Despite halting attempts to live my life with hope, I’ve failed. My experience is not unique. We suffer. The recent pandemic, including its side effects of loss and displacement, is but one example. Suffering can leave a sense of hopelessness in its wake. One place I look for balm is in poetry.

As with most poetry, Emily Dickinson’s (1830-1886) work requires me to pause and ponder. What is being said? Not easy to tell, nonetheless, I often do find meaning in her poems. If I understand her thrust at all, much of the meaning I glean disorients me.

Continue reading “HOPE, PAIN, DESPAIR, AND JESUS by Esther Nelson”

Exe(o)rcising the Spirit by Natalie Weaver

Natalie editedWhy bother? It’s a legitimate question.  My oldest son, almost 12, announced that he is depressed.  He’s got good reasons for it, so I don’t try to talk him out of it.  My youngest, almost 8, told me yesterday that life was simpler when he was in my belly.  Now, he says school is torture.  They won’t just teach something and move on.  They have to do “activities,” he says, he’s onto the racket that is known as busy work.

I spoke with an aunt, a cancer survivor, whose progress is steadily monitored.  Life, it seems, has become about watching and waiting rather than living.  There’s not so much to look forward to, she says wistfully, once you get to a certain age.  My friend called in distress.  Not one area of life – not work, not kids, not household, not romance – was untouched by significant stress. She said that she could understand how people are okay with their kids moving out.  There is a time, she observed baldly, when it will be alright to die.  She said, I’m tired.

What do we do with fatigue that becomes soul deep?  In my own case, I used to move it around from one place to another, focusing on what I could do as a remedy for the things I could not change.  What I have come to realize, though, is that we run out of storage space eventually.  There’s no place to hide from this – this question – of meaning or meaninglessness.  When I try to assess and work out what’s on my mind, that is, when I feel the fatigue of meaning, I realize that I am dealing with something spiritual in nature.

It’s plain as day, of course, when you give it a second’s thought.  But, at first blush, it is not always immediately self-evident that the angry person mouthing “bitch” at me in the crowded parking lot or my frustration at my kids not responding to my third request, were and are, at the root, theological problems.  Such things were and are, the things that push the self toward the precipice of spiritual demise.

Why bother, I wonder, when the handsome and seemingly happy couple in line in front of me to see Santa with their little boy turns to me hostilely and threatens me should my own eager child accidentally bump into them again.  As I stand on, dazed, still looking at them with something of a smiling admiration on my face, trying to understand what I have just heard, I am yelled down for the look on my face.  What is this world, I wonder, while my own joy begins to shift into an anger that I am now tasked with suppressing and rationalizing?

The more I recognize myself in this place, especially as a woman, the more I understand that traditional theology, and specifically traditional Christian doctrine of God, has more or less failed to help me here.  It has failed to provide me, specifically as a woman, an adequate way of dealing with the inevitable fatigue of a life lived long enough.  What do I mean by this?  I find that I have internalized a distorted sense of value and more importantly a distorted sense of self in relationship to others.

In particular, the idea of servanthood, even service as leadership, can be an infectious and distorting delusion whereby one inclines oneself simply to be taken advantage of by others.  This happens in family life, work, and even in volunteerism (especially at the Church).  Likewise, the insistence on joy, hope, resurrection, loving the neighbor, the new day yet to come – these can become woefully burdensome, even to the very young, because such spiritual dispositions stifle the capacity to experience–honestly and without self-critique–anger, fear, boredom, and disappointment.

As a woman, I find myself to be particularly susceptible to spiritual instruction about service, docility, duty, and self-gift, in ways that I increasingly come to understand are not genuinely relationally intelligent or spiritually wholesome: they are gendered norms for desirable social being.  Of course, I know all this stuff as theory.  I have for two decades.  But, now, now I know it for myself, in my skin, and that is a heavy transition in the soul.

I’m not sure I agree that religion the opiate of the masses, but I do agree that one of the foremost reasons people create religion as a framework for interpreting life is that they are confronted with the profound task of meaning-making out of what often seems to be the unfathomable reach of meaninglessness.  Theology is a response to that, as is worship.  The older or perhaps wiser or perhaps more reckless I get, the more I understand that is incumbent on each of us to be able to think theologically in ways that are authentic and true to our own experiences and insights.

It is perhaps for these reasons that I have been expanding my own capacity for prayer and ritual by participating in alternative spaces of worship, like the sweat lodge, as well as creating my own, as I have been over the past several on New Year’s Eves, with the invention of a symbolic meal, a structured memorial for the deceased, readings, and a fire ritual at midnight.  I feel at times like a syncretistic pagan wannabe, but I set those self-critiques aside in the knowledge that I am exe(o)rcising the spirit.

That phrase, “exe(o)rcising the spirit,” feels laden, and I have yet to unpack its full import, but I know it means both ridding myself of what does not work and claiming the authority to honor what does in ways that are sacramental and meaningful to me and to those in my community of intimates.

Perhaps the best way that I alternatively theologize is through creative writing, through the beckonings of theopoesis, where I find I can speak without the impositions of structure in the quasi-grammarless realm of experiential knowing.  It is here that I have discovered freedom to disagree and complain as well as to integrate and praise in a voice that talks to God in earnest, as though God were listening.  In preparation, for a solstice sweat, this is what I had to say.

These sides are not

sharp antagonisms

that bring to points

their points of view

but a pond’s surface

under moonlight,

swirling like mercury,

beneath which minnows,

fluid, do

their works of

harmonious disruption.


So, let my prayer be not


for, I fear

I have been

an ungrateful guest.

Sojourning pilgrim,


all this life, all will be,

a lesson in how to say

thank you.

Natalie Kertes Weaver, Ph.D.is Chair and Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Natalie’s academic books includeMarriage 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’s most recent book is 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.

Keepin’ On Keepin’ On by Carol P. Christ

carol-p-christ-photo-michael-bakasIt is now Monday morning, five days after the new President was elected, despite losing the popular vote.

For many of us, and for me too, losing this election feels like losing everything we have worked to achieve during our whole lives. One of my friends wrote, “I am totally distraught and unable to focus.” My cousin said, “I feel like I am in Nazi Germany in the 1930’s.”

I have been scouring the internet to try to figure out what we can still do to try to create a world that guarantees liberty and justice to all people and all beings in the web of life.

There is much to fear. Continue reading “Keepin’ On Keepin’ On by Carol P. Christ”

Lotus in the Mud: A Metaphor for Humanity on our Darkest Days by Elisabeth Schilling

BeachThere are days I find myself so overwhelmed with sadness concerning the state of our world that I break down crying. Last week, I saw an episode of Mars, a scripted documentary shown on the National Geographic channel about human colonization of the red planet in 2033. One of the astronauts “interviewed” prior to leaving was asked why she was taking such a risk to inhabit Mars. She said something like, “We will give everything for this.” Why not give everything for Earth?

If we would give everything for the planet we evolved on, then we might immediately transition to a life where we would be self-sustainable, build greenhouses in our backyards, give up our carbon-emission- producing cars, and abandon all the unnecessary businesses that are only there to fill our loneliness and boredom. The idea on the psuedo-documentary was that humans are putting this planet in danger, so it might be smart to have a backup. Isn’t that insanity’s way: trash one place and then find another place to live? The insurmountable amount of money we spend on space expeditions could be spent healing our own world. This is not the time for luxuries. Continue reading “Lotus in the Mud: A Metaphor for Humanity on our Darkest Days by Elisabeth Schilling”

It’s All About the Story by Esther Nelson

esther-nelsonEvery August my friend and colleague, Dale, preaches–does pulpit supply–at his local parish (St. Mark’s Episcopal) in our hometown.  He always has something valuable to say so I ventured forth eagerly on a recent Sunday morning to hear him even though “church” is something I gave up years ago.

Dale began his sermon noting that the news he reads online every morning while striving to keep an “ordered” and “routine” life is overwhelming.  Institutionalized racism, poverty, addiction, and lack of healthcare are problems that affect us all.  We live in the “wilderness”–both physically and existentially.  How do we cope?  He asserted that the Bible explores humanity’s response to what we call “the human condition” and then proclaimed, “Darkness does not have the last word.  God does.  Hope triumphs.”  Dale’s sermon reflected a perspective based on the tradition (story) he embraces–Christianity, however, the “particulars” of Biblical stories have universal themes.  One of the functions of religion is to create a “reality” that enables hope.  Dale gave three Biblical examples of “wilderness experience”–examples that included the promise of hope.  Continue reading “It’s All About the Story by Esther Nelson”

The Reason to Hope by Carol P. Christ

Carol in Crete croppedRecently, Valentina Khan touched many of us when she wrote a blog entitled The Powers of Evil are Well at Work and I’ve Lost My Spirit. Valentina spoke of the weariness and despair many of us feel when we think about the problems the world is facing today. She said that “right now it just seems like my voice of peace is lost to the voice of fanatics who get more media attention than I ever will.”

Last week I met a young man who has recently begun to try to save a large wetland pool on the island of Lesbos. He told me he feels frustrated that “no one else” is doing anything to save the important and fragile ecosystem of our island. I explained to him that there are many of us who have been working to save the wetlands of Lesbos for fifteen years, but with few or no results.

Refugees awaiting transport
Refugees awaiting transport in Molivos, Lesbos

In the past month—since the weather turned to spring—thousands of refugees have arrived on the shores of Lesbos. Most of them are fleeing war Continue reading “The Reason to Hope by Carol P. Christ”

The Evil Powers are Well at Work and I’ve Lost My Spirit… by Valentina Khan

Valentina KhanIt has been over a year now that I haven’t been actively a part of my interfaith community. I find that especially odd since I graduated last May from the Claremont School of Theology with a Masters in Religious Leadership. I had hopes that I would be empowered by new education to go out and do more for my community, be invited to be a guest speaker at local houses of worship, or sit on panels; all the things I used to do more frequently and now have all stopped.

I am mostly to blame. Although my personal life has definitely changed with the birth of my son, two new businesses for my husband and me, and the ongoing pressure I put on myself to study for the bar exam any free moment I get (I really don’t have any leisure time to study, but thinking about it takes a lot of energy!), and now expecting my second child, I stopped attending my monthly meetings– whether it be with the Interfaith Youth Council of Orange County, the Muslim-Jewish forum of Los Angeles, or my own beloved organization “I Am Jerusalem.”

Continue reading “The Evil Powers are Well at Work and I’ve Lost My Spirit… by Valentina Khan”

In the Face of Despair, Choose Life by Carol P. Christ

carol mitzi sarahYesterday I had a delightful swim with a friend in the cool Aegean Sea. In in the evening I met two dear friends at an open air restaurant for a delicious meal and good conversation. Last night a beautiful moon rose over the sea and a soft breeze caressed my skin. All of this made me very happy. However, the state of the world does not.

Michael Brown. Trayvon Martin. The Ferguson police. Hold your ground laws. Bombing in Gaza. War in Ukraine. War in Iraq. War in Afghanistan. War in Syria. Wars that are not on my radar. Rape as a part of war. Joe Biden threatening to chase ISIL “to the gates of hell.” Citizens United. A rash of laws restricting voting rights. A rash of laws restricting abortion rights. Police brutality. Police brutality that is racially motivated. Young men being sentenced to prision for minor drug offenses. The brutality of the prison system. A woman with children being paid $8.50 an hour working at McDonalds and not even knowing when she will be called in to work. Open carry laws allowing Americans to walk the streets with loaded weapons. And that’s just off the top of my head this morning.

When I was young and protesting poverty, racism, and the War in Vietnam, I thought that it would be a relatively simple matter to change the world. It turned out that I was not only wrong: I was very wrong. The world has changed all right, but not for the most part for the better. In fact, despite the diligent efforts of social justice activists, in many respects the world has changed for the worse. Continue reading “In the Face of Despair, Choose Life by Carol P. Christ”

On Winning and Not Winning in the “Fight” for “Justice” in the Web of Life by Carol P. Christ

The reason for hope is not the rational calculation that we will be able to save the world. The reason for hope is that it is important for us to try.

A few days ago, the United States Supreme Court upheld the deeply flawed heath care law passed by Congress. (I will not call it “Obamacare” as I do not believe Obama “owns” the concept of universal health care any more than Lyndon Baines Johnson or even Martin Luther King “owned” the concept of civil rights.) As a progressive I view universal health care as the only truly just health care system.  Still, I consider the Supreme Court decision a “victory.”

The same day the Supreme Court decided, I received a copy of a letter from the Greek government accessing 81,950 Euros in fines against the road-building company that violated the highly protected Natura wetlands while constructing the 36th National Road in Lesbos. Another “victory.”

Two weeks ago the cause of “justice,” as I see it, was not served when the center-right party New Democracy Party gained the majority in the Greek elections and became the central player in a coalition government. With New Democracy in coalition with the center-left Pasok, it is unlikely that corrupt politicians and tax evaders will be made to repay the money they have stolen from the Greek people. At the same time, it is likely that the Greek people in the middle and lower classes will be made to pay even more than they already have for the failure of a corrupt system of government.  The Green Party missed gaining 8 seats in Parliament in the first election by 4000 votes. In the second election we lost ground, while the fascist Neo-Nazi party that calls itself The Golden Dawn, garnered 18 seats. Continue reading “On Winning and Not Winning in the “Fight” for “Justice” in the Web of Life by Carol P. Christ”

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