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.