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Why is this blog called “Feeling the Light”?

Good question, blogpost title! I’ve been meaning to write about the title of this blog for quite some time and now, as I am avoiding packing for a conference that I don’t especially want to attend, I will distract myself by writing about it.

Someone very dear to me once sent me a beautiful card with the following quote:

“Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings while the dawn is still dark.”–Rabindranath Tagore

This quote moved me deeply during my first year of college, when I received this card. Experimenting with my new life in college, several hours drive away from my hometown, torn away from my high school relationship and my best friend and family, I experienced a lot of what I have come to call “darkness” or “cloudy times.” Clouds have continued to cross my path and shadow even the best times over the past several years, and in recent months have become (mostly) silent companions.

This quote is important to me for several reasons.

Firstly, I have always identified with birds, because they fly very high and are very graceful, and I have always wanted to conquer my fear of heights by flying far above the Earth and seeing the curve of the Blue Planet’s horizon.

Secondly, I sing. Singing in an early music choir in college has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and the music of Palestrina and Lassus and Schein and Victoria would often pull me out from under a cloud for a couple hours every Monday and Wednesday.

Thirdly, as a person of faith I have been trying to pinpoint what faith is. What is the essence of faith? I usually boil it down to things that I know to be true in my bones. I know that there is a deep feeling of peace and oneness that overcomes me when I paddle a kayak on the smooth glass water in the early morning in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I know that the world is so much bigger and more complex than me when I stand on the shores of Lake Superior. I know that life has more meaning than we generally accord it when I hold someone who is aching and they lean into my body and cry on my shoulder. I know that when I question why I am a Christian and why I am adhering to any kind of organized religion, I always come back to the potlucks in church basements and dancing with balloons with a three-year-old on Easter morning and sharing tea and talking about love with a dear friend. These things bring me back to my quest to be near to the “Great Big Whatever,” when I’ve lost my way, when I’ve lost my joie de vivre, when I’ve lost myself. My community and my environment draw me back into relationship, pushes away the clouds from shadowing my view, and, even more than that, they join me under the clouds, holding me fast.

The bird has many clouds. The bird feels undeserving of love, lost in a maze of “shoulds” and societal norms, torturing itself by measuring itself against its peers who are always more beautiful, more desirable, who sing better and have brighter plumage. The darkness is too dark, and threatens to overcome it.

And yet…

It is awake in the pre-dawn darkness. It feels the edge of seashell pink before it rises in the eastern sky. It lifts its head in praise and opens its beak, breathing deeply of the warmth of the earth and drinks in the life in the morning dew. It begins to sing, first slowly and deeply, then with reckless abandon. It verily shouts “God, you are SO good,” even through the pain and the heartbreak and ache and hopelessness and even though it cannot see the road ahead because it is shrouded in the mysterious morning fog.

Faith is (to me) anticipation. It is active waiting. It is perseverance towards a new world that is within reach. It is being surrounded by the darkness and knowing the Light is coming. Soon and very soon. Even here. Even now.

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This is where it starts: the importance of spaces for women’s empowerment

Recently, I found myself in a preschool classroom juicing oranges with a bunch of four-year olds. I complimented one little girl, saying, “I like how you are using both your hands and your strong muscles to juice the orange.” A little boy promptly responded from across the table:

“She doesn’t have strong muscles.”

In my head, I heard: “She’s a girl.”

All I could think was: this is when it starts. It starts with someone telling a girl “you don’t have strong muscles” or “you’re not pretty” or “you’re not as smart as the boys in your class” or “you can’t play soccer as good as a boy” or “you’ll never have a boyfriend” or “you can’t be president; presidents are men” or anything else that intends to and succeeds in breaking a young girl’s spirit.

In my life, I have had the privilege of having been encouraged in academics, told I was beautiful, and given the tools to take ownership over my education and creativity. Many girls across the world do not have that privilege, and I strive to make it part of my work to extend the basic human right of integrity and self-determination to girls from all walks of life. The work of helping a girl see her worth in more than what she wears or how valuable she is in the eyes of a man or who she loves goes far beyond making sure girls can go to school. It is also providing resources for her to build the life she desires, including healthy and accessible food, affordable and local healthcare for non-male bodied people, scholarships and support circles of women who will lift her up and help her not become broken down by the world.

Scarritt Bennett creates these types of spaces.

Last year when I was contemplating what I was going to do post-college graduation, I stumbled across the Belle H. Bennett House on a volunteer website. I was looking at pages upon pages of faith-based volunteer service programs when this program caught my eye for one reason: it was named for a woman. It wasn’t the name of a well-known saint or martyr, but I clicked on it anyway…what I found in the description resonated so deeply, I knew something like fate or God had led me there.

One of Scarritt Bennett’s values and priorities is women’s empowerment. As a young woman about to graduate from college but not quite ready to pursue graduate studies yet, I knew I would benefit from becoming involved with an organization that placed such focus on cultivating transformative spaces where the leadership of women is not incidental but planned and meaningful. I pictured the Belle H. Bennett House as a place where young female-identifying people could gather together in a mutual relationship of challenge and support, building a strong community of women in a world where we are often taught to break down other women to build ourselves up. We would share meals, work out cleaning schedules, explore our new city of Nashville, and have companions for the joys and sorrows of post-grad life.  ‘BHB would be perfect for me’, I thought.

And it is. In so many ways I am blessed to be here in Nashville and here at Scarritt Bennett. In Scarritt’s monthly book club, I have learned that there is value in every opinion expressed and in every silence held solemnly. The women who come together to discuss “The Red Tent” and “The Bluest Eye” and “Year of Wonders” and “Americanah” are each kind, brave, strong and compassionate in their own ways–and in our sharing together. In our Tuesdays in the Chapel and Sunday night Vespers and All That Jazz worship services, I witness the multitude of ways the Holy Spirit lives, moves and has its being in our beautiful and diverse community of Nashville.

But I am especially blessed to be here in fellowship with BHB. In this community, I am not insulated from the pain and violence that permeates our world, but I am surrounded by others who lift me up so that together we can all respond to hard situations with a united voice for justice and peace. As I am doing the hard internal work of recognizing the insidious reach of patriarchy in my personal life and in the way our Western USAmerican society works, I have a group of strong women beside me, prompting me to ask the hard questions and stand up for myself.

IMG_2423(Elena made me this awesome sign after I preached at the Academy of Preachers’ 2014 Festival of Preachers at Belmont University)

My beloved housemates refuse to see the world in dichotomies, refuse to accept one flat answer for hard questions, are always seeking out the complexities and the compassion in difficult situations. They remind me not to take myself too seriously, but also encourage me not to brush off power plays. They remind me that there are many different ways to be healthy and take care of my body and that there is not one type of “beautiful” or one way to be a woman. They remind me that I am my best thing, and that there is no pain, no triumph, no sorrow, no joy and no laughter that our community cannot hold.


***I would like to recognize that there are many ways to define “woman” besides simply a female-bodied person. I do not wish to be essentializing in my use of the word “woman,” and I want to recognize that I am still learning about the ways that gender and gender presentation are constructed and understood in our culture. If anyone has resources they’d be willing to share with me so I can learn more, please send them to me!