Our Current Read: Joy Unspeakable, Chapter 3

This week’s gathering at Marie G’s house was small but stimulating. Thanks to all who could be there and to Marie for hosting so graciously. We have not gathered to discuss this book in a long time so it was wonderful simply sitting in our circle of friends once again. For those of you who missed, here are some highlights and some food for thought.

The vividness of Barbara Holmes’ descriptions of slave holds, plantation practices, and hush arbors in Chapter 3 evoked a deep sense of sadness in me, the same one I often feel when I read about the Jewish Holocaust or the many pogroms (some still occurring today). How does this happen? Why does racial hatred continue to spill over into our streets and our conversations? While Barbara does not directly attempt to answer these age-old questions, she does give an interesting explanation on how they coped. She calls it “crisis contemplation.” This is strangely comforting to me. Through what she calls “inversion,” the African captives’ unthinkable pain and suffering formed a bedrock foundation of inner, spiritual strength. Those who survived were able to turn inward somehow. The whip, the ring shout, the circle dance of the auction blocks, and the hush arbors of the plantations, called the diverse strangers into contemplation of their primal knowledge of divine presence that had begun in their families and villages. Unity beyond language barriers and customs evolved out of their shared experience of horror and pain.

Our discussion eventually ended with several questions. What can we do? How can we, a small group of affluent white women, change or transform the current climate of racism? It all seems so hopeless sometimes to “just pray” about the situation. I shared that my experience with contemplative prayer has helped in this regard. Tessa and the other Carmelite monks of the Spiritual Life Institute taught me long ago that a contemplative, recollected life truly becomes the the “Real Presence” of Christ in this world. It is the Beloved who emerges from me when I can remain centered, attentive, present to the beauty, truth, goodness of every ordinary moment. As Barbara Holmes says in this chapter, “It is only radical love that can transform this situation.” My intention is to always be in that flow, every day, every moment, for it is the Christ in us all who holds the world together. The empathy, tears, compassion, smiles, joy in the little things, all of the stuff of our lives, allows that love to flow endlessly into the world. Like the monks of old who dedicated their lives to praying for the world, I can use my life to the same purpose as an undercover agent for radical love. What do you think? Please leave a comment!

FYI: Our next meeting is scheduled for Monday, October 18 at 9:30 AM at the home of Marie Ryan.

PLEASE MARK YOUR CALENDARS: The annual women’s retreat is coming back NOVEMBER 6-7. We will have a different environment and schedule this year as we adapt during Covid. More details to follow.

Current Read: The Monk Within by Rosemary Lanzetta

A new year has begun and with it, our deepest aspirations to continue spiritual growth in our beloved Sophia Circle.  We have decided to read Rosemary Lanzetta’s book, The Monk Within, in order to continue to expand our understanding of the interspiritual movement that seems to be overtaking conventional, institutional ways of thinking. Come to our next meeting on March 18th, at Mary Kay’s house as we continue our quest for companionship and contemplative awareness.

Here are a few questions to ponder:

  • Lanzetta says that the longing for solitude and intimacy with God, the call to be a monk, is deep within the human condition.  What is your personal experience of the “monk within”?
  • Do you think it is possible for young people to form monastic communities outside the rigors of institutional religion? What are your hopes and doubts?

Chapter 6: Neighborhood

1. Early on, Butler Bass informs us that neighbor means
“near dweller” (p. 196). Do you know many of your
neighbors? Who are your neighbors, and what is your
relationship with them? Who has been a neighbor to
you in the wider sense of the word?
2. “Neighborhoods need spiritual gathering places as
much as they need schools and shops. Yet God does
not live at the neighborhood church” (p. 196). What do
you think the role of the neighborhood church is, and
what should it be?
3. Butler Bass brings up the idea of connecting with thousands
of people daily via media and social media (p.
205). Do you live in technology neighborhoods? What
are the challenges of those neighborhoods?
4. “The world can no longer afford tribes intent on purity
who believe God blesses only them” (p. 220). How does
Butler Bass distinguish among tribes, clans, and open
tribes? Who might disagree with this statement?

Thoughts After Our August Meeting

old photo album

We had a lively discussion of Chapters 4 and a little bit of Chapter 5 at Joyce’s home recently.I began the gathering by having everyone listen to a Rob Bell interview with Diana Butler Bass on is podcast in 2017 when the book had first been published. Here is the link:

Here are some of the highlights of our discussion that I am still pondering. Feel free to add yours:

Only two out of seven present knew stories of ancestors. This both surprised me and also confirmed what Diana Butler Bass writes about in the Roots Chapter. We have information at our fingertips about ancestry but we are NOT connected to stories or specific people. I am the “storycatcher” in my family, having written three books based on ancestor stories: The Photograph, a children’s book about my maternal grandmother based on a charming story that was often told by my mother and her sisters;  Remembrances of a Storycatcher, a family history I wrote for my daughters and their families; and Forgiveness, a novel I wrote about my paternal grandfather, which has yet to be distributed to the family. Yes, I guess I have always been “ancestor-crazed.” I have had a wall of very old photographs lining my stairway from both sides of the family that I love looking at and remembering. They ground me. What is your connection to your ancestral story?

The point was made that some people just have no interest in connecting to the past in this very personal way. We need to be okay with that. Sometimes the past is full of dark memories, shadows, fears, unpleasant to remember. Sometimes people are not worthy of our adulation or remembrance. Do we canonize the past? How can we be objective about ancestral stories when they are embedded in time and personal perspectives? Is memory ever accurate?

God is in our roots. We have spiritual DNA. DBB is insistent that connecting to the past is extremely important for spiritual growth. When we know from whom we came, their spiritual history, we not only honor the past but we understand why we think, believe, and practice our faith today. Most of us were in agreement that the concept of the “communion of saints,” has a lot of meaning and power, especially when we think of our deceased relatives. Comments?

Time is not linear; there is a great “web of belonging” that unites us all under one genealogy if we go back far enough. DBB says all family trees intersect and thus we are all related. This very concept ought to transform how we think about and treat one another; no divisions of race, creed, ethnicity, etc. The unity of reality has been the “minor key” of religion and theology. Why don’t we emphasize this? Why don’t we hear more about our connections from pulpits across our world? We had a very passionate discussion of these questions. Feel free to add your comments!

We began Chapter Five on Home but didn’t get very far. Our September 10 meeting will begin there. NOTE: We will begin with lunch at noon that day. I will send an email reminder. Meanwhile, put your feet on the ground, breath in deeply, look at the sky and ask ancestors to bless and pray for us!

Chapter 5: Home


1. Butler Bass makes many statements about home: Home
is more than a house (p. 166). Home is the geography
of our souls (p. 166). Home is a place where we belong
(p. 167). Write for five to ten minutes, beginning with
this prompt: “Home is …” Or, if discussing in a group,
give your definition of home.

2. “Our homes are a sort of spiritual training ground for
what happens in our world house” (p. 183). What spiritual
habits and lessons did you learn or teach at home
that you have seen play out in the world?

3. “Christianity itself can be understood as a domestic
revolution. The first churches recorded in the New Testament
met in homes, often overseen by women” (p.
187). How are house churches both a very old global
practice and a very new experiment?

4. “God is our home. God dwells with us and we in God”
(p. 190). How did God’s people find God and each
other in the days before church homes (refer to p. 187)?
How do they find one another now? If “home is an
ongoing spiritual presence” (p. 191), what are we to do
with that?

Chapter 4: Roots


Here are some questions to ponder while reading Chapter 4:

1.“Honoring our ancestors is an obligation of faith”
(p. 136). Was that a lesson you learned in your culture?
Do you know much about your ancestors?

2. Butler Bass distinguishes between ancient times, when
one lived among one’s ancestors, and modern times,
when we can only partially piece together the stories of
our ancestors. She points out that “if we do not know
where we came from or where we are in a story, it is
difficult to imagine that we can understand the meaning
and purpose of our own lives” (p. 142). How are
faith communities uniquely positioned to connect to
and draw meaning from the past?

3. “Every family tree intersects with other family trees.
Our roots are intertwined. We are all related to each
other. We belong to each other” (p. 151). Have you
thought about people being so interconnected, as Butler
Bass suggests? What implications could this statement
have for race relations, political parties, and
church denominations?

4. Butler Bass quotes Archbishop Desmond Tutu as saying,
“The first law of our being is that we are set in a delicate
network of interdependence with our fellow human beings and with the rest of God’s creation” (p. 154). Do you see this belief proclaimed in our society? If so, how?
If not, how can we work to make it happen?

Thoughts After Our June Gathering

shutterstock_1126144433The June morning we gathered at Mary Kay’s house was warm and luminous.  The first thing I noticed as I walked to her door was the gargantuan sunflowers that towered over my head, nodding a greeting. Some were at least ten feet tall with leaves the size of large dinner plates. They were randomly planted, MK told us, a little surprise of nature. Ah! What a great way to start our discussion of Chapters 2 and 3. The ground beneath our feet is teeming with a life of its own, nourished by water, under the beauty of the California sky.

The chapter on water brought forth many experiences with the riparian zones of the Colorado River, the Mississippi, the Hudson, the Snake, and even the River Gave in France. The collective sense was one of a rushing movement, always changing. “You can’t step into the same river twice,” was the spiritual message, re-learned with each visit. We lamented pollution, the shocking statistics that Diana Butler Bass wrote about.  In the discussion of the Spiritual Quest for Water, we shared our own stories of transformation, some just now occurring. Marie Ryan recalled her experience of the healing springs of Lourdes, France, when she was in her early twenties, for example. We also talked about favorite Scripture stories – so many about water, so many about healing. We all concurred that sometimes simply going to the beach is the best medicine.

The careless way the human race has taken this great resource for granted occupied a great deal of our discussion. The call to social justice is strong. Why, then, do we not hear more about what we can do as a faith community to raise consciousness, to reverse the threat to water? Our lamentations about the lackluster tone of Sunday homilies were loud and collective. Many questioned why Catholics are so complacent, especially with Pope Francis constantly calling us to care more for creation. Perhaps because the issue has been politicized and thus controversial? The clergy does not want to ruffle the feathers of parishioners who do not believe in global warming? Whatever the reason might be, the group stood firm that something must be done, citing the many churches all over the country that are responding by digging wells, conserving energy, and raising consciousness. Grassroots level activism may be the only way. Sadly, we left it at that and had to move on.

The discussion of the next chapter, The Sky, continued in the same lively manner as the previous. The mysteries of the invisible yet powerful atmosphere, of cloud formations, wind, stars, dark matter, left us spellbound. We talked about why people are afraid of believing in evolution, preferring to embrace the literalism of the Bible’s creation stories, especially since the Catholic Church has long since been a pioneer in advancing the secrets of the universe. Is science still at odds with religion? No one in this enlightened group is stuck in that quagmire. We see no problem with the “new cosmology,” that, it turns out, isn’t so new. We were all happy that Georges Lemaitre, a Jesuit priest who proposed the big bang theory, along with Teilhard de Chardin (who was actually silenced at one time), have both been esteemed by modern popes as advancing scientific thought in this regard.

Air pollution was lamented by the group. What we can do was pondered. The activists among us have specific ideas; others seemed more pessimistic that no matter what we do, the resistance on the far right is too great. Personalizing the topic, some of us suggested that we think about our grandchildren. What are we doing to leave the planet a better place? The bigger question, to me, is how do we become more enlightened about faith and science? How do we give the next generation a deeper context for the challenges of the modern world so that they can make faith-filled decisions about the ground, water, the sky?

As Faith Formation Director, I go back to how to fundamentally change hearts and minds. To me, this is about cultivating earthy mysticism within the consciousness of the young, something I believe they are deeply longing to find in our Church. We simply MUST get away from the patterns of “vertical faith,” of thinking and talking about God “in heaven,” rather than in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the ground beneath our feet. Images of God are often formed in childhood and unless we intentionally grow, allowing our language to change along with these images, there is little hope for personal or global change.

Sadly, many Catholics (and not just young people) do not know what the Church teaches about how we interpret the Bible. They are swimming in the waters of evangelicalism in America and have unconsciously taken on their fundamentalist beliefs about Scripture. Some don’t even think about it. Faith is something they want for their families because it makes them feel good. They don’t ponder the deeper mysteries or try to reconcile their worldview with the Creed.  Many leave our faith because they don’t feel connected. And so, on it goes. We have a rich gourmet meal for them but we don’t lay the banquet or invite them very well.

I’ve been spending the greater part of the past ten years educating young parents in our Family Faith Formation gatherings. Some are thrilled to have the lights turned on for them. Some look at their phones and sip their Starbucks the whole time. I want to yell at them: “Pay attention! Your life depends on this!” I raise my voice. I tell jokes. I say outlandish things sometimes just to wake them up. The ones who are listening laugh and give me a knowing look. Others don’t even notice. Yet I persist because I know I must. But you cannot force someone to the altar of enlightenment and make them worship. The hungry will be fed. The thirsty will drink. As a wise mentor once told me, “You can sow the seeds of faith but you are not allowed to water them. That’s the Spirit’s job.”

I am so grateful to have like-minded writers, like Diana Butler Bass and so many friends in our Sophia Circle, that continually act as my spiritual watering cans!

Leave a comment, question, or affirmation. I like to know that someone is reading this! On to the next meeting: August 6th – location TBA. We will discuss Chapters 4 and 5.

Peace be with us all on the path of enlightenment. . . DC




Chapter Three: Sky

shutterstock_335913692Here are some more questions to ponder for this chapter:

  1. Read aloud the whole paragraph at the top of page
    100 that begins, “The Psalmist’s words, ‘Our God is in
    the heavens,’ actually unveil far more complex spiritual
    possibilities. Unlike the ground and water, sky is
    beyond our comprehension.” How does Butler Bass’s
    lyrical writing serve the subject matter she is sharing.
  2. “To say that God is in the sky is not to imply that God
    lives at a certain address above the earth. Instead, it is
    an invitation to consider God’s presence that both
    reaches to the stars and wafts through our lives as a
    spiritual breeze” (p. 103). How does this statement
    illustrate a shift from a vertical theology to a grounded
    sense of God among us?
    3. Hildegard of Bingen wrote almost a thousand years
    ago, “If we fall in love with creation deeper and deeper,
    we will respond to its endangerment with passion”
    (p. 123). Today we see that numerous people (faith-based
    groups among them) are engaged in the largest
    social movement in human history, addressing issues
    of climate change. What do you make of this? What
    role could you play here?
    4. “The ground is the earth’s body, water its lifeblood, and
    the atmosphere its lungs” (p. 114). How has this book
    helped you frame climate change from a faith perspective?
    What motivates and inspires you to face the crisis and institute changes? How do you strike a balance between truth and hope?