Mourning for Paris

At least I’m not numb. I know that I am feeling something about the attacks in Paris because I keep snapping unreasonably at my husband over everything. Driving across
town last evening to see a friend perform in a play, not long after the news broke, a semi
imageclose on our left as we sped down the highway and the intermittent stopping and starting of brake lights ahead nearly gave me an anxiety attack and I wasn’t even driving. When Joe asked me to get out my phone to confirm the final navigation to the theater, I freaked because we were already running late. “What do you mean you don’t know the way?? We’ve been here before!” The poor guy. At least he knows me, knows my pattern. My grief regularly masquerades as anger. The realization that “at least I’m not numb” arrived after I grumbled at Joe about leaving the weekday alarm clock on and being awakened from a sound sleep at 5:30 am. The phrase sounded like a writing prompt, so I got up. Maybe writing will help. Help what? Nothing can help what has happened. Maybe writing about it can help me keep going, to incorporate this new terror event into my understanding, my portfolio of world events.

Unbelievably, just yesterday morning over coffee and toast I was perusing Rick Steves’ guide to Paris in joyful anticipation. I haven’t been there since my 20s, but the very day imagethat a major terror attack occurs in the city, I’m visualizing Joe and myself strolling along the Seine, wandering through Notre Dame and stopping for coffee or a glass of wine in a café. We will spend a few days there in April at the end of a trip several years in the making. Joe has a sabbatical from school for the spring semester, and our 25th anniversary is in March, a perfect time for an empty nester couple to enjoy a European trip. Yesterday morning I read Steves’ chapter on hotels. He suggests selecting a neighborhood before choosing a specific hotel. I imagined us in the various scenarios and had begun to hone in on the Rue Cler area, near the Invalides and Rodin Museum, an unfamiliar area to me. Joe’s never been to Paris so this way we could have a new experience together.

imageParis is an old friend of mine. As a college student and right after graduation, two separate sojourns, I spent several months in France and came to know Paris well, to the point that I could get around without relying on a map for every single turn. I felt at home. It is a “place” to me in the way that urban planners, writers and geographers speak of it. A “sense of place” grows from identifying oneself in relation to a specific location or piece of land. I strongly associate Paris with beauty, self-discovery, adventure and growth. I first learned essential travel skills there, things like how to utilize public transportation, to read a map, to avoid standing out as an obnoxious American, to outline a sightseeing plan, to book hotels in a foreign language. What I retain most vividly though is more sensory than informative. The uneven terrain of narrow cobbled streets. Steaming, frothy cappuccino (a true novelty in the days before there were Starbucks on every corner). Incessant honking of car horns amid speeding traffic on the main boulevards. The Eiffel Tower rising up to create the iconic skyline. Yes, terror in Paris pierces my heart in a more particular way than violence elsewhere.

Yet the icy chill of helplessness and horror, fear and desolation are always, sadly, the same, whether it’s Newtown, Charleston, Beirut, Baghdad, Paris, London, Madrid, Tel Aviv, Moscow or any other place. I cannot pray in words. They simply are not enough. I can only make gestures of acknowledgement. Changing out my Facebook profile and cover photos to Paris images from my phone while we wait for the play to start is a tiny effort at holding space for enormous suffering. Back home, before I go to bed I light a stick of incense and ring my meditation chime six times, once for each attack site. I wait for each sound of the gong to vibrate fully, allowing the return of silence before striking the bowl again. Then I place six rocks gathered from Lake Michigan and the Atlantic Ocean around the incense burner. Finally, I hold my hands out in front of me, palms down in the “hands still” technique I learned in Healing Touch, sending out to the world what loving, peaceful energy I could. Not nearly enough, but something.

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Remarkable Woman Rediscovered

Jonas-ReginaJust in time for the feasts of All Saints/All Souls and remembrance of the dead throughout November, I was introduced to the fascinating life of Regina Jonas, the first female rabbi (pronounced ReGEEna YOnas). She was honored as part of a program on women rabbis I attended last week at our nearby Jewish Community Center. Although ordained in Berlin in 1935, her story was obscured by the Holocaust and subsequent division of Germany. Jonas perished at Auschwitz in 1944, and without her foresight to leave papers with the Jewish archives in Berlin prior to her deportation in 1942, she may have been lost altogether, even though male colleagues of hers survived the war. In 1972 Sally Priesand was called the first woman rabbi ever at her ordination (in Cincinnati), and no one corrected it until 1991 when Jonas was rediscovered after the dismantling of the Berlin Wall permitted greater access to the archives.

Such is the life of female leaders in traditional religions! Along with the poignant brevity of her service, Jonas’ perseverance despite many obstacles, and dedication to the highest purpose of her calling, touch me very much. Speaking of her vocation, she used words that could easily be said by many women today in the Catholic tradition who have pursued ordination,

If I confess what motivated me, a woman, to become a rabbi, two things come to mind. My belief in God’s calling and my love of humans. God planted in our heart skills and a vocation without asking about gender. Therefore, it is the duty of men and women alike to work and create according to the skills given by God.”

Jonas always loved studying Jewish history and texts, and her desire to be a rabbi emerged at a young age.  As an adult she found supportive rabbis who taught her and in 1924 she entered theological studies. Not surprisingly, the topic for her thesis was “May a woman hold rabbinic office?” Rather than just calling for an update of Jewish practice based on modern sensibilities, she analyzed the Jewish scriptural and legal tradition to support gender equality, so that female rabbis would be seen as continuing with tradition rather than breaking it, again evoking for me the perspective of many Catholic women.

“I believe that the question of whether a woman may make halachic decisions as a Rabbinerin may very clearly be seen as permitted, and it is not necessary to continue to linger over this matter . . . Just as both female doctors and teachers in time have become a necessity from a psychological standpoint, so has the female rabbi. There are even some things that women can say to youth, which cannot be said by the man in the pulpit. Her experiences, her psychological observations a profoundly different from those of a man, therefore she has a different style . . . If Jewish culture is to be maintained, the woman must contribute particularly in this way and both sexes must deliver their great service.”

On the final page of her thesis, Jonas wrote, “Almost nothing halakhically but prejudice and lack of familiarity stand against women holding rabbinic office.

Her mentor died before she could be ordained and no one else would step in, so for several years she taught in girls’ religious schools around Berlin while still working toward ordination. Finally Rabbi Max Dienemann, executive director of the Liberaler Rabbinerverband (Conference of Liberal Rabbis) agreed to the ordination in 1935.  No synagogues would give her a pulpit, so she focused on pastoral ministry in hospitals and homes for the elderly. Eventually the toll of Nazi persecution gave her the opportunity to preach and lead for several years in Berlin before she herself was deported to Theresienstadt, a camp-ghetto in Czechoslovakia, in November 1942. Before leaving, she deposited her papers, letters, correspondence, two photographs of herself and her rabbinical ordination certificate into the Berlin Jewish archive.

Jonas’ rabbinic role only deepened at Theresidenstadt as she worked with psychiatrist and author Victor Frankl and others to create support systems within the camp. Jonas greeted the trains of terrified deportees and helped them adjust. She also organized a lecture series inside the camp on subjects ranging from the history of Jewish women to introductions to Jewish beliefs, ethics, and holidays. The camp archives include a poster advertising a “Lecture by the only female rabbi Regina Jonas,” as well as a handwritten document that summarizes her religious worldview and her legacy, including this excerpt:

“Our Jewish people was planted by God into history as a blessed nation. ‘Blessed by God’ means to offer blessings, lovingkindness and loyalty, regardless of place and situation. Humility before God, selfless love for His creatures, sustain the world. It is Israel’s task to build these pillars of the world— man and woman, woman and man alike have taken this upon themselves in Jewish loyalty. Our work in Theresienstadt, serious and full of trials as it is, also serves this end: to be God’s servants and as such to move from earthly spheres to eternal ones. May all our work be a blessing for Israel’s future (and the future of humanity) …

Her memory is truly a blessing.


A plaque honoring Regina Jonas was unveiled at Theresienstadt in July 2014.

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Plot Twist: Return to Church

ChristKingA longtime friend’s mom died at age 90 in late August, and the family brought her back to Cincinnati for burial. I attended the funeral mass held at the parish where my friend and I were in grade school together for a few years. Marveling that she had not been to this church since adolescence, Elaine remarked on how strange it felt to return. Although I’ve been there many times over the years for weddings and funerals, being with Elaine and her family conjured the past for me too. Sitting in the pew after communion, still tasting the host and wine, I looked up at the large mosaic figure of Jesus on the back wall and recalled being here with my grandparents on the many weekends that we stayed with them during childhood, well before my family moved to the neighborhood and joined the parish. Recognition welled up of my Catholic lineage both in this particular place and the wider church, and tears stung the corners of my eyes. I hadn’t been to mass at all in more than three months and a sense of rupture surprised me with its force. Was this some kind of sign? I could hardly imagine returning to the Catholic Church.

Out of a clear blue several days later, a negative consequence of not attending church suddenly presented itself in my thoughts. In the preceding year I had been to Sunday mass no more than a half dozen times, and until that moment after communion at the funeral, had felt zero regret about the decision. My husband intended to go regularly but missed often, in part because I wasn’t going. I felt a little bad about that but not entirely responsible. While eating lunch on this day, it occurred to me that church provides connection to a form of community for us as a couple, distinct from friends or family, which is difficult to replicate. The realization that for 24 of our nearly 25 years together a faith community had been integral to our joint life raised a more nuanced and intriguing question: Do we need church?

1183906657_601ee8f54e_mFurther pondering and much discussion over several days surfaced two things. First, the clarity that we as a couple wanted to resume regular attendance at mass on Sunday. And second, that we would make my seeking and questioning impulses a joint project by interspersing mass at our parish with visits to other denominations. We implemented part one that very Sunday. To my great relief, no one greeted us with “Where have you been?” or “It’s SO good to see you here,” and I am forever grateful to a woman who I don’t know well and rarely speak to at any length. She and her husband usually sit across the aisle and back from us. As we sat down she got up from their pew and walked over to warmly say hello and converse about our son who is away at college. I was touched by her unexpected gesture that said “welcome” so clearly.

via ulteriorepicure@Flickr

via ulteriorepicure@Flickr

In my absence a new music director was hired, and I really liked his hymn selections and prayerful style. Being able to sing in community was a gift to my alienated soul. The day’s Gospel passage, “Who do you say that I am?” seemed custom made for me, though I had no answer to the question until the communion rite when the priest used the phrase “bread of life,” pieces I did not put together until many days later. But no single detail can really explain Mystery. On the way home, I broke down at hearing myself say almost in wonder, “I felt OK there.” I felt alright to be in the pew still carrying all my doubts and questions and unbelief and rejected theology and disaffection for the institution. I wasn’t worried about the contradiction inherent in the choice to be there that day or more often going forward. I felt OK doing this completely irrational thing because intuition said I should. And I’m unconcerned about where it will or will not lead, whether it’s a long-term plan or a whim of the moment. I feel fully accepted by [Jesus/God/Godde/Sophia/Whoever] and just as importantly, by myself, in being this conflicted, illogical, confused person.

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To Leave the Outgrown Shell

MaryLoisHeadShotLast week we laid to rest my husband’s maternal aunt, his mother’s only sibling, Mary Lois Jung. She was a most wonderful and unusual individual who meant a great deal to me. In his remarks at the funeral, Joe observed that because she spent 30+ years in places like Pakistan and Papua New Guinea as a surgeon in the Medical Mission Sisters, he really didn’t know her until young adulthood. Mary Lois was a figure of some mystery, admired at a distance, until she left the order and settled on the Jersey shore in the late 1980s.

Coincidentally my relationship with her dates to this same time because of my longtime friendship with Joe’s sister. We were roommates after college, and I enjoyed several beach trips to Avalon NJ in groups of young adults. From the first I loved listening to Aunt Mary Lois’ stories of her travels and appreciated her quietly generous hospitality. Deeply spiritual and intuitive, she was also a lot of fun. When Mary Lois later built a new home to
accommodate family groups, Joe and I began a beach tradition with our kids. The needs of young children meant these trips were considerably less carefree for us than in our 20s, but Mary Lois embraced the new stage unreservedly. Having missed her nieces’ and nephews’ growing up years, she was fascinated with the next generation and took personal interest in each child.

I keep seeing Mary Lois in the typical goodbye scenes at the end of our Avalon vacations. The luggage carrier is packed and closed, and we’re standing by the minivan in front of the house on 58th Street, exchanging final hugs under the bright morning sun. Once the kids are buckled in their car seats and we’re pulling away from the curb, she stands there waving with both hands high over head, smiling broadly, her round face beaming. We all wave back and Joe toots the horn. She stays there waving and smiling until after we turn the corner onto Dune Drive. This image keeps coming to me so crystal clear, as though I’m right there, and the outpouring of love it conveys makes me cry. Back then I felt a little sorry to leave her alone but now I fully grasp her contentment, having thoroughly enjoyed our time together but equally glad for solitude. I imagine her grabbing her visor for a walk on the beach or puttering in her garden.

Though she died at age 88 and had been declining for months due to a heart valve condition, still it seemed sudden. If only a proper goodbye could be planned ahead of time. We had been hosting Wednesday dinner with the “elders” for years, and in the warm months Mary Lois particularly loved to sit on our back deck in the company of the expansive elm, the oaks, bald cypress and gingko. On what turned out to be the final Wednesday, we hosted dinner at my sister in law’s nearby because we’d just begun a kitchen renovation. Mary Lois felt well enough that day to attend and too late, I realized it was a perfect deck evening. Immediately I regretted not motivating to arrange a takeout dinner at our house despite the remodeling underway, sensing that any Wednesday could well be the last.  But we opened the windows to the light breeze and September sun, and Mary Lois clearly enjoyed the gathering as it was, without regret or worry about the deck. Still, my unfinished feelings lingered when she was unable to come the following week and then died two days later.

The joyful Avalon farewell comes to me now as an actual goodbye, evoking tears of both gratitude and grief. Even more profoundly, in the vivid scene that keeps playing in my mind’s eye I also sense her delight at being wherever she is now, and it’s a timely invitation to emulate her grace with goodbyes. The very afternoon and evening of her funeral, I sent off each child in turn, coming and going in the space of 24 hours, with greater freedom and joy, both for their presence here that day and their flourishing in the wider world. The last goodbye of the day was at the airport. Walking back to the car, Joe and I turned to one another and chatted about how to spend the remainder of our evening, content to be a twosome as we savored the pleasure of the kids’ brief visit.

IMG_1355The image of a nautilus shell was chosen for the funeral program, because of Mary Lois’ deep love of the ocean, first nurtured through childhood vacations at the Jersey shore and then furthered when she learned to scuba dive in the Pacific as a Medical Mission Sister. In Avalon, greeting the ocean was a common way to begin our visits and a regular feature of Mary Lois’ routine. When she moved back to Ohio in her later years for health reasons, a beautiful spiraled nautilus shell on display at the entrance to her apartment symbolized her abiding connection to the sea. Turns out the nautilus is the perfect metaphor for Mary Lois’ approach to life. The shell consists of spiraling ever-larger chambers. The nautilus lives in each one for a season until it outgrows that particular space. It then enlarges its shell by the addition of a new chamber suitable for the next stage of its life. As the animal grows, a wall called a septum is produced that seals off the older chambers. There’s no going back, only forward. In maturity, there may be 38 or more chambers. Like the nautilus, Mary Lois kept growing and moving to new chambers “until at length she was free, leaving that outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea.”*

(paraphrased from Oliver Wendell Holmes’ poem, The Chambered Nautilus)

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Drawn to Deep Listening

Of all the delightful devices in the Harry Potter series of books, the Pensieve intrigues me the most. It first appears in the fourth book, Goblet of Fire. Entering Dumbledore’s office one day, Harry witnesses him holding a wand to this head as he leans over a large stone bowl.  Dumbledore explains: “I sometimes find, and I am sure you know the feeling, that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind…. At these times… I use the Pensieve.  One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure.”

IMG_1171A visit last Thursday to ‘drawn,’ an exhibit at the University of Cincinnati, brought the Pensieve to mind. Created in response to the shooting of Sam DuBose by UC officer Ray Tensing, the exhibit is intended as an “interactive space opened for the university as a blank canvas.” Although the glass-walled Meyers Gallery opens right off the pedestrian Main Street of campus, crossing the threshold marks entry into a place apart. There’s a hushed feeling, like a church, that is calming. Black surface covers the walls like the chalkboards of my grade school classrooms, with sticks of white chalk ready to hand for visitors to write their thoughts. A range of views and ideas were already recorded, from scripture verses to laments of “not again” to statements like “disarm the police.” Hanging above, black and white vinyl banners list headlines about the shooting from local, national and international news outlets. All the surrounding words carry raw emotion, yet it’s as if the Pensieve has siphoned them out, clearing the mind and making it possible simply to be present with the feelings and ideas underlying the words.

A circle of chairs at the center invites face to face interaction in the space, which I look forward to experiencing on my next visit! On Thursday at 12:30 pm I will lead a conversation following the Red Boot Coalition model. This event is open to all. Like the exhibit format, it will invite participants to voice their own experiences and feelings and deeply listen to others’. The Red Boot process creates safe space for genuine interaction, to get beyond labels and stereotypes. IMG_1172There are 11 Red Boot steps and each meeting focuses on a single one. We’ll discuss Step 2:  We came to see that despite sometimes feeling small and powerless, we possess the power to positively influence all those with whom we come into contact, which on any given day can be literally hundreds of people. We are empowered. 

This seemingly simple approach produces profound effects. I think of it as adding compost to the garden, improving the soil before planting. Red Boot meetings ready hearts and minds to engage in more fruitful conversations on challenging social and political issues. They can be one-time events, like this one at UC, or ongoing gatherings such as the weekly Red Boot meetings held at the Kennedy Heights Arts Center  from 7:30 to 8:30 am on Thursdays.

The Red Boot movement was launched in 2014 by Molly Barker, who also founded Girls on the Run. After serving on the Commission for Political Reform, a group tasked with identifying ways to encourage more civil discourse in national government, Molly was not fully satisfied with the results of their work and ventured off on her own to explore the roots of the “us vs them” mentality, embarking on a cross country drive in August of last year. She talked to hundreds of people about this dynamic and upon her return realized that the encounters on the trip had been the sort of open dialogue missing in many of our communities. Several weeks later she wrote the Red Boot 11 Steps and accompanying meeting script based on these experiences.  In October 2014 Molly led the first-ever Red Boot meeting in her hometown of Charlotte, and besides Cincinnati, others have begun in IL, MI, MN, MO and AZ.

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Mourner, Mother, Midwife

More blogging catch-up! The review below actually appeared last summer at Christian Feminism Today. Since then I’ve found myself referring back to the book several times, preparing for a talk or writing on a birth-related topic, so I’m re-posting here as a sort of

MournerMotherMidwifeThis slim book delivers powerfully on the promise of its extended title. Weaving together biblical scholarship, profound metaphor, and the full range of human experience, Mourner, Mother, Midwife: Reimagining God’s Delivering Presence in the Old Testament represents a beautiful new pattern on the loom of tradition. It provides a valuable resource not only for classrooms and personal reflection but also for worship settings.

The book arises from the author’s desire to grapple with violent imagery associated with God as liberator-warrior in Old Testament texts.  A native of South Africa, L. Juliana Claassens is particularly sensitive to the potential for such imagery to reinforce oppression of one group by another through the claiming of God’s favor.

She explores three metaphors for God – mourner, mother, midwife – that are found in key biblical texts associated with the Babylonian exile, a tumultuous time in the history of the Hebrew people that did not lend itself to quick resolution. Believers were forced to reconsider their beliefs in light of difficult circumstances. While the three metaphors are not prominent in the texts, Claassens calls them “subversive voices that offer an alternative to empire theology” (p. 9).

Whenever feminine images are evoked, all too often the result can be sentimental or simplistic, but not in this work.  In the introductory chapter and throughout the book, Claassens skillfully places the texts in full context, acknowledging their complexity in ways that only add resonance to the three metaphors.  She emphasizes that the traits associated with each metaphor ought to be cultivated by men and women alike and should not be used to reinforce gender stereotypes.  “None of the female images for God introduced in this book are passive,” she says. “Instead, all of them are powerful, speaking of courage, strength, kindness, resourcefulness, and skill” (p. 89).

God as Wailing Woman, or Mourner, comes from the book of Jeremiah, where God weeps over the people’s suffering in 8:21 to 9:1. Claassens develops this image in connection with the wailing women found in Jeremiah 9:17-20 to present a theology of tears that applies equally well to traumas both ancient and modern.  “The tears of the people serve as an important – quite often the only – tool to counter injustice. The tears of God, embodied in the wailing women, call on us to resist those instances where contemporary manifestations of the empire abuse their power – be it in instances of war and genocide, or where big business and oil companies abuse their power, or where unjust governments trample upon whoever is in their way” (p. 37). Cries of lament are holy and healing.

God is portrayed as a Mother multiple times in Isaiah, “describing a people’s valiant attempts to survive the deeply traumatic events of war and state-sponsored acts of terror.” Of particular interest to me was the unexpected pairing of warrior images with birth in 42:13-14.  Both point to God’s ability to do something new; each is transformed by the juxtaposition.  “ . . . even though both the mother and the warrior are in danger and hence quite vulnerable, both are exceedingly strong. The cries and panting of a woman in labor is not a sign of weakness but of strength; a sign of her determination to ensure that her child enters the world alive and healthy” (p. 56). Ultimately God’s role as Mother is one of nurture and care; it reminds us of the possibility for an alternative world and invites us to be part of it.

The metaphor of God as Midwife comes from Psalms 22 and 71 but also harkens back to the two midwives in Exodus 1:15-22 who save Moses from death.  It is an intimate image, God present in the midst of birthing anguish, nearby and able to assist in bringing forth something new. Claassens calls on her readers to become midwives. “Instead of more violence, greed, and self-centeredness, we need women and men who work diligently to bring life into situations of darkness and despair, working selflessly for the good of the most vulnerable, serving as midwives for peace and justice” (p. 79).

Claassens provides substantive applications for her material in the final chapter by exploring how it might relate to the September 11 terror attacks and to the Holocaust. She closes with a few suggestions for incorporating awareness of the three metaphors into education and worship.

With this insightful book, Claassens has articulated a female trinity for our times, when there is so much violence and trauma all over the world. I began reading this book as tensions escalated between Israel and the Palestinians soon after the three kidnapped Israeli teens were found dead, so it was easy to embrace the “subversive voice” that presents a God who weeps at suffering, cares for the hurting and needy, and works with us to bring about positive change.

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Embodied and Cosmic: Responses to Laudato Si

IMG_0377Doing some blog catch-up this morning! Earlier this summer I read the environment encyclical, Laudato Si, with great interest, glad that the pope has called attention to the climate crisis as a theological issue.  His use of maternal and birthing images at the beginning of the document intrigued me, and I took time to ponder them. The resulting essay, “Hidden Seeds in Laudato Si,” explores in detail the birthing implications that Francis likely was not aware of when he used the phrase “Sister Mother Earth.”

Clearly the pope regards climate change as a serious spiritual matter as the encyclical devotes an entire chapter to this aspect, but given his past statements it’s unsurprising that the implications of a feminine image like Sister Mother Earth are absent from the document. However, hidden in plain sight, a phrase used almost casually in the second paragraph opens a fruitful avenue for exploration. Following the statement about the earth being the most maltreated of our poor, the encyclical quotes Paul’s letter to the Galatians saying that creation “groans” in travail,” a text which refers to giving birth.

Creation is indeed groaning, but it’s not because of labor. Creation’s suffering is more like that of cardiovascular disease or cancer. The encyclical’s misuse of this scripture points to a widespread ignorance about the nature of pain in childbirth, a female body process that produces a universal human experience.All of us are born.Clarifying the misunderstanding calls forth new possibilities for an embodied ecological spirituality.
Read the full text at Feminism and Religion. 

The best response to the encyclical that I read was by Ilia Delio, a Franciscan sister and theologian. Writing for National Catholic Reporter, she praises and supports the document but also points out that its view of the human person within creation remains rooted in an old understanding, which limits its impact.

The crises that Pope Francis highlights in Laudato Si’ are not due to recent events; rather they are at least 500 years in the making and are the consequence of cosmological and metaphysical shifts in our understanding of self and universe. Religiously, we have maintained a synthesis that is medieval in structure, while modern science has disclosed a world of change. To this day our prayers and worship reflect a fixed, three-tiered universe even though we do not live in such a universe.

We have become radically disconnected from one another because we have become radically disconnected from the whole, the cosmos. Nancy Ellen Abrams and Joel Primack expound the relationship between cosmos and anthropos in their book, The New Universe and the Human Future: How a Shared Cosmology Could Transform the World, indicating that a shared cosmology can help transform our fragmented world into a new unity: “There is a profound connection between our lack of a shared cosmology and our increasing global problems. We have no sense how we and our fellow humans fit into the big picture. . . . [W]ithout a big picture we are very small people.”
Read the full text here.

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Prayer for Disturbance

I have begun implementing de-cluttering tactics from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Japanese consultant and author Marie Kondo. She insists that organizing must be done in order by categories — clothes, books, papers, etc, — and requires you to gather all items of a category in one place before sorting/discarding. Last week I undertook this process and while going through my book collection, a yellowed newspaper clipping with the following prayer on it fluttered out. It looks like it came from our diocesan paper, probably in the 1990s. I can’t recall the timing, but I do remember the sentiments, so perennially appropriate. Preserving it here so that I can discard the paper!

Lord make me a channel of your
Where there is apathy, let me provoke,
Where there is silence, may I be a voice,
Where there is too much comfort,
and too little action,
Grant disruption. 
Where there are doors closed
and hearts locked,
Grant me the willingness to listen.
When laws dictate and pain is 
overlooked  . . . 
When tradition speaks
louder than need. . . 
Our own church . . . 
Our own poor . . . 
Disturb us, O  Lord,
Teach us to be radical,
Grant that I may seek rather
to do justice than to talk about it;
To be with as well as for the poor;
To love the unlovable as well as 
the lovely;
To touch the passion of Jesus in the
Pain of those we meet;
To accept responsibility to be church.
Lord, make me a channel of your
— Gina Kohlhelpp

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Nurturing Seeds of Self-Care

Its always fun when several interests converge in a single project. I enjoyed that experience writing an article about an innovative project called Vitality Cincinnati, launched by a group of folks led by our friend Brian Shircliff. They make Healing Touch and yoga and other self-care approaches available to all at affordable prices. Avidly following their
progress for several years, I wondered how or if I might ever get involved. Then last Vitality3summer Brian and Vitality volunteers began offering Healing Touch at the food pantry where I help out as a shopper on Wednesdays, and I became more
intrigued. In the fall, after much deliberation (Should I do this? Maybe I shouldn’t.) I took the first level Healing Touch training and immediately became converted to its amazing potential to promote relaxation and well-being. I eagerly responded to a suggestion that an article about Vitality be submitted to Energy Magazine, an online publication that explores this field of healing  which works with the subtle energy fields of the body.

The article just came out today in their July/August issue!

An excerpt  appears below, but you can read the entire piece by signing up for a free Energy Magazine subscription at It has beautiful images and interesting content about holistic health topics, relevant to anyone.  (It will be publicly available on their website in two months.)

In a converted storefront on a main thoroughfare in Cincinnati, one-hour Healing Touch sessions are available by appointment several evenings a month at a nominal fee. A long rectangular-shaped open room with soft lighting and instrumental music playing contains four treatment tables arranged with pillows and blankets. Meditation cushions and yoga mats stacked along the edges of the room are evi­dence of other uses for this contemplative space, and hot tea is available at the kitchenette in the left rear corner. Clients are welcomed quietly in the entryway and then ushered to a table.

Just a few miles north, desks are moved aside in a second floor classroom of the parish center housed in a converted apartment building to create three Healing Touch stations. Each consists of two folding chairs facing each other. Despite the hustle and bus­tle of the Wednesday afternoon food pantry under­way downstairs, serenity prevails. Clients are greeted with gentle warmth and quiet assurance that they will not lose their place in line as a result of diverting upstairs for 20-30 minutes of Healing Touch before shopping the pantry shelves. Foreheads nearly touch as the seated pairs confer. Soon the practitioners stand, set down the clipboard, and move their chairs out of the way to begin Healing Touch for the clients who remain seated.

Two contrasting settings in two distinct urban neigh­borhoods, but both are the work of Vitality Cincinna­ti, a small non-profit with a cosmic vision for “inviting transformation neighborhood by neighborhood, per­son to person, and breath by breath through gentle and accessible self-care: Healing Touch, meditation, journaling, yoga and Bones for Life.”

Living up to its name, Vitality is always growing! The article concludes by announcing a then-new program in Walnut Hills that just graduated its first group of interns. And I’m growing too, thanks to Vitality. This spring I joined Brian in offering Healing Touch at the pantry once or twice a month.


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Taking in Tragedy

The tragedies of this week are too much to take in. A young white man consumed by racial hatred kills nine African-Americans in a historic church in Charleston on Wednesday night. Here in Cincinnati on Friday morning, a veteran police officer with an exemplary record is shot and killed in a residential neighborhood by a young man who intentionally lured officers to the scene through a fake 911 call. I am heartsick. These terrible events feel surprisingly personal to me, I realized, because of my experiences as a council member in Amberley Village.

ConfederateJon Stewart struck a chord with these words in his non-comedic monologue the night after the attack: “The Confederate flag flies over South Carolina, and the roads are named for Confederate generals, and the white guy’s the one who feels like his country is being taken away from him.” Amberley has a significant number of Jewish residents of all denominations, as well as several synagogues and temples and a Jewish community center open to everyone. As a local official and as a person interested in religion, my awareness of anti-Semitism past and present is well developed through many encounters and relationships that mean a great deal to me. How would it feel to have the Nazi flag flying in front of our municipal building? I raised this question with a Jewish friend last night, and he was nodding his head in understanding before I even finished speaking it. Extremely uncomfortable, threatening even, is how it would feel.

RememberFallenThe killing of a police officer in our area hits even harder. Amberley is unique in the friendship that many residents have with our police officers, who also comprise our fire department, but as a council member and chair of the Police/Fire committee I have an even closer appreciation of them individually and of how they work. Though small in size, the department deals with the same issues affecting law enforcement everywhere such as use of force and officer safety. The past two years while attending National Police Week ceremonies, I’ve witnessed the bond among officers across jurisdictions during this annual commemoration of the fallen. Yesterday on Facebook, our police/fire chief posted that he had been at the hospital all day, among those providing support to fellow officers and the family. Of course, I thought. He is a person who goes toward that which is upsetting or challenging or dangerous, motivated by concern for others. Just like Officer Kim on Friday morning, and like every officer on every shift. That’s what it means to work in public safety.

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