Inauguration Day: Where Do Dominicans Go From Here?

Blog by Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP

INAUGURATION DAY, January 20, 2021– On this Inauguration Day, I pray President Biden and Vice-President Harris have great success, and with their coming to office, that we, as a nation, will hear a new call of commitment to create brave space where we can listen to each other, to see each other as members of one American people, one human family with all its faults and woundedness.

We are passing through a very difficult time, a time of civic illness, where deeply held pain and division and indeed, hate, has been allowed to poison our soul. We remain in a physical illness, where the hope of a Covid-19 vaccine is slowly becoming reality, even while thousands more people still suffer and die. No matter where you stand in the Church, in your family, community or neighborhood, hate has been as much a pandemic as COVID-19 on us all.

Healing and recovery in both our national soul and physical body will take a long time, and one day, Inauguration Day, is no cure. This brings me to share a  piece from Sojourner Magazine about a new book: Art and Faith: A Theology of Making, by Julie Polter. The book looks at the work of Makoto Fujimura, a ceramic artist who explores the connection between beauty and the pain and brokenness of our world. He is a master at kintsugi, the art of making something beautiful out of broken and fragmented pieces. (I would say more but read the article!)

To quote the story: “…We are invited to look with compassion and love on broken lives and broken systems as the starting point of repair, reform or healing, Fujimura said. “Western culture tends to emphasize tossing out broken things and replacing them with something new, or hiding the damage…A western path of ‘fixing’ assumes that fractures are no longer seen and the object looks as if nothing has happened.”

So where do Dominicans go from here? What is our part and pathway?

Dominicans for 800 years have claimed a special relationship with the pursuit of truth. Is this not what we must be about with even more intention? Hate has been around longer than this pandemic, but we will not heal from it with a vaccine in the arm. The false belief that the election was rigged has “entered our bloodstream,” and its poison will continue to fuel hate. Hate is the underlying condition that is manifest in the disease of post-truth society.

Who among us, as Dominicans, has not bristled at this term post-truth? What an awkward and jolting phrase.  How can any society survive when it cannot rely on telling the truth? Lies are lies. Pursuing the truth means asking questions, looking at sources, and not simply smirking at false statements, but calling them out in a way that is not reactionary but invitational. When we pursue the truth, we reject name-calling (e.g. “loser”), or minimizing, or keeping low our expectations of leaders.

Post-truth is an attack on our capacity to think critically and a temptation to settle for unsupported evidence, and easy distortions. Post-truth uses exaggeration, repetitive deception, and blaming to make us believe something false, like a rigged election, or that political candidates who do not share my values are evil. This is especially true of abortion.

Post-truth is lying, plain and simple. It is not of God. The Truth will set us free. But post-truth has made us miserable.

The remedy for lies is truth-telling.  This is not about the pursuit of the philosophical truth, of the absolute Truth, with a capital T, but the persistent insistence on getting to facts. Dominicans should pursue facts as much as we pursue a philosophical understanding of truth. If my conviction about anything is so absolute that I cannot be open to a question about my assumptions, or I am dug in so deep that I don’t even see you, then we truly are in a post-truth, pre-fascist society. In a fascist state, critical thinking is prohibited. Questions are prohibited, “as if nothing has happened.”

How might we renew our commitment and inaugurate today a refocusing on listening, on empathy, and the truly brave act of seeing the brokenness of the “other” as part of the brokenness of “us?” What form will the pursuit of truth take for you? Does our tradition ring in you a desire to not only ask questions and explore meaning, but also to speak with a desire for what is right –out of a heart that truly seeks?

In the scripture for last Sunday, we read the call of Samuel, a familiar tale of a sleepless night and a call to be a servant of the Lord. The last line is the one that struck me the most: “Samuel grew up and the Lord was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect.” (I Samuel 3:19).

To be sure our words do have an effect. Note Fr. James Martin’s article in America magazine where he lays out the role some church leaders and pastors played to incite the violence at the US Capitol on January 6. “The level of our alienation from one another is at a heartbreaking and dangerous place for our church and for our country. This woundedness is deep and serious.  Ironically a group of people who espouse a pro-life stance holds some responsibility for the insurrection.” We cannot act as if nothing has happened.

How might our words have an effect?  Might we truly pursue the truth, which is our living tradition, our capacity to not be satisfied with pat answers to complex questions? May this be an Inauguration Day for us too. Can we pursue truth by creating brave spaces intent on bridging the hate, the poison, and distrust we have witnessed?


Invitation to Brave Space

By Micky Scott Bey Jones

Together we will create brave space
Because there is no such thing as a “safe space”
We exist in the real world
We all carry scars and we have all caused wounds.
In this space
We seek to turn down the volume of the outside world,
We amplify voices that fight to be heard elsewhere,
We call each other to more truth and love
We have the right to start somewhere and continue to grow.
We have the responsibility to examine what we think we know.
We will not be perfect.
This space will not be perfect.
It will not always be what we wish it to be
But It will be our brave space together, and We will work on it side by side.


I highly recommend further reading:

The American Abyss by Timothy Snyder, an essay in the New York Times Magazine, in which he asserts “post-truth is pre-fascism”.

Art and Faith: God is in the Making by Julie Polter, on the work of Makoto Fujimura. Sojourner Magazine, February 2021 on how art and faith open us the recovery of our brokenness.

Fascism, a Warning” by Madeleine Albright,  available at Amazon.com

How Catholic Leaders Helped Give Rise to Violence at the U.S. Capitol” by James Martin, SJ, America Magazine, January 21, 2021.

Posted in Weekly Word

The Hopes and Fears of All the Years

Blog by Sr. Janet Schlichting

This phrase from “O Little town of Bethlehem” has stayed with me through the Advent-Christmas season, and was “writ large” you might say, in the violence at the Capitol on January 6.   The phrase “are met in thee tonight” in the context of the Christmas carol doesn’t suggest violence, a crashing together of hopes and fears from all sides, but has always had a sort of poignance, a tribute to human suffering and human dreams, and God’s answer to our disparate, desperate, dissonant ways of life, hopes and dreams for peace and happiness.

“How still we see thee lie….”A classic Christmas card: dark blue velvet sky, the twinkling of stars, and a ray of light shining down on the silhouette of a rough structure with a father and mother and baby under its roof.

Perhaps you and I are beyond the “sweet baby Jesus” approach to Christmas. We aren’t so much taken with the birth as such, we’re not visitors at the stable, we are farther along in the story, watching and  listening for  the Christ in history, the meaning of our nearer past and present.

Tragedy is too much with us, and with the vast unfiltered instancy of the internet we know more than our hearts can take, and fear is not so much of the unknown as the partially known. We have  seen unprecedented joblessness and hunger, fires and floods. We have argued over true and and alternative facts and who and what can really be trusted. The pillars of democracy are shaking, our proud view of our nation as defender of freedom in the world has taken a pounding. Assumptions of patriotic unity and Christian values, the guarantee of success as the product of hard work, the potential for good through more sophisticated technology cannot be counted on. The hopes and fears of all the years have taken on considerably more weight  and peril.

The Christmas season is spent, and we’re taking down ornaments and lights, wreaths and creches, and have begun Ordinary Time.  But these times are far from ordinary. This new year has already brought rates of pandemic that are exhausting our resources and our health providers.    A mob assault on the Capitol shakes our national stability, stokes fears of democracy coming apart at the seams.  We don’t see an end to these perils, only more contagion.

In our liturgical year, there is always a return to the beginnings, and the assurance of God’s dynamic presence as we remember and are made present again to the mystery of salvation.

So we begin again. The birth, the epiphany, the flight, the return, the baptism and revelation of God’s naming: Beloved.  This man, this curiously ordinary Beloved comes and bids us follow.,  a step at a time, day at a time, a short parable, a quiet cure, a believer here and a resister there, a fear quenched, a boundary crossed, a sin forgiven, a meal with followers. None of it shouts “Miracle! Spotlight!”   And then comes betrayal and death.  The hopes and fears of all the years swallowed in darkness. But Jesus is the Christ, and more than a promise—a Presence in the breath of the Spirit,  Word made flesh and with us always.

The Mystery of Incarnation  is manifest yet hidden, present and absent, moments of heightened appearance followed by a fading into everydayness.  Emmanuel is the name of divine creativity woven into our flesh; loving accompaniment through it all, despite our fears, failures and inattention, our casual cruelties to each other and the earth our home.

T.S. Eliot wrote of hints and guesses. “The hint half guessed, the gift half-understood, is Incarnation.”* The rocks and stones are singing and the Spirit groaning with us in one great act of giving birth that encompasses Bethlehem and Galilee and Jerusalem and Calvary and the Garden, that crosses every border, speaks every language and holds all the hopes and fears of all the years and our constant plea: O come to us, abide with us, our God, Emmanuel.

*The Dry Salvages

Posted in News, Weekly Word

A Reflection for Epiphany

JANUARY 3, 2021, MATTHEW 2:1-12

Preaching by Sr. Theresa Fox, OP

The story of the magi is the story of a journey. Astrologers followed a star and came from the east to give homage to the newborn king of the Jews. They studied the skies. When they found something new they looked for its meaning. What this particular star meant, they weren’t quite sure. So they came seeking, looking for some sort of sign of what that star could tell them.

Along the way they must have pondered what this journey might offer them. Would it give them new knowledge? Would they find some hidden wisdom? They didn’t know. They only knew that they were on the journey and if they were open then the journey would show them the way. In time they would learn more about the star and the purpose of their journey.

The Magi found that in the course of their journey that they were changed. Things were different than they thought they would be. They couldn’t go back the way they came. That wouldn’t work anymore. They had changed in the process. They needed to find a new way.

We too are on a journey – we call it life. This journey has taken us to the place where we are now. It has made us the persons we have become. We have so often thought that we know the road ahead. For example, it was usually easy to plan Christmas because it would be like it was last year. But this year, this covid-19 has thrown a wrench into our plans, into our life. This Christmas has been so different. There are times we wish that we could get back to the way things were before.

Like the Magi, we too are being changed by our journey, by this pandemic. Life isn’t, and probably never will be, the way it used to be. How have we changed in the process? What new have we learned about ourselves? What have we experienced in the process of “staying in place”? Have we grown? Or have we just complained about what we aren’t able to do anymore?

The year 2020 is over. With the beginning of a new year we can, like the Magi, “depart (or begin) by a new way”. We can take advantage of the time of covid-19 to see what God might be asking of us. Is this a time to grow more deeply in our spiritual life? Is it a time to simplify, maybe to let go of some of the frivolous activities that used to take up our spare time?  Is it a time to reach out to others to let them know of our love, or to tend to their needs? Is it a time to…?

 

Posted in Weekly Word

What Does God Want for Christmas?

Blog by Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP

For the last few years now, I have used my December blog space to consider what I want for Christmas. And every year, I start off with the same problem: why would I ask for anything when I have so much? It feels oddly uncomfortable to say I want this or I want that for Christmas.

This year — being like no other year– gives me pause to ask the question in a different way. What might God want for Christmas? (hint: its not gold, frankincense or myrrh).

First, I think God would want more patience with the pandemic. It’s been a long weary year and most of us are tired of having to wear a mask and distance socially, agitated at times for not be able to do the normal things of human life (like hugs).  Especially over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Will we remember how to hug again?  I think so, it’s a natural thing, a normal thing, and all we will need do is practice.   God knows that this pandemic will end. We will return to something like what used to be normal. We just don’t know when. So maybe God might want patience for us and with us as we bear down now into a new phase of isolation over the holidays and winter’s cold nights.

Second, I think God would want more money.  More money to pass around to shop owners, restauranteurs, grocery clerks, delivery people, those whose livelihoods have been so deeply wounded by the economic catastrophe of the pandemic. So, I pray that Congress will get its act together and do what needs to be done. Help people who continue to hurt. If God had the money, I know it would be given to the right people.

Third, I think that what God wants for Christmas is a large heaping helping of memory.  Memory of times when family was fun, when snow days were real days off, when we reached into our past and find something joyful to tell a story about or just smile over.  Remember that?  Memory is a healing balm on our souls that helps to smooth over and bring to wholeness the wounded places, the absent friends, the lost loved ones. So, in God’s honor this year, I invite you to tell more stories, tell them like they happened yesterday.  Memories are the best way to lift the blues, the sadness and the weariness of our times.  If revenge is a dish best served cold, then memories are a dish best served warm and plentiful. Don’t just think of your good times alone, tell someone else a story from your childhood. Or better yet, your adolescence, those are the really funny stories.

Most of all, I think what God wants for Christmas is to be God, to be in charge of the universe and of course, God is!  We are not in charge. I certainly am not in charge. We are doing our best to let God be God and God is only asking us to remember better times when we laughed more, sat closer together on the couch, shared food from the same place. God is asking us to be patient, to share what we have with others. To take care of each other as best we can.

Dear God,

All I want for Christmas is you.

Amen.

Posted in Weekly Word

Advent: Attention Must be Paid

Blog by Sr. Janet Schlichting

“Attention must be paid….attention, attention must be paid!”

These words, from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, carry a wife’s torment over the lifetime she has spent with her ever hopeful, never successful Willy Loman, who has died. The urgent pleading of that voice is what I hear this Advent. There’s a drive, an edgy energy that makes the standard “watch and wait” seem anemic. I want to act, protest, give service, and in this time of staying in place, I feel frustration within the bubble of safety I inhabit.

I hear a litany of woes, and the response is always “attention must be paid!”

Black lives matter. Attention must be paid. Loved ones are dying of the coronavirus terrified and alone. Attention must be paid.

Six hundred children, ripped from their parents, who cannot be found. Attention must be paid.

Thousands of workers have lost their jobs, can’t pay their bills, face eviction, wait in miles-long lines of cars for enough food to make it through the week. Attention must be paid.

The discord and rancor in our political situation has been ratcheted up to new and frightening levels. Attention must be paid.

Our earth is being burned and plundered, its future a desperate matter. Attention must be paid.

I know you have more to add. This litany could be so much longer.

Attention must be paid. But how do we see clearly in the darkness and the smoke? How can we hear over the blaring and wailing? How do we bring words of clarity, comfort, hope, and peace when the weight of human tragedy overwhelms and dispirits us–even as we practice social distancing? Shall we turn off the news and expect inner calm? How can we claim to be bringers of peace when we are in flight?  How can we be lights in darkness when we walk in shrouds of sorrow and fear ourselves?

The virus keeps us housebound. But withdrawal will not do. Attention must be paid.  Our frustration builds.  We aspire to respond with the energy and engagement of Dominic, joyful friar, preacher of Grace. So we must observe him as he takes on the world at his feet, and listens to the trouble and the sorrow of Languedoc, its peasants oppressed by poverty and disease and their fields ruined by the clashes of local overlords, vulnerable to prophets of questionable Christian practice.  We must join him in his nights of tears.

His tears rose out of these encounters and his awareness of the little he could offer. He took it all in, suffered it, ached with its burden, and prostrated himself before God, allowing God the freedom to transform his pain for others into Words of Grace.

Contemplative engagement. This is Dominic’s gift to us, the watching and waiting, allowing the “muchness” of it all to enter us, then placing the agonies of our brothers and sisters, our own failings and our helpless hearts before God. And in the darkness granting God the space to transform and send us as Words of Grace and Peace. There is so much more to see and hear and grasp: God active in the past, present and future of humankind. We preach the mystery of Incarnation. Christ has come, is coming, will come–enfleshing God’s passion for entanglement with a groaning creation and a searching humankind. Whatever our limitations we cannot sidestep God’s engagement with us. Attention must be paid! Advent calls us into darkness and out of darkness to witness to the Christening of our world.

Posted in Weekly Word