On Chronic Illness and Justice by Ivy Helman

29662350_10155723099993089_8391051315166448776_oFor almost four years, I’ve been living with the long-term effects of an inner ear lesion.  The lesion is long gone but its side effects are not.  Throughout the day, I feel a combination of unsteadiness and sudden, unpredictable sensations of movement.  On better days, the unsteadiness is almost non-existent and the feelings of movement are minimal.  On worse days, I’m troubled with a type of brain fog that makes it hard to concentrate as well as disrupting unpredictable sensations of being on a boat that can’t pick one direction in which to move.  It’s frustrating, tiring and demoralizing.

Summer is the season of worse days.  There is really nothing I can do to feel better.  Even staying well-hydrated and taking it easy often doesn’t steady the boat.  So, instead, I often continue my life as normal.  Then, I lay in bed at night and hope sleep comes soon. Continue reading “On Chronic Illness and Justice by Ivy Helman”

Bans are Bandages not Solutions by Ivy Helman

meandmini1I’m heartbroken by yet another shooting in the United States.  I want to believe that all humans are, deep-down, intrinsically good.  I want to trust humans to act in the best interests of others.  I want peace between and inside human beings.  I want animals to be cared for, respected and deemed inherently valuable.  I want humanity to live in harmony with nature.  And, I want human societies that are just, equal and fair.

Even though I’m certain this world is achievable, it does not exist.  In fact, it often feels like we take one step forward, but something changes and we go back again.  This type of existence is no way to live.  In fact, Las Vegas was yet another example of how our way of life is worse than that.  It’s quite literally killing us.  And, I’m beyond any sort of ability to articulate just how upset I am. Continue reading “Bans are Bandages not Solutions by Ivy Helman”

The Coming of Spring: Reflections on Pesach and Judaism by Ivy Helman

meandminiIt is, I think, quite common knowledge that most Jewish holidays relate to the seasonal cycles of the Earth.  Sukkot celebrates the fall harvest.  Chanukah sheds light on the winter darkness.  Tu B’Shevat marks the end of the dry season and so begin the prayers for rain in Israel.  For Purim, we throw off our winter doldrums and let off a little steam to settle our cabin fever.  Pesach is no exception: welcome spring: birth, renewal and even creation.  The leaves return to the trees, baby animals are born, flowers bloom, warmer weather arrives and somehow the possibilities of the coming summer are endless.

In fact, the associations between Pesach and spring are many.  Arthur Waskow in Seasons of Our Joy explains the origins of the connections (pages 133-139).  There were probably two different seasonal celebrations – one of shepherds and one of farmers – that came together around the time of the Babylonian exile into one festival which we can see in Exodus 12 – 13: Pesach.  Farmers in preparation for the harvest of spring wheat cleared out the old crumbs and fermentations of the last year to make room for the new.  Shepherds celebrated the arrival of baby sheep and their flock’s fertility in general by slaughtering a sheep, putting its blood on their tents and dancing around a fire.   Continue reading “The Coming of Spring: Reflections on Pesach and Judaism by Ivy Helman”

Dystopian Fiction Inspiration and Religious Lessons by Ivy Helman

me-hugging-treeWe live in a dystopia.  This world is filled to the brim in dichotomies: poverty and extreme excess, hunger and mountains of food, disease and cutting-edge medicine, materialism and an immense environmental crisis, and hour-long walks for water and hour-long luxurious baths.  There are so many parts of our world that are not just unfair, unequal, broken and undesirable, but violent, traumatic and deadly.  And, sometimes it feels like it is only getting worse, or at least, again teetering on the edge of yet another catastrophe.

Most of the world’s religious traditions agree that this is not the way the world should be.  My own religious tradition, Judaism, traces this separation between the Creator’s utopia, the Garden of Eden, and our current situation all the way back to the beginning of humankind.  The actions of the first two humans resulted in exile from the Garden: enter the world diametrically opposed: dystopia.  Nonetheless, the Jewish religious tradition’s call for tikkun olam (repairing the world) suggests that it is possible to lift the veil between the Divine and us and consequently recreate the utopian Eden once again.  One could say it is why we are here.

That being said, while the dystopian genre has been around for many decades, I have noticed a recent rise in the popularity of dystopian fiction.  While I have always had a keen interest in science fiction, from Star Trek to FireFly and beyond, I myself have, as of late, become an avid reader of dystopian novels.  I blasted through the Divergent series by Veronica Roth, have reread The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk more times than I can count and just began my dip (25 pages) into The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver – not so action-packed as the others.  I’ve also been, one could say, addicted to dystopian films (yes many were books first) like The Hunger Games, Maze Runner, Gattaca, The Fifth Element and Serenity to name just a few.

Continue reading “Dystopian Fiction Inspiration and Religious Lessons by Ivy Helman”

Goodnight, Sweet Friends by Natalie Kertes Weaver

Natalie Weaver

Yesterday, to this day of my writing, two of my friends died.  Both endured years of struggle against cancers, and both finally yielded to death at nearly the same hour.  I received notices of their passing within moments of one another.  We sat vigil with the family of one of my friends until late in the evening, while the other friend was prepared for repatriation in the land of her ancestors.

In the home where we sat vigil, I entered the room where my friend had passed away.  I wanted to feel the last fading traces of her physical presence.  I don’t know whether any part of her was there or not, but I was grateful to be in the place where she had been.  The room was very full.  It held the medical equipment that had briefly sustained her life for the last few days, but it was mostly stuffed with the clutter and the souvenirs of a life.  Porcelain trinkets, formal family portraits, travel photographs, colorful shot glasses collected from the cities she had visited, and everything covered with a fine layer of dust. Continue reading “Goodnight, Sweet Friends by Natalie Kertes Weaver”

Give Away All That You Have, and Then You Shall Receive…by Natalie Kertes Weaver

Natalie WeaverOne of the loudest refrains I perceive in the Bible is the message that good spirituality means giving everything away.  It is a radical concept that begins in an obvious way with material things, especially those that we have in excess.  The wisdom here is not too difficult for me to grasp: one cannot meet the Lord if s/he is wrapped up in the routines of acquisition and hoarding.    

But, this is only the beginning.  The teaching reaches down much deeper than the critique of riches and speaks in some totalizing fashion to the very essence of personal being.  It seems to say to me that good spirituality involves letting the self be so entirely poured out of the ordinary instincts and behaviors of self-consciousness and self-preservation, of the self qua self, that it is capable of receiving the inpouring of God’s wisdom and light.  

Put another way, the self has to condition itself to receive that which is genuinely extrinsic, that which is outside itself, and that encounter cannot occur so long as one is self-absorbed.  This insight, of course, is not exclusively biblical or Christian.  Indeed, it is perhaps the most common point of agreement among all the great spiritual traditions. Continue reading “Give Away All That You Have, and Then You Shall Receive…by Natalie Kertes Weaver”

The Burden of Change by Natalie Kertes Weaver

Natalie WeaverAs we embark on a New Year, I find myself customarily cautious.  The New Year, of course, is hugely emblematic of hopeful beginnings, revised behaviors, fresh outlooks, and personal commitments.   Yet, because renewal is so difficult to achieve, I find myself always a bit wary of the New Year talk of resolutions, whose results, like fad diets, tend to be neither sustainable nor genuinely transformative.   I have the same feeling, incidentally, after I get my teeth cleaned or get a car wash in the winter in Cleveland.

I live with hope and the possibility of change in my heart, but I am concerned about the effect of boundless messaging about insufficiency and inadequacy that pervades the culture. We learn over and again that we weigh too much; don’t use our time well enough; invest or use our money unwisely; need a better job; don’t cook healthfully enough; visit the gym too infrequently; aren’t nice enough; spend too little time with our kids; need better things and clearer skin; do too little; do too much; and on and on.  At least for me, socially ritualized self-critique of this sort reflects a profound narcissistic spirituality of self-help and (often failed attempts at) self-improvement.  Such spirituality reinforces the self-absorption and lack of true community that lead us into individualism and over-consumption in the first place.

This year, as I embark on the New Year, I am especially aware of many things I cannot change.  For one, I am watching a good friend die, and there is no longer anything that anyone can do about it.   I am watching my mother’s mobility decrease from a knee injury year’s ago.  I am watching my children get older, and I hear surprising things that come from them from the environments they inhabit beyond the walls of my home.  I learn more acutely what I already know, namely, that they will and must live in a world much larger than my own invention.  I am watching my own self deepen into the reality of multi-generational familial responsibilities, as I grapple with what it takes to run a home, care for children, and meet others’ basic needs.   I know I am not alone.  I read student papers in my adult education class over the break, and the weight of their realities is tremendous.  How tyrannical it seems to insist that we add to these realities of ours some kind of burden of change between 11:59 and 12:01!

I have come to believe that much, probably all, of the spiritual life that leads to redemption (or liberation or salvation… whatever we wish to call it), is about reconciliation with that which one cannot change, with what is imperfect, with what we would have as otherwise.  There is an enormous need for us to release control over life itself and to forgive ourselves the relative impotence we experience in the face of it all.  In an even greater leap, somewhere along the way we must also forgive or reconcile with God for the gaping distances between that which is and that for which we hope.

I eschew welcoming the New Year as a series of televised media extravaganzas that make me feel somehow bad-about-myself-yet-wildly-energized-about- how-much-better-I-can-be (especially if I use the right products).  Rather, the New Year might more helpfully be greeted as a gentle continuation, one next persistent push in the sequence of the tide’s rush against the shore.  It is just another moment in a larger history that carries on independently of us.  We cannot change the seascape; we cannot outrun it; the tide will bring in all sorts of beautiful things that we did not make and also dangerous things that we cannot sidestep.  It will be what it will be.

What we can do is notice it better.  For my part, I can quietly adjust my perspective near and far, and then perhaps I might also quietly find my values realigning with my more intentional vision.  I might thereby experience the beginnings of a soft metanoia toward more mindful creatureliness.  And, here, I might also begin to become the proverbial change, within my limited spheres of influence, that I wish to see in the world.

Constructive agency must begin in the prayerful appreciation of limited creaturely life.  It is only then, I suspect, that one might have a chance at sustainable, transformational being in oneself, in relationship to others, and in the world.  It begins, however, with letting go of Luciferian ambitions for a more prefect world of our own design.  My New Year’s meditation, then, is this:  I will try to accept being a human creature: a finite, earth-dependent, truly human animal.  I will try to understand the balance between what I can and should do as a responsible, moral being on the one hand and where aspiration becomes an idolatry of dominion on the other.  I will try to understand limitation as its own sort of revealing grace and eject constructions of fall and punishment that badly theologize what is mere creaturely disappointment at not being God.  I will try in earnest to understand and to live in these words:

“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, about your body; or what you will wear… Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  And why do you worry about clothes?  See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.  Yet… not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. Who…by worrying can add a single hour to his life?… Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matt. 6: 25-34)

Natalie Kertes Weaver, Ph.D., is Chair and Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Natalie’s academic books include: Marriage and Family: A Christian Theological Foundation (Anselm, 2009); Christian Thought and Practice: A Primer (Anselm, 2012); and The Theology of Suffering and Death: An Introduction for Caregivers (Routledge, 2013). Natalie is currently writing Made in the Image of God: Intersex and the Revisioning of Theological Anthropology (Wipf & Stock, 2014).  Natalie has also authored two art books: Interior Design: Rooms of a Half-Life and Baby’s First Latin.  Natalie’s areas of interest and expertise include: feminist theology; theology of suffering; theology of the family; religion and violence; and (inter)sex and theology.  Natalie is a married mother of two sons, Valentine and Nathan.  For pleasure, Natalie studies classical Hebrew, poetry, piano, and voice.


I Dream of Pope Francis by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileIt was just last week that I received an email from Pope Francis.  He wrote me having seen my interview with Tavis Smiley and said he sympathized with my appeal for a Church that serves the needs of the people.  Pope Francis requested that I come to the Vatican to meet with him to discuss the papacy and his efforts to redirect the Church’s attention.  Of course, I immediately accepted and began to create my agenda for our meeting: women’s ordination, same-sex marriage, reproductive justice, and…my alarm went off.  It was just a dream. Sigh…

Totally disappointed at the realization of its ridiculousness, I wondered why Pope Francis had invaded my dreams.  Could it have been prophetic as my good friend and colleague (jokingly) suggested?  Or perhaps I’m narcissistic enough to fantasize that I have such wisdom to share.   Either way, no other pope has ever occupied my thoughts in such a way. Continue reading “I Dream of Pope Francis by Gina Messina-Dysert”

The Roman Catholic Theology of Womanhood by Ivy Helman

The Vatican has creIvy Helmanated an entire theology of womanhood without the input of a single woman!  Searching the Vatican archives reveals a wide range of documents pertaining to women, some of which mention women tersely only in their capacity as workers needing protection (Rerum novarum, 1891) and others are fully dedicated to describing the status, role and mission of women in the family, society and the world (Mulieris dignitatem, 1988).  Within the documents, as time passes, women become their own category of theological importance.  This is due to the influence of feminism on the status and roles of women across the globe.  Yet, there is vehement anti-feminism in the documents as well.

I searched the documents myself, curious as to what the Vatican had to say about womanhood and wrote a book on the topic published by Orbis in Febrary 2012 entitled, Women and the Vatican: An Explanation of Official Documents.  I would like to lay out that theology now.  Continue reading “The Roman Catholic Theology of Womanhood by Ivy Helman”


Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and renowned Jewish thinker, believes that no one can ever truly understand the profundity and tragedy of the Shoah unless one experienced it.  For him, silence is the best way to express the events since words fail to do justice.  The principle of letting silence speak, when words no longer can, when pain is so real it debilitates and when tears flow more freely than thoughts, is not original to the twentieth century.  The Bible contains many events and personal stories in which this is the case.

Judges 19 begins with two characters: a Levite and his concubine.  The concubine has recently run away to her father’s house, when her husband decides to visit her there trying to win her back.  He seems to have only good intentions in mind.  After leaving her father’s house with his wife, the Levite discusses his future plans with his servant who apparently accompanied him on the journey.  He still has not spoken a word to his wife.

The servant and the Levite decide to spend the night in Gibeah, a Benjaminite city.  The three of them sit in the city’s square waiting for someone to take them in but no one arrives until evening.  At dusk, an old man comes by and offers to take care of the needs of the entire party, including the donkeys, as long as they promised not to spend the night in the city square. Continue reading “JUDGES 19: A BRIEF PAUSE FROM JUSTICE-WORK TO BE WITH HER IN THE SILENCE BY IVY HELMAN”

Reflections on My Spiritual Journey: Claiming Judaism By Ivy Helman

“Is Ivy Helman Jewish?”   This question and knowing that eventually I’d have to respond one way or another to it has caused me many sleepless nights.  At the same time my faith journey has become integral to who I am and I would like to spend some time today sharing it with you.

Why share this and why now?  Well, first, I have not been ready until now.  In addition, external forces which I will talk about in a minute are making my spiritual path an issue.  So I share my story with a measure of concern about its possible effects but also with a great deal of joy about the ways in which my faith journey has challenged me to grow, reflect and change.

Margaret Farley emailed me about two weeks ago asking me how I identified religiously.  Someone had emailed her asking if I was Jewish because this person had read one of my past blogs in which I wrote “my rabbi” on feminismandreligion.com.  This same person is reviewing my book: Women and the Vatican: An Exploration of Official Documents.   Here is how I answered Margaret: “Hi Margaret, I’m Catholic although I do attend services at a Jewish synagogue on occasion since I was raised in essentially a multi-faith home.  On that blog, there really is no Jewish voice, so I try to comment on ideas from that tradition as much as I can.  Ivy.”  I felt unauthentic sending that email.  But, I did.

Still troubled by that answer and rather than put my friends and colleagues in the middle of questions about my faith, I feel that this has now become a public issue that I must address.  It is a question I have known I would have to answer at some point.  Nevertheless, this is not a decision that came easily or quickly.  I’ve literally agonized over it now for months.  During the time, I’ve never questioned my resolve to be Jewish and to continue to follow that spiritual journey in my life; I’ve worried more about how other people will respond and how their responses will affect my career in academia.   If I were allowed to rewrite that email to Margaret, then this is what I would say. Continue reading “Reflections on My Spiritual Journey: Claiming Judaism By Ivy Helman”


Looking back, it’s interesting to think of myself as a young woman learning in a time of transition from the Piscean Age to the Aquarian Age.  According to Yogi Bhajan, the man known for brining Kundalini Yoga to the West, 11/11/91 marked the beginning of the last part of the Piscean age and on 11/11/11 the Age of Aquarius officially began.  So, welcome all to the Age of Aquarius!  This change of course, entails a significant paradigm shift that is supposed to affect our attitudes, consciousness and all of our relationships.  The beginning of the Aquarian age, like the end of the Mayan calendar and other overlapping prophesies of change, tends to inspire our apocalyptic imagination.  We may anticipate a breaking of our world.  I tend to imagine the pressure of the Aquarian transition like an event horizon of a black hole: a movement through extreme gravity that feels crushing and inescapable.  However, recently I’ve been struck by how the seeds of this new age, have been blossoming in my own experience and in the world around me.

According to my Kundalini teachers, the attitude of the Piscean age can be summed up as, “I believe.”  The attitude of the Aquarian Age is, “I know.”

As a child I desperately wanted to believe enough.  My evangelical Christian upbringing taught me that all I needed to do was believe that as God, Jesus Christ died for me and saved me from my sins.  If I did this, then I could go to heaven with my family.  Plus, Jesus would take me with him when he came back—that is, I wouldn’t have to go to hell or suffer the trials and tribulations of the apocalypse… this last part really stuck with me.

I thought I believed.  I wanted to believe.  I did “all the right things,” to somehow prove or provoke the kind of unquestioning belief I thought was necessary to be a “real” Christian.  But, the fact of the matter was I doubted.  As a little child (and I’ll admit, into my teens) I was sometimes struck with a sudden and horrifying fear that my family had been raptured and Jesus had left me behind.  I would literally panic until I found someone; but I’d also hide this fear because I didn’t want anyone to think that I didn’t believe enough.

I now know this extreme fear of god and His (sic) wrath was a part of my abusive relationship to what I thought was god.  I also know that our doubts can lead us towards renewed life.  I know that it is not my beliefs that make me valuable: wholeness is inherent in our connection to “a larger creative existence.”  We express this wholeness and our value, “with each committed action.”[i] Continue reading “CELEBRATING THE BEGINNING OF THE AQUARIAN AGE by Sara Frykenberg, Ph.D.”

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