Here’s the vision in a nutshell: that within every charism is a diamond strand of DNA, a beam of light. Plant the DNA in different circumstances and it will create new and fascinating shapes; peel away the outer layers of bodies and institutions that incarnate the light, and it will come down to the same pure frequency.
What if we see past the Society of Jesus, see through it, if you will, to the DNA, the band of light that is the Jesuit charism? What if we see that any institution incarnating the charism is just that, a passing incarnation and not the bearer of the light, the creator of the light, or the branding of the light…no, it is only a passing shape of the light. There are so many Ignatian religious orders…it is mind-boggling to know how many, and how many I have not even discovered. There are more Jesuit people who are not members of the Society of Jesus in this world, than Jesuit people who are. I counted! Some of them would have a lively debate with me about my use of the term Jesuit…but I am talking from the perspective of the invisible…the DNA…the band of light. (www.jesuitwomen.net/ignatian-womens-religious-orders)
Flesh and light, an internal, chaotic, unfolding blueprint of God.
This is what Jesuit women is. It is a poetic union of apparent opposites, that reveals the truth inside – the Jesuit truth. When a woman is a Jesuit, it’s hard to deny it. She lives it. She lives all the things that Jesuit men complain about – long hours for little pay; a mountain of dry administrative tasks when the reason she signed up was all the juicy preaching, learning and people-work; a constant, slow grinding of the Rock of Faith against the flimsy but persistent armor of ego; the contradictions inherent in ministering to rich and poor alike; the temptations of being “in the world but not of it.”
I set out to organize Jesuit women, to let our voices be heard and our bodies, minds and hearts be formed, to let us be missioned. But along the path of my own Jesuit formation I realized that I was trying really hard to do something that *God is already doing.* God is already forming and missioning Jesuit women. God missioned Jesuit women at the same time that she missioned Jesuit men; before the ink was even dry on the Constitutions, God was calling and missioning Jesuit women. This is why a lot of Jesuit men freak out about Isabel Roser and can’t seem to remember quite who Mary Ward was. It is very scary to Jesuit male identity to watch an early Jesuit woman throw her weight around, neuroses and all, doing great things for God, and making mistakes, and scandalizing the guys around her in the process. Ignatius had a thing called “escalones” – by staying on your “escalón,” he meant not getting distracted by what’s above you, not getting distracted by what’s below you, but staying right where you are and working with that, discerning from that, asking God in the heart about *that* – what am I to do God, in the here and now, with what I have and who I am? How is God using even my character defects to help the world flourish? These are the questions that Jesuit men and Jesuit women and Jesuit people are called to chew on.
Does it change anything to see the Jesuit DNA incarnate in all Jesuit people? To send a woman on the 30-day pilgrimage, with $20 and a bus ticket? To make the 30-day Exercises an easy and supported part of every Jesuit woman’s membership in her institution? To let a Jesuit man be married and have children? (I have met such Jesuit men.) To be an LGBTQIA+ Jesuit for and with others? To let God direct the formation and let go of the dogged, hard-to-hold-together belief that there is some actual, ontological distinction between a Jesuit person and a Jesuit priest?
I think seeing this way does change things, in subtle but resonant ways. My Exercises and my pilgrimage and my experiments definitely changed my outlook on life. I will tell you that they did not make me more triumphal…they did not make me more militant or more rigid…Lord knows I started with enough of that. What these formation exercises did do, however, was allow God to introduce me to vulnerability, suffering and tenderness in a new way. I am still on the path – sometimes against my will and through my resistance and cynicism, God continues to invite me to a formation that no longer fits my cookie-cutter idea of being a Jesuit. The studies phase, which I had imagined as starting last June, is truly showing up as flesh, light, chaos, and uncharted opportunity. Ignatius with the schoolchildren…basic, basic, basic humility.
The Jesuit experiments perforated my fixed ideas about my sexuality, and showed me how I was using religion as a way to avoid myself and others. They showed me a much bigger world, so much bigger that it started to get scary. I remember when I was in the flush of my idealism about Jesuit DNA and the Jesuit band of light, sitting next to a young, beautiful, justice-passionate man who 6 months earlier had left the Society of Jesus to marry a young, beautiful, justice-passionate woman, after being an ordained priest for a year or two. He expressed regret at having to choose between his prayer life, his beloved, and being a Jesuit. “In my world,” I said matter-of-factly, “you are still a Jesuit.” He snorted gently and his eyes widened a little.
What if being a Jesuit is not an identity, but a path? Or more inclusively, an identity that leads you onto a path, which then burns up the identity as you become more and more who you are, with God? What does the DNA look like, expressed in a Jesuit family that is fully formed and fully aware of itself, dropping off the vestigial structures like multiple doctorates, lush properties, and legacy families…and focusing on a formation that is rigorous, yet allowed to tailor itself to the individual’s gifts and callings?
To be honest, I think that all of the identity questions that Jesuit institutions are facing right now, represents the coming-to-be of this new paradigm. So then my question becomes, what to do with the vision? Is there really anything to do or decide? What does it look like to truly co-labor with God, as a Jesuit woman in the vineyard?