Reflections and News

Butterfly

Spiritually Speaking Column, Eden Prairie News, October 2018

Milkweed and the fertile days of Autumn

I’m aware of milkweed.

It began about a dozen years ago. It was a glorious Summer. But Spring had brought less than happy news: The monarch population was dipping precipitously, in part due to loss of migration habitat, in part due to pesticides. The prior year, 2004, had seen an all-time low.

So as the milkweed on the lakeshore cropped up, I found myself mowing the grass less rigorously, scooting around plants where I could. My daughter Mairead, then 5, was fascinated by the beautiful yellow and green caterpillars.

Soon, interest turned into a full-blown farming and husbandry operation. Do you know that nine out of 10 caterpillars don’t make it to butterflies? There are all kinds of risks, it appears, to be the lowly caterpillar — not least among them birds.

We cleaned out old monster Costco animal cracker jugs and started bringing caterpillars through their chrysalis stage to the mighty monarch. All of them were named catty, by the way. And the first fruit of this labor? “Butty,” of course.

It went on for years. Our milkweed trove only got more fabulous after an Eden Prairie Girl Scout troop did a bronze award project that included distributing seeds to all the troops in town. Ours went into the hill along the lake, and today they are glorious.

My friend Wendy was observing that her neighborhood in Minneapolis has become milkweed central. No one is pulling the plants as they might have done in the past, instead letting them take root in alleys and gardens and lawns almost without impunity.

The milkweed is not nature’s most attractive flower, despite its fabulous fragrance, so this welcoming of migrants is truly laudable. Even in friend Pastor Mike’s thoughtfully planned, garden tour worthy backyard, they are welcome guests, even as their stalky selves spike out of otherwise attractive plantings.

I was walking the other day around Purgatory Creek. The leaves were just hinting the current change of color, but the wildflowers and lakeside plants were already blazing. Or crisping, as it were.

Many of them were dried, brown and devoid of leaves and petals, presenting for view up-until-that-moment hidden seed pods. And wow, were they beautiful. As artfully shaped as kaleidoscope images, geometric in startling ways, some spiked, some flat. Even in their desiccated state, they were spectacular.

So, too, the milkweed. It’s dried out now. Seed pods are poised to burst. They are no longer standing out amid the more desirable flora, their showy leaves and wacky pink blooms grabbing the eyes attention but blending in amid the frost fried landscape.

It strikes me as interesting that it is now, as days are cooling and evening enters earlier, that the milkweed is about to burst in fruitfulness. The silken seeds will peek out, then leap in escape from the pods that confine them. This birth is not for the young, but for the weathered and experienced. It comes at the end of the life cycle, not in the beginning.

Once the “butty” raising child went off to the U, I became an empty-nester. It would seem that a certain chapter of my life came to a close, one that I thought of as the time of new beginnings. The era of fertility.

But now I look at the milkweed and all the dried companions and think about the creativity of this time of my life. I’m like that milkweed, if not quite dry, heading there. Heading toward what Mary Oliver calls a “crisp glamour.”

Speaking of them she writes, “I wish you would walk with me out into the world. I wish you could see what has to happen, how each one crackles like a blessing over its thin children as they rush away.” I may yet be about to burst.

Grandma and mae

Hanorah Hayes, soon to be Sullivan, and her sister Mae traveling from Murroe, County Limerick to the Port of New York.

Spiritually Speaking Column, Eden Prairie News, September 2018

Friendship, loyalty, love, and everyone is Irish

My father, John Patrick Sullivan, wanted my sisters and me to be deeply immersed in Irish culture. Had my mother not won the argument on the day of my birth, I would have been named Siobhan, a name that was, at the time, almost unheard of in the United States.

My three immigrant Irish grandparents were my dad’s expert help (the fourth was born shortly after his mother debarked the boat, in case you’re wondering!). We learned Irish songs at family parties (and could be called to lead them) as well as the basics of Irish step dancing. I came to love Irish stories and taught myself to recite William Butler Yeats from memory.

When we were naughty, we were “bold.” When you wanted a ride but weren’t going to get one, you would be taking “shanks mare.” When things were wonderful, they were “grand.” You were corrected if you were “too full of yourself” or “getting a big head.” Speaking of heads, they were “noggins.”

My sister Sheila and I felt so Irish that when our next-door neighbor (whose mother was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution) asked us what nationality we were, we said “Irish.” He gave the two of us a stern correction!

Among the symbols of Irish culture that I have always loved is the Claddagh, which appears on a ring that is used both for friendships and as a wedding band. Named after the fishing village in Galway in which it originated, the traditional design of a Claddagh ring consists of two hands clasping a crowned heart.

The hands represent friendship, the crown loyalty, and the heart, as one might guess, love. When worn by an unmarried person, it can be used to convey the relationship status of the wearer. For example, worn on the right hand with the point of the heart turned toward the fingertips, it signifies that the wearer is single, and may be looking for love.

The legend surrounding the symbol of the hands, heart and crown tells of Richard Joyce, who lived in the village of Claddagh in the 16th century. Captured by Algerian corsairs, Joyce was enslaved. During that time, he mastered the art of goldsmithing.

Longing for his beloved, he crafted a ring that would remind him of her. Eight years later, freed, he returned to Ireland where he found his love waiting for him. They married and remained together for the rest of their lives.

Nowadays, you are as likely to see the Claddagh used as a tattoo design as a ring, with the motto, “Let love and friendship reign.”

I’ve been thinking that the values that the Claddagh expresses are so needed in our age.

First, we live in a time when it’s critical to extend our hands to others to clasp them friendship. At the recent People Fest at Staring Lake Park, I had a chance to meet and greet neighbors from an incredible array of cultural backgrounds. All of them were extending a hand of greeting and welcome to each other. Even when we didn’t share a language, this gesture spoke our intention when words could not.

Next, it’s time to be loyal. Not in the clannish, exclusive sense, but to find ways to stand together where we hold values in common. Kindness, justice, compassion, courtesy, commitment and mutual appreciation cross so many lines of “difference.”

Finally, let’s find ways to express our love. We live in such fractious times, where we’re more often focused on our differences and attendant critiques than on looking for places of mutuality. This is a particularly critical task for me as a Christian. My faith tradition reminds me to love others as I love myself. It even goes so far as to tell me, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

The Christian community does not have a corner on upholding God’s love! So let’s put on our Irish in the days ahead, and see where we can share friendship, show loyalty and spread love. When I finally find a leprechaun’s gold, I’ll make sure I always have a collection of Claddaghs in my pocket so I can give them out to anyone I meet who expresses these values, Irish or not! Don’t be surprised if I whisper an Irish blessing as I pass it to you.

Trish Sullivan Vanni, Ph.D., is pastoral director of the Charis Ecumenical Catholic Community and animator of the Power Center, an interfaith center for spirituality. She shares this space with Bernard E. Johnson, Beryl Schewe, Rod Anderson, Timothy A. Johnson and Nanette Missaghi. “Spiritually Speaking” appears weekly.

Spiritually Speaking Column, Eden Prairie News, August 2018

“Quick! Be Spiritual!”

So when Tim, the editor of this illustrious newspaper, reminded me about a forgotten column, I immediately dashed off a promise to quickly get writing. He replied in jest, “It’s like, ‘Quick! Be spiritual!’ That’s got to be tough.”

Tim has a great sense of humor. Like a good minister, he’s a great cajoler and encourager. And without realizing what he was doing, he also gave me a great topic for this column.

I don’t know about you, but I am struggling lately with the sheer volume of upsetting events around me. On the public stage, I’ve been profoundly distressed by the imprisonment of migrants and refugees and their vulnerable children at our borders. That should come as no surprise to anyone grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

The very first principle of Catholic social teaching (which extends itself, due to its beauty, well beyond Catholic circles) reminds us that “people have the right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families.” This applies during war, natural disaster, famine or when their lives are endangered by violence.

This teaching is grounded in the experience of the Israelites, who lived as aliens without a home for a stunning stretch of their story as a people. The Torah reminds us, “You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt.”

This teaching hits close to home for all Christians, who hear in the Gospel of Matthew how Joseph and Mary were forced to escape with their newborn son, Jesus, into Egypt to flee the death threats of Herod. Jesus will one day teach the foundational principle of welcome to his own followers: “For I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. A stranger, and you welcomed me.”

On the local level, I’ve watched determined friends struggle to raise awareness of the lack of affordable housing in Eden Prairie. It was not until my sister began looking for an apartment here this summer that I saw how high our apartment rents are. Right now, they average $1,233 (for a one-bedroom) to $1,902 (for a three-bedroom — rents that are 20 percent higher than average in the Twin Cities metro).

Well, we have great quality of life here that justifies that cost, you might say: But these rents cause a staggering 68.3 percent of Eden Prairie households to be cost-burdened, sometimes forcing people to move and lose access to our wonderful schools, among many other things.

Common Bond Communities and United Properties are leading the effort to create a development with mixed-housing options for residents with lower incomes in Eden Prairie. Certainly, that will include those in our community who came here as refugees seeking safety and prosperity. It will also include people in entry-level positions, young families, senior citizens and those in chronically underpaid positions like teachers and child-care workers. The leaders of a number of faith communities, including mine, support this effort.

Which leads me to the second principle of Catholic Social Teaching: “The overriding principle … is that individuals must make economic, political and social decisions not out of shortsighted self-interest, but with regard for the common good. That means that a moral person cannot consider only what is good for his or her own self and family but must act with the good of all people as his or her guiding principle.” Indeed.

Finally, I’ve been on a roller coaster with some folks in my life who are struggling with chronic health issues and their fallout. To respect their privacy, I’ll leave it at that.

So what does all of that have to do with my smart and insightful editor Tim, you ask?

We live in an age where people are more likely to say that they are spiritual than that they are religious. Religion (perhaps justifiably due to institutional abuses and hypocrisy) has a bad rap. To be spiritual, however, is attractive. It means that I believe that there is something greater than me afoot; that we are all one. To be spiritual is to care about other people, about animals, about the health of the planet. Spiritual people are kind. They are loving, to others and to themselves.

Given the issues that come across our newsfeeds, televisions, radios, and newspapers with unrelenting intensity, as well as the ups and downs of our personal relationships, maybe it’s time to look at how spiritual we are. More and more, I’m seeing being spiritual not as a “feeling” but as a practice. A muscle that all of us can build up and to exercise as needed.

The news upsets you? “Quick! Be spiritual!” — act with kindness, love and compassion (yes, sometimes despite the evidence). You’re scared about changes you see in your neighborhood or city? “Quick! Be Spiritual!” Consider that the increasing diversity we live with enriches us rather than detracts. Your Facebook feed giving you agita? “Quick! Be spiritual!” Resist the countering slam or rant. The family has you in a spin? “Quick! Be spiritual!” Breathe and expand the context in which you see the upsetting person and see if you can find some micron of compassion and understanding.

It’s not actually all that tough. But it does require some degree of conscious effort and a little muscle. Thank you, Tim, for this week’s mantra: “Quick! Be spiritual!” I have a feeling I’ll be using it a lot in the days ahead.

Trish Sullivan Vanni, Ph.D., is pastoral director of the Charis Ecumenical Catholic Community and animator of the Power Center, an interfaith center for spirituality. She shares this space with Bernard E. Johnson, Beryl Schewe, Rod Anderson, Timothy A. Johnson and Nanette Missagh. This column appeared first in the Eden Prairie News.

WomenArrivingAtTheTomb hi Qi

The Women at theTomb by He Qi

“Now the green blade rises, from the buried grain…”

“Now the green blade rises, from the buried grain…”

The great Episcopal preacher Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Resurrection is always announced with Easter lilies, the sound of trumpets, bright streaming light.  But,” she insists, “it did not happen that way.  If it happened in a cave, it happened in complete silence, in absolute darkness, with the smell of damp stone and dug earth in the air…New life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark”

This is the truth of the resurrection story we hear today, the story of Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, the women who come to the tomb. Throughout the gospel of Mark, the friends and followers of Jesus have a hard time catching on to who he is. And now, after his execution as a criminal, we can imagine that the men, filled with fear for their lives, are in hiding, and the women – the faithful women – are coming forward to do their duty as good Jews to care for his body.

This is not the Gospel of Luke with its heavenly beings, or the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus appears and speaks, or the Gospel of John with its triumphant language and body that is properly prepared placed in a new tomb, thanks to Joseph of Arimathea. This is Mark. It’s a far simpler story. Three women and a young man, sometimes called a gardener, and a stone that is rolled away.

It’s stark depiction of Easter morning, where Jesus is nowhere to be found.

“Now the green blade rises, from the buried grain…”
“Now the green blade rises, from the buried grain…”

I would argue that this is, because it is so stark and so bleak, the most powerful depiction of the resurrection. In it we see Mary and the women plunged into the very familiar, very human reality of death. This is our reality; this is our experience. We are bereft. We are fearful.

Writer Tim Phillips notes that the worst thing about death in all its forms may be that it robs us of the energy to imagine anything else.

“Addiction” he says, “robs us of the energy to imagine healing. Violence robs us of the energy to imagine peace. Sickness robs us of the energy to imagine [some kind of wholeness]. The burdens of life rob us of energy for a sense of humor that might put things in perspective. Death robs us of the energy to imagine that anything has power great enough to outlive deaths hold on us.”  I have had experiences of this. Perhaps you have too.

But we also have the capacity to awaken our imaginations, to trust and believe just as the women at the tomb did as the young man told them, “He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.'”

Easter is our invitation, as the poet Wendell Berry says, to “practice resurrection.”  Practicing resurrection is learning to walk in the darkest night. Practicing resurrection is believing that in the midst of it all, wrapped in mystery, is a life-giving grace that exceeds anything we can imagine. Practicing resurrection is affirming that God is with us; that the very creation, in its cycles of death and new birth, pulses with resurrection power.

And that we, too, beloved of God, the sisters and brothers of the Jesus who trusted, have resurrection power, as well.

“Now the green blade rises, from the buried grain…”
“Now the green blade rises, from the buried grain…”

We know how this story plays out. The Gospel says that the women didn’t say anything, but it appears that someone eventually broke down and shared what had happened with the others. (Probably the woman who was the oldest, over-responsible sister in her family!)  And we also know that somehow, starting on this Easter morning, the darkness of their grief was transformed, and the people knew that Jesus lived for them.

And with their recognition that he lived, (and what that looked like is a mystery of our faith), the first disciples, men and women once crushed by grief and huddled in fear, broke free – resurrected – and welcomed the new creation that Jesus had unleashed; the disciples of Jesus made one in the breaking of the bread,  God’s beloved community, right now, right here, on earth as it is in heaven.

In every age humankind has been given reasons to stop trusting this, to not believe as the words of the ancient prayer affirms, that “death could not contain him.” We have chosen to be fearful. To hate. To judge. To be cynical. To embrace resignation and apathy.

On Easter, the Jesus that the tomb could not contain, our resurrected Christ, invites us to reject all that and embrace the life that he offers, long ago on an Easter morning, now again this day and every day. Life abundant. Unsurpassed love. The freedom of the Children of God.

Every time two or more of us gather, or act in his name, he is with us. Where compassion is, he is there, where love is, he is there. Where the fight for those who are the least takes place, he is there.

“He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.'”

“He is going before you to the State Capitol; there you will see him, as he told you.'”

“He is going before you to your school; there you will see him, as he told you.'”

“He is going before you to your place of work; there you will see him, as he told you.'”

“He is going before you to every place you enter; there you will see him, as he told you.'”

And when we see him, he will be our reminder of who we are. He will be our sign to break our silence and unleash our love. To be like the three faithful women at the tomb, to tell others who have not seen what we have seen. To proclaim that in a world where things die, there is also resurrection.

“Love lives again, that with the dead has been: Love is come again, like wheat arising green!”


Donato

ECC Ordains its First Woman Bishop

“It’s a new day in a new kind of Catholic Church,” writes Jamie Manson in the National Catholic Reporter. Her story about the ordination of Bishop Denise Donato can be read here.

Charis joins the other churches of the ECC in celebrating this landmark occasion and welcoming Bishop Denise’s leadership.


gun stop

There was a great deal of pain in our praying community this weekend as we processed the most recent tragedy in our schools and the deaths of yet another large number of children and adults. Some people were interested in hearing about collective action that is being taken to call upon our legislators to  protect citizens, particularly our children, from the devastation of automatic weapons. This is really not a partisan issue. As followers of the one we call “Prince of Peace,” (the one who said it would be better to have a millstone tied around one’s neck and be drowned than let harm come to a child) we need to speak, and speak loudly, against what is going on unchallenged in our culture.

Here are opportunities for action.

February 20nd (Tuesday)
Moms Demand Action MN at the State Capitol at 11 a.m.  You do not need to be a mom to support this group, which also has a student counterpart convening.

February 22nd (Thursday)
Rally at the State Capitol Rotunda from 2:00 until 3:15.  Or, join friends and neighbors at Congressman Erik Paulsen’s office to draw his attention to our concerns. Thursday, February 22nd, 4:30 until 6:15. 250 Prairie Center Drive, Suite 315 Eden Prairie. In the interest of full disclosure, both are organized by Indivisible, a partisan organization working to unseat Congressman Paulsen.

National School Walkouts
March 14th and also April 20th (anniversary of Columbine HS massacre). Consider standing in solidarity with our local students and teachers. Will begin at 10 a.m. and last for 17 minutes.

March 24th, March for Our Lives”
The March for Our Lives is a planned demonstration, scheduled to take place on March 24, 2018, in Washington, D.C. and throughout the United States. Student organizers are planning the march following the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, in collaboration with the nonprofit organization Everytown for Gun Safety.”