Peeling back layers…and struggling to remain open to the Spirit

Two main threads surface upon reflection of my “why.” First is the social justice “why,” second is the wider call “why.”

When I was engaged as a leader in a faith-based community organizing group, I had many occasions to ask others about their why–Why do you care about issue X?–and to reflect on my own. While I care about so many justice issues, deep work in weeklong training surfaced a key experience from my childhood regarding race that still evoked in me a visceral reaction. I was a working class kid from a poor outer suburb attending a  largely white Catholic school in the city limits, a city in which protests and rioting over forced bussing in public schools was happening (in the 70s). One of my best friends, who happened to be one of two black students in my grade, and I chased a wayward soccer ball toward the street where a passing stranger called my friend the n word. I had noticed differences between our situations prior to this, she in her inner city all black neighborhood and me in my working class white one. This experience, seeing a stranger’s look of disgust and profanity bring my friend to tears, was new to me and sparked the beginning of many conversations, questions, outrage, and actions. A passion for activism was born.

I care deeply about so many injustices and have come to understand that it all flows from my deep belief in the dignity of all human persons, created in the image and likeness of God. Peeling back the layers, this is my why. 

The second thread is my wider call to ministry. I have left the church at various times, pulled back from ministry or participation or attendance when I have needed to heal personal wounds. This woundedness is wrapped up in my call story and difficult to share. I felt the stirrings of a call to the priesthood at about age 10 with many confirmations of that call over the years. 

Most recently I experienced the call again during a time of personal distance from the institutional church. My very elderly aunt died early in quarantine and I was asked by my cousins to help with some kind of memorial (MDiv training and Zoom experience to the rescue!). I guided them–two devout Christians, an atheist, and an agnostic–through a planning process via Zoom and organized an online celebration of life service. It was more Spirit-filled, more beautiful, more healing than any of us could have imagined. I was sick in quarantine myself the whole week but the Spirit carried me through. The response to the service was overwhelming, and while I was preaching and leading prayers I could just feel the Spirit moving powerfully. Those of you who have felt, deep in your soul, the stirring of the Spirit, the Spirit speaking through you, will know what I mean. 

It called me back to presiding and preaching and accompanying. This “why” is the Spirit calling me–calling me to serve, calling me to BE who I am, calling me to use my gifts for the good of others. It requires being open to the Spirit. This is my why. But I am tired of “creatively” trying to figure out how. I am weary. 

3 thoughts on “Peeling back layers…and struggling to remain open to the Spirit

  1. Thank you, Emily – I am re-reading this after our first small group gathering earlier today. I am delighted to hear of your leadership of the memorial service for your aunt and your understanding of your own gifts in this. Indeed, I know just what you mean about feeling that powerful movement of Spirit.

    Reading about witnessing with empathy and anger your friend’s response to being called the n word by a stranger as the birthing of your passion for justice, I wonder what is alive in your discernment as we move through this current uprising. As you pray with that early memory which lit a fire for racial justice in you, is there something stirring (either directly or indirectly) in all we are living through in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd? In my experience, these early “core” experiences out of which call is first sensed remain central through life, but do not remain static but rather take on new layers of meaning and nuance as God continues to call us to greater conversion, wholeness, and flourishing.

    Given your tender places of woundedness that lead to the “advance and retreat” dynamic of leaving or stepping away from the Church for a time and then venturing back in (shared by so, so many gifted women seeking to do ministry in a Catholic context…as evidenced by so much of the sharing of this cohort), I wonder where and how you might be called to offer both that woundedness and weariness you named to Christ for healing balm? What unburdening might the Spirit be inviting? I hope that this cohort will be a safe container of support, accompaniment, witness, and affirmation for this work – not just for you, but for so many of us with similar woundedness and weariness.

    Thank you for reading – I hope that these words offer something of encouragement or challenge or sustenance, and trust that you will sift through what serves and leave behind what does not.

  2. Emily,
    After our small group session and reading this post again, I find your call to the priesthood powerful and full of light. I felt the Spirit stirring even as you spoke about it. I am curious how this call arose in your childhood and if you have had time and space to revisit those memories. What was it like for you to receive this call? How did you react or respond? I can imagine that you are weary. I hope that this process can unlock the power and light that lives in you so that you can write, speak, and act ( that is to live) with freedom and Truth. Thank you for trusting us to accompany you.

  3. Emily, you write, “I have left the church at various times, pulled back from ministry or participation or attendance when I have needed to heal personal wounds.”
    What you share is real. I hear you. And it’s really heartbreaking to hear that for so many people, time is needed away from the spaces of the institutional church so that healing can happen.
    I dream of a church that doesn’t cause or deepen wounds but is always a space where we seek out and find healing for our wounds and empowerment to speak and act in the Spirit.

    Your story of recently hearing the call to ministry — once again in your life — is really powerful!
    You write, “While I was preaching and leading prayers I could just *feel* the Spirit moving powerfully.”
    The call is clear in your life.

    What are other ministerial experiences in which you’ve felt this call so profoundly?
    As you think about what’s next for you, how might you live more fully into this call?
    When you invite the Spirit to open up and enliven your imagination about living more deeply into this call, what do you see?

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