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Friday, June 5, 2009

Some Words Take Courage

I have been playing possum lately with this blogsite -- so many deadlines pushing me: finishing a set of wooden coasters I've been chip carving for a great-niece's wedding the 13th; continuing to take notes for a 25-year update for the NC Council of Churches; working and editing my book on children of WWII; and thinking about vacuuming the front half of the house today and the back half tomorrow.

This morning I finished reading Joan Chittister's In My Own Words, a compilation of words from her speeches, interviews, articles, books, and other quotes, edited by Sister Mary Lou Kownacki, a fine poet also with Benetvision, the publishing organization of the Erie Benedictines. This collection of Sister Joan's words is a wonderful wonderful resource for anyone seeking a good quote.

I also looked at a photo history of her life, to gain an even deeper appreciation of her courage in speaking truth despite the possibilities of censorship or opposition or anger or censure by Church authority. She has a world-wide following and makes it work for her in speaking out for justice, for peace, for the equal recognition of women in leadership and for equal treatment of women and men throughout the world, regardless of culture.

Today I ran across this statement of hers, originally in The Sun Magazine, June 2007:
"I am not impressed by people who say they are pro-life but who don't want to pay taxes to provide housing and food and education and healthcare for those who need them. That's not pro-life; it's pro-birth. This society needs to make life livable for the least fortunate before it condemns people who, for whatever reason, believe they cannot bring a life into the world."
Another quote: "Feminism challenges the world to trust again." (from Heart of Flesh)

When I consider the courage Sister Joan displays -- speaking as she does because of her sense of calling to speak out for justice and peace -- I feel inspired but also regretful that I have too often avoided saying or writing words that address issues of our culture for fear of retribution. I have received enough hostility and social censorship for times that I did speak up that I often muffle my words for fear of the backlash.

Now, however, it dawns on me that at my age, when I am retired and free to say whatever I deem necessary, that if I don't speak up on controversies I am denying my humanity. In contrast to what Sister Joan faces every time she opens her mouth or writes a word, my task is simple and does not demand the courage that someone needs in order to maintain standing and authority in a world of such inequalities, injustices, prejudices and great violence. If I should be silenced by a societal "shunning," not a great deal is lost. If Sister Joan is silenced, and the Vatican has attempted that, along with others in her Catholic tradition, then a great loss is apparent. What protects Sister Joan now is her universal recognition as a woman of faith and courage, and because of that the Powers hesitate to censure her. Nevertheless, none of us must shy away from promoting justice through wherever and whatever our gifts may be -- the arts, organizational leadership -- including the church traditions we are in, science, medicine, athletics, and other gifts we have. To be silent is to accept evil in our midst.