Friday, April 18, 2014

Body. Christ. Bodies.

"You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slums... It is folly --it is madness-- to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children." 

-- Bishop Frank Weston at the 1923 Anglo-Catholic Congress

Friday, February 14, 2014

Barbara Harris, Bishop: Silver Anniversary and Ecumenical Reflection

The following essay appeared in the March 10, 1989 issue of the Catholic lay-edited magazine Commonweal under the title "When the Spirit Leads: Barbara Harris, Bishop." The editors cut out the last sentence without consulting me. They made a few less drastic changes which I note below the text of the essay. This text, with some minor copyediting, is my original version.

Barbara Harris was consecrated bishop on February 11, 1989 and served as Bishop Suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts (1989-2003). She served as Assisting Bishop in the Diocese of Washington (2003-2007). Happily, she is back among us in Massachusetts. We will celebrate the 25th anniversary of her consecration this Sunday, February 16, 2014, with a Gospel Vesper Service.

[February, 1989]

A day or two before the consecration of Barbara Clementine Harris as Suffragan Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, Cardinal Bernard Law and Greek Orthodox Bishop Methodios issue written statements of welcome. The statements are cordial. They also speak of the danger Harris’s consecration presents for reconciliation among Christian churches, or what has become commonly known as “Christian unity.”

At the consecration, the gospel music of St. Paul’s African Methodist Episcopal Church choir alternates with the delicate melodies of the Chinese Congregation and classical European harmonies of Trinity Church choir. The stately cadence of the Book of Common Prayer moves us forward, but in the musical realm there is a preferential option in the air: clearly, the day belongs less to Mozart and more to the music of the Black church. The celebration flows. This is no Tower of Babel: we each hear God speaking in our own tongue.

As Barbara Harris walks down the center aisle, a tiny woman whose voice and presence can fill a cathedral, over 8,000 people burst into applause. (“Not very characteristic of the Episcopal Church,” says one member of the congregation, Mary Shannon.) Throngs of priests, row upon row of beaming women and men, process down the side aisles of Boston’s Hynes Auditorium. Barbara Clementine Harris, a woman and a priest of African descent, is consecrated a bishop by the laying on of hands, according to the tradition of the apostles, by 55 men, most of them white. All through the celebration, the bishops have been purposeful, solemn and excited, with the calm certainty that God, through them, is doing a good thing.

In describing the celebration, those who were there speak of unity. Mary Shannon repeatedly uses the term “body” to speak of the church and of her experience of this day –“finally being part of the body...” “... all of us together in one body.” She is wearing a locket with a picture of her 80-year-old mother, a member of St. Andrew’s Parish in Seattle, who “still carries her white gloves with her in church yet has rolled with the changes.” She speaks in the plural: her mother, her daughters, her husband, her women friends, all rush into the conversation. “I cried,” she says. “I just felt so happy for all of us.”

Modene Dawson of Philadelphia speaks of another unity. For her, and for many African-Americans in the assembly, the significance of the event extends beyond the church. “It’s beautiful for the country,” she says. “It shows racial harmony.” The church which conducts this celebration is not apart from the world; it is the body which proclaims to the world that God is alive in history.

Paul Matthews Washington, in his sermon, speaks about God and history. Harris’s friend and mentor, he is Rector Emeritus of the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia, which feeds, clothes, and sanctifies the poorest of the city. In this church was held the first ordination of Episcopal women to the priesthood, in the summer of 1974, less than 15 years ago. Harris, a member of the church, led the procession, carrying the cross.

“We cannot,” says Washington, “overlook the fact that this woman being consecrated today is not just an American woman. She is a Black woman... This is a woman... who has had to struggle; she’s been despised, she’s been rejected... God has lifted up one who was at the bottom of society and has exalted her to be one of His chief pastors.”

Washington speaks of Harriet Tubman, who “nineteen times went back into the land of bondage,” thanking God for her freedom by helping to free others. He speaks of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who was raised from her lowly estate and sang of God’s power to raise up the humble and put down the mighty from their thrones: “Mary,” he says after quoting the Magnificat, “was an oppressed woman. That’s how Holy Mary Mother of God felt!” He weeps as he recalls the slavery and oppression of Black people in this country. “Only in understanding the past can we fully appreciate God’s action in this event,” he says.

The Episcopal Church, a church of power and privilege, has chosen “a have-not,” says Washington, but also one who “burns when others are offended,” a “disturbing prophet.” Harries has for years –in her public relations and policy work in the corporate world, in her parish, in her work with the Episcopal Church Publishing Company, in her pastoral ministry—advocated racial and economic justice, taken up the cause of women, spoken out against homophobia; she has, says Washington, devoted enough time to prison chaplaincy “to serve a two-year sentence herself.”

The Right Reverend Barbara Harris, newly robed in bright vestments with Ashanti designs and symbols, presides at her first Eucharist as bishop. Among the concelebrants are Carter Heyward, one of the “Philadelphia Eleven” ordained at the Church of the Advocate, and Florence Tim-Oi Li, the first woman ordained a priest in the Anglican Communion, in Hong Kong, one generation ago. At the distribution, Harris slips over to the far side of the auditorium and gives communion to the people in the hearing-impaired section, who have been singing with their hands for three hours.

A bishop is, among other things, a maker of unity. Barbara Harris has already begun to make unity; but not in the ways in which unity was previously understood or structured. Her brother bishops, Law and Methodios, fear for the health and welfare of Christian unity. But where are the real rifts in our lives today? Are they doctrinal? Where is the real, urgent need for unity? And when we say “unity,” what do we mean? Whose unity, which unity, and at what cost?

The deeper chasm today is not between Protestants and Catholics, or Greek Orthodox and Episcopalians. It is, much more, between haves and have-nots, between Blacks and whites, between men and women, between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. These are the wounds in need of healing, in church and in society. As for denominationalism, it is no longer the principal intrachurch split. Far deeper is the gap within each of our faith communities between fundamentalists and non-fundamentalists.

Early in the service, the Presiding Bishop, Edmond L. Browning, asks if anyone knows of any reason why the consecration ought not to proceed. Two men come to the microphone. The first calls the consecration “a sacrilegious imposture,” the second “an impediment to the realization of the visible unity of the Church for which Christ prayed.” There will be a problem, they argue, with the value of any sacrament celebrated by Harris.

Bernardine Hayes, a computer systems analyst, self-described “dormant Catholic,” and veteran civil rights and peace activist (she is currently Vice President of WAND, Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament), had never before today “seen a woman offer the sacraments. She is so clearly affiliated with the poor,” Hayes adds. “She strikes me as a true minister.” Hayes feels something stir within her during the liturgy –“the realization that the piece of my life which is missing is the spiritual piece.”

This was, she says, "like a Pentecost."

Whose unity?

The intervention of the dissenters highlights the lack of unanimity in the church about the consecration (although Browning is quick to point out, at the post-consecration press conference, that the overwhelming majority of Episcopalians support it.) But it is, in its way, a step on the road to greater unity. Perhaps the two men will change their minds; perhaps never. What is hopeful and healthy and makes a body strong is that their pain was not swept under the rug. However token, this part of the ceremony honors difference: and the unity of the Episcopal Church around this celebration –the unity behind the liturgy—is not the easy unity of unreflecting liberals. It has been hard won, tempered by prayer and struggle, and forged through the participatory process of decision-making in the Episcopal Church, a community that gave us two-thirds of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Elizabeth Pearson Rice-Smith, a United Church of Christ minister who witnessed both the ordination of the “Philadelphia Eleven” and Barbara Harris’s consecration, believes that “if our vision of church unity embraces diversity in God’s ministries and the human experience of faith, there is much less need to split off. I think,” she adds, “that women are willing to say things about the messy stuff that don’t condemn or blame or banish. We want to create spirited change that doesn’t mean war, that doesn’t mean people don’t talk to each other, that doesn’t mean annihilation.”

Which unity, and at what cost?

Christians do still need to speak with one another about Eucharist and ministry, about theological thought and ecclesial practice. But the context of this discussion has changed, and so have the discussion questions themselves. Unable and unwilling to hide her particularity, unlikely to temper her prophetic stance, Barbara Harris –not in spite of this but because of this—is a maker, not a breaker, of unity.

(c) Jane Redmont 1989

A few other changes – skip this if you don’t care about the minutiae: The editors also lower-cased “Black,” which I had in upper case, and made a spelling change that eliminated my metaphor “singing with their hands.” They changed it to “signing with their hands.” Of course the congregation members in question were signing –but adding “with their hands” would in that case have been unnecessary. The celebration was full of song, and part of the beauty of it was that people sang with both voice and hands. I was seated in the section next to the one using American Sign Language. The editors also deleted the paragraph with Rice-Smith’s quote.

I was still a Roman Catholic at the time I wrote this essay.

 A decade later, in 1999, a few years after I moved to California, I was invited to be on the panel of speakers at the 10th anniversary celebration of Bishop Harris’s consecration. The invitation came from the Rev. Canon Edward Rodman, with whom I had often been on the television show “In Good Faith” on WCVB-Channel 5 (then the ABC affiliate in Boston). I served as the Roman Catholic voice on the panel and offered some insights from a Catholic feminist perspective.

A few years later –12 years ago last month— I was received into the Episcopal Church. The discernment leading to this reception –and the lengthy process toward ordination to the priesthood, a vocation dating back to the 1970s– are another story for another time and place.
Thanks be to God for Bishop Barbara!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Looking for information about my retreats?

If so, you want my webspace (a blog that acts as my website, for now), which is here.

Please visit here again, and do visit over there!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

"Will you do the same this Christmas...?"

When the world was dark
and the city was quiet,
you came.
You crept in beside us. 
And no one knew.
Only the few
who dared to believe
that God might do something different.
Will you do the same this Christmas, Lord?
Will you come into the darkness of tonight's world;

not the friendly darkness
as when sleep rescues us from tiredness,
but the fearful darkness,
in which people have stopped believing
that war will end
or that food will come
or that a government will change
or that the Church cares?
Will you come into that darkness

and do something different
to save your people from death and despair?
Will you come into the quietness of this town,

not the friendly quietness
as when lovers hold hands,
but the fearful silence when
the phone has not rung,
the letter has not come,
the friendly voice no longer speaks,
the doctor's face says it all?
Will you come into that darkness

and do something different,
not to distract, but to embrace your people?
And will you come into the dark corners 

and the quiet places of our lives? 
We ask this not because we are guilt-ridden
or want to be,
but because the fullness our lives long for
depends upon us being as open and vulnerable to you
as you were to us,
when you came,
wearing no more than diapers,
and trusting human hands
to hold their maker.
Will you come into our lives,
if we open them to you
and do something different?
When the world was dark

and the city was quiet
you came.
You crept in beside us.
Do the same this Christmas, Lord.
Do the same this Christmas.

from Cloth for the Cradle, Iona Community
read at the Carol Sing at Emmanuel Church, Boston

Image (unattributed) from the blog What the Helfer

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Vigil of 1 Advent: God's patience and God's impatience


Do you have an Advent wreath? Do you light Advent candles? Did you light the first candle tonight? Will you wait for tomorrow?

This is your virtual lighting of the first candle. Take a moment (or two) to gaze at the flame here, the wooden match lighting the purple candle. Simply gaze. There is no need for words. Some may come to you later. Or not.

Advent and Christmas are in some ways the ultimate celebration of space, the celebration of God entering human space in the most intimate way possible: by becoming human. The celebration of word become flesh, the discovery that God-the-other is also God-with-us (Emmanuel in Hebrew) -- that is the good news of Advent.

We celebrate in
Advent God's invitation for us to view our space --our society, our environment, our neighbor, our own flesh-- as sacred, pregnant with justice and hope, filled with hidden treasure.

Advent is also a celebration of time and a celebration in time.

The way in which we live time in
Advent is profoundly counter-cultural. At a time when many of us are caught in the frenzy of work and in dashing about to buy presents, we Christians are invited to step into a season of muted colors, whose mood is slow, gentle, and deep --though also, as we will see in some of the season's biblical readings, disturbing at times. In Advent, light increases gradually, week by week, instead of appearing in one great post-Thanksgiving burst of electricity. (For those of you not in the U.S., there is no Thanksgiving holiday in late November, but the great burst of electricity is there.)

There is a reason for this slowing down. If we are to hear the good news that our space and God's space have become one, we have to slow down enough to hear. Sometimes this good news is spoken to us by God very softly, in ordinary ways and places, in the daily events of our lives. Sometimes this good news is simply that there is immense treasure already present in our lives and hearts: all that we need to claim the treasure is to slow down, stop, and notice it. 

If the good news is going to take root in us --once we have begun to listen or to notice-- we need to enter God's time, God's timetable. Advent is not a flashy season. It takes time for good news to sink in, for love to grow, for wisdom to ripen, for lives to be transformed, for truth to dawn in us -- much more time than our frenzy will often allow.

So in
Advent, season of waiting for Christ, we take in the good news slowly, steadily, lighting candles one at at time, adding a new insight, a layer of understanding, a little layer of light every week, as around us in the Northern Hemisphere* the days grow darker.  (*If people from the Southern Hemisphere read this post, it will be interesting to hear about Advent and Advent lights from people for whom it is the middle of summer right now.)

Advent challenges our impatience and invites us to enter God's patience.

Advent is also a time to enter God's impatience, a time when prophets (more on them in the coming weeks) challenge our apathy and paralysis and urge us forward, a time in which the stories and songs in the scriptures speak of a God who longs to transform our hearts, our society, and creation itself -- soon, now, urgently.

One of the challenges of this season is to figure out the connections between our time and God's time, to readjust and balance our sense of time, to discover  or rediscover --to discern-- when it is appropriate to enter into God's patience and when it is time to enter into God's impatience.

In this first night, before anything else, take time. Rest in the patience of God. All else will unfold, in God's time.


This is the first post of a retreat I led last year during Advent. It appeared on the retreat's closed  blog
(i.e. a blog accessible only to retreatants, not a public blog like this one) at the beginning of the retreat. I will be offering the retreat again this year, with a few changes. Information will be available here by the end of the day tomorrow, December 1.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Ramadan begins

I meant to post this at the beginning of Ramadan (also pronounced Ramazan) as I did on Facebook, but got bogged down in a major work project. I'm posting this later in July but back-dating to early July so that it appears when I intended to post it...

To those about to enter the holy month of Ramadan, Ramazan Mubarak!

To those who are not, have a look at the message below the image from Khalvat Dar Anjuman (Ibrahim Baba) about Ramazan with a few thoughts on how to honor and support the observance of Muslim friends, acquaintances, neighbors, and co-workers.

Because the calendar of Islam is a lunar one, Ramazan rotates around the seasons (and thus around the months of the Gregorian calendar). This year in the northern hemisphere, with Ramazan in the summer, the fast from sunrise to sunset, every day for a month, is particularly long and demanding.

We who are not Muslim can learn much from those who are spending this month in the ancient traditions of fasting and prayer, of almsgiving and awareness of common humanity and of the needs of the poor, of gathering for breaking the fast with family and friends, of deepening and re-focusing attention on the All-Merciful, the Creator. Can we, during this month, learn about and from our neighbors? How can we do so without burdening our neighbors, but by taking on some discipline or task ourselves? How can we attune our listening and attention? How will we be challenged to deepen our own walk, our practice, our faith, our ethics? How can we be mindful and compassionate neighbors? How can we learn to be friends on this polyphonic planet Earth?

And here is Ibrahim Baba's message, which I first read on Facebook and which he has given me permission to re-post here. (I have left the lower-case and upper-case spellings as written intentionally by the author.)

on Tuesday, 9 july 2013, many of us will enter into the Sacred Month of Ramazan, the Queen of Months. some of us will be fasting from sunrise to sunset, going about the activities of our day. others will be feeding others as their practice during this sacred time while others will build community in other ways. this is the most precious time of the year for some of us. for some of us it is a time of exceeding joy; for others it is a time of struggle. as any kind of religious time, it brings issues for some, troubling memories or fears of isolation and exclusion. it is also a time of intensifying our efforts for justice, equity, equality, access, accessibility, radical inclusion, etc. through more prayer, more dhikr, more work in our communities, etc.. because we actually have more time as we are not eating throughout the day, lol!

if you are not a muslim and know muslims who are fasting, you can offer to prepare an iftar meal for them at the end of the fasting day or cook something for their pre-dawn meal. or you can invite them to eat somewhere with you. or do something to bring smoothness to their day. for people who work all day during Ramazan, it is nice to not have to worry about their end-of-the fasting day meal (iftar). the iftar meal is often part of a community-gathering, but for some people, certain community-gatherings can be very painful and isolating. so, if you are friends with someone who is fasting and you all are part of a community that is not muslim but which unites and sustains you, perhaps that community could offer an iftar meal in recognition of your friends who are fasting. it is REALLY ROUGH to come home and have an iftar all on your own, especially if you are from a culture or place where Ramazan is a month-long party. If you find out that your friends are lonely and alone, weeping over their dates and a bowl of soup, please see with them what you could do to make some Ramazan community for them.

Greeting: Ramazan mübarek! A blessed Ramazan!
Response: Ramazan karim! A generous Ramazan/a Ramazan of generosity!

and a teaching from Sri Lankan Sufi shaykh, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, from a talk he gave entitled, "What is Ramadan?"

Friday, June 7, 2013

Soelle in Summer: a course-retreat. We're on!

Remember the question I asked here?

Well, we're on!

Soelle in Summer: Challenge and Wonder
 an online course-retreat
 June 17-July 31, 2013

Read and reflect in community on the work, thought, and spirituality of Dorothee Soelle (also spelled Sölle). 

Soelle (1928-2003) was a German theologian, poet, peace activist, and Protestant Christian with Catholic, secular, humanist, and Jewish companions and allies; she was also a friend, teacher, spouse, mother, socialist, and from mid-life on, feminist.

Details of the course-retreat are here.

Soelle in Summer is designed, led, and facilitated by Jane Redmont (theologian, author, spiritual director). Seven weeks, $245. Write Registrations welcome till Tuesday, June 18. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Interested in Dorothee Soelle? A summer online retreat/course opportunity

I don't as they put it believe in god

but to him I cannot say no hard as I try
take a look at him in the garden
when his friends ran out on him
his face wet with fear
and with the spit of his enemies
him I have to believe

Him I can't bear to abandon
to the great disregard for life
to the monotonous passing of millions of years
to the moronic rhythm of work leisure and work
to the boredom we fail to dispel
in cars in beds in stores

That's how it is they say what do you want
uncertain and not uncritically
I subscribe to the other hypothesis
which is his story
that's not how it is he said for god is
and he staked his life on this claim

Thinking about it I find
one can't let him pay alone
for his hypothesis
so I believe him about

The way one believes another's laughter
his tears
or marriage or no for an answer
that's how you'll learn to believe him about life
promised to all

A poem I had posted here many moons ago. It is from the series of 10 poems "When He Came" in Dorothee Soelle's book Revolutionary Patience (1977).

"SOELLE IN SUMMER" - *online* June 17-July 31. A mix of retreat and course, with opportunity for both individual reflection and conversation. Interested? Read more on my web space here.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The sad, glorious, fragile spring of this year

Posted the paragraphs below the photo yesterday afternoon (Sunday, May 5) on Facebook - and (why was I surprised?) though I felt like a voice in the wilderness when I posted it, it drew many comments, most of which expressed kinship and understanding. So perhaps I was giving voice to something many of us feel right now.

The photos are from yesterday and the past few weeks in Boston.

This spring feels sad. Glorious flowers everywhere, here one week but gone the next, and the world a mess. Like my friend Lindy, who wrote about this a couple of days ago, I find that some days are just for weeping --or at least grieving if the tears don't come, which often they don't. It is worse on the days one can't cry, I think. I find consolation in the fact that Dorothy Day, surely one of the strong holy people of the 20th century and among the ones who did the most good, tough as she was, sat and wept with great frequency.

Once in a blue moon she got to weep with a friend. This is a passage about times with her friend Catherine de Hueck Doherty ("the Baroness"), a woman of very different background and temperament from hers, but who was her comrade in Christian work of mercy and justice, and who after Dorothy's death, remembered:

"When I moved to Harlem, Dorothy Day and I became even closer. There were only about five miles between her house and my Harlem house. So occasionally when we both had enough money, let’s say about a dollar, we would go to Child’s where you could get three coffee refills (for the price of one cup), and we used to enjoy each cup and just talk.

Talk about God. Talk about the apostolate. Talk about all the things that were dear to our hearts.
But we were both very lonely because, believe it or not, there were just the two of us in all of Canada and America, and we did feel lonely and no question about it.
Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Restoration, February 1981

This story came via Fr. Bob Wild (who is doing research on Day and Doherty) on the Madonna House website, but I remember reading it in the Dorothy Day anthology edited by Robert Ellsberg.

All photos (c) Jane C. Redmont. If you reproduce them without permission or attribution, the archangel in  charge of copyrights will get fiery mad. Please give credit where credit is due. Thank you.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Donating from retreat registrations to the Walk for Hunger

As some readers know, I moved back to my beloved Boston just four months ago. Tomorrow, May 5,  is the annual Walk for Hunger. It will be the first large outdoor public gathering since the Boston Marathon. It usually draws about 40,000 people. 

The Walk was started by a group of people connected with my old church over four decades ago. It funds hundreds of emergency food programs (750,000-plus people in this Commonwealth do not have enough to eat) and its parent agency, Project Bread, also does advocacy and prevention work addressing the long-term causes of hunger. 

The last time I lived here, I did the Walk every year and then, when my feet gave out and I couldn't walk the 20 miles on concrete any more, volunteered as a Marshal. (Note: I also had Project Bread as a client for several of the years I was doing development consulting here, working for agencies addressing the causes and consequences of urban poverty.) 

So here's the deal: I'm not walking this year, but if you register for my "Hurry Up and Slow Down: Spiritual Practice in Daily Life" online retreat which begins on Monday May 6 (see here for full information) any time between this very minute and the end of Sunday (tomorrow May 5) in whatever time zone you are in, I will give $20 out of each registration fee to the Walk instead of keeping the whole fee.* Because I often scramble to pay the rent each month, but there are people far worse off than I, and we are all part of one another.

*I'd be happy to send you proof of the donation if you wish.

Here is an interesting interview with Project Bread Executive Director Ellen Parker.

Cross-posted on my professional website.