Recently, in response to the excellent conversation following Nancy Vedder-Shults’ post on the goddess Kali, Carol Christ commented to Nancy, “I too love our conversations, wish there was more in depth talk on our blog [FAR], maybe there will be.” Carol’s comment* struck a deep chord within me. One of the main objectives that the FAR co-founders had in creating Feminism and Religion was that it be a place where we could and would engage with one another across a diversity of feminist issues and the broad range of feminist passions and work – where we could discuss, critique, and build upon on each other’s efforts.
So two things came to mind as I reflected on Carol’s comment. The first was my personal lament that I have not been as actively participating in the discussions that follow the FAR blog posts as I did when we first started Feminism and Religion. FAR has such rich and valuable material – it really does provide a great opportunity for conversation and dialogue – and sadly I have been a passive participant as of late. I read and learn from the discussions, but I have not been joining in. I lament that. FAR is definitely a place where I could engage with others in deep conversations, but how actively am I actually doing this?
The second was a growing pattern I have noticed occurring on FAR, of which I have been a guilty contributor myself. That is, it tends to be people from within the particular spiritual or religious tradition of which the post is about who are the ones that actively engage in discussion in the comment section of a post. For example, in Nancy’s post about the goddess Kali, no Christian, Jewish, or Muslim identified people participated in the conversation (that I can tell). Of course, this is not always the case – many times we have a diversity of voices chiming in, but I would say not often enough. However, we do have some extraordinary contributors/participants on FAR, such as Carol Christ and Nancy Vedder-Shults, who are models of engaged conversation partners on all manner of topics. They engage across a variety of topics and religious difference and participate in conversation with almost all the contributors. You all are my inspiration!
In myself, I notice that even though I have gotten to know many of the FAR contributors well – from emailing behind the scenes and the collaboration we do for this project – I can still get intimidated by the fact that I don’t know much about a given topic. Sometimes I feel that I could be out of place if I was to chime in on a conversation of a tradition not my own – or worse, on a topic about which I disagree with the author. I get timid! And sometimes I don’t even know how to engage across our differences. This is highly disappointing to me as one of my highest feminist values is to practice the act of listening, learning from, and engaging with my sisters – and brothers – across our differences. Part of my interest in starting this FAR project was that this would be a place where I would practice such dialogue and community building. And I do want to practice these and I want to do so more intentionally.
As I was coming into my practice of eating vegan, Carol J. Adams’ book The Inner Art of Vegetarianism: Spiritual Practices for Body and Soul was a great resource to me. Listening to her on a WATER teleconference was my first inspiration to make the change, but reading her book and coming to see vegetarianism as a spiritual practice is what strengthened and sustained me as I transitioned from being vegetarian to being vegan. With the guidance of her book I was able to incorporate a new way of eating into my life in a more holistic and compassionate way. One of the key moments of transformation for me was when I came across this sentence in her book: “You are worth the time it takes to create a practice.” I remember thinking: no matter how long this takes me, I value myself and the lives of the animals enough to take the time to learn to eat differently. This is so worth it.
More recently, as I have focused on writing my dissertation, I realized I was spending an inordinate amount of time sitting at my desk. In July, when I spent several weeks in near isolation writing my first chapter, it occurred to me that this was not a good practice for my body. On the one hand, I eat pretty healthfully, but on the other, I was spending hours upon hours sitting in a chair before my computer. Mind you, exercise has never been my strength or been that appealing to me, but I do know exercise is a needed part of life and I usually walk a couple miles each day just by getting from “here to there.” But during my focused writing time, I was getting none of it, and I knew this could become a growing patterns in the upcoming months as I continue my writing. So I knew I had to do something. I had to find at least some small thing that I would be willing to spend my time practicing that could contribute to my body’s strength and health. It didn’t matter if I had to start real small and increase my practice over time, because I remembered that “I am worth the time it takes to create a practice.”
I started with 4 minutes of pushups and sit ups every day – just four minutes – it had to feel easy so that I did not feel defeated before the get go. Every day of July, I laid a towel on the floor, set a timer for 4 short little minutes, and did my strength exercises. In the beginning I struggled to complete a single push up, so I spent most of the time alternating between different kinds of sit ups and ab exercises. Over the weeks, I increased my time by 15 second increments. Currently I am at 5 minutes and 45 seconds and can now complete 7 pushups(!) – a small victory, certainly, but a very satisfying one as I can feel my strength building and can begin to see a slight difference in the contours of my arm muscles.
Making changes in our life does not come easily and incorporating new practices can be a long process. But Carol Adams reminds me that time is what we have, that how I enjoy my time, what I give it toward, and how I am to share it with others are all my choices to make. There are practices important enough to me that I consider them worth the time and process they take to create. Eating in an ethical and compassionate way is one, having a strong and healthy body is another, and engaging in dialogue with you all, my sisters and brothers, across our various passions and religious differences is definitely one of them – and one I want to strengthen that one. We are worth it. And I believe the practice of dialogue and community building is one through which we create a better, more compassionate and just, society.
So here I declare that I will start with one small step. I commit to participating in one FAR blog conversation each week. Our community is so worth the time it takes to create this practice of dialogue and conversation. I look forward to seeing the contours of my dialogue and community building skills improve as I engage with you all on so many different topics. I thank you in advance for your partnership!
* This topic more recently came up in the comment section of Barbara Ardinger’s guided meditation post.
Xochitl Alvizo is a feminist Christian-identified woman and a Ph.D. candidate in Practical Theology at Boston University School of Theology. She loves all things feminist. She often finds herself on the boundary of different social and cultural contexts, and works hard to develop her voice and to hear and encourage the voice of others. Her work is inspired by the conviction that all people are inextricably connected and what we do, down to the smallest thing, matters; it makes a difference for good or for ill.