Lauren Walsh Gallery, Etsy

“I thank Thee God, that Thou hast made me a man and not a woman.” 

So prayed every faithful Jewish man in Israel first thing in the morning, every single day, at the time of Jesus’ birth. Even the most pure-hearted of men, like our beloved Saint Joseph, would have recited these words with the rising of the sun; and so, its only fair to say it's not an indictment against moral character but a product of the time and place they were in.* And yet, there the words are: suspended as the backdrop for every single Bible story we know so well. Potent. Formative. Far from neutral.

Lately, due to circumstances in my personal life, the severity of Mary’s situation has become more obvious to me. Not just in being found with child before marriage, although that alone was cause for capital punishment. But after a good man spared her life—once word got out that she was claiming her baby was the Son of God. Once she refused to denounce the message she had been given, the part of God’s Self that had been revealed to her. What then? Herod sought to end the life of the one-day king, but how many others wanted to snuff out the light of his mother?

How despised Mary must have been by men, especially the religious! She thinks she knows God in a way we don’t? She thinks God could dwell inside her? She thinks God drinks from her breasts?! I cannot fathom a historical reality in which her life would not have been threatened.

The punishment for a woman caught in adultery was public stoning, but what for a woman who claimed to have conceived by the Holy Spirit? At best, she must have been the subject of misogynistic ridicule. At worst, you can’t tell me there weren’t men ready to see her dead.

Shut the woman up. She’s trying to tell the people something about God without our permission. Throw the stones and watch her bleed.

Perhaps this is why men have been so weird about Mary for over 2,000 years, arguing about whether her hymen had torn and composing hymns called “Gentle Woman,” when for all we know she was the fiercest female in all of Galilee.

Why does no one talk about how dangerous Mary was? How endangered she must have been? Mary was too threatening, too powerful. Men couldn’t kill her, so they painted her black eyes blue, muzzled her, and put her on display in European art museums. But she would not be silenced.

She arose in Perpetua.
She arose in Catherine of Siena.
She arose in Clare.
She arose in Hildegard of Bingen.
She arose in Sarah Winnemucca.
She arose in Harriet Tubman.
She arose in Dorothy Day.
She arose in Rosa Parks.
She arose in Madeleine L’Engle.
She arose in Frida.
She arises, she arises, and still, she arises.

And by the grace of God, woman, may she arise in you and in me.

* (The words continue to be recited as part of the morning blessing by Orthodox Jews to this day, but I leave the contemporary wrestling with it to my Jewish brothers and sisters. My stream of faith has enough problems of its own without judging the predicaments of others.)
Shannon Evans
Bearing Light
artwork by Erica Tighe of Be A Heart Design

One year ago I was numbly picking up the pieces of a broken dream when my friend Jenna Guizar called. Not long before, our family of five had packed up and moved to start an (admittedly, poorly planned) house of hospitality—only to return two months later when it became painfully clear that it wasn't sustainable. The house itself had been a small dream, but it was the larger, older dream that contained it that fell so hard: the dream of doing something big, radical, and impactful with my life. The dream I was sure we were headed for when we said "I do" a dozen years ago and that had disappointed me more times than I could count along the way. That dream died—at least, it felt like a death to me, though no one quite understood why. But I had seen my own littleness, and I grieved the woman I would never be.

When Jenna called to ask if I would write the 2018 Blessed Is She Advent Devotional, I was making healthy steps toward believing that maybe my small little blip on the radar of human history wasn't so insignificant after all—radical though it wasn't. I was writing a book, part spiritual memoir, part theological nonfiction, and I saw God in the surprise that was. I was also nearing the end of another pregnancy, marveling at the astonishment of being a co-creator of an actual human life. 

A little book and a little baby: bit parts in the Divine narrative, but parts to play nonetheless.

I groaned and labored and brought forth my son on the day after Christmas, the feast of the first Christian martyr, and I laughed in the face of a death that couldn't steal life. Week after week, month after month, that baby nursed and napped as I punched key after key, forming words and shaping meaning that would never change the world but might just change me. 

Some days I wrote the Advent book; some days I wrote the little book on weakness. Some days I felt called; most days I felt uncertain. Every day I felt grateful.

I began to observe the people in my life—the women, especially—who toiled and sweated to bring forth something out of nothing in their own ways. I began to notice that God was there, in that labor: God in the nothing, God in the something, God in the in-between.

They were bearing Light. They were bearing God.

The Latin phrase imago Dei means "image bearer," and we are each that: formed in the image of God, Genesis 1 tells us, passively imbued with a dignity unparalleled in creation. But so, too, are we active bearers of the image of God in the world: already, and yet still more to be, in ways smaller and more profound than we expect or believe.

This bringing forth of God is the central point of Bearing Light, the Advent Devotional that has finally come into being. Using treasured traditions of the Church—the Visitation, the Magnificat, Lectio Divina prayer, and three powerful female saints—we will walk through this Advent season exploring what it means to be both made in the image of God and called to birth God into the world.

This book is an offering to all of us who have lost our way and need to find it again. It's for us who question our worth. It's for us who thought we were stronger than this. It's for us who dreamed of changing the world and are finding ourselves the ones changed instead. It's for us who whisper "yes" to God on our pillows at night, having no idea what it means. It's for us who have been so busy under our roofs we've forgotten there is a waiting world outside of it.

We are light bearers; image bearers. And this Advent, we will carry our candles the long way home. We'd love for you to join us.

(links are affiliates)
Shannon Evans
Why I'm Staying Catholic
The Pennsylvania Attorney General's report of clergy sex abuse is deeply harrowing and necessitates urgent conversations about our Church structure and the need for drastic reform. I have spent time on that topic lately on Instagram and more specifically in this month's email newsletter. (You can sign up here for that if you haven't yet.) This blog post is not about solving problems, but about answering the glaring question so many are asking.

There is no doubt that the Catholic Church is at a pivotal point. Every day the headlines seem to get worse but if I know anything at all, I know that those on top are placing bets on returning to the status quo any day now. Put out the fires and wait for the news cycle to move on. The people will forget. We'll restabilize in no time. It's too old an institution to come tumbling down.

They underestimate how many of us are ready to light a match.

I've heard from many of you over the past two weeks—especially those of you who already felt unsure of whether you belonged and wonder if now is the time to make your exit. Those like me, to be honest. Maybe you're a recent convert too, or maybe you're a cradle Catholic who prefers the evangelical style of worship. Maybe you are a clergy abuse survivor, or maybe your faith simply seems to have outgrown the tradition you once knew as home. Maybe the Pennsylvania shitshow is just too horrific and you doubt a good God could exist at all.

You have reached out, asking me why you should remain Catholic in the light of such abuse of power. Why stay in an institution with a hierarchy so unhealthy and untouchable? Your questions are valid, and time and again I have typed out to you that I don't have a simple answer. Others have their own. Some have said they could never leave the Eucharist. Some have said they want to be the ones fighting within the system for justice and change. Some have said they simply have nowhere else to go.

These are all good reasons to stay, but they're not exactly mine and they might not be yours either.  I don't think it's my place to convince you not to leave; that is neither a role I feel responsible for nor one I am willing to take on. You are free. But I suppose it's only fair to explain to you why I am still here.

I came into the Catholic Church four years ago alongside my husband. We had both left the respective denominations we'd been born into and after giving our formative college and post-college years to nondenominational evangelicalism, we had finally walked away from that theology as well. We'd attended an Anglican church for a while and loved it but couldn't reconcile raising a black son in a stream of Christianity so very white.

But what on paper might look like a process of elimination, in lived experience felt more like a divine drawing. A mysterious, cosmic God tugged on my heart through Catholicism in a way entirely unfamiliar to me. The richness of thought in every possible corner of theology and humanity impressed me. The social teaching inspired me. The liturgy enchanted me. The saints fascinated me. The view of suffering healed me. The Eucharist mystified me.

There were serious mental and theological hurdles to be overcome. But in the end, a friend of ours said it best: "I don't love everything about Catholicism, but everything I love is Catholic."

Even today, being asked why I became Catholic is one of my least favorite questions to answer. How do I succinctly summarize something so complex and uniquely mystical? Readers frequently request I write a "conversion story" blog post, but my conversion is unfinished and a story can never quite capture a symbol. I don't know how to explain the sensuality of my Catholic faith, and if I tried you might get hung up on my choice of the word sensuality.

It's just here; just here in my gut. I'm Catholic. Maybe not in the way your mom or priest is. Maybe not in the way the blogger next door is. But in my own way, which is all that Christ has ever asked of me. Catholicism is a tent big enough for every manner of person, which is weird and wonderful and perhaps what makes it the only place I could ever fit.

But I promised to tell you why I'm staying, not why I came in the first place. It's true that I have by now explored nearly every possible expression of Christianity; Catholicism was in some ways the last stop. I have no interest in living a life of faith devoid of a Body—an individualistic faith is wholly unappealing to me—and I'm running low on options after that mad rush for a spiritual crash pad I did as I turned the corner on 30. Still, there are always alternatives, and that one church downtown seems pretty darn great.

But I'm not leaving. And here's why:

I'm staying because it is normal to dialogue with Buddhism here.
Because a woman can write about her menstrual blood and Saint Agnes here.
Because the Incarnation makes brothers of people who are radically different. And sometimes the Church brings us together.
Because sometimes, not very often, once in a blue moon, heaven comes here.
Because we're unafraid of gore and death and Halloween here.
I'm staying because others of different religions are telling me it is worth it.
I'm staying because Jean Vanier changed my heart.
Because the Catholic Worker changed my life.
I'm staying because we embrace evolution.
I'm staying because Flannery O'Connor is so damn weird.
And because we do myth better than anyone.
I'm staying because my priest has done stand up comedy—and it was actually funny. (I deeply regret not having a link for you.)
Because we have the best heroes.
And the best parties.
I'm staying because Nuns On the Bus exists.
Because I cried the first time I read a Brian Doyle essay.
Because of book lists like this. And this.
Because conservative writers fearlessly lost their jobs for speaking out against Trump.
I'm staying because I can follow both Catholic Women Speak and Blessed Is She, and I don't have to choose between them.
Because it's the largest humanitarian organization in the world.

I'm staying Catholic because these are the people I want to be with. Catholicism isn't a hierarchy or a structure or even an institution to me. It's these people. These mysteries. This activism. This mysticism. This otherness.

I don't love everything about Catholicism—especially not right now—but everything I love is Catholic. And it always will be.

Shannon Evans