throughout. I identified my sense of clarity when time seemed to slow down as the Spirit’s presence.  As the Vatican’s investigation of the LCWR occurred at roughly the same time, I felt as though I was intensely experiencing in my personal life what all women religious in the U.S. were experiencing collectively on a larger scale – abuse by the church.  I also had a strong sense as I negotiated each phase of that abuse successfully, I was being prepared to handle something more in the future. I often lamented that I didn’t want to become the younger woman religious who was an “expert” on negotiating patriarchal crap.  During and ever since, people who have their own struggles with the church or their own stories of abusive clergy seem to find me – even when they don’t know my story!  As a result of these unwanted experiences, I have long since shed any sense of fear. I was able to find creative options in the face of abuse. I stood toe-to-toe with a bishop in the process.  I am strong in the support of my sisters.

When I went on for my PhD in Scripture in Berkeley, I felt truly free to stretch my wings and speak, teach, and write whatever I felt drawn to. I also found myself listening to a group of students at the Jesuit School of Theology who were struggling profoundly with the hierarchical church.  After listening to their stories for a few years, I realized that my task wasn’t only to listen, but to mobilize my resources on behalf of a larger group of people.  So, after much conversation, I secured funding for a book project on “Creating Spaces for Women in the Catholic Church,” and begun the project. I am uncertain where these calls will lead me next.

2 thoughts on “Patterns of Call (Week 2)

  1. Sarah —
    Over the years I’ve closely followed the suffering of women religious and women theologians in this country at the hands of Church leaders. That’s “big picture” and every time I saw it play out, I felt enraged and grieved. Small picture: I’m grateful and heartened to learn that you found resources and the courage to confront your abuser and his bishop successfully. That you emerged at the other end both strong and fearless consoles me and inspires me to ask, “What do I fear and why?” and “What is at stake if I don’t push through the fear to action?” That’s grace. Thank you. You name your many calls “layered and overlapping.” I wonder, are they at times competing? Does feeling many calls make focus on one in a particular moment more difficult?

    I am curious about the loss of momentum in your project. The subject of your book seems compelling and much needed. So what accounts for the malaise in yourself? In your contributors? How do you characterize it? The reasons may be many and varied. Do you need to dig deeper than the most obvious reasons? What would help you regain your energy? Can you ask others for what you need?

    I have many questions about the perils of publishing (my ignorance), but they may not be germane to your process. I do wonder about how Catholic publishing is co-opted by sexism and a doctrinal hegemony in the Church. (From their standpoint, I reference my earlier questions about fear. $ also?) Is there in your project a prophetic call to publishers, a conversation waiting to happen, drawing on the strength and clarity that allowed you to confront your abuser and his bishop? Are you the persistent widow confronting the unjust judge, or have you been there, done that, and now find yourself exhausted and dispirited at the prospect of doing it again? In the end, will you just need to seek another venue to make it happen?

    Some thoughts about the larger gestalt that intrudes constantly into discernment land (the Spirit working?) I notice how current events related to one issue often illuminate another. As a nation we’ve recently been bludgeoned into awareness of systemic racial injustice, inequity and violence in a way that has propelled a whole lot of folks, myself included, out of their silos into uncomfortable examination of their privilege, acculturated racism, general obliviousness, and apathy. I recognize sexism in the Church and its theological underpinnings from painful experience, but it takes an act of God (literally) for me to see how I myself have absorbed it, taken it for gospel, and twisted my life around it. So . . . scheming apropos of your project (this is a more complicated question than I have words for ) . . . in the same way that we are being challenged to sit in our dis-ease around racism, should not Catholic publishing, and by extension, the Church, be called to the same uncomfortable listening stance vis-à-vis women? Not to agreement perhaps, but to encounter, compassionate presence, and self-examination. Are there ways of contextualizing (not censoring) the “edgy” stories of your contributors that might make their inclusion in the book more acceptable within the constraints of the publishers? Are there discussion questions that could be included to invite readers to deeper understanding and compassion, to recognize a shared experience beneath apparent differences?

  2. Thank you for your story and your work. I am encouraged by the strength you gather from your community and the energy you bring to your project as you seek to support others.

    I love your idea for a much needed resource on Creating Spaces for Women in the Catholic Church. As your book project moves forward, I wonder if you’ve thought about how your ideas might come to life after the book is written. Creating spaces is essential, but I’d like to know more about how these spaces could function in the Church today.

    Who are the women who will inhabit these spaces?

    Practically, how can these spaces bring about healing? community? discernment? support? education? justice?

    It strikes me that there is deep need for women in the church to be able to ask questions and feel supported as they seek answers. How can we find the space for those questions to be entertained without fear, or guilt, or superficial, rosy answers?

    Additionally, I wonder how to create spaces that are inclusive of the full spectrum of Catholic Women. As the Church seems to reflect the same political divisions that are present in the country, is there a way to make space for conversation and community that can obscure those divisions? Is this important?

    What about those who you have identified as walking in the liminal space? What about those who have left the Church but still feel drawn in? (and perhaps also, those who have left and still feel deeply wounded?) What about those who are seeking to be faithful, but are told for one reason or another that they don’t belong?

    How do the spaces you seek to create reflect the fullness of God’s People?

    Looking forward to continued conversation next week!

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